In 2016's "Tom Clancy's The Division", eco-terrorists bioengineer a fast-acting mutation of Smallpox in order to cull humanity by using the greed of people - they placed it on a fomite, dollar bills in Manhattan's largest department store.

Game reviewers at the time were as perplexed by that but to the science community the rationale made perfect sense. Environmental groups that want to cull humanity want the culling to be among those they regard as less fit, even if they don't admit it. By using dollar bills they would be targeting people who don't have credit cards. The poor, not organic food shoppers that listen to NPR.  So this modern form of eugenicists and social Darwinists could eliminate non-elites and slap consumerism at the same time.

It made perfect sense, given sociological reality.

You liberated 4 million Americans, Mr. President. And now I've liberated you.

Obviously, it is a game, not real, even journalism "academics" at the New York University Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute don't overtly call for bioterrorism, they hate science too much to even trust it to kill people, but the story had enough detail and then enough gaps that science-aligned players were intrigued by what would fill them. Along with two scientists, one American and one Russian involved, both of whom sound like humanity-hating ecologists, there is a paramilitary leader who exploits the chaos to take control, and even a "rogue" government agent, basically an evil counterpoint to you, the player. 

It's a shooting game so along the way you have to take out a rather sympathetic sanitation worker who's leading a gang burning out the virus (and sometimes innocent people, in that 'precautionary principle at any cost' activists are always going on about) and then rioters and gangs who broke out of Rikers. It's difficult to leave because to contain the virus meant sealing off the island.

When The Division 2 was announced, I completed every Shield - 12 really grind-y activities to get you bonus stuff in the sequel - but after the Mass Effect: Andromena debacle (so bad I actually never played any of the Mass Effects since) I was jaded about pre-orders just to get some pointless stuff and the game a few days early. Instead, I rented it, and after a day of playing it went right back into Redbox. I don't generally do "bad" reviews, reviewing is not my job and as both an author and someone whose career was C-level roles at software companies I feel the pain both groups feel when a lot of work of work goes into something and people casually dump on it. The "skills" were pointless and the combat system was flawed.

In the beta we basically started out in the White House, which felt anti-climactic - it's the White House. I have not designed a game since a baseball team management simulator in the 1990s but you don't need to be a storyteller or a programmer to know a status symbol like the White House should be halfway through the game, when you finally get out of a crappy safehouse with no resources. Instead, you are handed all these people and stuff, which means you never appreciate any of them. (1) 

Yet I didn't want reviewing the new game to be tainted by experience with the old game, especially when the old game only got better after its fourth patch, so I held off.

Combat is glorious

But for $20 I was willing to buy it, and I was pleased that combat has been fixed. You're a member of The Division, a last resort when things have really gone in the tank, it was weird in The Division that some guy in a hoodie could take you out with a pistol but The Division 2 was even worse because hopped-up maniacs could just rush you even though you emptied a submachine gun clip into them. That's all fixed, so much it might spoil you playing The Division again. Anyone who has fired a real gun knows they kick and stability in the original was always a concern. In The Division 2 you are a lot more like a highly trained agent who can handle any weapon. Combat is way more fun because the gun stability is a lot less realistic.

Skill builds are now cool again

In the early Division 2, skill builds, which gave you a way to personalize your playing style, were all neutered and that has been fixed.

The graphics and sound are terrific.

The setting this time is Washington, D.C. in the summer rather than Manhattan in winter. During some periods, you'd have snow blindness, which was a challenge, but fun. D.C. has none of that but periods of rain are so good with surround sound that at one point when it was a hundred degrees outside I just stood there in a safe house doorway for half an our listening to it and watching a deer walk around.

I know I have to go stop eco-terrorists but I kind of just want to sit in this doorway and have a cup of coffee and listen to the storm and watch a dog and a deer walk around.

Moving to DC was better than doing a "Back to New York" sequel right away and the attention to detail was much better this time.

In the first one, for example, streets in Manhattan that can't cross each other do and buildings are out of place. I assumed it was a hardware limitation that resulted in errors. From my office on 42nd street, across from Grand Central, I could easily walk to many of the locations and the others, like Lincoln Tunnel, I photographed from an Uber on the way to an airport to show fans what it really looked like versus the game. 

I'm not the only one compelled by the story. Netflix has financed a movie based on it starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Chastain.

But this story is not as strong

The Division 2 won't be inspiring any films. It seems very much to be a story written because they had to put out a sequel. You won't learn anything new, there are some callbacks to your New York adventure but they seem forced. Instead, the new game is more community based; you are helping to rebuild settlements by completing missions and that is because they made the choice to move it six months into the future.

I like the strategic aspect, I like that you can summon help from your nearby control point or settlement, but it wasn't strategic enough to make up for the lack of a story. The payoff for milestones is still better than The Division, where you restore Times Square and...nothing. A cop tells you it will mean something to a lot of people but that was never evident.

In The Division 2, you do feel more like you are helping people, but if I am a last resort agent called up when society has collapsed, I should not be making water runs, I should be stopping whoever is behind this.

And I don't do that. I stop a few competing factions, I take back the Lincoln Memorial, I take back the Congressional building, but when that is all over there is a cutscene of us shooting off fireworks and all starts over.

I'm not kidding, the game tells me some new group moved in and took back everything and now I have to take it from them again to get better gear. But before I can even try to take it from them I have to grind this game to get better gear and I can become even more specialized than I had already made myself after playing 9 days to level 30.

Why will I do that? Why will anyone do that?

Calling for backup is nice

The Division 2 has a neat feature where you can call for backup if you're in trouble. I don't know how many times I responded to calls, and not once did I get a thumbs up from anyone, which means the mechanism to do it - they have to help you for a while but before they leave your group you also have to go to the group, go to their name, and click a button - is likely to clunky to be valuable.

On the other hand, when I called for backup, invariably because I was doing a bounty mission and got popped and did not want to start, there was no instance where someone didn't help. But I made sure to endure the clunky mechanism to go to my party, click their name, bring up the menu, and click the thumbs up.

It's clearly too clunky for people to do it back. Eventually, when bored I would help someone if they looked like they were in a mission and not just wandering around, but I never got anything related to being a Shepherd so that may be a lost feature. I would literally do nothing but help other people if there was a reward for it.

It's the only aspect of the game where manual intervention is required, which means the only people getting this shepherd status are those with groups of friends who are artificially inflating each other.

I played through The Division three times because I was convinced I missed something by being free to go anywhere I would like. With The Division 2 there is no reason to play again. However, The Division 2 did get rid of The Divsion's love affair with forcing people into multiplayer.

The Dark Zone is better - because you never have to go into it

I don't want to kill people who don't want to be killed in a multiplayer game but your choice in The Division is either that or be a target for a band of four who waited until you are in combat, where there is red all over your mini-map, and then go "rogue", which is red on your mini-map, and then while you are dead after having been shot in the back your computer notifies you that an agent has gone rogue. 

Then you have to endure some juvenile taunting you because they shot you in the back while you were in a firefight.

The Division 2 gets rid of all that. There is mandatory Dark Zone content but it is like any other mission, they are not forcing a guy who still plays Survival mode DLC in The Division - just me dying of the virus, freezing, and with nothing but a pistol - to endure teams of players with gear optimized to make sure they can take out lone players. Other than the story content, I haven't even been in the Dark Zone.

4 out of 5 Bloggys


They deserve credit for fixing a lot of issues and I wish there was a more compelling story, but The Division likewise suffered from storyteling at the end and the beautiful graphics and joyous combat you'll find now make this worthwhile.


(1) The Division also immediately sent you from Hudson Yards, the first time you could get cool stuff, to weirdly setting up shop in the post office across from Madison Square Garden.