Developer: Massive Entertainment || Publisher: Ubisoft || Platform: PS4/Xbox One/PC
To think it was just over a year ago that my faith in The Division as an IP was restored. I had a well-vocalised disdain for the original, mainly due to an underwhelming story and enemies who were so spongey that they should be living in Bikini Bottom. I tried it again after the game received some balancing changes to reduce sponginess and I still hated it. The Division 2 was the complete opposite for me, however. I enjoyed the campaign, not because the story was good but because Massive Entertainment was open about how their focus for the sequel was NOT the story, but the rest of the game instead. The art was far more communicative and appropriate, the stat system and perk system was a little more refined and the core pillars for the endgame were pretty well thought out. Its biggest issue, however, was the fact that it took far too long for anything meaningful to be implemented. The raid took too long to be released and the difficulty/skill curve for it was a little too high as raids already alienate a majority of your playerbase and you should not alienate that small core audience even more. Warlords of New York was just the thing I was waiting for and so my return to The Division 2 was at hand.
Warlords of New York sees the player return to where The Division started, New York (what a surprise). The Division agents in DC have been following a rogue agent, Aaron Keener, and tracked him to The Big Apple. He and some other rogue agents have retaken the city after The Division initially reclaimed it back in the events of the original game. Your job is to hunt down Keener and make sure whatever dastardly plan he has set in motion is stopped. However, it quickly becomes apparent that in order for you to get a fix on Keener’s location, you need to take out the four rogue agents he is working with. These rogue agents lead the various factions that have a foothold of New York. Returning players will recognise the Cleaners, Rikers and Peacekeepers. They’re still as much of a nuisance to the city of New York as they were four years ago, but they have slightly changed their tactics.
Warlords of New York’s story is a short-but-sweet kind of deal. Rather than go for the standard beginning, middle and end that most stories opt for, this expansion allows for the player to tackle the story progression in any order they please. Want to go after the rogue agent handling the Rikers? Go for it. Prefer getting the Cleaners out of the way? Go for it. This freedom has allowed the writers at Massive Entertainment to focus a little more on the events that led up to Warlords of New York rather than focusing on trying to make the impact of events taking place in front of you a little heavier. This focus works quite well and in favour of The Division’s world – a lot of the interest for the story has to do with the characters and their motivations, not the actions they make, specifically. Gaining a better understanding of these characters is a great way to build to the inevitable showdowns that will take place. Succeeding in these showdowns will cripple Keener’s plans and it’s quite apparent as these characters’ roles in the operation are made abundantly clear. While the outcome is the same, the illusion of choice is quite cleverly implemented and perhaps one of the main highlights of this expansion.
In terms of actual mission design, Warlords of New York makes a number of improvements compared to the base game of The Division 2. At its core, the campaign for Warlords of New York is one big manhunt. You track down the warlords, both to put an end to their tirades and to locate Keener. Every mission serves the objective hunting down each warlord and it never tries to stray outside of this. The objectives within the missions themselves have a small range of variety, but it’s the sheer focus of hunting these kingpins down and nothing getting in your way that makes the mission design so much more fun. The one-track-mind nature of the mission design immerses you as a player and almost gives you the feeling of a bounty hunter. The level design and arena design also serves this purpose quite well. You defend control points in order to gain intel to further your quest in hunting down these four key individuals. The factions will throw everything they can at you, but they are just delaying the inevitable – you may as well be an unstoppable killing machine.
In terms of difficulty and game design, Warlords of New York asks a little more of the player than The Division 2 did. Nothing is insurmountable, but the AI has been finely tuned to rush you, flank you and uproot you. The AI was already impressive with its tactics and aggressive nature, I found myself even more impressed with how the arena design and the AI perfectly complemented each other and I would even go as far as saying it should be the new standard for this style of gameplay. If you’re someone who prioritises stats/perks of raw defensive increases, it’s entirely possible for the game to quickly become quite challenging. Health pools are very clearly balanced around the new stat averages and damage received is equally balanced around new defensive stat averages. The increase in level cap from 30 to 40 dramatically increases the stats of all your gear and you can quite easily get into the millions of damage per shot – at the time of writing, the highest I’ve gotten is around 2.5 million damage in one shot.
The final encounter was actually a step up compared to most final encounter that The Division has normally offered. The first game had a big helicopter in an open area and it was perhaps one of the most boring fights I’ve ever done. The Division 2 had a wide arena with a bunch of objective points to shoot down and then a singular target to take down afterwards, with enemies sprinkled around to keep you on your toes. Warlords of New York’s final encounter is a bit different, however. It will throw hazards at the player, whether it be aerial or on various flanks, the game tests the player’s awareness with the placement of these hazards and then further tests the player’s management by throwing healing into the mix for the boss target.
The only balancing issues that Warlords of New York suffers from has to do with co-operative play. The aforementioned final encounter can be made a complete cakewalk with as the hazards are taken out quickly enough with just one player, with others around the difficulty would become negligible. On the other end of the spectrum, there are a number of missions whose core encounters feel like they are balanced around a squad with the number of enemies and the frequency of their offensive tactics being quite more than a handful in solo play. They are by no means impossible (if I could do it then it obviously isn’t too difficult) but you can easily feel how it might have been designed with multiple players in mind. While it is nice for content to be better tailored for co-op, it’s also a bad idea to almost punish players for not having friends who play, or who might prefer to play alone (for a variety of reasons, which is completely ok!).
In terms of endgame, Warlords of New York surprised me. Part of me was expecting an endgame structure similar to that of the base game. However, that does not mean that there is no grind. Players are given a manhunt task similar to the campaign design. You have a number of tasks to complete which also encompass missions and areas from DC as well as New York. These manhunt-style objectives go through rotation and are all a part of seasons. These seasons can reward cosmetics as well as set gear. Set gear has always been an incredibly powerful part of character building/min-maxing in The Division and more sets have been added to allow for more build variety. To ensure that the expansion remains relevant in the current gaming landscape, the onus is on Massive to release the raid in a timely fashion and for it not have an absurd skill barrier.
Warlords of New York’s music isn’t exactly setting any standards. It is by no means bad, in fact, I found myself quite enjoying the music that would play during combat scenarios. The easiest way to describe it would be if you found a bootleg version of the DOOM soundtrack and stuck it in a game. It’s still pretty good but it just doesn’t hit that same point. The mixture of electronic music and metal is always interesting, given their core similarities but stark differences, and it’s still very fitting for when it is played but it definitely is not one of this expansion’s strong points.
Visually speaking, Massive Entertainment has impressively revitalised a dead environment in New York. The original New York from the first game just felt incredibly stale. I get that New York is a concrete jungle but a colour palette that consists of grey, white and orange isn’t very interesting to look at. I jokingly referred to The Division 2 as ‘The Division: The Colour Green Edition’ and it never felt more apparent than in the revitalised New York. Water and oil are spread across the street, light reflects beautifully on metal surfaces and the use of screen space reflections on the watery surfaces just adds an extra layer of depth and detail to the world. The Division 2 is one of the most highly detailed games I have played in terms of art and Warlords of New York maintains this standard. Signs are still rendered in insanely high details and posters are entirely legible. The detail in the world still blows me away and slightly disappoints me as I know a majority of players will probably just run past everything without truly seeing how much effort has been put into recreating New York within The Division 2: Warlords of New York.
The Division 2’s technical performance was far from perfect. The AMD focused Snowdrop Engine has always been an impressive display of technical prowess but its shortcomings were quite abundant during the early stages of The Division 2. There have been a number of optimisations and updates to the engine which have allowed the game to run even smoother than before. DirectX 12’s initial implementation left a bit to be desired last year but it has since been cleaned up quite a lot and my performance during my time playing the expansion was more stable, even when roaming around DC before starting to get reacquainted with the gameplay. My only proper hiccups were a few crashes occurring, including one at the end of a mission where I was forced to replay it in its entirety as a result.
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG Strix X470-F Gaming
- CPU: Ryzen 7 2700X @ 4.2GHz
- GPU: Gigabyte AORUS GTX 1080 Ti @ 1708MHz
- Memory: G.Skill Trident Z RGB 3000MHz 16GB (2x8GB)
- Cooling: NZXT Kraken x72
+ Campaign writing is better than the base game
+ New York looks great with The Division 2’s art direction
+ Mission design is greatly improved
+ New endgame structure feels a little more complete
– Some balancing issues which can feel punishing for solo players
– Game can have crashing issues
Reviewed on PC via well-played.com.au | Tom Clancy’s The Division 2: Warlords of New York Review
Warlords of New York marks a new year for The Division 2 and it does so with flying colours. From an improved campaign structure that allows for smarter writing, to a revamped endgame structure, Massive Entertainment has put in an impressive amount of effort into the first paid expansion for their shared-world shooter. If the upcoming raid is able to learn from the mistakes of the first raid, both in terms of timing and difficulty, The Division 2 has the potential for an impressive amount of staying power.