My experience with the Warlords of New York expansion to The Division 2 started out strong thanks to an excellent standalone campaign and a host of very clever revisions to existing RPG systems. The first dozen or so hours were far and away my favorites with the series to date and I can recommend it on the merits of that time alone. Unfortunately, this excellent momentum was slowed considerably by hordes of comically bulletproof bad guys in the heroic and legendary difficulties later on. So while I can’t see Warlords holding my interest long-term, getting to endgame in the first place was still an enjoyable fight.
Whether you’ve already logged hundreds of hours with The Division 2 or are just creating your first character with the included level 30 boost, you’ll find a helicopter ready to leave today so you can be a part of it in old New York. There, the worst of items is likely better than what you have equipped and your old gear can’t be used to augment new loot via recalibration, so aside from sentimental value there’s little reason to hang on to anything. Which is good news if, like me, you put down your The Division 2 character with a bloated and unorganized inventory.After landing in the Big Apple you’ll be sent to eliminate a group of rogue Division agents headed up by Aaron Keener, who turns out to be the most interesting villain in the history of the franchise. Granted, that isn’t saying very much at all, but his antics at least begin to scratch the surface of something interesting before quickly falling back into the realm of cliche.
Generic story aside, the Warlords of New York campaign is the series’ finest to date. It presents six or so hours of blissful shooting, looting, and exploration through an impressively filthy recreation of Lower Manhattan. True to form, the new playable zone is a brilliantly realized cityscape filled to the brim with a freakish level of detail as well as some familiar faces… or gas masks.
The Rikers and Cleaners make a return from The Division 1 with some formidable new tech, including a firebombing drone and some satisfying old gear like that ever-so-flammable gas tank. I had a blast cutting down old enemies and hunting the titular Warlords who’ve each carved out territory in a different part of the city. Since they can be tackled in any order you’re effectively loosed upon the whole of Lower Manhattan after the introduction, this formula works wonderfully with the familiar and enjoyable open-world distractions like capture points, chests, deviously hidden SHD tech caches, and the collectibles that litter the island.
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One of my long-standing criticisms of The Division is that its version of challenge relies too heavily on huge enemy health bars and damage outputs and not enough on thought-provoking mechanics. While this unfortunately ultimately rings true once again in the endgame during the campaign I was pleasantly surprised to find that encounters with Keener’s rogues each came along with a unique and bespoke mechanic. While none of their gimmicks had me breaking a sweat, I still enjoyed the novelty of attempting to differentiate Theo Parnell from his many decoys or melting James Dragov with a temporarily activated minigun.
The bad news is that bullet sponge is back in a big way when it comes to heroic and the new legendary difficulties. Even with a purely damage-focused build I found that enemies reached The Division 1’s notorious levels of resilience when playing in a group of four, which – for anyone keeping track – is a resurgent problem that the sequel had already fixed before this expansion. My squad built up a combined SHD level (like paragon levels in Diablo) of over 200 less than a week into the expansion, and yet we found it impossible to progress through an invaded version of the Roosevelt Island stronghold on legendary difficulty thanks to an endless barrage of explosive drones with obnoxiously large health pools. Elsewhere, a group of rogue agent NPCs we randomly encountered in a heroic stronghold endured a little more than five minutes worth of sustained fire before we ran into a bug that prevented us from reviving one another. It’s ridiculous, and not in the fun way.
This astronomically high time-to-kill coupled with an instantaneous time-to-die has far-reaching negative effects beyond the obvious. It limits the number of viable playstyles, removes any semblance of intuition from combat, and – perhaps – worst of all rewards boring behavior. It’s disappointing to see that even the red-bar enemies, which have historically been easy-to-kill fodder in The Division 2, are now as tough in legendary difficulty as yellow-bars are in hard mode. I revel in a challenge, but this ain’t it. Tuning enemy stats to absurd percentages just doesn’t cut it when so many other shooters are present meaningfully difficult hand-crafted challenges.
The frustrations inherent to fighting a roving band of bullet sponges aren’t helped along by the presence of bugs that impact gameplay either. As late as March 9, I’ve encountered unkillable enemies stuck behind walls, capture points or objectives that refuse to progress, and – most annoyingly – the aforementioned inability to revive or be revived by teammates. Needless to say, that last one has ended multiple heroic runs prematurely and unfairly.
While the act of hunting might be somewhat of a disappointment at endgame, the quarry is anything but. Loot in Warlords of New York is clearly a high point for the series – the revamped recalibration system is so good that I wish I could take it with me into other RPGs. Here’s how it works: like Kanai’s Cube in Diablo 3, you can dismantle an item to store its unique effect, but what really makes the recalibration library shine is that you can also bank the randomly rolled attributes. If you find a mediocre SMG with a perfect damage roll, for instance, you can dismantle the weapon, store the damage stat, and put that perfect roll onto any other SMG you find in the future. The recalibration library made me scrutinize each piece of gear I picked up and conveyed a sense of overall progression without diminishing the excitement of randomized loot. I can’t overstate how brilliant this system is.The recalibration station may steal the show but there are big improvements to loot elsewhere, too. The way an item’s qualities are conveyed visually has been significantly simplified, there are more exotics to chase and many existing exotics have been revamped, and you can now hunt specific gear by opening your map to see what activity will reward the targeted loot you’re looking for. Unfortunately, the more I played of heroic and legendary difficulty the less interested I became in otherwise fun-to-use weapons like shotguns, DMRs, and sniper rifles. My zealous desire to output the most damage per second in order to cut down the absurd time-to-kill won out over my affinity for these weapons when it became clear that most were simply non-starters on higher difficulties. Much like my initial endgame experience with The Division 2, I quickly found myself listening exclusively to the rhythmic thumping of an LMG.
Another area of major and necessary overhauls is the Dark Zone, and I’m happy to report that if you’re in this for the PvP, things here are better than they’ve been since The Division 1’s Survival. First of all, you won’t come across any more non-contaminated loot in the Dark Zone, meaning that everything you find will need to be extracted via helicopter. Secondly, the gray rogue indicator for performing non-violent offenses like hacking an SHD terminal is gone, so you’re either a rogue or you’re not. And finally, loot on the whole is much more interesting than it was at launch, and when coupled with a PvP-specific set the incentive to kill other players and take their hard-earned goodies is absolutely there. As a result of these changes, I had a ton of fun going rogue and manhunt in the Dark Zone, even if it was a little unclear what weapons or skills were good or bad in this context and why. My only major criticism is that all of the Dark Zones are simply too small, and as a result, I spent too much time fighting the same teams over and over again. I shouldn’t have to defend a single extraction from someone who respawned at a nearby entrance more than once.