Anirudh RegidiMay 20, 2020 19:12:10 IST
The Warlords of New York DLC for The Division 2 is a fantastic update to one of the most promising shooters around, but it comes almost too late to matter.
The Division was a wonderful idea, at least on paper. It was a gorgeous game with tight shooting mechanics, a vast assortment of guns, and it was coincidentally set in what was left of a coronavirus-ravaged New York. True blue American badass that you are, you dig up your vast arsenal of weapons and join other like-minded folk in an attempt to save the city and rebuild the land of the free.
Well, that’s not quite true. But the actual story is so boring and forgettable that I had to Google the plot. Apparently, it involves some sort of smallpox-based virus that spread via money — truly philosophical stuff this, at some level — and destroyed the world. I guess people didn’t see the merit in social distancing.
Anyway, society has crumbled. Various militant factions and pseudo-religions nut-jobs have taken over the country. The good 'uns are living the post-apocalyptic American dream: scavenging resources, restocking bunkers, and fighting off said nut-jobs while donning shorts and T-shirts, with an arsenal of weapons that will put small armies to shame. The bad ’uns are, of course, living their version of the same dream.
Now this might be an acceptable way of life in some circles, but society must be rebuilt, right? And that’s where you come in. You, a member of a sleeper cell of ludicrously well-equipped special agents, must step in to restore order in the world, make sense of this chaos… by scavenging resources and hunting down baddies while donning shorts and T-shirt... with an arsenal of weapons that will put small armies to shame… ? Uh… OK.
What separates you from the thousands of other citizens doing the same thing? Your smartwatch, that glow-in-the-dark-and-give-away-your-position wrist gadget that works like a glorified GPS and walkie-talkie thingy.
Seriously, don't think too hard about the plot, or the setting. I didn't, and I sometimes wish Ubisoft didn't either.
Anyway, the setting is different this time around. Or it’s supposed to be. The first game was set in New York. The second in Washington DC, and the Warlords of New York DLC, in, you guessed it, New York. It’s supposed to be a different area of New York, and while the snow’s melted since last time, Warlords’ New York has been hit by a massive hurricane.
Whatever the case, the map is functionally different in that combat takes place in more claustrophobic corridors, but visually, it’s the same old Division.
A fresh start, again
At its core, The Division is an online action RPG. Borrowing pages from the likes of World of Warcraft, Diablo, Fallout, and just about every other RPG you can think of, the core gameplay loop is a grind for XP and equipment, which you use to level-up your character and fine-tune your damage output. And it’s a loop that gets tedious very fast if the gameplay isn’t fun and if missions lack variety.
The Division, the first game, fell into this trap. It had potential, which is why I loved it, but like Destiny 1, it was a clunky first attempt, and it wasn’t surprising that it failed. There was a formula here that could work though, it just needed refining.
So, when The Division 2 popped up three years later and I had to give up on months of progress, I wasn’t too disappointed. It was worth giving up on the old to start afresh with something better, more refined. That was the expectation anyway.
The Division 2 was all of that, at first. Gameplay was actually fun because Ubisoft dropped bullet-sponge enemies in favour of quantity and variety. Loot drops were plentiful and varied, allowing for players to frequently change up their play style.
Like Diablo, the weapons were certainly not memorable, but you’d get enough variety to keep you entertained and experimenting.
The end-game — the stuff you do after the story is done — also made sense. Every once in a while, you could complete certain missions that would partially reset the world and make the game more challenging. And Ubisoft didn’t just do this by increasing enemy health. New enemies were introduced, each with new fighting styles, equipment, and attack patterns. This game was actually fun, in its own grindy way.
The thing is, the game still died. Rather than stick with it and keep introducing new and interesting content, or listening to player feedback, Ubisoft treated us to a slew of uninteresting patches and then… just silence. Developers like Activision (makers of the Call of Duty franchise), release updates on, effectively, a weekly basis, updates based on player feedback.
Today, the base Division 2 game sometimes sells for under Rs 300, that’s six percent of the original price a year after release. For context, 2013’s GTA V is still selling at Rs 2,100. Older indie games released years ago are still selling at their launch prices.
And just when I thought that this game was also dead, this Rs 2,200 Warlords of New York DLC popped up, including a free update to the base game that reworked loot, and a promise of seasonal missions and updates, and a bit more.
Is Ubisoft finally getting serious about the franchise? It had better be. Fool me once and all that.
Warlords of New York
By itself, the DLC is indeed excellent. The new New York isn’t that different from Washington, but the change of pacing as a result of tighter combat spaces is nice. Enemies have also been reworked, with the introduction of faster moving groups and hyperactive ‘rogue agents’ adding to the fun. There is this one buff dude though, packing a flamethrower, who takes forever to take down. And he’s there in just about every fight, completely ruining any sense of pacing. Maybe tone him down a little eh, Ubisoft?
As expected, the story is again just as forgettable as it’s always been, but thankfully, the missions themselves are fun while they last.
The eponymous Warlords of New York are a gang of four lieutenants and their boss. Each lieutenant commands one portion of New York, and it’s your job to hunt them down. This hunt finally leads you to their boss, who you must also take down to finish the story.
The story is functional enough, but it’s the settings that are interesting. Each fight is set in a unique environment, with one on an oil tanker being particularly memorable. Each environment has a unique mechanic (fire, gas, verticality, etc.). And each boss has a unique weapon and combat style, which you can acquire once you defeat them. There’s enough variety here to keep you entertained for the 6–10 hrs it’ll take you to get through the campaign.
It is fun while it lasts, but there are some issues with the new design as well, particularly with the way loot has been reworked.
Looter-shooters like The Division thrive on one thing: loot. There needs to be enough of it to keep the game exciting. With a game like Diablo or Borderlands, you’ll have weapons popping out of just about everything. And while they're not all unique, they're usually interesting, and you'll want to keep experimenting with loadouts. This system is particularly well implemented in Borderlands 3, which literally has a billion+ weapons. You don't feel overwhelmed by the variety, you revel in it.
This was the case in pre-patch Division 2 as well. Weapons were plentiful, but also interesting enough to warrant experiments. With the DLC, though, Ubisoft reworked loot to make drops less frequent, which means fewer guns to play around with, but rather than make these drops more significant and interesting, nothing else seems to have changed, which means that not only do you get fewer weapons, you get fewer interesting weapons.
Then there’s the simplified stat mechanic that makes weapon effectiveness easier to gauge. Paired with this is a new recalibration mechanic, which lets you take the best bits of the weapons and gear you like and build a kit that’s entirely your own,
This is nice on paper, but there are two significant flaws that, for me at least, ruined the fun.
- There aren’t enough guns.
- For recalibration to matter, there needs to be enough loot, and for that, you need to feel invested enough to be willing to play for a while.
The first point makes gameplay a little bit dull but isn’t really a deal breaker. For example, I played through the entire DLC campaign without finding even one decent assault rifle and was stuck with DMRs, LMGs and SMGs for the duration, which was frustrating.
The second point is more important because that point is what the future of The Division hinges on.
See, Ubisoft has already burnt us twice — first with The Division, and then with the year of neglect for The Division 2 — and as good as the game is, there’s no way a game like The Division can survive without continuous tweaks, updates, and fresh content. It’s a question of building long term value, and trust.
For less than Rs 2,100, my choices include the fantastic, genre-defining Half-Life: Alyx, or Control, or Hunt: Showdown, or even Call of Duty: Warzone — which is free, by the way — or I could buy The Division 2’s DLC which offers a forgettable 6-hr campaign and a shaky promise of future content.
As a gamer, the choice to me is quite plain. As good as Warlords is, I don’t think it’s enough to win back the trust of The Division 2’s players. It's a game worth playing, if you're a fan, but I'm not yet sure if it's a franchise worth investing in.
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