Finish the fight.
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While the original Division took some time to define its world and action-RPG mechanics after its launch, its sequel The Division 2 largely made good on the concept of an open-world looter-shooter. Over the course of its first year, The Division 2's post-launch campaign fleshed out its gameplay and narrative set within a post-collapse Washington D.C, where you faced off against growing enemy factions and gradually amassed more loot for your agent. Eventually, players got to explore the outer reaches of D.C to take on new events, even taking them to Coney Island in the Episode 3 DLC. But now, players are set to return to where the series all started: New York City.
Set for release on March 3 [update: it's actually out a day early] for PS4, Xbox One, and PC, Warlords of New York is the first major expansion for The Division 2. As a $30 standalone expansion that marks the beginning of Year 2 content, it focuses on a mission to retake the ruins of Lower Manhattan from a cabal of rogue agents. Shortly before the expansion's reveal, we had the opportunity to spend some time with a new and improved Division 2 set in an eerie, yet still familiar New York City. Unlike The Division 2's recent DLC episodes, Warlords of New York opens up a large new world space to explore, while also ushering in sweeping revamps to existing gear and leveling systems.
Continuing on with The Division 2's mantra of "endgame first," the expansion brings new avenues to level up your character and acquire more power. In addition to upping the level cap to 40, developer Massive Studio has included a new infinite leveling system to let endgame players spend those stray SHD tokens on minor stat buffs. Similar to the Paragon system from Diablo III, this new meta-leveling system is another way to increase your character's abilities in the ways you want alongside finding new loot.
The gear system has also been streamlined and refocused to make aspects of character growth clearer. One big change coming to the loot is the inclusion of "god-roll" items, which are weapons that have a particular set of stats up buffs that make it stand apart from duplicates like it. During our talk with the developers, they noticed that it was easy for players to feel overwhelmed by how character growth was conveyed, particularly with how many stats were displayed in the menu. In addition to streamlining the gear UI, which tucks away some of the more inconsequential stats under the hood, the skill menus have also been overhauled to make it easier for players to pick their abilities and decide on character builds.
I found this revised leveling system to be most welcome, mostly on account of how cumbersome much of the stat-tracking was towards The Division 2's original endgame. With the new story and world space to explore, the revamped gear and leveling system make it feel something like a fresh start, which is appropriate for the upcoming revisit to The Division 1's old stomping grounds.
While the return to New York will likely evoke some nostalgia for the cold, snowy streets of Times Square, you're exploring an entirely new area of town in a different season. The storyline for Warlords takes place eight months following the initial outbreak, and just after a catastrophic hurricane hit the island. The expansion focuses on the search for a sect of rogue agents led by Aaron Keener, who fans of the original game will recognize as the disavowed operative who operates with brutal tactics--which now includes a new strain of the Black Friday virus. Hunkered down in a massive stronghold in Lower Manhattan, the Division agents need to track down his four lieutenants and face off against the new and improved factions of NYC, including the returning antagonists the Cleaners and the Rikers.
What's interesting about the Warlords of New York is that it not only serves as new endgame content for existing players, but it also works as a worthy jumping-on point. For new players who purchase both the base game and expansion, you can start your game immediately at level 30 and dive straight into the Warlords storyline. According to world content manager Cloe Hammoud, The Division 2's expansion explores some familiar territory, but the revisit will show a different side of the Big Apple.
"While it's a very narrative-driven expansion that has you explore New York, there are no constraints when you compare it to the original game," said Hammoud. "It's summer, eight months after the outbreak, and things are different. The returning factions from the first game now have the new rogue agent embedded within, so now, it's New York with all of these different slices of personality, and it's scary to see how it's changed. This is why we wanted to create a brand-new map to explore. I feel this is a really good way to be able to tell stories of the background of the rogue agents and making sure they have their personality and the skills that the players will have as well. So it's interesting to link this to the gameplay aspect, and the narrative aspects."
I had a particular fondness for the atmosphere of the original, and while I enjoyed the scale of D.C and its depth, I felt it didn't have the same level of personality as its predecessor. So one of the biggest things I appreciated about this revisit to the world of the original was that the plot of Warlords of New York serves as something of an extended epilogue to the first game. In hindsight, the jump to the second game was a jarring shift for veterans, which didn't leave much in the room for closure for what happened in New York City and its vast underground. The first expansion aims to show just what happened to Manhattan, and how things ultimately got worse in the months after.
While exploring the new open world of Lower Manhattan and its four zones--Two Bridges, Civic Center, Battery Park, and the Financial District--you'll be able to engage in side-activities and larger missions. Depending on where you are in terms of character growth, you'll see a set of tasks come up that reflect your current standing in the early, mid, to late-game. That familiar loop of stop, shoot, and loot are in full swing in the expansion. While this doesn't drastically modify the online looter-shooter dynamic, Warlords of New York does have a more narrative-driven questline that introduces some set-pieces that aren't afraid to get weird. There's a surprisingly unsettling vibe permeating the ruins of Lower Manhattan, which makes exploring and working through the wreckage feel a bit eerie. During our hands-on, we went on the hunt for Theo Parnell, Keener's tech-expert, who employs decoy holograms. Throughout this mission, the target will engage life-like holograms while taunting you from the shadows. The mission hits its climax when you confront Parnell and eventually take the decoy tech for yourself.
Like the recent DLC episodes, Warlords will include a set of new skills and upgrades. Each of Keener's lieutenants possesses a signature ability, which you can take after beating them in combat such as the new Decoy tool and the returning Sticky Bombs. Along with these main missions are a suite of side-activities that yield additional loot and intel that reveals more background for each character. It's a familiar loop, one that can likely inspire some feelings of repetition, but it was something the developers didn't want to deviate too far from. In the time since the original game's launch, they stated they were pleased with how players were able to pick up different aspects of the game. However, they also said that more was needed to ensure that new players can come in as well.
"I think it was super interesting to see players really owning the game, discovering the missions, and living in the open worlds as well," Hammoud said. "They were able to beat the missions and activities that we've created, and we wanted to refine the experience to make sure it was well balanced and adapted to all of the players. We've worked on the accessibility alerts on the onboarding, and we really pushed the tutorialization--which we wanted to work on more. These are the elements that we really wanted to refine for the expansion to make sure that we are on point this time around."
As it stands, Warlords of New York looks to be a fun revisit that gives The Division 2 the shot in the arm it needs. A challenge that the sequel faced was that it was released at a time when games-as-a-service titles had become increasingly common. The new batch of content for the game doesn't seek to reinvent The Division 2, but rather, give more reason to want to engage with its particular approach to the familiar looter-shooter dynamic--which is OK with me.
Even after the end of the main story in Warlords, Ubisoft still has plans for more to come with a new season of content that encompasses both New York and Washington D.C for the next year. Along with that, a new raid known as The Foundry is also on its way, which will be free to all players. With the upcoming launch of Warlords of New York, it could be the second wind the online shooter needed. It's been an eventful year for the game with its post-launch campaign, but Warlords looks to be a new beginning for the game's next year of content.