As much as I love The Division 2, I can’t really remember what it was about. You play a group of good guys with guns and you shoot all the bad guys with guns, often while exploring some of the many famous museums, sights, and landmarks of Washington, DC.
Each mission is more memorable for its setting or gear than any narrative revelations it throws up – so much so that by the end of the campaign I was storming the Capitol Building with no motivation beyond earning some shiny new loot. There are even some bugs that I remember more fondly than the story of The Division 2, so it’s refreshing that one of the focuses for the upcoming Warlords of New York expansion is delivering a narrative that players can get behind.
It’s been eight months since the Dollar Flu virus was released in the United States, and the Division has been hunting down a cure ever since. You arrive in New York City looking for a cell of rogue Division agents led by the charismatic Aaron Keener, but you quickly discover that not only do they have the cure, they also have an advanced strain of the virus capable of inflicting even more suffering upon the people of New York and beyond. Backing Keener up are four lieutenants, the titular Warlords, and so in true Ubisoft fashion it’s up to you to clear out each warlord’s Lower Manhattan stronghold and defeat them, at which point you gain access to Keener himself.
The Warlords of New York expansion seems to have a very clear picture of the story it wants to tell. Given Ubisoft’s prior form, it would be unjustifiably optimistic to expect emotional depth or political reflection despite the clear potential for both in this premise, but the straightforward setup and cast of memorable antagonists set the expansion up for the kind of satisfying conclusion that was sadly missing from the base game.
Aaron Keener has been introduced piecemeal throughout The Division 2’s post-launch content plans, so most players will at least be familiar with the rogue agent by the time they meet him in the expansion. For the dedicated lore community though, who have been digging through audio logs and notes to piece Keener’s story together, it’ll be gratifying to see the series’ lore placed front and centre in Warlords of New York.
The main mission I played over two hours saw me tracking one of Keener’s lieutenants, Theo Purnell, before chasing him through a prison in Lower Manhattan. The mission boasts all the hallmarks of the main game’s campaign: memorable location, varied arenas to battle through, and a few surprises to keep you guessing until the end.
The boss fight at its conclusion is a marked improvement from those of the base game. The battle takes place in a busy courtyard with Rikers pouring in from every entrance, a series of automated turrets to deal with, and countless Theo Purnell holograms to make locating the real boss a nightmare. Each time you clear out a wave of Rikers, sniper nests open up around the arena, and it’s up to you to discern the real Purnell before he’s able to land a devastating long-range shot on you.
After chipping away at the boss a little he redeploys his holograms across the arena, clouding your vision with false targets. It’s disorienting and claustrophobic, and perhaps the first time I can recall breaking a sweat during a Division boss fight outside of raid encounters.
I also got to spend a little over an hour traipsing through the balmy summertime ruins of NYC. The winter wasteland of the first game is nowhere to be seen; instead the streets are overgrown with vegetation and teeming with wildlife, putting it a lot closer to the Washington DC open world in terms of atmosphere.
Massive Entertainment has also carried over its living world systems from The Division 2, so factions will wander the streets, there are control points to lock down, allies to supply, and skirmishes that will erupt whenever opposing sides meet in the streets. It’s certainly an improvement on the first game’s depiction of New York City – a richer, more densely packed open world – but the lack of snow will leave nostalgic fans wanting.
The changes I didn’t get to see are arguably the most exciting, though. An increased level cap, overhauled skills system, and suite of new Division 2 Exotics and gear sets should lead to a fresh meta. There are new skill types and weapons to unlock across the expansion’s campaign, plus sweeping changes to the game’s UI to make it easier to discern which loot is best.
Seeing new, returning, and veteran players exploring all of this as a community, testing game-breaking builds and chasing new level-caps, is the main draw for me, and packaging all of this new content into one tidy release rather than the current episodic model will hopefully recreate that beautiful ‘day one’ experience.