The first and seemingly only story expansion takes us back to Manhattan with cool boss fights, the return of beloved factions, new skills, changes to the gear system and more. Here are our first impressions.
After cleaning up the streets in Washington DC, pretending to be Tarzan at the Manning National Zoo, and even retaking the Pentagon from the Black Tusk, The Division 2's first real story expansion will take us back to where it all started: New York City. South Manhattan and Coney Island to be more specific. Despite most of us loving our time spent exploring Washington, there was no doubt about what the audience at Ubisoft's E3 2019 conference thought when Massive announced that we'd finish the fight by going back to the east coast. Well, we've been allowed to play parts of Warlords of New York, and the setting is far from the only thing that has us excited for the upcoming expansion.
Sure, running around in the now sunny and summery South Manhattan is a lot of fun as its awe-inspiring skyscrapers, claustrophobic alleys, and the abandoned Luna Park are really differentiated from Washington, but gameplay is always king. That's why we're glad to say that our two hours with Episode 3 and Warlords of New York offered some real goodies in that department as well.
One of the first things you'll notice is that Massive has taken a page from Ghost Recon: Wildlands' book on mission structure. The base game's fairly linear structure has to some extent been replaced by a more open approach that allows you to choose which order you want to do things. This is possible because your main objective is to eliminate Aaron Keener, but finding him requires you to find and kill his four lieutenants first. Finding clues as to their whereabouts is easy enough; just go to three marked areas where you take on short missions with a piece of intel waiting at the end. Each of these will also tell you a bit more about the target, and we found it interesting to learn more about why and how these rogue Division agents went over to the dark side, so the tasks didn't just feel like chores.
Finding all three pieces of intelligence will unveil the respective lieutenant's location on your map, which means a full-length mission with a boss fight. While it might not sound especially original or varied, the Swedish studio has made some cool tweaks based on player feedback. One of them is having more puzzle-like sequences in missions. During our hunt for Theo Parnell, one of Keener's newly revealed lieutenants, we came across three areas that were semi-hidden and required us to shoot fuse boxes or push buttons somewhere else to access. We didn't see anything like the Marina Supply Route's 'smile and wave' puzzle, but that's not to say something similar isn't waiting for us in South Manhattan somewhere.
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Then there are the aforementioned boss fights. Each of the lieutenants will have unique gear and skills, and you'll get these for yourself Mega Man-style after defeating them. There are four new skills - maybe five if Keener has one? Yes, please. Especially as one of them marks the return of The Division's sticky bomb, albeit with a few enhancements. That's not the only intriguing thing about the boss fights either, as fighting them is also surprisingly fun.
Let's face it. Most of the boss fights in The Division 2 were against more bullet spongey enemies with more deadly weapons, but our time with Warlords of New York led us to believe that these fights will be far more unique. We started to understand that our battle against Parnell would be little different mere minutes into the mission when we suddenly saw him standing in a doorway. A bug or an opportunity to rid the world of his terror early for those fast enough on the trigger? Lucky Luke was nothing compared to how fast we emptied our clip into Parnell. But why wasn't he reacting or his health bar affected? As we took a few steps closer, the character model suddenly vanished and Parnell's voice came out of our radio. It was a bloody hologram! In fact, it turns out that Parnell is a genius when it comes to technology and has made ultra-realistic holograms which are obviously going to be put to good use when you finally corner him in.
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Fighting in a camp area surrounded by several inaccessible watchtowers where Parnell's smug face appears in all of them was definitely unexpected. Wasting ammunition and moving out of cover to just realise that we shot one of the holograms was, for want of a better word, neat. Plans changed, and our strategy ended up being to stick our head out for a second before ducking down a millisecond before Parnell revealed his real location by shooting at us. It still wasn't easy. Shutters would cover the towers every now and then, allowing Parnell to change his location and call in a new wave of enemies to steal some of our attention or push us out of cover. While it mostly just prolonged the inevitable on normal difficulty, this twist was a breath of fresh air and could end up being very intense on the hardest difficulty settings. We hope the other missions are just as unique.
New environments, a seemingly bigger focus on exploration and secrets, and unique boss fights would be more than enough to make us spend more hours in The Division 2 after the launch of Warlords of New York, but that's not all we're getting. You can't talk about the expansion without mentioning the general changes and improvements the Episode 3 update implements for Year 1 Pass owners tomorrow. Fighting the flame-spewing Cleaners and brutal Rikers will once again spice things up, and barbecuing them with the new Firewall specialisation's flamethrower is a sight to behold. Top this off with a new gear system that will be easier for newcomers to understand and simpler to optimise for veterans, an improved loot system, a battle pass-like setup, season-based mini-campaigns and special events, improvements to the Dark Zones, ten new levels to work your way up, the second Raid, and a whole bunch of other tweaks to the core experience and it's clear that we won't be putting The Division 2 away for a while after Warlords of New York launches on March 3.