Is The Division 2 a perfect game? No, but unlike every previous looter shooter, it's launched without any game-breakingly enormous problems, and that is so refreshing. It runs well, its open world is full of things to do, its endgame is rewarding and varied, and it absolutely buries you in interesting loot. It took every looter shooter before The Division 2 a year or more to get to that point by way of a massive overhaul (Borderlands notwithstanding, though it's not really in the same live service genre). Destiny had The Taken King expansion 12 months after launch, and Destiny 2 had the Forsaken expansion, also 12 months after launch. The original Division received update 1.8 some 20 months after launch. And then there's Anthem, which will be mired in the growing pains of the looter shooter timeline for the foreseeable future.
Not only that, The Division 2 is the first looter shooter to effectively build on its predecessor. Destiny 2 is the best comparison here because it's the only other true sequel in this space. Destiny 2 has improved a lot and now I rarely go more than a few days without playing it, but there's no denying that it made some of the same old mistakes (and some new ones) at launch. Destiny fans were hoping it would start on the level of The Taken King and build from there, but Destiny 2's only recently gotten back to that stage thanks to Forsaken. Compare that to The Division 2, which used The Division update 1.8 as a launchpad for bigger and better things.
Activities, loot, and customization
The Division 2 can already hold its own in the three main areas where these big looter shooters tend to struggle. For starters, it's overflowing with things to do, and all of them are worth doing. Destiny's early days were defined by cheesy loot grinds mandated by unrewarding activities, and for me, one of Anthem's biggest turn-offs is the lack of things to do and see out in the world. Meanwhile, The Division 2 could pass for a single-player sandbox game. I was delighted to dig into the making of the game's take on Washington, DC, and exploring it for myself has been every bit as exciting as I'd hoped. The city is filled with collectibles and environmental details that characterize the world in a way the campaign itself never does. There are dozens of main and side missions, Control Points and Unknown Activities pop up all the time, and bounties and bosses help fill the few gaps between them - to say nothing of the Dark Zones, strongholds, and Conflict, the new PvP mode.
I can get lost in The Division 2 in a way I simply can't in any other looter shooter. This is partly a function of fundamental design: Destiny 2, for instance, is more like a collection of levels than a sandbox. Its planets are places you visit to complete specific challenges, not endlessly explore - and that's not a point against them. I mean, Forsaken's Dreaming City is still one of my favorite environments ever. But this is also a function of how dense and lively The Division 2's Washington feels. It's a vast, compelling, inviting city that constantly presents you with new things to do.
And again, all of those things are worth doing, because damn near everything in The Division 2 dishes out piles of loot. Even before you hit the endgame - and we'll talk more about that later - you're given an array things with clear, valuable rewards. On top of new guns and gear, missions award essential SHD Tech and skill points that you can use to unlock new abilities and perks. This is especially relevant for side missions and optional goals like projects because it motivates me to hunt down and complete everything on the map. And if all I want to do is grind up my Gear Score, I can play whatever I'm in the mood for and still make progress. Strongholds are the go-to endgame activities, but Conflict, Dark Zones, and basic world activities can all yield meaningful upgrades for my character. For once, I'm not forced to play the few activities that actually give decent drops.
Perhaps most importantly, I can apply those drops in interesting ways to make my character feel unique. Cripplingly limited customization was a huge killjoy in the original Division and Destiny 2 at launch, but while The Division 2's perks are pretty linear, there's a ton of variety in the skills, and that only opens up further when you start modding. I've barely dipped my toes into skill mods but just messing with weapons mods alone, I've already caught myself weighing headshot damage against better accuracy and the like, tailoring my mods to suit different weapons in my favorite archetypes. Choosing the right armor presents another fascinating balancing act of enabling set bonuses, getting the right passive skills, and racking up stats like Defense and Utility. Oh, and you can actually build and save loadouts, so there's now officially no excuse for every other looter shooter to lack that feature.
Before and after endgame
Finally, there's the true looter shooter acid test: how's the endgame? Currently, the endgame in Anthem is a couple of strongholds. The initial endgame in Destiny was a raid. The endgame in The Division was… actually, what was the initial endgame in The Division? I think it involved some dudes in backpacks.
My point is, in a genre where the default answer to the endgame question is "coming along," The Division 2 has practically squirreled away another game entirely. Once you hit the endgame proper, the Black Tusk faction invades and resets the map by adding new challenges while revamping old missions with new enemies. You're still fighting in the same areas, and the Black Tusk versions of old missions do feel pretty familiar, but all this gives you a staggering amount of new challenges to complete. And thanks to the World Tier system, your entire game levels up as you complete those challenges and improve your character, which constantly increases the speed on the loot treadmill. We're still waiting on The Division 2's first eight-player raid, but aspirational endgame content is baked into the world, so there's already no shortage of things to do on your own or with your friends.
That's the main point underlining all of this. The Division 2, a AAA looter shooter, came out this month, yet I'm playing it right now and having a great time. I hate that that's a surprise, but I'm too happy with The Division 2 to get upset. I'm not waiting for it to be fixed. I'm not telling my friends to give it a year before diving in. When I look at its extensive content roadmap, I don't see necessary bandaids - I see exciting additions. I've played every looter shooter of the past five years, and in terms of day one quality and content, The Division 2 beats all of them and it isn't even close.