The Division 2 Nails Loot Where Anthem Stumbled

Despite its real-world roots, The Division 2's loot feels good.

The Division 2 isn't entirely released yet, but the game is live for its most fervent fans, the players who are willing to buy the Gold or Ultimate Editions. And no surprise, The Division 2 is already drawing a positive reception. After the rough launches of Anthem and Fallout 76, the community is happy for a title that works at release.

I can paint with all the colors of the wind. | Mike Williams/USG, Ubisoft

One facet of The Division 2 that's drawing positive commentary is the loot. Anthem continues to stumble with issues related to loot, notably the loot drop rate and the difficulty of min-maxing under the current system. There have also been issues with the lack of set loot tables for harder encounters. With a game built around loot, you'd think that's one of the main focuses for a developer to get right, but Anthem proves how easy it is to mess up.

Proper loot in a game is based on a few different facets: I'll call them Frequency, Specificity, Variety, Capability, and Novelty. Frequency is how often you're getting loot; Specificity is the ability of a player to target a specific item or set; Variety is offering a lot of options visually or mechanically; Capability is the effect the loot has on your play style; and Novelty is the most subjective measure, focusing on whether loot continues to feel "new" to the player. You don't have to hit all of them, but the more you do, the more satisfying your game is.

Spread the Wealth Around

Frequency is the easiest one to reach. A developer just has to make sure that loot is dropping at a steady pace. Loot is the carrot for many players, the thing they want at the end of every journey. A developer can aim to establish narrative and emotional meaning for each quest, but in MMOs or games like them, this can prove difficult in the long run, because you need things like bespoke writing, cinematics, or voice acting. Proper loot allows the developer to add more randomly-generated quests, because they're still offering something players want: good gear.

The Division 2 is always dropping gear. If you just explore Washington D.C., you'll find loot at the end of alleys and hallways. As you wander, you'll find random events like public executions, hostage situations, rescue missions, supply drops, skirmishes, and territory control regions. Finishing these events will reward you with some gear of your level. If you want better stuff, main missions, side missions, and Control Points can be completed to have a chance at higher-level gear. This latter point touches on Specificity as well: I tend to hit every Control Point, because the stash rooms at the end of each one offers some of the best gear, with a chance at Superior (Purple) or High-End (Yellow) items.

As you level up in The Division 2, you'll tend to settle at specific rarities. For the first 10 levels, I generally saw Worn (White) or Standard (Green) gear, but at the leveling mid-point, it tended to be Specialized (Blue) or Superior gear. Despite that general range, most rarity levels have a chance to drop at any time. Getting a Superior or High-End items feels cool, even if it's not particularly useful to you. Getting a Superior Light Machine Gun is worthless to me, but it drives me forward because I now feel there's a chance to get a Superior Rifle. This is part of the 'pop' that was missing with Anthem, because each level range would top out at specific rarity: at low levels, you can only get Common or Uncommon gear.

A Pinata of Guns

The Division 2's weapon and armor system also adds a good deal of variety. First up, there's a number of different weapon categories: Assault Rifles, Marksman Rifles, Submachine Guns, Shotguns, Light Machine Guns, Pistols, and Rifles. Each category generally has its own damage thresholds, firing rate, stability, magazine size, and range.

Where you want to be on the battlefield determines which types of weapons you use: I've currently moved to using a high-damage scoped rifle as my primary weapon, a high-rate of fire assault rifle for mid-distance combat and softening targets, and a sawed-off shotgun as my pistol for those who get too close. I played with a far more aggressive person who used a shotgun and light machine gun as his standard weapons. And within each group, there's still a lot of leeway. An AK-M and FAMAS are both assault rifles, but the latter has a much higher rate of fire, with a trade-off in damage per bullet.

Mmmmm, headshot damage. | Mike Williams/USG, Ubisoft

On top of that, there are two other systems that push weapons even further. Weapon mods are unlockable within The Division 2's Perks system, letting you added scopes, muzzles, underbarrels, or magazine to any weapon. These mods improve a stat at the cost of another. So, a 12X Scope may increase Headshot Damage by 30 percent, at the cost of 20 percent Reload Speed. You have to decide which facet is more important to you. As a long-range player, I generally hope that I can kill a target before it gets to me, so that scope is really useful.

Each weapon can also randomly drop with a talent or two once you get past worn items. These talents vastly change a weapon's capabilities without any drawbacks. Some talents are straight increases, like Allegro's 10 percent increase to Rate of Fire, while others require you to perform a skill in-game. The Spike talent increases Skill Damage by 25 percent for 10 seconds whenever you get a headshot. These talents feed heavily in character builds and min-maxing, because the benefits are based on play style. Ranger increases weapon damage by 2 percent for every 5 meters you are from the target, meaning you'll want to play as a sniper to get the most out of the talent. Synergizing your weapons, weapon talents, and skills is how you really wring out maximum damage and survivability in The Division 2. And all this is before you get to gear sets, where equipping gear from the same manufacturer can net you other bonuses.

Gunmetal Grey Isn't That Interesting

Finally, there's Novelty, which is probably the place The Division 2 falters the most. Even Destiny 2's common and rare weapons feel different because their future guns have a wide variety of looks, and you can end up with perks like Dragonfly, which makes certain kills cause elemental explosions. Likewise, Borderlands 2's random-roll weapons have a wide range of looks depending on manufacturer and rarity, and offer a ton of elemental effects or other gimmicks. Anthem falters because even the Legendary Weapons use the same skins as the basic guns, with a single unique ability. They don't feel like you're getting something unique.

If you're a military buff, I'm sure the wide variety of weapons is a big plus. For me, the difference between the weapons is all about feel; I don't know what an MK16 is, so it has no meaning to me. So visually, a gun is a gun is a gun. I'll generally stop to take a look at another player in a safehouse because of their cosmetic gear-which has no stats-rather than a cool weapon or piece of armor they might have. World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 14, and Destiny 2 have that moment where you walk by a player and inspect them because you want to know about that wicked item they have equipped. The Division 2 has less of that given its current weapon and armor system, which relies heavily on real-world equipment.

Very nice skill with the sawed off shotgun. | Mike Williams/USG, Ubisoft

Despite that, The Division 2 covers enough of the loot feature spectrum to feel really good. While leveling, you're constantly shifting your equipment as you get newer, stronger items, or as you settle into the mechanics and decide to start min-maxing. And there are weapons I haven't even seen yet, as they only drop once you've entered the endgame World Tiers. Ubisoft Massive learned a great deal from the first Division and it looks like it came ready to part with the sequel. The core of any looter shooter is the loot, and thus far, the sense of progression in the Division 2 feels amazing.

Tagged with MMOs, Opinions, PC, PlayStation 4, Shooters, Ubisoft, Ubisoft Massive, Xbox One.

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