"New York is the only real city-city," Truman Capote once said.
When The Division 2 was first announced, players were excited for the change in scenery, moving from snowy Manhattan to the ruins of Washington, D.C.. As the community dove in though, some admitted they missed aspects of the first game, including global events and the loot system. Moreover, some just simply missed New York itself. For those people, fighting modern day armies on the streets of Washington, is nothing compared to doing the same in the tainted slush of Broadway.
The announcement of Episode Three for The Division 2's Season Pass brings a glimmer of hope back to the Manhattan faithful. Players are headed back to Coney Island to save biologist Vitaly Tchernenko from rogue Division agent Aaron Keener. But Coney Island is just a prelude to something much bigger. For the first time in the series' short history, The Division 2 will have a full, paid expansion, taking players back to New York. That new experience is called The Division 2: Warlords of New York.
Warlords of New York is the culmination of everything that The Division has been about up until now. "This is all about the hunt for Aaron Keener. It's about kind of closing this story arc that we started with [The Division] and kind of bringing closure to that element." says The Division 2 associate game director Drew Rechner. "For us, it just felt like the right time and right place to conclude that story that we started all those years ago with [The Division]. But beyond that, it was also that it marked the perfect time for us to, through a year essentially at this point of listening to our community and working with our community, to take all of their feedback and work with that to overhaul some of our core systems."
Two factions from the first Division are returning for Warlords of New York. The Rikers, escaped convicts from Rikers Island prisons, are back with their specific brand of anarchy. Players will also face off against the Cleaners again, former New York sanitation workers who have decided to burn the infection out of the city.
Not only do players face Aaron Keener and other rogue Division agents, they're also going to get a fully-overhauled gear system, a revamped Dark Zone experience, and the return of Global Events from The Division. There are new player leagues, and a new season of content that will give players a three-month long mini-campaign. And to make space for all these new adventures, the level cap for The Division 2 is increasing from 30 to 40, before giving way to the new infinite SHD Level system.
There have been hints that Massive Entertainment was looking to expand the scope of The Division 2. While The Division took place entirely inside Midtown Manhattan, The Division 2 started within an unnamed part of Maryland, outside the district. It also introduced the helicopter, which allowed players to reach locations outside of the main D.C. map, including Kenly College (based on Howard University), the Manning National Zoo (based on the Smithsonian National Zoological Park), and the Pentagon. Coney Island in episode three expands on the system, taking players on a much further helicopter ride, a prelude to the new map.
It is a new map, by the way. Yes, you're heading back to New York, but not back to the snowy drifts of Midtown. Instead, Warlords of New York will have players hunting through the streets of Lower Manhattan for Keener and his goons. There are four districts—Two Bridges, Civic Center, Battery Park and Financial District, each of which has been torn apart by a late summer hurricane. You'll need to find intel to discover each lieutenant's location and defeat them to find Keener's hideout. This isn't a linear experience either, as you can tackle them in any other.
Whenever you find and dispatch one of Keener's four lieutenants, you'll gain their special skill to slot into your builds. This includes a holographic Decoy, two variants on the first Division's Sticky Bomb, and the Shock Trap. The skills aren't tailored to work with specific builds, simply providing new options for players. "So each of those are really designed to work with a variety of different builds—obviously some would work for different builds and fantasies a little bit better than others, but they're definitely intended to be new tools in the player's toolbox," says Rechner.
Warlords of New York feels like a response to several complaints about The Division 2. In one example, players have complained that boss fights at similar and repetitive, without any moments that make them stand. Massive Entertainment tackled that directly, trying to make encounters with more impact and meaning.
One encounter is against Theo Parnell, the resident sniper who uses the decoy hologram skill to skill players into attacking and giving away their position. "We really wanted to, this time, make bespoke epic boss encounters. They are also themed very differently, each one feels very unique," says Rechner. "That's very very different than the other boss fights. So each one we have a different strong theme, whether it's around fire, traps, or deception. That's not just the actual AI, although of course there's a lot of work there, but it's also making sure the environment plays a role and that there's actual stages to the boss fight."
Exploring Gear 2.0
Massive Entertainment already highlighted the upcoming Gear 2.0 system in the run-up to Episode Three's release. First up is a streamlining of The Division 2's rather obtuse endgame gear system. It's a mess of stats, gear mods, talents, and gear sets that pile on top of each other. Not only do you have to worry about the right piece of gear dropping—something that became easier with targeted loot in Title Update 6—you had to make sure the stats and talents were correct. There was entirely too much randomness, something that Rechner acknowledges.
"We created a game that had a lot of depth and it really connected to our core audience on a really deep level, right? But with that depth crept in some complexity and that complexity ultimately resulted in lots of layers of RNG, a lot of randomness," he says. "In order to offset that randomness and give players what they're looking for we have to drop a lot of loot. So that means loot frequency was extremely high, which meant that put a lot of pressure onto our inventory management, which meant players were constantly filling their inventory, but the vast majority of the things that they received were actually not necessarily things that they found useful."
Gear 2.0 is a complete rethink of the entire loot system. There will be fewer Talents overall on gear, making each one more meaningful. Skill Power is becoming Skill Tiers, which is a system that should allow players to see exactly how their skills will affect their build without tedious number crunching. Requirements for certain talents are going away. Gear recalibration is changing, so players will be able to save great rolls into their crafting table; no more holding onto to gear because you're worried you'll never find another piece with that good roll.
"It's not just making sure there's less randomness, but actually more intuitive so it's easier to say, "Oh I want to play a really high DPS sniper." Well, it's a lot easier than it was before," says Rechner. "So with those changes it becomes this clear path for building the builds that you want to build."
The Dark Zone, the Division's infamous PvP free-for-all warzones, are also getting a revamp. Not only are there improved rewards, but Massive Entertainment is recasting them to feel closer to the Dark Zones from the first Division. In The Division 2, there's more PvE content available, with players having to fight against tougher AI enemies in addition to other players. Instead, the Dark Zones will be shifting back to more PvP.
"When we released the Dark Zones in Division 2, we made a lot of changes between [The Division] and [The Division 2]. In that time, we took a lot of feedback from our community and we ourselves arrived at the conclusion that, with the Dark Zone in Warlords of New York we really wanted to go back a little bit more towards [The Division]-style experience," admits Rechner. "Which is really about making it straightforward, streamlined; it's about going in, finding great loot, and extracting it."
"It's all about player-to-player interactions," Rechner adds. Not just combat interactions, like players going rogue and killing each other, but also friendly ones, like working together to extract gear. "I think it's those friendly actions in a lawless area that can be super powerful. When the game isn't telling you you have to do this, but you choose to do it and choose to be a hero or maybe you choose to be the villain, right? I think that's a super powerful fantasy and experience and it's a little bit more towards what made the Dark Zone in [The Division] special."
Frequent Flyer Miles
While the expansion will take place in Lower Manhattan, Massive Entertainment does not expect players to leave behind Washington D.C. entirely. The hunt for Keener and his lieutenants will take place in New York, but the additional global events and seasons will be coming to both maps.
"So after the main story campaign of Warlords of New York has concluded, all of Washington DC and New York become open and available. You can move between the two maps completely unrestricted. All of our seasonal content including Leagues, Global Events, and the seasonal Manhunt, they all take place on both maps," says Rechner.
Players who have not paid for Warlords of New York can enjoy all of the mechanical changes within the DC map. They'll be able to play with their Warlords-owning friends in DC, they just won't be able to hop over to New York and face some Cleaners. Massive Entertainment is hoping that endgame activities will keep players that do own Warlords bouncing back-and-forth between both maps. "In terms of preventing players from just staying in New York, there are those seasonal activities, leagues, global events, and legendary missions; there's this whole web of things that provoke the player to not permanently stay in one map, but actually move between the two," Rechner explains.
Warlords of New York is coming sooner than you think. Episode Three of The Division 2 launches on February 12 for Year 1 Season Pass holders, and February 19 for everyone else. Warlords of New York is hot on its heels with a March 3, 2020 release, with an asking price of $30. For those who have yet to play The Division 2, there will be a new Standard Edition for $40 that includes the base game and Warlords, or the $60 Ultimate Edition that includes the base game, Warlords, and the Year 1 content. Oh, and the next raid is also coming this spring.
It's a host of new stuff for The Division 2, with Massive setting out to give the game its own version of Destiny's The Taken King. And even once you reach endgame in Warlords, the narrative seasons will give players more reason to keep playing.
"I definitely think that the world of The Division is super compelling, and I don't want to spoil the end, but there is a very clear reason why our seasons exist," says Rechner. "They are very related to the kind of conclusion of the Warlords of New York campaign. So there is a nice setup and reason for players to continue playing The Division 2."