Title: Warlords of New York Released On: March 3, 2020 Genre: Third-person Shooter / Action RPG Reviewed On: PC Also Available On: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Google Stadia Developer: Massive Entertainment Publisher: Ubisoft MSRP: $29.99 USD / $39.99 CAD / £25.99 GBP
It has been almost a year since we reviewed The Division 2, yet only a few months since it placed second in our annual GOTY picks. The Division 2 was in fact my personal #1 pick for 2019, as the free episodic content and numerous quality-of-life updates throughout the year kept me coming back for more. But like many ‘live service’ games, which are often judged prematurely by gamers (no doubt due to the current zeitgeist of instant gratification), The Division 2 was picked up by many at launch; only to be shelved not long after. This is not to say that the compulsion loop of the game was ideal: loot was thrown at the player and often felt meaningless, finding the ‘right’ gear felt nigh on impossible, and the crafting/recalibration systems felt pointless at times.
But can Warlords of New York address the issues that many had with The Division 2 and revitalise the player base?
Warlords of New York: More than Just a Story Arc
If you are not familiar with the storyline of The Division and The Division 2, or just dashed through the missions without paying much attention, you would be forgiven for surmising that the premise of Warlords of New York appears fairly uninspired. The first game was set in New York and here we find ourselves returning to New York, so does that mean all of the work that Division agents did in the first game was for naught?
Not at all. The first game centered on the ‘Dollar Flu’ outbreak and the events following the quarantine of Manhattan during the winter. TLDR: the Division establishes a foothold and reclaims the city, pushes back all of the factions which had taken advantage of the widespread chaos, discovers the virus was manufactured by Dr. Gordon Amherst, and eventually uncovers the involvement of a rogue Division agent by the name of Aaron Keener. The events of The Division 2 take place the following summer in Washington D.C., with a completely different Division agent; so technically you are not returning to NYC, as your agent has never been there since the activation of the SHD Network.
Warlords of New York begins with our agent and Alani Kelso answering a distress call from Faye Lau, the leader of Division Operations in New York City. City Hall has been devastated by a biological weapon deployed by Keener (remember it is now 7 or 8 months since the events of the very first game), who oversees a group of warlords that control Lower Manhattan; an area of New York City that we never ventured into during the events of the original The Division. We effectively pushed the defeated forces down into Lower Manhattan, where they have been reorganising and gathering strength.
As an admittedly diehard fan of the franchise, I personally really enjoyed the story that unfolded during the hunt for Keener. But conversely, I would understand if many players are left feeling wanting, as the hunt for Keener only takes around six hours or less if you really try to fly through it. In my case it was probably closer to ten hours, as I took my time completing side missions as well as searching for some collectibles. At first glance, that does not seem like much for your $30; but the story arc of Warlords of New York is just the beginning.
Through the course of Warlords of New York, you will increase from level 30 to level 40, your mileage may vary as to whether you hit 40 before or after you finish the campaign. This means that all the gear you have accumulated during Year One will eventually be dismantled or sold for credits, as Gear Score has been ditched in favour of Item Level (31-40). For many this could prove frustrating, but anyone accustomed to games which have similar cycles with progression and loot will not be surprised. For those without the expansion however, you will be stuck at level 30 with a Gear Score capped at 515; upped from the previous maximum of 500.
Speaking of gear, the launch of Warlords of New York also marked the introduction of Title Update 8 and the transition to Gear 2.0. Regardless of whether you own the expansion or not, every piece of gear has been changed.
The new system is a vast improvement over the old, as well as being significantly more user friendly. All of the Brand Sets have been updated to feature set bonuses that are suited for a specific playstyle; so, whilst many of the names will be familiar, the bonuses that they provide have been changed. Gear talents (which no longer require a certain number of stats to unlock) now only feature on weapons, chest pieces and backpacks; whilst the stats themselves have been significantly simplified. All gear features a single core attribute: Weapon Damage, Armour, or Skill Tier (the new stat which replaces Skill Power). This actually assists in determining what a particular Brand Set is designed for: DPS build, Tanky build, Skill build, etc. In addition to this single core attribute, gear will also have 2 attributes from the following possibilities:
- Weapon Damage
- Skill Tier
- Weapon Handling
- Critical Hit Chance
- Critical Hit Damage
- Headshot Damage
- Skill Damage
- Skill Repair
- Skill Haste
- Armor Regeneration
- Hazard Protection
- Explosive Resistance
The big news is that the controversial Stat Budget System has been removed, all stats now have a chance to roll at maximum; and with the new way stats are depicted, it makes it much easier to see at a glance just how a piece of gear stacks up stat-wise.
Weapons now roll with 2 core attributes: damage for their class and their class-specific bonus (critical chance, damage to health, etc.); and on high-end weapons, a single additional attribute which could be anything from reload speed to rate of fire. Much like on gear, weapon talents have all been tweaked and no longer require a minimum number of stats. Overall, the new system is much easier to navigate and makes it much easier to see at a glance whether a weapon or piece of gear should be used, dismantled, or kept for the recalibration library.
You heard right: recalibration is no longer useless.
You can now extract an attribute or talent from a piece of gear and add it to your Calibration Library. The end-goal here is of course to have maximum values for every single core attribute and normal attribute in your library, with all of the talents stored as well. The only exception being Perfected talents, which cannot be extracted and stored. It will take some time to get there of course, as gear with max rolls are few and far between; but higher difficulty levels tend to reward gear with higher attributes.
Just keep in mind, you can still only recalibrate 1 item on a gear or weapon: Core attribute, Normal attribute, or Talent. This results in somewhat of a decision tree when deciding to keep a piece of gear or not at endgame:
- Is this the brand set or weapon I want?
- No: extract or dismantle/sell. Yes: keep and move on.
- Of the 3 attributes, are 2 of them what I want with high values?
- No: Extract or dismantle/sell. Yes: keep and move on.
- Is the talent what I want?
- No: if all the attributes are what I want, then keep and recalibrate, if not then extract or dismantle/sell. Yes: keep and use recalibration to improve one of the attributes.
I would however keep a hold of Gear Set items though regardless, yes you will eventually find better versions of them down the line; but some of the set bonuses are just too good to pass up. Mods also now follow a similar system to gear, with different bonuses rolling within a range; so you can recognise at-a-glance whether a mod is decent or not.
That Sounds Great, But That Part is Free
With so many features and quality of life changes being added to the game for free, paying $30 for a level cap increase and six to twelve hours of gameplay might not sound appealing at first. Rather, think of that $30 as a down payment, as The Division 2 is introducing an element which several other franchises have capitalised on: FOMO.
Warlords of New York effectively introduces a battle pass into The Division 2 in the form of end-game seasons. Whilst this move faces a somewhat divided opinion amongst fans, it is understandable considering the current trend in gaming as well as one of the key requests of loyal players: give us more to do! Well, ask and you shall receive. Every season lasts 12 weeks with new activities becoming available each week; within each season there are 100 levels for the player to attain, with a reward being unlocked at each level. With the beginning of Season 1 launching today, I can confirm that it is so far thoroughly engaging.
Much like other battle passes, there is a free track and a premium one. The Season Pass for Season 1 is included in the price of Warlords of New York, so everyone with the expansion will immediately be able to unlock the Premium track rewards once the season begins (just make sure to claim the pass within the in-game store). The Premium track for future seasons however will set you back 1000 Premium Credits, the price of which varies depending on region.
In addition to these seasons, it is worth noting that Apparel Events and Global Events will be exclusive to owners of Warlords of New York. More details can be found on the official blog here: what are seasons?
Whether to purchase the Premium track every twelve weeks or not is a decision for each player to make for themselves, no doubt those with heightened levels of FOMO will grab it regardless; whereas players with limited free-time such as myself will likely analyse whether the additional rewards will be worth it or not. Regardless of how you feel about the decision to move to this model, it certainly provides the player base with more to do; as well as generating a revenue stream to help make The Division 2 better for us all.
Another proverbial ‘carrot on a stick’ for players is the newly introduced infinite progression system. As you gain XP (character XP, not Season XP) you attain a SHD point which can be spent in one of several areas. These stats are permanent and whilst each point only represents a tiny percentage of an improvement, they will eventually add up to make your character a fair bit more powerful. At least as far as I can tell, at this point in time it is far too early to definitively gauge whether the impact will be meaningful or not.
But How Does It Play?
All of these changes serve as somewhat of a reinvention of the game, The Division 2.5 if you will. The new progression systems will no doubt reinvigorate much of the player base and with the recent heavy discounts to the base game, potentially attract some new players as well. Unfortunately, if you were an early adopter such as I was, then week one of Warlords of New York was far from smooth.
The launch of a new expansion for any major franchise usually results in a few teething problems; Warlords of New York certainly had a few itself. Whilst some bugs and a few exploits (gaining hundreds of SHD levels in a matter of hours) were mildly irritating, there were also several game-breaking ones; one of which I experienced myself. Each zone on the map has a safe house with a Community Leader; in order to progress the campaign you must speak with each one of them, this then unlocks the missions for that zone. Unfortunately, these NPCs were not responding to the request to interact with them. Some players reported restarting the game (to try and be placed on a different server) sometimes worked, whilst others stated fast-traveling back and forth did. Nothing seemed to work for me, so I was stuck until the 3-hour unscheduled maintenance which took place the next day.
I at least was able to get into the game; many were constantly receiving ‘ECHO’ errors and could not even connect to The Division 2 servers. Some players on Xbox One were not able to log into the game as their characters were being shown as locked.
A week and several periods of maintenance later, it now seems everything is working as intended. (My issues were resolved after the first period of maintenance.)
As always, the game looks fantastic. Whilst thoroughly enjoyable on console (even more so on a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X and a 4K HDR display), I dove into the PC version first; as my progression on console has fallen behind my PC account. Roaming through the streets of New York City within the updated engine and during the summer instead of the dead of winter results in a definite vibe. Whilst filled with familiar sights such as NYPD cars and of course yellow cabs, Lower Manhattan feels more gritty than previous areas we have explored. Speaking of gritty, encounters with named enemies feel considerably trickier this time around, which is partially due to the removal of the Damage to Elites stat. No more one-shotting bosses. Just make sure to interrupt them when they try to heal, otherwise you will have some long encounters to deal with.
Having to grind for gear all over again is somewhat bittersweet, but the entire system needed it. With players such as myself easily soloing Challenging content, and several very capable players doing the same with Heroic missions; we had clearly started to out-gear the content. With Warlords of New York I found myself dying quite a few times, and Hard missions are actually quite challenging at the moment.
One of the best quality of life improvements has to be the new Global Difficulty and Directives settings. These allow you to enable Directives (similar to the modifiers within the Underground in the original The Division) for more XP, keeping in mind there are now more incentives for gaining XP: SHD points and Season Pass; as well as changing the difficulty level of the entire map. Increasing the difficulty level provides increased chances at better loot, thereby introducing a new aspect to the loot grind. Once normal content around the map becomes too easy for you and your gear has somewhat plateaued; ramp it up a notch, get better loot, rinse and repeat.
I am only currently able to play on the Hard setting at the moment due to my unoptimised gear, but I am loving the challenge so far.
Speaking of challenges…
More Than Just Manhattan
One of the most fun and challenging activities in The Division 2 was tracking down and eliminating all of the Hunters within the world. Successfully defeating them rewarded you with several collectables as well as a High-end named weapon. Well Hunters are back, not only appearing in New York City but in Washington D.C. as well. Whilst I do not feel ready to tackle them just quite yet myself, I look forward to adding those new masks to my existing collection eventually.
It is not just the new Hunters that span both DC and NYC, the events in the upcoming seasons will involve activities in both areas as well. Needless to say, the NYC ones will not be available to those that do not own Warlords of New York. Since the first season has not actually started yet, only time will tell how engaging the game continues to be. On paper it seems at least there will be something new to do each and every week, or you could go several weeks without playing and then try to knock it all out at the last minute before the season ends. Either way, it looks like there will plenty for us to do.
Because we do not know what exactly lies ahead of us, it makes it considerably difficult to assign an arbitrary score to Warlords of New York. In many ways it begs the question of whether an evolving live-service game can actually be reviewed at launch or not? Especially considering the rocky first week that Warlords of New York has experienced. As a long-time fan of the series, as well as being optimistic at the prospect of the content still to come; I would likely rate it slightly higher than the 8.5 we awarded The Division 2 with. But the more critical side of me would be more swayed to go lower, due to the issues as well as the unknown.
Bottom line: for the price, Warlords of New York is worth it. It adds to and improves upon a game that was already in pretty good shape, despite what Internet rhetoric may have suggested; whilst reinvigorating the game with significant overhauls to key mechanics and providing a decent conclusion to the Aaron Keener storyline.
Final Score: 8.5/10
One year on and The Division 2 is still an engrossing and beautiful world. Whilst Warlords of New York considerably improves upon the original experience, only time will tell how the endgame progresses.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.