The Division 2’s Warlords of New York is chock full of nostalgia, story payoffs, and nitpicky frustrations

Having played and (for the most part) enjoyed 2016’s The Division, the recently launched Warlords of New York expansion for The Division 2 felt in many ways to me like a nostalgic homecoming. The newly launched expansion takes players from The Division 2’s Washington D.C. setting back to The Division’s New York City to wrap up a few loose ends and meet some familiar faces. It also radically revamps several of The Division 2’s core systems such as gear-based attributes and endgame progression, addressing concerns voiced by dedicated players.

If you were impressed by The Division 2’s initial showing but struggled to stick with it once the new game sheen wore off, Warlords of New York was created with you in mind. The expansion manages to bring one of The Division IP’s longest running storylines to a conclusion while also setting up several tentpoles for long-term investment. Unfortunately, players who felt that The Division 2’s combat and RPG mechanics to be a little too obtuse and frustrating won’t find any respite in the Big Apple’s weather-ravaged streets.

Keen Minds, Big Names

Warlords of New York doesn’t waste too much time in setting up its story, though it does manage to hit several nostalgic beats along the way. Players are sent to New York City to deal with none other than Aaron Keener, the former Division agent-turned-rogue operative who functioned as a shadowy behind-the-scenes antagonist in The Division. It seems Keener has some sort of big doomsday plan in the works, and he’s recruited four sinister lieutenants (the titular Warlords) to help him put his plan into motion.

Along with the friendly NPC Agent Kelso who accompanies them on their trip to New York, players also soon meet up with a few other familiar faces after arriving in Haven, the expansion’s main Division outpost. Faye Lau, Paul Rhodes, and Roy Benitez, all of whom first appeared in The Division, are on hand to help players take the fight to Keener and his lieutenants. Seeing so many recognizable faces helps with the initial acclimation process, especially since New York City looks a lot different than what The Division players likely remember.

Whereas The Division was set in snow-covered Manhattan during the winter months, Warlords of New York moves the timetable up into a warmer summer climate and has players exploring the city’s downtown and Wall Street districts. This newer version of post-catastrophe New York has also recently been ravaged by a hurricane, giving many parts of its various districts a surreal sort of “overtaken by nature” vibe. Even though it’s obviously not as big as The Division’s map, Warlords’ version of New York proves yet again that developer Ubisoft Massive has mastered the art of creating breathtaking explorable landscapes.

It’s good that Warlords of New York’s map is so mesmerizing and fun to explore, because of all the words I could use to describe fighting the many enemies that stand between players and Keener, “fun” wouldn’t be one of them.

Clean Slate

To help them further consolidate their power, Keener and his lieutenants have allied themselves with two of the original enemy factions from The Division: the Rikers and the Cleaners. Much as they were in The Division, the Rikers are former prison inmates-turned-ruthless outlaws while the Cleaners are crazed former sanitation workers who feel they must purify everything with fire.

Both factions utilize the same combat archetypes as The Division 2’s enemy forces (standard troopers, engineers, snipers, grenadiers, etc.) with a few additional twists. The Rikers have repurposed police riot squad gear to give their snipers and larger bruiser units portable shields. As for the Cleaners, their troopers and bruisers are equipped with flamethrowers that can chew through a player’s shields and health in a matter of moments if they’re caught out in the open.

Throughout my time playing the expansion, I didn’t find the Rikers too hard to deal with (though the bruisers and their full-length body shields could be quite a pain), but the Cleaners were another matter. No matter how much I boosted my agent’s armor or how quick I was to get to cover, the Cleaners’ flames always seemed to find me, making otherwise tough but manageable combat encounters into painfully frustrating nightmares. You’d think that flamethrowers wouldn’t have the range to consistently hit players from across a large map, but apparently the Cleaners’ brutes didn’t get that memo.

The fact that Warlords’ enemy NPC’s are just as bullet-spongey as ever didn’t help my mood too much, especially as I reached the tail end of my eight-hour playthrough (the expansion’s story campaign is expected to last roughly 6-8 hours on average). Since the expansion also raises the character level cap from 30 to 40, that meant I had to once again continuously swap out obsolete gear and weaponry for new higher-level alternatives. And of course no matter which gun I equipped it would always come up a few rounds short of being able to kill an enemy with a single clip.

I’m sure there are Division 2 players out there who absolutely adore the game’s hybridized tactical/RPG-esque combat, and more power to them. As for me, playing through Warlords of New York made me realize with agonizing clarity that I was not built for such sustained tactical engagements, or at least not ones where my opponents are so unrelenting and numerous.

It’s a shame really considering that the boss fights against the lieutenants themselves are admittedly quite clever (one has you fighting a room full of holograms while another involves maintaining control of strategically-placed minigun nests). I just wish the process of reaching said boss fights didn’t involve so much tedium and frustration.

Of Endings and Beginnings

Warlords of New York may finally wrap up The Division’s Aaron Keener storyline, but like any good story setpiece it also teases new happenings on the horizon. Thankfully, players who are ready to go all in with The Division 2’s newly revamped endgame will have a lot waiting for them once the battle with Keener has concluded.

Ubisoft Massive is rolling out a new seasonal format for The Division 2, with each 12 week season containing new in-game events, a 100-tier battle pass, and new endgame missions which culminate in manhunts against additional rogue agent NPC’s. Endgame players can also keep earning XP beyond the level 40 cap to increase their ‘SHD Level,’ a new form of endgame progression which functions in a similar manner to Diablo 3’s Paragon levels or Borderlands 2’s Badass Ranks. Each SHD Level earned grants a base increase to the player’s health as well as a single skill point which can be allocated to various passive bonuses such as weapon damage or crit chance.

Lastly, players who love to min-max in pursuit of the ultimate character builds and/or weapon rolls will appreciate the new recalibration library. Now if you find a weapon or gear piece with a attribute bonus or talent you like, you can extract said attribute or talent into your recalibration library and then freely apply it to any compatible gear in your loadout. These changes mean that players’ inventories are no longer cluttered with gear that may have favorable stats but is otherwise useless, and they also allow players to focus more on optimizing their preferred playstyles and character builds.

Great Expectations

Players who don’t mind dealing with The Division 2’s often punishing levels of razor-sharp tactical combat will find no shortage of endgame incentives waiting for them in the Warlords of New York expansion. If anything, Warlords of New York is proof positive that Ubisoft Massive took the base game’s shortcomings to heart and then set about crafting a new narrative that addresses players’ biggest concerns while also peppering in some major story payoffs.

The road that Ubisoft Massive has paved with The Division 2’s Warlords of New York expansion may be a little rocky, but it’s also one worth taking for fans who just can’t get enough of the tactical/RPG shooter. Just make sure you learn from my pain and stock up on fire resist gear if you can, those darn Cleaners ain’t getting any less trigger-happy with their flamethrowers.

The Division 2’s Warlords of New York expansion is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.