The Division 2 Descent mode is exactly what Ubisoft’s shooter needs | Hands-on preview

by on April 22, 2023

Even the most diehard fan of The Division 2 will likely admit that the game has grown a little stale in the years since the release of the Warlords of New York update. Well, you’ll all be happy to know that developer Massive Entertainment has been hard at work on not only new content to quicken the standard game, but also on a whole new mode designed to cater to veterans and newcomers alike. The Division 2: Descent is set to shake up the game in a number of ways, and we’ve been playing it.

While Descent won’t make sweeping changes to the core game (although those changes are on the way thanks to the return of Incursions as well as new content), it adds an entirely new way to play and enjoy The Division 2.

It’s a roguelike, you see, which exists in the internal lore as a programme for training Division agents in a series of virtual environments. You begin each run with nothing but a rifle and a handgun, and must fight through a sequence of arenas to take out the boss. It’s endless and frantic, and as challenging as you want it to be.

The Division 2 Descent

It begins each time with you spawning in as a random agent. You’ll select weapons from a small loadout menu that grows as you defeat bosses and purchase unlockables. Then you’re off into the training area where you get to pick your path through room after room from Easy, Medium and Hard choices. Once you enter, you’ll notice certain doors are glowing red – this is where enemies will spawn. It’s always a set number of enemies and is always random entrances, and encourages you to think about cover and positioning.

Not only that, but limited resources mean you need to think hard about ammo conservation, when to use medkits and grenades, and which perks to select between rooms. You’ll be able to take one special item in from a random selection of three, including incinerator drones, HIVE healing devices, and sticky bombs and riot foam. Ideally, you’ll use your handgun to take out the first few rooms, to save ammo for the boss. If you fail to beat the fifth room in a sequence, you’ll lose your accrued rewards and will need to restart.

It’s a neat little gameplay loop that offers the same mechanics as the main game, but in tighter spaces with the promise of currency, not loot. Enemy composition feels a little skewed toward units who will rush your position, but that may be deliberate as it forces you to move. You’ll have nowhere near the same level of gear or loadout as you enjoy in the main game, which makes Descent perfect for newcomers or veterans. You’re all on an even playing field.

Division 2 Descent

Between rooms you’ll be able to select perks from several trees including Tactical and Defence. These perks offer buffs that last for the duration of a run, and include things like shield refills on kills, or heightened accuracy. Almost everything is completely random, so there is a luck factor at play. I’m not a big fan of RNG in these situations, but it at least ensures that Descent feels dynamic.

Exotic talents add a further dimension to your character build for each run. These are talents pulled directly from The Division 2’s unique exotic weapons, that you can simply apply to your agent to offer massive buffs and bonuses. Take “Plague of the Outcasts” from the exotic weapon Pestilence, for example, which allows you to apply tick-damage to enemies regardless of the gun you’re using.

Obviously, you’ll have a better time playing with two other agents. Playing solo you can’t revive yourself if you’re downed, and many of the encounters benefit greatly from being able to coordinate with at least one other person for flanking and cover fire. That said, playing viable is perfectly acceptable; it’ll just be tougher – especially as you can’t even replenish ammo and items without banking currency, and you can’t bank currency without beating a boss.

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My biggest complaint with The Division 2 Descent is that death returns you to Washington DC. This means that if you’re playing on harder difficulties and dying a lot, you’re going to spend an absolute ton of time looking at loading screens. It desperately needs fixing so that death returns you to the start of the simulation and not all the way out to DC. It’s really, really annoying that it was overlooked at all in this day and age.

But what the Descent offers in terms of gameplay loop and, crucially, refreshing the Division 2 experience as we move into Year 5 is impressive. The claustrophobic, cover-heavy environments of The Division 2 make for excellent locations for tight, desperate gunfights, and the constant promise of reward is a great motivator.

With three more content Seasons heading to The Division 2 in Year 5, Descent is the perfect opportunity for new people to get in and get used to the mechanics, while giving long-time players a new way to test their skills and enjoy their favourite shooter. More than this though, it’s concrete evidence that Ubisoft isn’t done with The Division 2. It’s massive, massive news for fans of the franchise and is undoubtedly the shot in the arm that this series needs to get it back on track.

Read our interview with The Division 2 creative director, Yannick Banchereau

The Division 2 is available on PS4, PS5, the Xbox consoles, and PC via Ubisoft Connect. Descent Mode will launch in June 2023 alongside Year 5 Season 1.