The Division 2: Warlords of New York Preview — Taking the fight back to where it began

Division 2 Warlords Of New York Aaron Keener and Rogue Agents Cover
Division 2 Warlords Of New York Aaron Keener and Rogue Agents Cover (Image credit: Ubisoft / Massive Entertainment)

In recent years, it's become something of a joke that many game publishers don't want to admit their works are political. A furtive glance, a sultry, longing look at ideas of politics perhaps but never making any kind of direct statement. With the newly announced expansion, The Division 2: Warlords of New York, that idea is challenged in a subtle way, as the subject matter deals somewhat more directly and boldly with ideas of political affiliation, even if only within the context loyalty and groups of shadow agents.

While The Division 2 took place in Washinton D.C, in this expansion, players are going back to the New York stomping grounds of the first game. Aaron Keener, the antagonist of the first game who wasn't present in The Division 2, is back with help. Keener intends to unleash a special new strain of the Green Poison virus and obliterate any attempts at rebuilding civilization. He believes that The Division, with ties back to Washington, is completely corrupt and lost its purpose.

I got the chance to go hands-on with this new expansion at a recent preview event. In it, I played for about an hour and half, hunting down rogue agents and exploring New York. There's a lot to go over and many changes won't be clear until the expansion is actually out and the loot system scrutinized, but Massive's work here certainly seems promising.

Back to New York

Division 2 Expansion Screenshot (Image credit: Ubisoft / Massive Entertainment)

Division 2 Expansion Screenshot (Image credit: Ubisoft / Massive Entertainment)

Source: Ubisoft / Massive Entertainment

The first major thing that most Division veterans will key in on is the return to New York City. It's a big deal, a homecoming really. While the snows have melted and a hurricane has caused significant damage, it's still New York and wandering amidst the devastation out of winter provides a visually appealing setting. Fighting through the streets of New York still feels great and between firefights, I found myself taking a look at all the beauty amidst the devastation.

Producer Jesper Karabanov told me that "For us, who have been working on the Division franchise for a really long time, New York is kind of home. Coming back there just feels so natural. We had this narrative thread with Aaron Keener that we, just like our audience, have really been longing to try and close that."

Now, if you didn't play the first game, you'll probably be confused as to why the return of Aaron Keener is such a big deal. Suffice to say, he's a prominent rogue agent who manipulated the different factions of the city and while The Division was busy in Washington, he's been consolidating strength in the lower Manhattan area. With a home base called Haven, it's your job to root Keener out, once and for all.

Coming back to New York isn't all about getting caught up in nostalgia however, as you're going to face foes around every corner. Remember the Rikers and the Cleaners? They're back, with AI upgrades making them even more of a threat than they were in the first game. Some of your old strategies may still work though.

New threats have you on your back foot

The big draw here in both story and gameplay is the four rogue agents serving Keener. These agents have each taken over one section of New York: the Civic Center, Two Bridges, Battery Park and Financial District. While they're manipulating the remaining factions of New York to further Keener's goals, each rogue agent also has a unique skill, a special ability that you don't have. With four rogue agents, there are four new skills: Decoy, Shock Trap, an exploding Sticky Bomb launcher, and a fiery Sticky Bomb launcher. If you want these special skills (and any chance of finding Keener), you'll need to dispose of the agents. In the gameplay preview, I went after Theo Parnell, a master of deception.

Theo has the ability to create holographic decoys, so the entire time you're tracking him down, he's taunting you, keeping from actually being seen while trying to convince you of the corruption within the Division and the reason Keener deserves your support. While it's surface-level commentary, it does tie back into some themes arching over the entire expansion and indeed, the Division franchise as a whole. Shadowy operatives who have complete authority? It can and should raise some questions.

Each rogue agent has a unique skill, a special ability that you don't have.

After a lengthy chase and a large boss battle, where you have to catch on to how the Decoy skill was used and counter it, I managed to defeat Theo. With that, the Decoy skill was mine. I like the pacing of this mission but I do hope each of the different sectors and subsequent boss battles with the rogue agents are fairly unique. If so, it's an indicator, of a very welcome structure and system of progression for the expansion. Rather than merely offering loot drops, I enjoy the idea of having to fight off an unfamiliar threat and being on your back foot, before obtaining that new skill after you achieve victory.

While it certainly had challenging moments, including a particularly brutal fight in a courthouse and the final fight with Decoy-spamming Theo, the mission I played never felt like you must have co-op partners in order to get through it. So if you want to have fun with some friends online, you certainly can but it won't be required in order to progress.

Deeper player focus

Division 2 Expansion Screenshot (Image credit: Ubisoft / Massive Entertainment)

Division 2 Expansion Screenshot (Image credit: Ubisoft / Massive Entertainment)

Source: Ubisoft / Massive Entertainment

This expansion isn't just bringing new story content and locations to explore though. It's also adding a deep overhaul to the RPG and loot systems in the game. Gear is being streamlined so that drops are meant to be more meaningful while making sure that a variety of builds are viable for the endgame. The idea is to make the gameplay loop forever rewarding and encourage build diversity while taking away some of the tedium that had previously been a cause of complaints. "When you continue playing and you want to change your build and loadout, it's super-easy and you no longer have to store 200 items in your inventory," Karabanov tells me quite happily.

Speaking of the endgame, there's been a few additions there as well. As you might expect with an expansion, the level cap is being raised from 30 to 40. Even after you gain those additional ten levels, you'll be able to continue progressing your character for as long as you want to play. There's a new infinite progression mechanic, somewhat akin to the Paragon levels system in Diablo III.

Raid #2, The Foundry, is coming sometime later in spring.

Obviously, time will tell how well the new loot actually works but it was nice to see Massive focus on this aspect for the hardcore players and it certainly seems like it's being treated seriously. Still, once you take down Keener's crew, you're not done. There's going to be a ton of new activities that roll out, with a model of Seasons being introduced. The first season will kick off a week after the expansion launches. Naturally, for hardcore players, Raid #2 will also be on the way sometime later in spring. It's called The Foundry and is supposed to challenge even the most veteran of players.

Another cool thing is that if you don't want to grind through the main story in The Division 2 in order to get set for this expansion, you won't have to. While The Division 2: Warlords of New York requires players to own the base game, it also allows you to create a new level 30 character and jump straight in on the new story missions.

Bottom line on Warlords of New York

Division 2 Expansion Screenshot

Source: Ubisoft / Massive Entertainment (Image credit: Source: Ubisoft / Massive Entertainment)

Regardless of whether you're a fan of the first game that fell off, a hardcore Division 2 player or even someone who has been thinking about jumping in for some time, The Division 2: Warlords of New York seems to promise a very compelling experience. The developers at Massive stated that the purpose of this expansion was to "recapture the magic of the first Division" and I'm certainly convinced of their efforts in the main story. If Massive can deliver on the promise of the endgame changes here, players should be happy.

The Division 2: Warlords of New York is set to be available on Xbox One, PC and PlayStation 4 on March 3. A version for Stadia is also coming a little bit later in March.

Samuel Tolbert
Freelance Writer

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.