The Division 2 is five years old and shows how to do a live service game right

Embarking on Loop 1 on Descent in The Division 2
(Image credit: Windows Central)

Live service games are often a topic of discussion, good and bad. For players, having a game with a continually progressing experience that they can return to can be good, even if it's sometimes exhausting and expensive. 

That latter point is particularly pleasing to the people making these games. Money makes it all happen, after all. But too often, instead of just creating a good experience for players, shilling skins and the like becomes the priority. You can almost understand it more in free-to-play games like Apex Legends, but expensive purchases aren't exclusive to these games. 

It made me think about my own favorite live service game, The Division 2. This is a game that had a planned shelf life but remained so popular with its player base that it has far outlived that and isn't just getting support; it's thriving. It's a live service game I play a lot and have no issue spending a few bucks in from time to time, but the key is that I don't have to. It isn't the only game that does it this way, but I think its popularity after five full years is partly down to how it has managed to offer new content without ripping off its players or demanding all of their free time to play. 

Things to buy, but you don't have to pay to play 

Of course, there's stuff to buy with real money, but you don't have to.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

The Division 2 is not alone in its model, but it's the one I've played the most (close to 800 hours and climbing). It's pretty simple to understand. If you want to play the seasonal content, the only thing you need is a copy of the base game and the Warlords of New York DLC expansion. The latter is what unlocked the current model, and it's necessary because seasons cover both the Washington D.C. and New York City maps. But that's it. 

Each season, new items, including new named weapons, gear pieces, and exotics, are dropped onto the season pass. The season pass has 100 levels, and given how long each season lasts, it's not at all difficult for even casual players to complete it. Not least because there are regular periods of double XP to help you through it quicker. I think the most recent season pass took me five days to complete all 100 tiers. 

The best of the new items, including new exotics, are always available through the free track of the season pass.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

But the beauty is that the season pass is completely free. All the new gear is added to this free track, so everyone benefits without needing to pay. There is a premium track, but all that offers is more stuff. There are more gear caches and cosmetics, but all the most important items each season are on the free track. This is a live service game you can enjoy every week of the year, take part in all the seasonal events, and get all the rewards without spending a dime.

Other than this, the stuff to buy is all cosmetics. Even then, there are regular apparel events offering a selection of new threads that, again, everyone can play without the need for additional spending. Live service games need a sustainable income to make them worth it, but I really do think that Ubisoft nailed it with The Division 2's mostly cosmetic-focused model.

It's easy to participate without needing to consume your life 

Events are frequent, but also don't require surrendering your life to be able to complete.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

I think the biggest reason that The Division 2 is the only live service game that I've really stuck with in the long term is that it doesn't consume your life. Destiny 2, by contrast, always feels overwhelming to me. I enjoy a grind, but that's a game that's always felt a little too grindy, not to mention without constantly playing it following the story feels impossible. 

The seasonal model in The Division 2 constantly has something going on, but the activities are also easy to clear quickly, grab your rewards, and if you so choose, put the game down until the next one. The apparel events last for multiple weeks, giving plenty of time to level up enough to gain the required caches to get the full set. The speed run-focused leagues are always on hard and challenging difficulty, with times that are easily achievable for players of all skill levels, either solo or in a group. Many of the Global Event challenges can be ticked off quickly by playing in a group, and the manhunts that occur every few weeks as part of the seasonal story don't take long to rattle off. 

It took me less than two hours to complete five of the six challenges in the most recent league, and I can wait until next week to finish it off if I want.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

There's not too much to have FOMO about when playing The Division 2. Aside from the raid-exclusive gear, for which you have to be in a group of 8, practically everything else in the game can be achieved solo or through random matchmaking. The difficulty can be adjusted on a per-mission or global basis, and while the quality of gear also scales accordingly, nobody feels forced to play harder content than they're comfortable with.

For the dedicated players, there are daily and weekly projects that are always worth completing, but, again, if you're a casual player, you're not really missing out on anything. The whole game is set up in such a way that you can play as much or as little as you want and still feel like you're making the most of it.

High hopes for The Division 3

Long may The Division 2 continue.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

The next game, The Division 3 (as we expect it to be called,) has been confirmed, albeit we're not expecting to see it for years yet. But I'm confident that it's going to be epic. The original Division game was a live service game of sorts, but not close to what's been achieved with the sequel. The constant supply of new game modes, an expanding story, and now, a huge overhaul of the entire game's quality of life with Project Resolve is a credit to its developer, Massive. 

The work still goes on, and as Year 5 comes to an end later this year, the Year 6 roadmap will kick in. This is currently slated to bring a new story DLC expansion, too, the first since Warlords of New York landed in 2020. The time between expansions may be long, but the fact it's coming so late into the game's life at all is amazing. If you've never tried it, I can't recommend it enough. The game and expansion are frequently on sale, and there's a ridiculous amount of content to enjoy that makes it such good value. I don't know if we've got another five years of this one or not before the sequel, but I'm here for it, however long it lasts. 

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine

  • mjheaberlin
    I just tried playing for the first time a few days ago and had a DELTA-03 disconnect error twice during character creation. So I had to try to create my character 3 times. Then had this disconnect 2 or 3 more times before even completing the first mission.

    My PS5 is connected to my network via Ethernet. I have 1.2 Gbps Internet service with low latency. No issues with other games. I also work from home as a network engineer. So I know my network is perfectly fine, yet I keep getting these disconnects.

    This game is practically unplayable for me.
    Reply