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Going Back to Manhattan with The Division 2 Warlords of New York – Hands-On Preview

Ubisoft surprised everybody by taking The Division 2 out of a wintery New York City and setting it in Washington D.C. in summer. The Division 2 made a number of other changes from the first, but this change in environment was perhaps the most noticeable on the surface. Since Ubisoft started teasing Episode 3 a few months ago, we knew we’d be headed back to Coney Island at least, but the Warlords of New York expansion really brings things full circle, returning to Manhattan itself and taking on rogue agent Aaron Keener who hasn’t been seen since the first game. We had a chance to go hands-on with Warlords of New York a couple of weeks ago, returning to the city and taking out one of Keener’s rogue agents.

I can’t help but think of Destiny 2’s Shadowkeep and its return to the Moon, carefully balancing nostalgia with meaningfully pushing forward the narrative in a location that players are familiar with. In the same way, The Division 2 Warlords of New York might be going back to New York, but this isn’t just shoving The Division 1 into the second game. In fact, aside from generally returning to New York, this section of Manhattan is all new.

The Division 2 Warlords of New York World Design

The Division’s hyper-detailed world has always told silent stories and this new section of New York is no exception. The snow from the first game is long melted, finally letting players see The Division’s ruined Manhattan in the late summer sun. Lower Manhattan was once a contaminated Dark Zone but the entire environment was changed when a hurricane ripped through the island. World design in Warlords of New York layers the wreckage of the original outbreak with half a year of time and a former Dark Zone ravaged by a fierce storm. The iconic Christmas decorations still litter the environment, showing the moment when humanity stopped. The world is a time capsule, telling a ton of stories for those who are willing to take a look around.

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Our hands-on time was limited to one of the four new areas in Lower Manhattan, the Civic Center, so we didn’t get to see landmarks like Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge, or the beached tanker that washed ashore in the hurricane. We also weren’t able to peak at the base of operations for Warlords of New York, so many things will be left to discovery on March 3 when the expansion releases. The zone we did get to see recaptured the tall looming feeling of The Division 1’s New York, and it was fascinating to see how Ubisoft managed to progress the timeline of this world over eight months.

Trying to balance the number of games that are out now—both single-player and ongoing live experiences—can be a real hassle, so no one would blame you if you haven’t kept up with The Division 2. Whether you haven’t picked up the game in months or never even started it in the first place, Ubisoft wants to make Warlords of New York a great place to start. All players who purchase the expansion will receive a Level 30 boost to jump right into the new content. You don’t even have to deploy to Washington D.C. if you want to start right off hunting Keener in Manhattan. While the narrative does follow the events of Washington D.C. in the timeline, your role as a deployed Division agent means you can jump right into this particular mission without feeling like you’re hopping into the middle of the story.

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Warlords of New York gives players unrestricted exploration of the area, specifically seeming to take a cue from Far Cry 5’s variable narrative progression. Each of the four districts in Lower Manhattan houses an investigation leading to one of Aaron Keener’s four rogue agents. Players can undertake the missions in any order they’d like and finishing off each of those rogue agents grants a new skill, including the return of two variants of the Sticky Bomb from The Division 1. Civic Center, in particular, is the base of one Theo Parnell, who grants the new Decoy skill upon his death.

The Division 2 Warlords of New York Manhunts

The mission to eliminate Theo Parnell plays out much like you’d expect a Division mission to play. Warlords of New York isn’t about to reinvent the core gameplay of The Division. While certain updates do streamline some of the RPG and gear management aspects, that’s all in the pursuit of making it easier to spec into different meaningful builds that enhance the existing gameplay, not change it. The Rikers, Cleaners, and other factions from the original Division return, deadlier than ever after eight months quarantined in Manhattan.

Altogether I managed to eliminate Parnell in just over 90 minutes. That included diving into a side mission that expanded on his unique backstory, as well as a little bit of exploration of the Civic Center open-world area. I also got to play around a little bit with the Decoy skill, but without upgrading it and speccing a build around it, it was difficult to ascertain just how useful it would be in practice. In fact, aside from the ease of hopping back into the game after about half a year away, it was really tough to get a solid handle on just how streamlined the new RPG systems and endgame are, especially when I was also trying to take in the new environment and mission gameplay.

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Ubisoft wants to make sure that choice in how you play feels meaningful. A couple hours with a prebuilt character with random gear simply isn’t enough time to get a good grasp on a character’s build. While I’m confident in Massive Entertainment’s ability to reconfigure the endgame, this preview wasn’t the right environment to analyze those changes. Between the incoming Title Update 8 and Warlords of New York itself, not to mention the seasonal manhunts that begin the week following its launch, there’s going to be a lot to take in at the start of March when agents get activated in Manhattan once again.

The Division 2 Warlords of New York releases on March 3, 2020.

The Division 2 Warlords of New York hands-on preview event was held in San Francisco by Ubisoft. Travel and accommodations were provided by Ubisoft.