A pair of missions that Ubisoft added to The Division 2 this morning are a welcome treat for players like me, who are more excited finding the next audio log in an open-world game than grabbing the next statistically favourable piece of loot.
The missions are, for better or worse, currently exclusive to the game’s year-one season pass, and seem as if they’ll stay that way through March 2020. After that, I hope they’ll be offered to all players, because they’re shaping up to be a pretty cool addition to Ubisoft’s post-disaster Washington, D.C. shooting game.
They’re called Classified Assignments and mix the game’s familiar cover-based shooting with some of the game’s best audio logs and a dash of puzzle-solving. They don’t appear to be particularly lucrative missions for grinding better armour or guns, but there are more than enough activities in this huge game for people who are into that. Classified Assignments seem built for players who appreciate how a game like this can tuck short stories in its nooks and crannies.
If you have Division 2 and its season pass, you have access to these missions. After logging into the game, you’ll get an alert on your map for the first classified assignment. For me, it was the one set in National Bond Bank in the northern part of the map, though I’m not sure if that’s the one everyone starts with. A blue icon and a circle around it show the general area of the mission, which the player needs to find. Any veteran Division 2 player knows that you just need to look for pipes, doorways or anything else coloured yellow to find the hidden thing, a technique that works to get to the bank’s entrance.
The mission is brief. You step into a bank occupied by the True Sons enemy faction and engage in shootouts, first in the lobby and then downstairs near the vault and beyond. The shooting is familiar and satisfying, as enemies make a decent effort to flank and fight back. The novelty is that the designers of the Classified Assignments have placed four audio logs in the mission that tell the story of what people working for the bank did in the lead-up to the biological weapons attack that struck New York City before the first Division and led to the calamity in D.C. as well. The attack involved poisoned paper money, so we’ve got bank managers deciding what to do with potentially contaminated cash, and people running and working for the bank pondering whether to abscond with some of the money before it is quarantined.
The second Classified Assignment is set in a theatre, and uses its scenery and audio logs to tell the story of a by-the-book police captain who tried to use the location as a makeshift holding cell while reinforcing it against rioters. In four short logs, we get a surprisingly twist-filled story that involves the captain dealing with a civilian complaint about excessive force by one of her officers, while trying to avoid alienating the community she serves and the officers working under her. In this Classified Assignment, the theatre is filled with members of the enemy Hyena faction, who fight you in the lobby, amid the seats, and backstage. They’re tougher than the True Sons in the bank Assignment.
The stories told by the audio logs in these missions are a refreshing return to form for the series’ peripheral storytelling. The 200-plus logs in the first Division told surprisingly emotional stories about regular New Yorkers’ lives right before, during, and after the attack that led to the city’s quarantine. The stories are full of hope and heartbreak. The Division 2’s logs mostly involve politicians, soldiers, and enemy factions, all people barking on about issues of power and domination, often ghoulishly describing some horror or another. In the Classified Assignment’s logs we hear stories that are more down to earth, that involve more civilians coping with the stresses of a society under attack. They’re more relatable and an encouraging sign that the franchise has more tales like this to offer.
The Classified Assignments also stand out for the small puzzles they present. Both missions lock some collectibles behind doors that are not easily opened without some keen observation of details in the level. Saying more would spoil them. To put expectations in check, these aren’t brilliant brain-teasers leading to game-best loot. Rather, they’re little environmental puzzles that lead to an audio log or a trinket that can dangle from the player-character’s backpack. They’re not a huge deal, but they’re another example of the Classified Assignments being designed for players who are more interested in the pleasures of exploration than in the quest for loot.
Both Classified Assignments end in battles against named bosses, who drop some high-end gear. There are many other ways to get great loot in the game, so it’s unlikely these will necessarily be a draw for that. They are short, though, and so season pass owners might be tempted to grind them repeatedly. Possibly to prevent that, they run on a timer, limiting players’ access to them to once per week. That limitation kicks in only after you finish the mission, and before you leave, you’re warned if you haven’t collected all the audio logs and backpack trinket hidden in the level. That timer does at least make the Classified Assignments the first side missions in this sprawling game that are repeatable. Main missions can be played over and over again, but side ones, for some reason, cannot. Perhaps this system shows a way they could be offered back to players.
Ubisoft has promised season pass holders eight Classified Assignments in the game’s first year. It’s unclear how the remaining six will be doled out. The Division 2 is only two months old, but it’s now a quarter of the way through its Classified Assignments. They’re a positive sign that the people behind the series recognise that not all of us playing simply want to go back into the game to gain higher-stat gear. They’re a more chill offering and hopefully one that’ll reach more players as the game’s planned multi-year lifespan continues.