Written by Rick Warren / gfn21
With release dates that were extremely close together and a shared focus on loot-based gameplay, most people have had to choose between investing their time in Anthem or diving deep into The Division 2. As someone who’s seen the main story, side content and endgame offerings for both titles, I decided to write this article for anyone who’s still on the fence. I’ll be looking at everything from the core gameplay and storytelling to the content and stability of both games, sharing which game gets the edge in every area as I go. At the end, I’ll share which game I enjoy more and provide a final breakdown for both The Division 2 and Anthem. If you’re someone who’s still unsure of which game they want or a person with only a little interest in these games, you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s get started!
Story and Characters
The Edge: Anthem
Storytelling was a major weakpoint for the original Division, and sadly that’s the same case here. At no point does it feel like anything more than the generic plot it initially seems to be, and if anything, it doubles down on the simplicity of its story. You guide your nameless, voiceless agent across Washington D.C. in a series of random missions that fail to tell any sort of connected story. Everything feels like a side mission, with only the most basic attempts to trigger emotion being made. Rather than covering for the personality-less agent players fill the role of, the non-playable characters in the game just fall flat. They’re extremely one-dimensional and uninteresting, and it’s impossible to care about what you’re doing for them because of it. You also rescue the President of the United States and he’s running around with an assault rifle fighting a gang of bad guys. It’s... weird, and the story’s not-so-thrilling conclusion of the agents successfully pushing out the enemy factions couldn’t be any more by the books. If you’re expecting any kind of memorable story beats when playing The Division 2, you’ll surely be disappointed.
That’s not to say Anthem has no problems with its story, however, as it makes a few missteps of its own. For one, the playable Freelancer is nameless, even though they have their own backstory. You also pick a face for them, but you never see it after you make your choice. It’s an extremely puzzling design choice, and one that wastes a strong performance from the Freelancer’s voice actor since there’s an odd disconnect that comes from their lack of name and face. The story makes it seem like they’re their own person, but at the same time they feel like nobody special. On top of this, the villain is generic, and the story’s conclusion feels rushed. Despite all this, though, it feels like Anthem’s writers tried. There are tons of great bits of dialogue between the main cast members and the NPCs spread throughout the fort, and it’s so much that it frequently gets to the point of feeling like there are too many people to talk to. The conversations all build up to something and tell their own little stories, and the random fruit seller in Anthem quickly becomes a more fleshed out character than anyone in The Division 2. The story is simple but focused, as opposed to being a collection of random missions, and there’s a decent twist that comes at the beginning of the first act. Anthem surely won’t have your favorite story or your favorite lineup of characters, but you’ll at least come out of it feeling like a story was told.
The Open World
The Edge: The Division 2
Surprisingly, this one isn’t even close. Anthem’s world may look pretty, but that’s about all that it does well. It feels incredibly empty and lifeless, and the environmental variety is incredibly limited. There are only a handful of alien creatures to encounter in the world, and it feels so small in comparison to something like The Division 2. The underwater aspects are an afterthought when they could have been interesting (and some of the only good underwater sections in gaming). There’s nothing to do in the world, and very little to see, and it’s one of the biggest problems with Anthem.
The Division 2’s version of Washington D.C., on the other hand, is the complete opposite. There is a huge number of places to explore and things to do in the ruined Capitol, with the overgrown plants and detailed buildings making for a strong setting on par with the first game’s depiction of New York. Breaking locked doors you’d expect to be off limits to find cases of loot never stops being satisfying, and the game’s environmental storytelling and collectibles prove to be far more intriguing than anything in the main missions. There are safehouses to capture, tons of random events to do, upgrade points to find and enemy control points to take over. You’ll find friendly and not-so-friendly NPCs gathering supplies and looting areas, and you can choose to get involved at any point. A huge amount of what makes The Division 2 work comes from how well it handles its open world, and how much content that world provides.
Content and Endgame Offerings
The Edge: The Division 2
Speaking of content, this is another area where The Division 2 wins out. It truly feels like the developers learned from the mistakes of their peers as well as their own mistakes in the first Division game. Dozens of side missions combine with the activities mentioned above to fill the world with things to do, and there’s more to see on top of that. Players have two settlements of survivors to provide for, and seeing your hard work pay off as those settlements improve is extremely satisfying. Gathering and sharing supplies to complete projects for these camps is a far better use for food and water than the random boosts given in the first game, too. The Dark Zone is back, and though it’s divided into three small sections as opposed to one large area, it provides the same level of tension and fun that the original did. Bounty hunting is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s another great distraction. There’s a deep clan system as well as Team Deathmatch, and it’ll be interesting to see where the game’s PvP elements go from here. The increasing world tiers that come from beating all the missions offer a great reason to stick with the game, as better loot, stronger enemies and new content come with every tier you progress through. You don’t even unlock a special weapon (a grenade launcher, crossbow or sniper) until the end of your first playthrough, something that shows how well the developers planned out the game to make the endgame content satisfying and replayable.
And then there’s Anthem, a game that feels like it learned nothing from Destiny’s examples of how not to do content. Prior to the recent release of Legendary missions (harder versions of the main story missions), there was nothing to do after the main story other than 3 strongholds and some replayable contracts. While the strongholds are plenty of fun and function like Strikes from Destiny, having only three of them available quickly becomes repetitive fast. The contracts are fine, but clearly feel like what they are due to mission structure and dialogue: random activities put together to make a mission. Once again, I have to compare it to the launch state of Destiny 1, because that’s exactly what Anthem feels like at the moment. It is in dire need of a content update, as there’s only about 15 hours of fresh content compared to The Division 2’s 40+. These games always become grindy in the endgame portion, but the grind in The Division will be far more fun with so much to do.
The Edge: Anthem
This one is a closer competition because both games have a heavy focus on gameplay, and both do it well. However, there’s nothing in The Division 2 that brought me the level of satisfaction I got from flying a javelin for the first time. Every javelin feels different and has an awesome array of abilities, from devastating finishing moves to cool elemental attacks. The Colossus suit couldn’t feel any more different than the Storm suit does, and it’s clear why Bioware placed so much focus on the Javelins. They make Anthem’s gameplay world-class, and it’s truly a shame that its other problems are such a big barrier players have to get over in order to enjoy that gameplay.
However, just because Anthem gets the edge for me here doesn’t mean Division 2’s gameplay is lacking. In fact, it’s plenty of fun due to something I didn’t expect going in: its great AI. While the enemies do fill generic military roles given the setting, like big bad flamethrower guy and scary armored man, the developers did a great job of making them a genuine threat. The way the enemies work together, such as melee-based enemies/suicide bombers rushing the player while snipers flank to get an angle, makes The Division 2 a game that always demands your full attention. Enemy medics can revive their allies and engineers can build turrets of their own for you to deal with, and it becomes a real challenge to take care of everything all at once. The skills are fun to mess with too, even if they’re not close to providing the same feeling of power that the javelins do in Anthem.
Looting, Accessibility and Stability
The Edge: The Division 2
While I personally haven’t had any issues with the loot system in Anthem, I have certainly been a victim to the many, many, many stability issues that plagued the game during its first few weeks. I disconnected from servers and crashed constantly, losing all my loot from the previous mission in the process. I was met with loading screens very often (though some people certainly did exaggerate how long the load times were), and with how much time you spend jumping in and out of the central hub that is Fort Tarsis, that time loading in begins to add up. The menu system is far more complicated than it needs to be, and inviting friends becomes a chore due to some frequently occurring flitches where the friends list glitches out. For its first month on the market, Anthem was in one of the worst states I’ve seen a AAA game be in. Thankfully, it’s starting to get better due to the removal of some particularly bothersome loading screens and crash fixes, but Anthem will still need a bit more time before it runs as well as something like The Division 2.
Speaking of The Division 2, its stability and loot system are two factor that show how much Massive Entertainment has learned over the years. I experienced a few server disconnects (after being warned that the server was restarting or that my connection was poor) and a few minor bugs, but other than that the game ran well. I never crashed or lost progress like I did with Anthem, and even if I did, I wouldn’t be too hurt because of how well The Division 2 handles loot. I mentioned earlier that I don’t mind Anthem’s loot system, and I truly don’t; I get weapons and gear at a standard rate and improve my loadout every few missions. However, with The Division 2, I’m improving every minute as opposed to every few hours. Whether a gear piece or weapon is blue, purple or yellow, most of the time it’s better than what I already have equipped. Being able to change my weapons and gear at any time is a big quality of life thing that Anthem lacks, and I never have to return to camp because of a loot limit since I can dismantle any gear I don’t want. The menus make navigation and joining up with friends far easier than it is in Anthem as well. Being able to reroll weapon and gear traits, as well as craft them yourself, is just the icing on the cake.
If I were to score The Division 2, it would be somewhere around an 8. It’s not going to convince anyone who didn’t like the original game to jump in now, as it’s basically a version of Division 1 where nearly everything is improved upon. The story and characters are undeniably weak, but to be fair, that’s not what the focus of the game is. The Division 2 is all about its main gameplay loop, and in that area, it succeeds. There’s plenty of content, the looting is great, and the world is worthy of exploration. The Dark Zone is still plenty of fun, the clan mechanics are a nice touch, and the AI is stellar. It feels like a full, finished game that knows what it wants to be. If you’re someone who isn’t tired of the standard military tone and style, and someone who simply wants the better of the two games, pick up The Division 2.
With all that in mind, however... I prefer Anthem. Yes, it’s a deeply flawed game, and even with the stability improvements I’d score it somewhere in the 7’s due to its lack of content and bland open world. The core gameplay is so fun, though, and the javelins make the game feel fresh and new. The Division 2 is comfortable doing the same thing, and that’s fine because it does it very well. Fans will surely be satisfied, and newcomers likely won’t be disappointed as the game's smooth launch will mean content updates arrive sooner rather than later. As for Anthem, it’s hard to say what the future will hold. If it gets the support it needs from Bioware, it has the potential to be one of the best shoot and loot games out there. If it doesn’t, it’ll go down as possibly the biggest missed opportunity of this console generation. All I know is that I had so much fun with the 15 hours of fresh content Anthem gave me, and I’m dying for more to do. I’d recommend the game to anyone who’s read this article and is still interested, because while it does have some major problems, there’s so much fun to be had with Anthem and plenty of potential for it to improve going forward. Improvements to the open world, more missions and strongholds, unlockable gear sets and extra stability updates is exactly what needs to come. I truly hope it happens, because Anthem can and should be so much better than it is at the moment.
Finally, I want to end by saying that I enjoy both games. I prefer Anthem because its gameplay feels so new, but I do recognize that The Division 2 is a better game overall and that it’s in a far better place right now. Both games have their flaws, but both will still satisfy the urge for a fun, loot-based co-op game. While neither is at the level of something like Borderlands or Diablo, they’ll certainly hold you over until the next game in either series arrives.
I’m interested to see where The Division 2 and Anthem go going forward, and if this article pushed you to get either game, I hope you enjoy your time with it. Thanks for reading!