Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 launched on March 15, 2019, and, now that some time has passed, the honeymoon phase should be winding down, allowing proper discourse to form around the title. One need not look too far to discover that The Division 2 has a generally positive reception within the industry, serving as a beacon of hope to a genre that many believed to be corrupt and anti-consumer. While OnlySP reserves its expertise towards single-player experiences, it does not turn a blind eye to titles that are capable of providing a genre-defining experience. Therefore, I have spent the past few weeks trekking through the streets of Washington D.C. as a solo agent, to see how this multiplayer-oriented looter shooter can fulfill the desires of a single-player mentality.
My viewpoint on The Division 2 comes specifically from a single player’s perspective. This means that at no point in the game did I encounter another player, instead tackling story missions and world events independently from outside aid. While I definitely encountered some issues with regard to my personal ideology surrounding what makes a good single-player experience, The Division 2 surprised me by how much it was able to improve from the first game, further tickling my desire to play more. However, throughout my time with the game, I was never able to shake the notion that everything I am doing in The Division 2 is great, but would feel so much better with other people.
As an avid consumer of the medium, I commend any title that provides a captivating narrative while balancing it with gameplay that accentuates its message. The first Division walked a fine line between an interesting narrative and focus on gameplay. The balance found within Division was due to the excellent world-building that the developer accomplished. Even though the story was not its strongest point, the atmosphere of a post-pandemic New York, along with the desire to control the chaos caused by a deranged villain, was enough to draw me through the story to its completion.
The Division 2 sets out to build upon the foundation of its predecessor while correcting its issues. Even though it succeeds on most fronts, The Division 2 falls short in the presentation of its narrative. Instead of introducing an antagonist for the players to despise, the campaign tasks players with securing every district of Washington, D.C., while simultaneously collecting loot to increase their gear score. Having the narrative belittled into prep work allows the player to prepare for the end game content, but makes the journey less valuable and interesting.
As someone who enjoys experiencing all types of video games, finding an appeal in spending 15 to 30 hours leveling up my character to reach end game, only to then acknowledge that everything I had done prior was basically the tutorial, is difficult. The mentality that I have towards this design should not discourage or invalidate anyone who is enjoying this type of content. For me, the problem lies in the ideology surrounding a game “truly beginning” once the story is completed — especially when the story for said game is longer than many video game experiences.
Complaining about a game providing so much content feels silly, but the crux of the issue is that the reward for investing substantial time into The Division 2 is finally being able to play the game in its truest form. Most other recent experiences require the same time to complete, but provide a much more fulfilling narrative experience. As someone who enjoys single-player games, storytelling is key for long-term retention and enjoyment. When a game like The Division 2 comes along and feels as though it needs to sacrifice narrative to achieve success in other aspects of gameplay, then the game’s full potential has yet to be reached.
As controversial as vanilla Destiny 2 was, it provided enough of a narrative structure during its base campaign to sustain players who had no intention of experiencing the end game. Additionally, Borderlands, which released 10 years ago, has already proved that sacrificing an element of game design is not necessary for success within a genre. The Division 2’s desire to abandon a proper narrative structure left me puzzled as a single player because a decent foundation was already laid within the first game.
As previously stated, my time with The Division 2 was conducted by means of solo queuing into each activity I experienced. Even when provided with the option to call for NPC back up, I chose to remain solo because I wanted to see how the game would treat a player who just wants to experience the game for themselves. For me, the first Division felt uninspiring early on when playing as a single player, and I wanted to see if the sequel could move forward from that.
Before moving on, though, The Division 2 should be praised for its implementation of enemy design and initial difficulty. Throughout the game, the player is introduced to different enemy factions that increase in difficulty, forcing the player to alter their approach to combat with each new type. The enemy design alone made my experience with The Division 2 more enjoyable and provided an alternative for the lack of narrative direction.
Nevertheless, while playing through the campaign, I noticed issues that could become cumbersome for solo players. Despite well-thought enemy design, the game has a tendency of irregularly adjusting difficulty. Numerous instances exist where combat encounters within a building provide an enjoyable challenge at first, but turn into a game of hide-and-seek further on. The Division 2 makes a regular habit of filling one room with all red-barred enemies, only to have the next one feature five tougher, yellow barred opponents. While some gamers might find this normal, in my experience, The Division 2 consistently cycled through this format for subsequent rooms in most buildings.
The confusing aspect surrounding The Division 2’s difficulty spikes is that the more difficult enemies had the potential to leave the player in a critical condition after only a few bullets, yet require numerous magazine clips to put down. Additionally, all of this was experienced while encountering instances that are the same level as I am, or one level higher. I always felt like the game was intended for more firepower, and this can be noticed during the death animation as the game encourages you to call for back-up every time.
None of the issues I encountered within combat completely turned me off from playing, but they did force me to often retreat to a safe zone just so that I could funnel enemies through a small door and take them out one at a time. Additionally, whenever I died in the open world, the game punished me by forcing a respawn at the nearest safe zone, which was often multiple blocks away. As a result, dying in the open world was infuriating, as the loss of time and progress often disinterested me from returning to the failed encounter. The respawn mechanic in the open world is questionable when considering that story missions provide plenty of checkpoints throughout the levels so that if the player dies, they are transported to the point at which the encounter began. I was left wondering why the same checkpoint system was absent from open-world exploration.
If The Division 2 has one area I can wholeheartedly praise, it is the abundance of content. In an era of looter shooters that launch with half-baked content, to be fulfilled further down the road, The Division 2’s approach is a welcome change. If I did not feel that the story content was worthwhile, the game reminded me that something to do lurks around every street corner. Whether the task is hunting down SHD caches or liberating control zones, The Division 2 allowed me to explore Washington, D.C. and forge my own narrative.
As a solo player in The Division 2, I felt like the world of Washington, D.C. was stunning and full of environmental storytelling. Seeing wild deer roam through streets littered with garbage and debris left me with a feeling of sadness as I was witnessing the seat of Western power fall before me. This feeling made me want to fight harder to take back what was lost and restore sanity within the city. From a single player’s perspective, the feeling of justice and heroism encouraged me to continue serving the streets, even at the loneliest of times.
Unfortunately, the true nature of The Division 2 does not begin until you hit level 30 and reach the endgame. This is either a good gameplay mechanic or a bad one depending on what kind of gamer you are. I personally did not reach the endgame solely because I felt my time with the game was beginning to pull me away from other experiences that provided more fulfilment. This was strictly a personal decision, and one that I made because of the core gameplay loop that The Division 2 presents.
Overall, my experience with The Division 2 was mixed. Despite my personal issues with the elements pertaining to a single player’s desire, I am unable to deny the quality of product I experienced. I also understand that, even though the game can be experienced by solo players, the majority of that experience will be markedly better when accompanied by others. Of course, user mileage will vary depending on what one deems as enjoyable, but endgame content will most definitely ensure that solo players are tested to their limits. This will become even more apparent with the later content requiring additional players to complete.
Although I set out to see how The Division 2 played as a single-player experience, I am fully aware that the game was never intended to solely accommodate that demographic. After all, The Division 2 is a looter shooter set in a shared-world environment that asks players to work together to take back Washington, D.C. Regardless of the fact that the player always has something to do in the streets of The Division 2, I could never escape the feeling of loneliness and isolation. I would often imagine how encounters would play out differently if I had more firepower to back me up, and that left me realizing different my overall experience would have been.