In an ever increasingly multiplayer, and internet connected only world, wondering if there is a single-player component in a game, like The Division, is becoming an all too common question. If the video game industry ever wants to be taken seriously as an art form and legitimate entertainment medium, a quality single player narrative is essential. The Division’s beta preview runs have ended and the release date is fast approaching, but what do we really know about the game’s single-player experience?
Even though I spent a good amount of time playing The Division during both beta sessions, I’m still not exactly sure what kind of game it’s going to be. On one hand, Ubisoft keeps referring to it as an RPG, and some of those elements were present in the preview. There was a truncated character creation section, avatar and weapon customization, and a skill tree that was available. Even in the beta’s limited capacity, all of these progression and customization elements were definitely highlights, particularly compared to trying to tackle the “Dark Zone” alone.
On the other hand, a good RPG needs a good narrative to make it a really compelling game, and unfortunately The Division’s beta had elements of the narrative removed. I think the over-arching piece of the story is pretty well understood, a virus wipes out New York City, on Black Friday, and you have to take back control of the city. That’s cool, but not nearly compelling enough for a modern video game, especially an open-world RPG, that players expect to spend hundreds of hours in. Fallout 4 has way more going on than just a nuclear holocaust, and is frequently criticized for its lack of narrative density.
The developers of The Division have given clues that the game will be light on narrative, by frequently emphasizing that “online cooperative multiplayer” is at the core of the experience. While it could be the media outlet’s own hyperbole, there is an online preview that says, “…the gameplay resembles something like Mass Effect on steroids — only your party consists of other human players, rather than AI characters.”
Comparing an RPG to Mass Effect is pretty bold, but it’s actually the second part of that statement that is troubling, the part that says there are no AI companions. Much of what makes Mass Effect great, is how much attention is put into the expertly crafted NPCs that make up your party, not just your interactions with them, but how your relationships with those characters evolve. So, it’s pretty safe to assume that unless you can convince your real life friends to buy the game, and come up with a schedule that works for all of you, The Division is going to be a lonely experience.
I can’t help but think that Ubisoft is being purposefully vague about The Division. Despite the keynote demonstrations and numerous videos, they really haven’t revealed all that much about the game. Even the official website, less than a week away from launch is incomplete. The “Game Info” page has an RPG Basics tab, with a few map points, and then three more grayed out tabs that say “Coming Soon.” If you dig around though, you can find references to a dynamic environment, and being able to build out the base of operations.
Overall, it’s tough to have high expectations for The Division as a title that you should check out if you plan on playing solo. After playing the beta for about ten hours total, I’d have to compare it to some kind of Destiny/Borderlands hybrid. Besides my lowered expectations for a compelling narrative, my other concern is that the actual gameplay is pretty limited. Both Destiny and Borderlands have vehicles, which add a whole different game mechanic. Yeah, the Gears of War games are mostly run, shoot, cover games, but their campaigns are only a few hours long, and even they have a number of sequences that break up the shooter monotony.
A loot system and character customization might make The Division technically an RPG, but unless there is much more to the game than they’ve shown, it won’t be a very good one. The publisher, Ubisoft is already under fire for a string of lackluster titles, and could really use a win. While the setting and concept are promising, there’s nothing that I’ve seen so far that indicates that The Division will be a compelling single player experience. I really hope I’m wrong.
The opinions in this editorial are the author’s and do not represent OnlySP as an organization.
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