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Can The Division 2 Really Be Played as a Single Player Game?

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The Division 2

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

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.

Borderlands

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.

The Division 2

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.

The Division 2

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.

The Division 2

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.

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Opinion

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Dive into Mythology Alleviates Its Greatest Misstep

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Fate of Atlantis

Now that the final episode of ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ DLC trilogy for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has released, both new and returning players have the opportunity to play some of the greatest content additions ever to hit the Assassin’s Creed franchise. While providing a capstone to the Odyssey content releases and story arc, ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ takes the title’s RPG gameplay and fully unchains itself from the series’ semi-historically accurate portrayal of ancient civilizations. For those hoping to experience a more mythological side of the Assassin’s Creed universe, ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ is Ubisoft’s answer.

Mild spoilers for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and its DLC below.

One can argue that the past few Assassin’s Creed titles have been slowly itching towards a more fictional approach to storytelling and world building when compared to the original pillars of the series, and with Odyssey this claim is more true than ever before. One of the greatest criticisms Odyssey received at launch was how it handled the previously established lore and world-building that the series is known for. Fans were immediately taken aback by the shoehorned in game mechanics that went against the established foundation set in Origins the year prior. Odyssey’s Kassandra/Alexios having the same playstyle and mannerisms of Origins’s Bayek, despite living 400 years earlier, can be written off as being done for ease of development, however it still left hardcore fans puzzled and frustrated by the lazy implementation.

Elysium - Odyssey

Despite the aforementioned transgressions, Odyssey provided players with an excellent ancient civilization sandbox to run around and vicariously live in. The post-launch content gifted players more of Odyssey’s story to explore by introducing Darius, wielder of the first hidden blade, and Atlantis, one of the last cities of the Isu/First Civilization race. Continuing its trend of playing fast and loose with the Assassin’s Creed lore, Ubisoft thought to retcon almost everything that was already established about the first Assassins in its ‘Legacy of the First Blade’ trilogy of DLC. By completely disregarding the traditions and ideologies founded in Origins, Ubisoft proved to fans that the future trajectory of the franchise was heavily in favor of gameplay over all else. However, that is a topic for another day.

‘The Fate of Atlantis’ was Ubisoft’s final story-arc DLC for Odyssey, and after the underperforming ‘Legacy of the First Blade’ story, many fans worried that its closing content would suffer the same fate. In a surprising turn of events, however, ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ proves that the Assassin’s Creed franchise can actually succeed when it does not take itself seriously. The past few entries into the series has seen Ubisoft take further risks by edging away from its successful formula. Since Assassin’s Creed III, the franchise has incorporated more fantastical elements that are in contrast to its original ‘near accuracy’ approach. Odyssey’s ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ DLC trilogy unchains itself from that restriction and dives head first into mythology. 

Hear me out before the enraged comments begin. I have been an Assassin’s Creed fan since the beginning and, in my opinion, the greatest draw of the franchise is how it incorporates historical accuracy with its fictional narrative. Anyone who believes that what is said in an Assassin’s Creed to be fact should really open up a history textbook, but seeing ‘what if?’ scenarios take place in the same historical events we have been told for centuries is a fresh take.  

The opening episode sees the games protagonist head into Elysium to gain knowledge of their birthright’s potential and power. Elysium is a ‘would be’ paradise for souls who are granted safe passage through The Underworld, and it is where the protagonist reconnects with those who desire paradise after death. The world of Elysium is vast and beautiful, consisting of sprawling fields and open vistas. The story present within this episode tasks Kassandra/Alexios with gathering information from Persephone, Hades’s wife, by either aiding a rebellion against her or sabotaging its progress. Regardless of choice, players will find themselves at the same confrontation in the end, which is a theme that resurfaces in every subsequent episode. 

As a stark contrast to Elysium, the second episode takes players into the depths of The Underworld with Hades holding the protagonist hostage until his demands are met. The Underworld is the complete opposite of Elysium in almost every way. The paradise fields of Elysium are swapped out for the dark and claustrophobic roads of despair. 

Where Elysium struggled was with the balance for beauty and good level design where the map was often to vertical for simplistic traversal. To help alleviate this issue, the developers added a mechanic known as the Wings of Hermes, which acts like an elevator to each mountain area. The problem with this mechanic, however, is that they were spread so far between that most times the player ended up having to climb the mountain instead, which can become extremely tedious after the first few times. The Underworld, in contrast, does not suffer from this design; instead, it focuses more on placing obstacles in your path between destinations. Whether it involves poisonous ponds scattered across the land or an infinite sea of debris to maneuver and climb over, The Underworld is a cluster of despair which adds to the atmosphere even though it gets in the way.

Fate of Atlantis Cerberus

The main appeal towards the second episode is that players can reconnect with familiar faces from the main story and see how their fate unfolded. The narrative of witnessing familiar NPCs’ fates plays into the significance of decision making in the episode. Instead of forming a rebellion against Hades, players’ decisions are weighed in on by Hades and Poseidon, as they constantly wager on your actions. Just as in Elysium, all decisions will lead towards the same ending, but personalizing the final interactions with those NPCs is a nice touch.

The final episode in ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ story arc seeks to be a culmination of everything that came before it. The futuristic city of Atlantis is, in my opinion, the most beautiful setting of the three, by incorporating the bright colors of Elysium with the obstacle filled paths of The Underworld. The fusion of forefather technology along with ancient Greek architecture fosters a setting that remains out of this world, yet somehow remarkably grounded. The narrative of the third episode sees Poseidon rewarding players’ triumphs by promoting them to Dikastes: essentially the judge, jury, and executioner of Atlantis. By doing so, all decisions made in Atlantis are catered to how the player would lead the city. 

Up until the finale of the third episode, I was under the impression that ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ was Ubisoft’s way of taking the formula of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and turning it into a fantasy RPG. However, in the closing moments of the final episode, Ubisoft has surprised me by finding a way to tie in everything done in these three episodes to the overall lore of the franchise. What I first believed to be an experimentation of a potential spin-off franchise turned into a nice nod to previous Assassin’s Creed titles and the story they had set up with the Isu/First Civilization. 

Poseidon

Overall, the story arc of ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ was a positive experience and a fitting way to end the content of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. The DLC asked that players suspend their disbelief with its semi-accurate take on Ancient Greece and journey into the afterlife of Greek mythology. While not the first title to do so (with Origins’s ‘Curse of the Pharaohs’ DLC last year tackling Egyptian mythology), Odyssey proves that a fantasy take on its formula leaves more to explore. 

Despite the praise, however, ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ possessed the same issues that are present within the main game and its previous titles. The DLC proves that Assassin’s Creed’s biggest flaw is still its modern-day storyline and main protagonist Layla Hassan. The writing and acting of Layla are beyond abysmal at this point, and Ubisoft needs to understand that this is an issue that is weighing down the series. For example, the death of a prominent character left a cliffhanger at the conclusion of the second episode, only to be written off as a ‘whoopsie’ in the opening minutes of the third. Layla’s naïve attitude and self-centered approach to the events around her are dragged out and annoying. No resolution is present for her actions, nor any character development or improvement in the slightest. Instead, her motivations remain the same despite reason, causing universal unrest every time the game pulls you out of the Animus to live in her shoes.

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