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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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Editorial

The PlayStation 5 Specs Are Beefy, But Not Entirely Necessary

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PlayStation 5

Six years have passed since the launch of the PlayStation 4, and, consequently, the launch of the eighth generation of consoles. Throughout this time the industry has seen a shift in how the medium is consumed. Nowadays, gamers are no longer forced to experience titles through conventional controller inputs thanks to the implementation of VR, while visual performance and optimization are at record heights given the current technology available to developers.

For well over a year now, rumors and speculations have sprung up surrounding the next generation of hardware from both Sony and Microsoft, with the latter being more open about its technological aspirations. Despite withholding true hardware specifications, Microsoft does not shy away from igniting conversations around its next systems (yes plural). Sony, on the other hand, has been extremely tight lipped on the topic, only hinting at the PlayStation 5 during a discussion on the success of the PS4.

Until now, consumers were left to speculate on the possibilities of what the PlayStation 5 will contain. To the surprise of many, however, Sony has unexpectedly opened up about the final specifications that will be found within the upcoming hardware. Lead architect on Sony’s next console Mark Cerny detailed how important this generational leap is for the company and what consumers can expect from its beefy machine. While confirming some rumors, and debunking others, Cerny expressed Sony’s desire for the new generation to allow “for fundamental changes in what a game could be.” As a bold statement by Cerny, this ideology will help Sony fall in line with the trajectory that other studios, such as Xbox, have had during the eighth generation of consoles.

For those who are unaware, the PS4 launched in 2013 to wide success, re-establishing Sony’s brand at the forefront of console gaming. Although the console became a household and media juggernaut, many tech-savvy individuals were quick to point out the flaws within its hardware. For example, much of the specifications that the PS4 touted were, in fact, already outdated at release when compared to high-end PC rigs. Despite the obvious limitations of console gaming, the choice of hardware found within the PS4 proved puzzling, as it was being marketed as a giant leap forward for the industry. Sony would later attempt to mitigate the ongoing damage caused by underperforming hardware with the mid-generation iteration of the PS4 Pro, though this attempt only served to extend the console lifecycle by another few years.

From the outset, Sony knew its largest issue was underperforming hardware, and, thanks to the information detailed by Mark Cerny, the community finally has some insight on how that will be addressed. For starters, the CPU found within the PS5’s hardware will use the third generation of AMD’s Ryzen line which is a massive leap over the PS4’s Jaguar chip. Although I am not much for technical jargon within the PC economy, I do understand how much the Jaguar chip held back performance within the eighth generation, and I welcome the Ryzen with open arms. My only hope is that this upgrade will be enough to sustain the PlayStation 5 throughout the years and maintain its presence as a PC competitor.

Additionally, the custom AMD Navi GPU that will be present in the PS5 will support ray-tracing, a feature that only a few games fully utilize on PC, but nonetheless will provide a more realistic experience. Although this specific feature is a welcome addition to the console ecosystem, I honestly never expected it to be a priority. While having real-time accurate reflections within the environment will definitely increase immersion, I would personally desire a more optimized experience that will never falter during play. We will have to wait until more is revealed on the PS5’s ray-tracing technology, but I can only hope that it will not take priority over performance.

Building upon the implementation of ray-tracing with the PS5, Cerny noted that, for him, the audio technology present within the PS4 did not achieve the standards of a generational leap from the PS3. According to Cerny, the PS5 will implement 3D Audio, dramatically changing how gamers perceive sound within a video game. The inclusion of 3D Audio sounds like a well-deserved feature for PlayStation veterans. However, I feel as though this addition will only benefit those who have an entertainment setup that supports it. Unfortunately, individuals who resort to stereo speakers could potentially see no difference in how the audio is delivered from PS5 titles compared to those on PS4.

The interview also provided information surrounding the type of storage available in the PS5. As a much-needed addition, the PlayStation 5 will contain a solid state drive (SSD), which will allow for faster load times and experiences. As many PlayStation users know, the PS4 can provide some appalling load times, leading this issue to be a constant topic of discussion throughout the entire generation. The possibility of a game having long load times was so great that it often made headlines in video game’s media, pleading for action to be taken (Bloodborne anyone?).

Thankfully, information on the PS5’s hard drive capabilities does not require too much speculation, as Cerny provided an example of how fast it will be. According to him, Marvel’s Spider-Man, which has an average of a 15 second load time on a PS4 Pro, will have just 0.8 second load times on a PS5. No indication is yet forthcoming as to how consistent this technological feat will be across different titles, and I urge consumers to temper their expectations on the speed of the PS5 because only time will tell how efficient it can be. Regardless of my concerns surrounding inconsistencies, the PS5 will feature the fastest load times of any console before it, eliminating one of the greatest issues of the PS4’s hardware.

Bloodborne gameplay 1

In addition to the announcement that PlayStation 5 will have an SSD, Cerny confirmed a much-desired feature in backwards compatibility. Although this feature will not reach as far back as the competition, the PS5 will be compatible with PS4 titles, both digital and physical. This was to be expected—seeing as both consoles will run off the same architecture—but the silence from Sony proved worrisome for some fans, myself included. While I am disappointed that PS3 titles will not be compatible with the PS5, I understand that the cell processor of that earlier device would take more effort than it is worth to make games from the platform compatible. Regardless, PlayStation fans can rejoice in this news, as it further validates any investment into the PS4’s ecosystem.

Where I draw most of my criticism from Mark Cerny’s report on the specifications of the PS5 is within the idea that Sony’s next hardware will support 8K resolution. To be clear, I am not stating that such an achievement is impossible; rather I question the necessity of it. Given everything that we know about the PS5, one can assume that the system will cost around USD $500. With 4K televisions slowly becoming a household norm, is it worthwhile for a company to be devoting resources into a feature that will likely not be consumer friendly for years to come? I understand that Sony is at a disadvantage right now with the Xbox One X outputting at native 4K, but seeking to outdo the competition to this extent seems financially unobtainable for most consumers.

My concerns develop from individuals who hear the news of PS5 and 8K resolution and assume it to be the Second Coming. It is unfeasible to have a $500 to $600 console run at a native 8K resolution. Anyone who believes this will happen need look no further than PlayStation’s competition with the Xbox One X. At its launch, Microsoft was selling the Xbox One X at a loss, solely to prevent the console from exceeding the $500 mark and turning away consumers. Microsoft’s current machine is capable of outputting at a native 4K resolution, whereas the PS4 Pro can only achieve the same through upscaled checkerboarding. The PS5 will surely be able to output at a native 4K resolution, but to expect anything more with the current state of consumer technology is wishful thinking. I urge consumers to understand that if the PS5 has an 8K setting, it will likely be only achieved in the future and through a checkerboarded solution.

Spider-Man PS4

Given the rumors that the next generation of hardware will be the last, Sony may be trying to future proof the PS5 so that it can remain on the market for as long as possible. Given the information provided by Mark Cerny, Sony may be intending to utilize every feature of the PS5 to its entirety before considering what could come after. By future proofing the PlayStation 5, Sony can anticipate where the industry is heading, ultimately eliminating the need for a mid-generation upgrade with a PS5 Pro.

I have been a PlayStation fan for as long as I can remember, but have recently branched out with the Xbox One X and PC gaming to experience what those ecosystems have to offer. By broadening my horizons, I maintain an outside perspective on how Sony is upholding its promise to gamers and how the competition tackles similar issues created by an ever-growing industry. With the eighth generation nearing its completion, I look forward to discussions such as this one as it generates hope and excitement for the future of the brand.

While the PlayStation 4’s colossal success this generation will provide a jump-start in sales for the company’s new hardware, the beginning of a new generation only reinvigorates the console wars. As a firm believer in what both Sony and Microsoft will do to shape the future of the industry, I am reminded that competition breeds excellence. Furthermore, when competition is present between both parties to win over public appeal, in the end, consumers emerge victorious.

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