Although The Division is poised to become one of the breakout new IPs of 2016, one writer looks to the future of his time playing the game with a sense of dread.
I could tell while playing The Division‘s closed beta a few weeks ago that I was going to love the game. While I had initially feared The Division might be too much like Destiny, those fears were put to rest when I got some hands-on time with a game that turned out to be a very different animal. While Destiny has no problem with players charging headlong into battle as long as they are prepared and skilled enough, The Division will mow even the most seasoned veteran down to tiny little Agent pieces should they ignore the ample amounts of cover provided for each mission. Even the way the guns feel is fundamentally different.
While I’ve written before on why buying into the hype of upcoming games can be dangerous and even disheartening, I am definitely a believer in The Division. I know I’m going to enjoy my time with the multiple Agents I hope to play as, getting a feel for each different skillset. I know that I’m going to obsess over making sure my Agent is wearing the right style of dreary grey jacket and fashionable utility bag, because I couldn’t forgive myself if any of the rival factions in New York thought I didn’t know how to accessorize. Sure, most of these things all seem like an inherently good thing, but I am dreading each and every one of them.
Some context: I went through similar phases while playing Destiny and, more recently, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. I am a completionist at heart, and both of these games offer a lot to people with the kind of compulsion that drives someone to farm materials for days just to get a shiny new gun. While I was still immersed in the story of either title, these traditional reward systems and loot-based trappings were hardly noticeable. A funny thing happened on my way to the endgame of Destiny and Metal Gear Solid 5, though. I got invested. I genuinely cared about the characters I was playing and how they appeared in-game.
And then I got to the end of the story-based content, and it all fell apart, like a glorious video game taco that had a hole in the tortilla wrap. The endgame was that little bit of extra ground beef, that cheesy hubris – it caused the whole thing to buckle under its own weight and collapse into a mess that was distinctly un-fun. It was an endgame cycle of repetition that had no real narrative entanglement any longer – kill this guy because he’s a bad person who carries small pieces of a better weapon, then do it again some more times until you can assemble said weapon until there is something better.
I get exactly why this formula is still in place today, and I’m not criticizing developers for including it in their games. It’s not so much that I feel the practice of loot-cycle reward systems, which will be included in The Division as well, is flawed or out-of-date. It’s more the growing sense that, at the tender (and still young!) age of 25, I’m no longer the primary target demographic of most of the titles I’m playing.
After all, the gamer I was at age 18 is drastically different from the one I am at 25, and not just because past-me is significantly better at shooters than I could ever hope to be again. Younger people have something that developers prize highly, and it’s something I have been finding less of as I grow a bit older and undertake more real-world responsibilities: the luxury of free time, and lots of it. Bungie and Ubisoft certainly know this, and there’s a reason that Destiny‘s endgame content requires the kind of dedication that people cooking their own dinners and desperately trying to find time for social obligations can’t possibly hope to muster up. It’s not meant for us.
Instead, the endgame of Destiny and what will likely characterize the endgame of The Division is something we can admire from afar, or perhaps take part in on rare occasion. Yet it is still like attending a dinner party and enjoying a 5-star meal where everyone else is speaking a language you don’t understand. Enjoyable, perhaps even sublime – but there’s something you’re missing that everyone else isn’t. It gets even worse when you discover that, while you’re still able to use the utensils just fine, everyone else has become much better at maneuvering them in your time away from the frequent parties. You’re doing the same thing everyone else is, but you’re doing it much worse.
So, where does that leave me with The Division? I understand that one solution, if I truly want to keep up with the endgame content and cyclical repetition, is to simply set aside more time to play the game. I have also exaggerated the kind of obligations that prevent us from enjoying the games we love. The problem with online, mostly multiplayer games like The Division, however, is that more time spent with them is often achieved by sacrificing playthroughs of other games. For those skeptical of this dynamic, look at how Destiny‘s Year 2 problems sent some of its most prominent players away to check out other titles. A lot of people taking a break from Bungie’s game ended up diving into The Witcher 3, a game that had arrived nearly six months prior to the issues with Destiny and was on the short-list for Game of the Year on nearly every awards ballot.
The point is, I’m tired of rewards systems in endgame content that are nearly impossible to achieve without dedicating myself solely to one game at the expense of others. I’m also sick of the perception surrounding these kinds of games that states that making content more accessible with less commitment is somehow making the game easier for everyone. The ability to focus entirely upon a game like The Division should absolutely exist, and is part of the appeal of an online MMO/shooter hybrid – it just shouldn’t come at my expense.
Do I think The Division should eliminate hardcore endgame appeal altogether? Certainly not. But surely there must be a way to create a compelling endgame that both rewards spending a lot of time with the content without punishing players for having commitments outside one game. As it stands now, I’m still going to play as much of The Division as I am able, and I’m going to become just as invested in my Agent as I was with my Guardian a year ago. I’m going to reach the highest level I can and engage with endgame content just the same.
My hope, however, is that when the time inevitably comes that I must step away from the game for a week, or two weeks, or even a month, that it is still playable upon my return. I just don’t have the time to play catch up on a month’s worth of content anymore, and because of that, my love of The Division is equal parts fun and terrifying.