Like many games in this genre, The Division 2 plays best with a well-coordinated squad of friends covering each other and using unique abilities to fend off mobs with tactical efficiency. Even a squad of random players simply taking down enemies together is sufficient enough to get through most of the game’s missions. But sometimes I just want play as a lone wolf and go at my own pace without the pressure of keeping up with others. And I often ask with these types of games, how viable is it go solo?
It’s the same question I had recently with Fallout 76 and Anthem, and one I’ve been asking since jumping into the original Destiny. Naturally, I thought about the same thing going into The Division 2, and I’m glad that more so than other loot shooters, playing by yourself turned out to be an enjoyable experience that still captures many of the game’s high points.
Something about The Division 2 makes the lone wolf approach work. I mainly attribute it to the fact that it revolves around being a cover-based shooter that taps more into a tactical mindset rather than your ability to eliminate enemy hordes and huge bosses that soak up tons of damage. Don’t get me wrong, The Division 2 has elements of that, but your ability to control combat scenarios and find clever ways to handle sometimes overwhelming firefights are much more important factors.
One particular experience solidified this feeling. The initial firefight in the Air And Space Museum mission proved more difficult than anything before, despite me being the proper level for it. I was downed in short time, twice. In the first attempt, I got caught out of cover for a little too long, and on a second try, flanked by enemies while desperately trying to find safety as my riot shield got torn to shreds. On the third and successful effort, I scouted for higher-level (purple) enemies so I could plan to take them out first before a full-on firefight broke out. With the use of my chem launcher skill and a few well-placed sniper shots, I took out the biggest threats at the outset.
I made my way through the rest of the mission consistently challenged, but ultimately relying on smart use of cover and taking advantage of openings. In the final phase of the whole mission played out differently; it forced me to think my way out of a heavily-armored boss pressuring me and encroaching on my space of limited cover. With my back against the wall, I pulled out all the stops; grenades, skills, unloading both primary weapons directly on a weak spot, while dancing around a slim pillar to keep changing my cover angle, I finished the fight by the skin of my teeth.
After 15 hours spent as a lone wolf, I’m still going, and I think that says a lot about how great it executes the core gameplay loop in a playground of fascinating set-pieces.
These moments aren’t unique to solo play by any stretch, but they illustrate why The Division 2 works as a single-player experience. You’re constantly on your toes, considering your position in these battles and trying your best to take out enemies before they get the jump on you or before another one can flank you. Of course, there were a number of cases where I simply took aim and landed precision shots with a semi-auto rifle to get through the many phases of missions, but even that still has a definite satisfaction thanks to a variety of tools at your disposal that have an effective, impactful feel upon using.
Another thing to consider is that playing solo means no one is around to revive you. Missions are usually generous with checkpoints and keeping your progress even when you get killed, but it’s not always the case. As a result, the not-so-forgiving phases give combat somewhat higher stakes like ‘no respawn zone’ phases. Dying in the open world also forces you to respawn at a fast travel point and run back to what you were doing. It’s not ideal, but it does play into how carefully you approach combat when you’re alone.
The Division 2 makes the lonesome journey worthwhile in another capacity–I had the time and space to embrace the wonderfully detailed–albeit dilapidated and abandoned–environments. This is a fairly accurate rendition of the nation’s capital after all, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t treat it as a little field trip. I found the ViewPoint Museum mission to be utterly fascinating as a display of history, media, and politics just as much as the American History Museum’s Vietnam War exhibit. Calling back to the Air And Space Museum, I took the time to actually examine what was on display. It’s a testament to the incredible set-pieces featured in several of the game’s main quests, real-world locations, and museums and landmarks that communicate a history that eerily complements the dark backdrop of The Division’s storyline.
Speaking of story, there’s unfortunately not much to see here. I often go into these types of games solo in order to soak up narrative bits, reflect on in-game events, and make sure I speak to every NPC possible to get the full picture, but that’s certainly not the case. In the original Division, I loved finding ECHOs, which painted a vivid picture of New York was before the Dollar Flu and right when poor folks scrambled to survive, and in turn, tried to understand an entirely new lore. However, The Division 2 falls short in delivering a story worth caring about. The canon has already been built, we know how dire the virus made things, and it rests on that. It’s a generic story about rebuilding with perfunctory attempts at emotional stakes. Factions exist to put a name and evil archetype on enemies that you don’t feel bad fighting against. And NPCs primarily serve functional purposes at settlements and bases, nothing more. In a way, The Division 2’s design flows like it’s specifically tuned for the squad that wants to churn through missions at a rapid pace with narrative as an afterthought. If anything, this approach keeps the action moving and places less emphasis on a weaker aspect of the game.
It’s not an entirely seamless experience on your own; there will be times when waves of Hyenas or True Sons just become too much to handle, and prove more frustrating than challenging. These are often scenarios that would’ve been easier with a mate or two to pick you up when you get downed, lay down covering fire, or take out imminent threats. Admittedly, I haven’t delved too deep into the Dark Zone, so I can’t speak to how one of the more captivating features of this game fares with no one to watch your back. But for the majority of The Division 2’s main questline, a solo player should be just as excited to engage in the game’s satisfying combat system while being able to handle its bigger fights.
At some point, you’ll inevitably squad up with randoms or friends because, of course, that’s what a multiplayer shared-world game is going to push you to do. But overall, the grind of The Division 2 delivers a plenty of fun and challenge that’s manageable, especially when incorporating more of your skills and devise ways to move from cover to cover and create your own flanking routes. After 15 hours spent as a lone wolf, I’m still going, and I think that says a lot about how great it executes the core gameplay loop in a playground of fascinating set-pieces.
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Author: Michael Higham