Will You Really Be Able To Play The Division As A Single-Player Game?
One of the biggest unanswered questions going into Tom Clancy’s The Division on 8 March 2016 is whether or not the upcoming RPG-shooter hybrid will be actually playable as a single-player experience.
Ubisoft has always maintained that The Division could be played in single-player, despite only ever showing off footage with up to three other player-controlled Division agents surrounding player one. This was a sentiment echoed to NowGamer by creative director Magnus Jansen, who claimed that while you can play it solo it isn’t recommended.
“The Division is a great single-player game. If you want to play it solo, you can definitely play it solo,” he says, adding. “[but] it’s much more fun to play in co-op, as those of you who [regularly] play online and co-op games will know.”
Essentially, he’s ascertaining that pretty much everything is better when you do it alongside your friends. We don’t disagree; but we aren’t blessed with a enough friends to guarantee three buddies will be online every night to assist us taking back a mid-crisis New York City.
So, through a behind-closed-door play session with Ubisoft and with many hours spent trawling through the closed beta, we looked to answer this question: can the Division be played (and more importantly, enjoyed) as a single-player experience?
This is what we found.
The Division is a lonely experience
The Division can feel incredibly lonely at times; regardless of whether you’re playing co-op or solo.
Developer Massive Entertainment has put together a stunning re-creation of mid-town Manhattan that’s 1:1 scale, accurately described by the studio as “one of the most accurate recreations of the city ever done in a videogame.” But it’s near abandoned after a deadly virus swept through the city on one fateful Black Friday. Cold, icy winds sweep through the streets and citizens are mostly confined to their homes – or worse, body bags.
That can make navigating this space feel very isolated.
Which isn’t a bad thing. The Division is supposed to feel like it is handing you an impossible task. You are essentially the only military presence in the area and it often feels like the odds are stacked against you.
After running through a handful of solo missions, side-quests and emergent tasks out in the open world, we discovered that playing solo can actually enhance the immersion. Firefights are more furious; every bullet and run between cover feeling death-defying – without anyone to pick you up if you go down, the thought of hiking it back from a respawn zone is never too appealing.
Having co-op partners can often feel like the odds are with you, especially as you and buddies begin unleashing intricate flanking and suppression tactics – difficulty may scale to the level and amount of players in a party, but enemies that can sponge a few more bullets are no match for a team that’s communicating. In some respects then, roaming around the open world might be best done solo; it’ll really help bring you into this world.
There’s a full campaign in The Division
There is indeed a full story campaign in The Division, and it can be tackled solo.
You’ll quickly be able to unlock three story threads – that also affect your progression through the skill trees. The campaign has you completing missions for three different characters – representing Tech, Medical and Security – and it’s up to you how you tackle these missions. You can focus on one thread, go at them systematically, or ignore it entirely and try to survive in the world with no skills.
As associate creative director Julian Gerighty tells us, everything is open to you from the start and the decisions are yours. “The entire game is open to you from the start. There’s no limits, you can go anywhere and try and do one of these missions. How did we deal with this open world structure and still have a story? We split it up into three story threads and each one of these will give you a little piece of a puzzle that you’ll start to understand as you complete missions.”
Each mission can also be replayed on a harder difficulty for the potential of better loot too, while you can also seamlessly enter matchmaking should you feel like replaying a mission with friends or helping another player out on the journey to take back NYC. At the end of the day, you could play through every story mission without ever encountering another player-controlled Division agent.
Whether you’d actually want to do that is, of course, up to you entirely.
Yes, the Dark Zone can even be tackled solo
You don’t need a co-op group to get into the Dark Zone – The Division’s brutal PvP area where it’s every player for him/or/her self – but don’t expect it to be like a fun day at the park.
The best loot is found in the Dark Zone, as is the opportunity to shoot other players in the face… we can see why you might be tempted. If you really want to, you can think of the Dark Zone as the traditional multiplayer space; the compliment to the single player experience that you’d get in any other game. Thinking this way works, but you won’t likely find much success if you’re going alone.
Not only are the NPCs incredibly tough, but the threat of other players is near-constant.
You’ll never feel threatened to play co-op
One of the biggest surprises for us, was to find that the co-op elements are really non-intrusive. Considering Massive Entertainment wants you to play this in co-op, it never forces you to join up with friends or random folk.
Matchmaking is seamless, so if you do want to run a mission with other players it is easy enough to activate – while grouping is as easy as pressing the right thumb-stick while looking at another player in one of the social hubs scattered between the 15 districts that make up The Division’s open world map.
One of the coolest features though, is that the augmented reality map – that appears awesomely around your feat – displays where any of your friends (who are already online, obviously) are located in the world. This means that, in theory, you could run over to their rough area and invite them into a group and see them instantly join you. That’s an awesome feature.
By tearing down the barriers between solo and co-op play, The Division doesn’t feel as restrictive as something like Destiny or Borderlands 2, where you need to commit to playing one way or the other.
The lines between single-player and multi-player are blurring
One really cool aspect of The Division is how the world instancing works.
Even if you do decide to tackle the game in co-op, you’ll never be wasting your time or potential for progress. Once you join a group, you are instanced into the leader’s world – which is to say, you are swept into their version of the game world – tackling their missions and quests.
You will, however, be able to take any progress from the story or any loot that you find back to your own. The Division knows what you’re doing and when you return to your Base of Operations after playing in co-op – a physical representation of your personal progress in the game that can only be accessed by you – you’ll be able to see the fruits of your labour.
That means that even while you’re playing multiplayer, The Division still feels like a single-player game.
It’s quite impressive how The Division takes MMO sensibilities and makes them work on a smaller, more personal scale.
It’s always online
This might be a bit of a problem. The Division seems to be always online – and that means you are instantly putting a lot of faith into Ubisoft’s ability to run an online game without disaster striking. As Rainbow Six Siege has revealed, that’s probably not going to happen.
While playing solo, one of the most frustrating things to happen was enemies lagging between cover spots or simply teleporting around the map, rendering our bullets useless. This is the frustrating reality of The Division.
While you can indeed play the entire game on your own, without teaming up with another player if you really wanted to, you will need to be hooked up to the servers. That means your single-player game could be impacted by familiar Ubisoft problems: irregular connections, sloppy netcode and uPlay problems rendering the service unusable.
If Ubisoft can get its act together, then hopefully this won’t impact play too much – but we will have to wait until launch to see how it fares out in the wild
Well… yes. Basically, yes you will be able to play The Division as a single-player game if you really want to. Just be aware that there’s online aspects in there.