My last dental appointment was by far more entertaining than watching a cutscene from The Division 2. My dentist, however, at least has the good sense to let me watch Netflix while he goes to town on my teeth. The Division 2, on the other hand, doesn’t want me to skip its laborious narrative.
I haven’t finished the story missions. I haven’t even played through 10 hours yet. But I don’t need to drink a gallon of sour milk to know it’s a bit off. Instead, I’d recoil at the first sip and promptly dump the remainder out without giving it a second thought. I can’t even quote you the name of a single character from the game and, in most cases, my knowledge of a mission’s objective is no deeper than “get to the roof and shoot the baddie.”
But does that matter?
A narrative bind
There’s a quick, obvious answer to the question above. No. Not even a little bit.
Cutscenes in The Division 2 can be treated as a chance to take a bathroom break with no detriment to the game. Fundamentally, it’s true. It doesn’t rely on cutscenes to deliver vital game information. It’s not a puzzle game or a narrative adventure. If you were to play a version of the game with every piece of dialogue removed, you would still understand all you need to play it. Sure, there’s bits of tutorial here and there, but aside from that, the story doesn’t change how you play.
Plenty of similar games take the same approach. Destiny, the original sin of the loot shooter genre, remains the most obvious example. Its sci-fi word salad may have been told with dramatic flair, but it never influenced how the game was played. Most games built in its image take the same approach. Even Anthem, despite its aspirations, never firmly ties the story to the gameplay.
So, why not just ignore it? Well, The Division 2 desperately wants you to care. It follows a simple but rigid narrative structure that starts with a cutscene. Gameplay is frequently interrupted by cutscenes or radio dialogue from characters that have very important (read: boring) things to say. The United States has fallen, you see. Or it kind of has? You’re so very important, and well, ah…
Sorry, I was about to nod off.
The most frustrating part is that while The Division 2’s story doesn’t matter, the game refuses to acknowledge it. Instead, it forcefully smashes a poorly written, half-baked and irrelevant narrative into your face, all the while screaming “CAN YOU FEEL THE FEELS?!”
No, Ubisoft. I don’t. So can I please just play the damn game?
Just let me play the damn game
There is light at the end of the tunnel. Though annoying, the story in The Division 2 is a one-time issue. Unlike World of Warcraft, which forces players to grind up every time they want to play a new class, The Division 2’s story is a one-and-done.
And yet I find myself loathe to complete it. I’ve done the campaign slog in other games, but that makes the repetition all the worse in The Division 2. How many times have I endured a bad story just to unlock what I really want to play? Dozens? No. Probably hundreds.
This isn’t the only online game that has me stuck in a narrative bog. I’ve found myself stuck on the side of a much larger, steeper mountain in Final Fantasy XIV. It’s a charming MMO with smart strategic combat, but the game’s narrative slog is absurd. About 100 quests separate the end of the original game and the beginning of the first expansion, Heavensward. Assuming each quest takes 15 minutes (which is conservative), that’s 25 hours trudging through quests mostly introduced as patch filler. I just can’t do it.
And why should I do it? I could spend my time chasing the hope that if I eventually put in the effort, the game will let me have fun. But I’d rather just play a game that lets me have fun from the start.
That’s a revelation the battle royale genre figured out from the start. There’s lore, yes, but there’s no story. There’s barely a tutorial. Rush in, have fun, die, learn, repeat. That’s the loop. It’s enjoyable. It’s immediate. You can play a half-hour and enjoy a match, or you can play all day and chase new character or weapon skins.
Games like The Division 2 should learn from the failures of its predecessors. Screw the story. Ditch the yawn-worthy “echoes.” Just let me jump into a warehouse with a machinegun and a few friends to mow down loot pinatas.
That’s what I want to play. If I have to grind through a dull 30-hour story to unlock the real game, well, I probably just won’t.