The Division and its newly released sequel, The Division 2, are odd games. On one hand, the first Division title makes it very clear that the very idea of the Division, an unrestrained government agency that is embedded among the general population, is a bad idea. That’s not subtext; that’s just text! On the other hand, The Division 2 has completely backpedaled on that stance in its first few hours. The game lavishes me, and the Division as a whole, with praise.
This is a very bad idea, because I think the character I’m playing probably shouldn’t be in charge of any moral act, let alone rebuilding an entire society.
First of all, The Division 2’s character builder allows for some interesting customization. I can only choose between two body types — a generally masculine or feminine frame — but I have multiple categories of tattoos to choose from. I start out by giving my agent a sick neck tattoo of a bird, because that symbolizes freedom or something. It’s apropos. Then, I realize I have the power to give her an arm tattoo of a slice of pizza, and that’s when things start to go off the rails.
Here’s the thing. I make each choice about character customization very deliberately, and once I realize that my agent would get a slice of pizza tattooed on her — and I know, in my heart, that I have to go with this option — I have to extrapolate from there. That choice became the anchor of my decisions, and from there came my character, who will serve as my vehicle through Ubisoft and Massive’s carefully crafted world. Other players will only see my Uplay handle, but I christen my beautiful new daughter Charlotte Chuff, the Rudest Dude in D.C.
At this point, pleased with my progress, I stop and show my character to my valued co-worker Austen Goslin. I ask a simple question: “You are in Washington, D.C. Society has fallen. This woman approaches you. Do you trust her?” He replies, “Without question.”
Austen takes care to note that the tattoos, sunglasses that have absolutely not been scavenged from a corpse, and overall “cop” attitude really lend my character a good air of benevolence. While Austen and I agreed that Charlotte can clearly party, Austen did note that, “If she smelled drugs at a party, she would immediately shoot everyone in the room.”
It’s fine. This is probably fine. Looks aren’t everything, and we’re in pretty dire circumstances since the United States has fallen into complete chaos.
I load into the game and begin playing and the first thing I realized that my agent is always half-smiling at all times, like she’s in a work meeting but just saw a really good meme and can’t quite suppress a laugh. This means that, in every cutscene, Charlotte is kind of smirking good-naturedly. Am I leaving another Division agent behind to die in a heroic sacrifice? She’s smiling. Is a mother begging me to recover her poor, lost daughter? Charlotte’s smiling. It’s concerning.
My agent is a silent protagonist, and that means that all she does is half-smile her way through cutscenes. Once I’m in the world, I run through civilian settlements full of people who are grasping desperately at me with passing words of praise and pleas for help. I have no way to interact with any of them, so Charlotte just half-jogs past people trying to shower her with worship, and it’s very uncomfortable.
That weird feeling is amplified every time I start a mission, because I have one (1) way to solve any problem: I shoot guns real good. Even when I’m trying to, say, save a hostage, I just start mowing my way through dozens of guys with absolutely no care for the hostage surviving or anything. I’m just there to murder, please and thank you.
I need to stress here that the bar my agent needs to clear to be a good person in this setting is extremely low. At one point, I creep past two enemy NPCs, and one of them literally stops to say, “I’m just going to stand here and ... think about all of the people I’ve killed.” I just need to come across as better than that guy, and I can’t do it!
I don’t really know if this is the game making an intentional statement, building off the thesis of the first Division game. I mean, hopefully that’s the case. When I see a couple of looters going through the pockets of a dead body, and I kill them, and then they drop loot for me to pick up ... is that a statement on the inequality of society and the abuse of power? Or is my reaction meant to be along the lines of, “Sweet! New knee pads!”
I don’t know!
I’m still very early in the game, and I know there are going to be lots of mysteries to unravel. I’m hoping that one of those is why Charlotte Chuff, my Division agent, is so terrifying. Is she okay? Can someone check on her? I’m very afraid.