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Dumbing Down: The Frustrating Absurdity of The Division 2's Silent Protagonist

Gaming article by Anson Chan on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 - 12:00
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Silent Isn't Always Best

The looter shooter genre is getting more and more crowded every year, especially now that almost every major publisher has a dog in the race. With the release of Ubisoft's The Division 2, the standards have been raised once more. Compared to its competitors, The Division 2 has an almost excessive amount of quests and loot. By most accounts, it takes some 30 hours to reach the level cap and start the endgame. That figure can get more bloated once you factor in the Dark Zone and endgame min-maxing. For all the game's strengths in raw content though, one key aspect remains lacking.

Throughout the entirety of The Division 2, your character never makes a sound. They never talk, they never make comments on their environment, and they never show any emotion whatsoever. Even the most basic and ubiquitous sound effect in shooters, the "low health, about to die" gasp, is absent from the game. Of course, no one expects (or wants) any game to be filled with the moans and screams of the dying, but it's a little over the top when the most basic form of human expression, body language, is not a part of your character's dictionary.

 

Unfortunately, The Division 2 is not the first, nor will it be the last game to have a mute protagonist. Plenty of other games in the past have mute protagonists, and some have pulled it off successfully. Depending on the setting and a game's budget, it may be beneficial to have a mute protagonist. After all, Doomguy from DOOM (2016) doesn't need to talk when there's demons walking around and no one to talk to. And yet, Domguy's actions outside of eviscerating the minions of Hell speak volumes about his character.

However, The Division 2's setting is about as far away from a demon-infested planet as you can get. Division operatives are supposed to be sleeper agents embedded in the general population of the United States. Yet it appears as though every player character was pulled from a factory dedicated to making killer robot mimes. In fact, the random NPCs that you meet on the streets of Washington D.C. have more voice lines than your character. Things get especially awkward when other characters directly address your character and you just stand there and stare at them. While this may be a realistic response for some, one would assume that for the vast majority of people, such a reaction would be considered bizarre. You may as well just T-pose into cutscenes for all the input that your character provides.

 

 

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On the bright side, ISAC doesn't make weird comments about milk waterfalls.

 

 

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter that your character in The Division 2 has the personality of a slab of wood. The rest of the game is solidly above average at worst and excellent at best in spite of your character's lack of charisma. It is merely disappointing that such an issue exists. The excuse that the silent protagonist helps players envision themselves as the main character simply doesn't apply here given the context. Such an excuse is somewhat dated to begin with, regardless of how you look at it. That most looter shooters, with the notable exception of Anthem, have sub-par storytelling is not helping matters much.

As it stands, it doesn't seem like it would be possible for developer Massive Entertainment to give your character a soul. A lot of the cutscenes and dialogue are clearly designed with a silent protagonist in mind. It would be a nice touch to make the game feel more immersive if your character could speak though. But why stop at improving story elements? Well, other than the resources and time required to implement such changes. Imagine if The Division 2 had a robust in-game callout system similar to the one in Apex Legends. It wouldn't affect solo players that much, but those who prefer playing in groups might appreciate it. Merely having your character point out especially dangerous enemies would be a decent start.

If nothing else, perhaps we should look at The Division 2's silent protagonist to re-examine the silent protagonist trope. It's obvious that not every main character needs to be a chatterbox. To have situations where a fancy watch has more of a personality than the main character isn't ideal either. A balance needs to be found, at least for looter shooters anyways. Otherwise, every looter shooter will always suffer from having a sub-par story, as it is unavoidable that people will notice that their character doesn't talk. Such small details are what separate a decent story from a good story, even if you are supposed to fill the shoes of the main character. After all, you can get away with a mute character if you sell well, but if you want people to be invested, giving them a voice wouldn't hurt.

About the Author

Hi :)

Anson Chan

Staff Writer

You ever wonder why we're here? It's one of life's greatest mysteries, isn't it?