Don't let the first 30 hours fool you: The Division is not a single-player game.
The Division changes when you reach level 30, and you don't want to be alone when it happens.
A few days before The Division released, the order came down from VG247 command: Pat, Matt and I would be playing on Xbox One. There are compelling reasons to favour the Xbox One even if it is my least favourite console (did you know? The d-pad on the Xbox One control pad is constructed of fossilised prehistoric bullshit, and the difficulty of sharing screenshots suggests Microsoft has yet to even look at the rival trouncing it month after month in every market) but this decision has separated me from my friends list.
There’s really only one way forward: group up, then hit those harder missions or dig into the Dark Zone.
This was something of a relief at first. I'm not much of a multiplayer gamer. I love Destiny's raids and I've even come to enjoy its PvP, but when it comes to experiencing a game for the first time, I like to do it alone. Working my way slowly through the story campaigns, learning its systems as they unlock. Challenging myself to survive on my own. Absorbing the story and the atmosphere without feeling obliged to hurry through on someone else's schedule or struggling to hear dialogue through voice comms and small talk.
Unfortunately, The Division is not balanced for ongoing solo play.
It's definitely not impossible; I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to third-person shooters, but I managed to complete every story mission, side mission and encounter right through to Murray Hill on my own, while only being a couple of levels ahead of the nominal level range.
Then I hit a wall. Murray Hill is where you start to meet the LMB faction in numbers and holy heck: they hit hard. After clearing every collectible in the previous districts, I found it frustratingly difficult here; unless I build for constant First Aid use and sit there with my health regenerating around me, the random patrols tear me to shreds, regularly one-shotting my poor Agent despite fairly decent gear. If I can't even walk the streets of this district, how can I face the missions and encounters in the next...?
Perhaps a really skilled player would have better luck, tap-dancing smoothly from cover to cover without taking a hit - but there's no denying the difficulty ramps right up as you approach the end of the story content.
Moreover, once you hit level 30 the most obvious progression path - earning XP - shuts down. The only way to get stronger is to collect better gear. Ideally, you want a full set of level 30 gear of superior (purple) quality or better, and that's just to start with - it's really Dark Zone, Phoenix Credit and High End stuff you'll need for end game.
How to get even the earliest of these things? I'm afraid it's not easy. The best crafting recipes are locked up in the hardest missions, as are the best drops. You could grind for it, slowly massing the credits needed to purchase good superior gear as and when it becomes available at vendors, but we're talking serious time here; a couple of pieces cleared out the bankroll I'd built up over 30 hours, and the high-end pieces cost more money than I'd ever even seen.
No, there's really only one way forward: group up, then hit those harder missions or dig into the Dark Zone. Both of these activities are rendered laughably less difficult by teamwork and clever combinations of roles and equipped abilities. Grouping is essential.
What I'm saying here isn't very startling: Ubisoft has always made it clear that The Division is a multiplayer game - an MMO-lite or shared-worlds shooter, if you like. We've been told often enough that most players don't finish single-player games that it's understandable Ubisoft might not bother to cater to those who do when that's not the focus of its design this time around.
But! The popularity of advice like Arekkz's solo build guide suggests I'm not the only one who'd rather get through the majority of the game alone - by choice, or out of necessity. Not everyone has a posse of fellow gamers at their beck and call at convenient times, especially if they have work and family commitments to meet, something those who grew up or now work in gaming circles tend to forget.
Not everyone is a social being, either. Hands up if you're an introvert who'd prefer only to group up for raids because interacting with other humans is exhausting? Oh hey, it's my people. Hands up if betrayal in the Dark Zone is likely to cause you to nearly cough up a lung in the agony of your indignation because you live with the illusion that everyone is kind and helpful? Oh, dear heart, we are clearly destined to be buddies - or we would be if not for our mutual, crippling shyness.
Somehow, I still really enjoy The Division, even when it's very hard and I'm looking at a pretty lengthy loot grind to get to the point where I can tick off those last story missions I want to see. I've put 30 hours into this thing. I really care about the conclusions of the stories in the collectibles. I want a bigger gun and a better pair of skinny jeans and an orange scarf, dammit.
The Division's hype train has so much momentum that it's rocketing into the stratosphere, but if you're considering investing in Ubisoft's Official Next Big Thing, it feels important that you know it's not just dangerous to go alone: it's suicide.
Solos, you have been warned.