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Metal Gear Solid V: Fobbed Off

A Metal Gear Solid Virgin's Phantom Diary, Day 8

Oh God suddenly my private desert adventure is a PvP game in which other players can invade my base and steal my stuff and my men at any time. THIS WASN'T WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR HELP HELP

I refer, of course, to Forward Operating Bases, a system introduced around halfway into MGSV [official site] which on the one hand enables you to massively expand your base and staff roster - vital to researching the higher-grade weapons and tools - but on the other flings open the doors to unwelcome visitations from other players. It's a faintly traumatic switcheroo after, in my case, dozens of hours of playing within my own little (well, pretty bloody big) walled garden, but it also suddenly introduces a great many new things to do and manage. There are alternative (and important) uses for items you might otherwise have broadly ignored, it turns the somewhat sterile base into something with more purpose, and it introduces a sense of consequence and loss that is missing from the 'oh well, try again' main missions.

At least, that's the case for my early forays into FOB invasions. I am a little concerned it might turn into a desperate grind before too long, and that if I don't put enough effort, pretend money and soldiers into it I'm going to be stuck on a back foot, because now my game has enabled FOBs, I'm going to get repeatedly invaded whether I'm online or not.

It's been stressful already. Initially, building my first FOB - which is free, thank God - meant the 200-odd soldiers who'd been hanging around my main base's Waiting Room for weeks cleared out and set up a level 20 Security Force over in my new sub-domain. Great, I might not be immediatley screwed after all. Then I did the whole 'Reassign Staff' thing, which automatically moves everyone in your employ into the roles which best suit them, at which point the game decided almost everyone in said Security Force would be more useful in the FOB's R&D, Support, Intel and Medical Platforms. This meant a whole lot of new research projects unlocked at once, which was excellent news, but also left me with just two men in my Security team.

A visitation to my own FOB confirmed that, yes, for now anyone who arrived there could just walk straight into the magic room at its centre and make off with whoever and whatever. Though, hopefully, the fact that I have almost no whoever at my FOB means there's no-one to nab. Swings, roundabouts.

So, my first priority is to abduct yet another small army's worth of men to fill up the FOB, which in turn will level up the security force enough for me to research various anti-theft gizmos. I am, by now, extremely accomplished at abducting men (and, very occasionally, women - be it Afghanistan or Angola, almost the entire military populace is, unfortunately, male. So, in turn, is my own base. And don't give me that 'just reflecting 1980s reality' nonsense about a game with giant robot dinosaur things, teleporting zombie mist-soldiers and attaching tanks to balloons, eh?), so in theory that's no problem whatsoever. A few side ops and my waiting room will once again runneth over. But, seeing as we're here, let's do the whole eye for an eye thing. Time to invade someone else's base and see what I can steal.

The first time I did this, I felt horribly guilty throughout, and like an absolute monster when the victory screen revealed that I'd successfully made off with 17 of the unseen, unknown player's staff, plus assorted resources and a couple of mounted guns. I imagined myself dropping back into the game after a day or two off and being presented with a message like that. I can't pretend I know all but a couple of my staff by name or even by face, let alone exactly what their skills are, but the idea that they could be stolen in the night, to work loyally for some other guy with a horn in his forehead, feels like a strange sort of meaningless violation. The forwarding operating base isn't my base-base, but it is a close replica of it, and everyone who works on it is there because I battled them and then evacuated them. It's my hard work being kicked over by someone else. It's someone else's hard work I'm kicking over. What an ingeniously evil system this is.

My own FOB hasn't been invaded yet, but now I've done five successful FOB invasions and my anonymous targets have been informed about it, and who did it. Now I have rivals. Now people will be coming for me, wanting revenge, wanting to take men to restaff their emptied FOBs. Payback is coming. But I can't stop. Suddenly, there is a limitless new supply of soldiers out there, and which I don't need to cross deserts and plains to reach. The temptation is too great. My hand's going straight back into that cookie jar full of stubbly men.

What price will I pay for it? Already, I have lost several FOB missions in a row when I got cocky, which cost me a small fortune in GMP, and failed to obtain me the men I required. My money will run out if I keep doing this unsuccessfully. I could have achieved so much more by simply coasting around the desert; the consequences of failure are so much less. But so is the quality of the staff. Risk/reward. The tension of a FOB invasion handily beats the missions now.

The invasions entertain me, and demand that I do better, that I lose some of the bad habits I picked up in the desert, when I had Quiet to clean up my mistakes. A slew of new numbers denoting various online ranks I'm achieving (or losing) as a result of my actions and inaction, on the other hand, worries me deeply. I've praised MGSV before because it does so much better a job than most sandbox action games at providing these flexible, often chaotic combat vignettes instead of becoming about box-ticking and number-watching, but that has shifted.

I was already in a min-maxing loop when it came to the procurment of men, determined to push R&D level as high as it would go, and now the game is throwing all these new numbers and meters at me - MB Coins, Espionage Points, PF grades, more FOBs, more upgrades to FOBs, more tools and weapons with which to defend them. Everything to chase, so many that it all starts to become meaningless; the world of the game drips away as the thin, all-too-familiar pursuit of escalated digits takes over. I appreciate the heightened danger, and the cheekiness, of FOB invasions, but I hope they won't be essential to completing the game - whatever completing it even means, given it is reportedly unfinished to some degree - because they might rob it of its spirit.

Metal Gear Solid V, are you still mine? Or are you about to become a hamster wheel?

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