I'm playing Metal Gear Solid 5, sitting in my helicopter, scrolling through the various menus of my iDroid. Story missions: Finished. Side ops: Completed. Mother Base: Fully built. All that's really left now is to raid other players' forward operating bases, so I bring up the list of potential victims.
But I hesitate. I look at each user's listing and the potential bounty I could earn if I can sneak through their base undetected. I weigh that against the effort it would take to actually steal their crap, the time it would take to build my loadout, the cost to my own resources to bring those weapons with me - and then I remember one important thing: I don't need any of it. I've beaten the game. There's no point to any of this. So I turn it off.
Konami is likely hoping that these FOBs (and, subsequently, Metal Gear Online) will keep fans playing long after the game’s main story has been finished. More people playing online means more potential profit from microtransactions - through Mother Base coins for acquiring additional bases and actual insurance purchased with real-world money - but it's hard to justify spending the money on something that feels so fleeting and unnecessary.
MGS5's forward operating bases might sound like a great idea - a way for Metal Gear Solid to connect players from all over the world through its single-player campaign by allowing them to invade each other and steal resources that funnel back into that campaign - if they didn't feel so superfluous. I started playing MGS5 at launch, and dealt with a wide variety of online connectivity problems as Konami worked out the bugs. So while I had unlocked the ability to create my FOB, I couldn't access any of it until I had reached the final missions, when the servers had finally stabilized - and I didn't really feel like I was missing anything. It would have been nice to steal resources to fill my coffers a bit, but by completing some side ops from time to time in between main missions, my Mother Base's economy was humming along pretty well anyway.
Once you hit the endgame, though, the futility of Big Boss' dream of a war with no end manifests itself. None of the gear you unlock in The Phantom Pain transfers to the recently-added Metal Gear Online, so the only reason to continue raiding other players' FOBs and steal their crap is to research new weapons, gather more troops, and build more platforms so you can protect your own FOBs, and continue to invade more powerful players' bases. It becomes a never-ending cycle of attack and defense, its own self-fulfilling loop - a persistent, online representation of one of The Phantom Pain's core themes.
Where it breaks down for me is that the whole process is simply a means to perpetuate itself. If there were more story missions to play further down the line, whether unlocked in the game itself or coming in the future as DLC, there'd be a reason to build or disarm nukes, or buy base insurance, or continue the cycle of retaliation. Konami's supported the MGS community by providing more weapons to research as well as offering a series of curated invasion events, but the only reward for partaking in FOB invasions is to gather enough resources to continue partaking in FOB invasions.
What's worse is that none of it is interesting enough to stand on its own. While the layout of each platform on a given FOB is different from one another, there are only a few permutations of each design. After a couple of runs, you'll have the general gist of how to sneak through a given area, its choke points, where the supplies are located, and its secret passages. And in my experience, raiding FOBs is either incredibly easy or stupidly difficult, depending on how your opponent has upgraded their base. I'll either slink through unseen, grabbing everything that isn't nailed down, or I'm caught by a flying drone within the first 30 seconds, and I'm killed shortly after.
In fact, if it wasn't for the recently datamined "nuclear deterrent" cutscenes, I'd have quit playing a long time ago. These cutscenes are the only evidence we have that FOB invasions actually lead somewhere meaningful, but the requirements for accessing that cutscene are nebulous at best. Will it unlock after a certain number of nukes are dismantled? After all nukes on the server are dismantled? After these curated events run their course? No one really knows right now, so players are just aimlessly building and disarming nukes, hoping that eventually it'll reveal… something. More story content? Maybe that 'chapter three' people are holding out for? Or perhaps a simple 'Congratulations'? All we have is speculation and some vague messages from official Twitter accounts that players haven't seen everything yet, but I'm doubtful that it'll provide any significant revelations to The Phantom Pain's narrative.
All of this just reinforces the sense that Metal Gear Solid 5 feels unfinished, like some piece of The Phantom Pain puzzle is missing. More and more I'm starting to believe that this feeling is intentional, that the missing final chapter, the inexplicable way the true ending suddenly appears on your mission list, the various threads that are left hanging at the end, and the plot's own internal inconsistencies are meant to induce a strange trance over its players, making them feel like Metal Gear Solid 5 has a gaping narrative hole right in the middle of it. The FOB system as is plays directly into that feeling, but Kojima's message seems to be at odds with Konami's desire to milk that message for as much money as it can.
So while I continue to poke my head into The Phantom Pain (gotta claim those daily bonuses) and stare at the list of FOBs currently open for invasion, I just shake my head and sigh. It's not that I don't love MGS5; my playtime is more than 100 hours right now. Clearly I'm enjoying the game. But I've hit a wall in my own approach to The Phantom Pain. No matter how many times I come back after watching the true ending, I can't help but feel like there should be something else here. There has to be a point to all this, something more than simply partaking in these online invasions for their own sake, some justification for the numerous attempts by Konami to persuade players to pay money for a system that seems to have little point once the story wraps up. If there isn't, I'm just going to have to break the cycle of revenge myself and put the controller down for good.