“Wars are begun by frightened men.” —Tom Clancy
The Dark Zone in Tom Clancy’s The Division is a quarantine area of sorts after the smallpox pandemic breaks out. To restore order, the National Guard were deployed, but the anarchy, contamination and power failure eventually resulted in their pulling out while leaving their equipment behind. In contrast with the other areas of The Division, the Dark Zone is a PvP environment; one can form a party with up to three other players, and initially, other players outside one’s party is considered neutral. Firing upon and killing other players earns one “rogue status”, during which one is marked with a waypoint and can be killed by other players without cost to their own status. Killing consecutive neutral agents raises the price on one’s head and culminates in a manhunt. Because this behaviour is not explicitly encouraged or discouraged by game mechanics, The Division‘s most challenging component arises from venturing into the Dark Zone: every other player could potentially turn hostile, and with the fact that some of The Division‘s best gear is obtained from the Dark Zone, there’s an ever-present risk that one might lose their hard-earned gains to a group of other players. To add an additional element of challenge to the mix, items found in the Dark Zone are contaminated and must be extracted by means of a helicopter. Signalling for an extraction may bring hostile NPCs or crafty players into the area, too, so the 90 seconds it takes to wait for an extraction can be quite suspenseful, as well.
I (perhaps foolishly) chose to explore the Dark Zone on my own, occasionally helping out other players in fighting groups of NPCs or rogue agents, but otherwise, preferred to explore the vast expanse independently. I encountered players of both types, although they were predominantly friendly. Aside from an unpleasant group that had been camping on the library roof, an agent who was an opportunist and killed me while I was engaging some NPCs and another pair of players who were camping my death location, most other players seemed to be content to stick to their own groups and not cause too much trouble. I myself eventually joined another group to help take down a pair of players who had been camping on the library and got some specialised equipment out of it for my troubles. For the most part, I also helped other players during extraction, providing covering fire from NPCs as needed. In the main game itself, Ubisoft has stated that it won’t be necessary to venture into the Dark Zone for the best gear and weapons, which provides plenty of options for players disinterested in this system.
Screenshots and Commentary
- I pass through Manhattan’s Koreatown en route to some known spawn points for NPCs while a snowstorm blows in, covering the deserted streets in fog. The actual Koreatown in Manhattan is centered around West 32nd Street between Fifth Avenue and the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Broadway, has a population of 20000 and hosts numerous Korean shops and restaurants.
- One of the best decisions Ubisoft made was to instance the gear that NPCs drop, which reduces the incentive for players to scramble against one another for gear. The first time I entered the Dark Zone, it was during the dead of night in-game and I found it quite difficult to navigate the labyrinth of streets. Thankfully, exploring the Dark Zone allows players to learn landmarks.
- Surprisingly enough, outside of manhunts and extractions, I encountered very few people and in fact, during this screenshot, was camped near the gas station while working on a Keynote presentation. In the half-hour I spent here, no one had come by to kill me.
- Ranking up in the Dark Zone is accomplished by killing groups of NPCs or rouge agents. The Dark Zone also makes use of a separate currency that can be used to purchase exceptional gear: I never did end up reaching rank 12 or securing enough Dark Zone credits to buy the Caduceus (a high-end SCAR-L) or the Cassidy (a double-barreled shotgun), ending the beta with 1454 dark zone credits.
- I lost around a thousand credits to rogue agents who had superior gear to me: they seem to travel in packs to cover one another’s backs, and lacking a group of my own, my preferred strategy was to avoid them as best I could.
- The NPCs themselves are no slouch, either; they deal enough damage to represent a nontrivial threat to players and have enough health to shrug off an entire magazine of rifle ammunition. Though limited in variety and frequency (there are grenadiers, snipers, and my least favourite, the berserkers that rush players with melee weapons), they nonetheless offer some interesting gear when defeated following an encounter.
- On my first visit to the Dark Zone, it had been under the cover of darkness, and the atmosphere was quite eerie, caused by the presence of spotlights and unlit buildings. The area appears more approachable by day, and similarly, most of the screenshots in this post are taken during the day, when more is visible.
- As sunlight breaks through the cloud and illuminates the urban jungle of Manhattan with shafts of winter light, I take cover behind a barrier while some players are extracting their gear. While I’ve heard that some players camp at extraction sites to pick off other players for their gear, I tend to visit extraction sites so I can partake in shooting down the NPCs that arrive during extraction.
- I wield the L86A2 LMG, equipped with a RDS and laser sight, against a group of NPCs ensconced inside a shopping center. This proved to be one of the most fruitful sessions for collecting gear, and with no other players around, I cautiously and methodically made my way through to the bottom, clearing out any threats.
- Yet another snowstorm picks up as I reach the end of the Dark Zone region available in the beta. A yellow container is plainly visible on my character: this container indicates that one has Dark Zone contaminated gear. I imagine that other players decided whether to leave me in peace or to engage based on the presence of this container.
- Here, I engage and eventually defeat a rogue agent while he’s preoccupied looting another player he had defeated earlier, gaining some serious Dark Zone currency and experience in the process. I also picked up some gear, and so, made my way to the nearest extraction zone to get my gear out. In this case, I was quite lucky to get the kill: other times, I was surrounded by multiple rogue agents and was defeated, or else had lost them to the labyrinthine city streets.
- After calling in an extraction, it will take 90 seconds for the helicopter to arrive, and even after arrival, it’s quite harrowing to get out into the open, attach the package to the cable and then take cover. Once the package is secured, though, the items are permanently for the player to keep and can be obtained from the player’s stash.
- The main incentive to play carefully inside the Dark Zone is that on death, players will lose a bit of experience, and if killed by another player, some Dark Zone currency will also be lost. In a curious stroke of fate, I also had fried chicken for dinner yesterday evening as I did last weekend, although this weekend, with no beta to play, I was able to focus on finalising the conference publication with my supervisor, and after nearly two months of writing and editing, it’s been submitted.
- My highest DZ rank was seven: being killed during manhunts by rogue agents proved to be the bane of my existence, and lacking a party of my own, it was quite difficult to retaliate. There are safe rooms scattered about the map where players can restock on ammunition and med kits, but it’s not possible to enter a safe room while engaged in combat.
- To improve my chances of survival, I again stuck to my proximity scan and first aid skills, making use of them to figure out where enemies were and rapidly heal myself if my health began to drop too low. Here, I rush towards an extraction zone with some items in tow, and it was quite harrowing to be shot at while running about. There were some occasions where other players would open fire on me, but fortunately, I was able to take cover and escape before I was downed.
- While dying to aggressive rogue agents is frustrating, the items acquired through venturing into the Dark Zone is well worth it. I found some excellent backpacks and weapon accessories here, although for the most part, the best weapons in the beta need to be purchased. In the full game, it will be possible to craft weapons, as well.
- I later found a rather interesting approach to the Dark Zone that was quite effective at getting items: I would move to the nearest extraction site after an extraction was called in, and would hang around to provide some assistance for the other players. When the NPCs began to roll in, I would simply mow them down while the others were occupied with attaching their gear to the chopper.
- During the process, I could get some cool stuff that the NPCs dropped myself, and would call in an extraction of my own to get the new gear extracted, including a new rifle and pistol. I typically sell all of the grey items by default, then, equip whatever the best gear I have at present and sell off all other items that go into that particular slot. The exception is weapons, and I usually spend a little more time picking which ones to keep and which ones to sell.
- This was my last extraction: after helping some players clear yet another crowded extraction site of hostiles while they were awaiting extraction of their spoils, I picked up more gear for myself. I called in my own extraction, and thankfully, no NPCs showed up then. Once my gear was safely stowed (which included a cool new hat), I made my way to the nearest checkpoint without any incident, and breathed a sigh of relief after entering an area free of other players.
- I suddenly realise that I did not have a picture of the Base of Operations in my last post about The Division, so to rectify that, here’s an image. I spent the remainder of my time in The Division beta completing the other missions in Chelsea; these enemies did not scale with my level and so, armed with my specialised M4A1, RPK, M1A and Vector, I finished all the remaining missions without much difficulty, even finding a level 8 specialised T821 in the process.
So, the inclusion of the Dark Zone in The Division is an excellent decision and given the implementation I experienced in the beta, proved to be integrated very nicely into the game. Like the HUD and UI, The Division appears to have built everything smoothly into the game world. One thing I am curious to see will be how many players will prioritise playing through the Dark Zone (as opposed to focusing on the campaign), and whether or not The Division will require players to accumulate experience by means of the campaign before entering the Dark Zone. It will also be interesting to see what players observe in the Dark Zone once the full game releases, namely, whether the Dark Zone will predominantly feature groups of players who are hunting down NPCs for gear or pit a majority of the players against once another. Given that NPCs can be quite lethal in large numbers, it’s quite difficult to imagine that most of the players will pick the latter, otherwise, they’d be forced to take on the NPCs and other players. I spent around three and a half of my ten hours in the Dark Zone, and if I were to pick up the full game, I imagine that I would similarly spend around 35 percent of my time in the Dark Zone for exploration’s sake: Tom Clancy’s The Division has a fantastic single player campaign, and I would probably spend most of my time completing the story, occasionally entering the Dark Zone to grab items for selling and crafting.