“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” –John F. Kennedy
The Dark Zone is the final frontier in The Division, being the central part of Manhattan where those afflicted by the Green Poison virus were taken for quarantine, with the aim of curing them, but with the overwhelming number of victims and constant threat of riots, the area remained a contentious one. The JTF that were initially sent in, along with the armed forces, eventually withdrew once the power went out, leaving their equipment behind. This area has long been advertised as the pièce de résistance of The Division, being a lawless, unregulated area of Manhattan that rewarded risk-taking and punished the unprepared. Featuring tougher enemies, and gear that must be extracted, the Dark Zone offers a completely different experience in The Division, and during the days of the open beta, I entered to gain a sense of what the area was like after reaching the level cap. When the beta concluded, I decided that if I were to ever pick up The Division, I would likely spend a bit of time just to explore the Dark Zone. However, being an area where I could easily be eliminated by powerful enemies or rogue Agents, I decided to reach level thirty in the game first so I had access to the full set of skills, talents and perks to maximise my survival and ability to acquire gear in the Dark Zone. My experience in the beta was that folks largely kept to themselves, and there had only been a few instances where I found myself being hunted down by groups of rogue Agents: the Dark Zone’s main threats were tougher enemies, which I wondered whether or not I had been sufficiently equipped to deal with.
With some trepidation, I thus entered the Dark Zone’s lowest tier, and immediately after exiting the checkpoint, I found myself under fire from a group of veteran enemies. Ducking behind cover, I emptied my weapons in to them and levelled up seven ranks by the time the firefight was over. Picking my way through the deserted streets, I stumbled across a landmark and found myself face to face with a group of elites and a named boss. The firefight that ensued was a brief one that saw me triumphant; with a host of newly acquired high-end items, I made my way towards an extraction point and sent my items off for decontamination. Subsequently, a supply drop landed nearby, and I cleared out the host of elite enemies guarding it. During this hour in the Dark Zone, I only ran into one other player, who arrived at the extraction point to get his gear out of the Dark Zone. We briefly provided covering fire for one another while waiting for the helicopter to arrive and parted ways after our gear was secured, but beyond this, I’ve yet to run into other players in the Dark Zone. Lacking any ambient music, roaming civilians and radio chatter, the Dark Zone emanates a completely different feel compared to the other parts of Manhattan, which is referred to as the Light Zone – there’s an unnerving stillness here, and coupled with details in the environment, such as the mountains of body bags and burned out structures, the area conveys a sense of foreboding and tension not found even in the campaign missions in The Division.
Screenshots and Commentary
- My old post on the Dark Zone was published precisely two years ago, although things are rather different now in many regards. After finishing Unknown Signal, I began hunting named elites in the light zone to ensure my entire loadout had gear score items (as opposed to items with levels); this brought my gear score up to 177. There are a host of means to attain good gear – the main way to acquire equipment that fits one’s play-style is to purchase blueprints for weapons, gear and accessories of interest. The best blueprints and items can only be bought with Phoenix Credits, which drop from named elites and caches, as well as being earned through completing daily and weekly missions. The payoff for these credits through group missions, considering the time spent, is actually quite small.
- This is why I’ve returned to the most desolate part of Manhattan after two years: the payoff seems to be a bit more suited for my play-style in that I can enter the Dark Zone, explore contaminated areas and fight Dark Zone enemies to earn caches, and then extract the items. Dark Zone enemies include standard ones, as well as veterans and elites; their presence is denoted by purple and dull yellow health bars. What make them tougher is the fact that they are protected by armour that must be blown away before the health itself can be whittled down. In large groups, these enemies can be devastating for solo players, making it imperative to make good use of cover and crowd control techniques: some skills make it easier to manage large groups by stunning them or distracting them.
- While I largely ran with assault rifles and LMGs in The Division‘s campaign, occasionally shifting over to a marksman rifle as the need arose, the end-game is rather different. I’m running with SMGs more frequently now owing to their improved accuracy and short reload times; in close quarters, this allows them to quickly stop enemies rushing in. Their additional critical damage bonuses make them perfect for a highly mobile play-style, and in conjunction with a good marksman rifle, allows players to handle threats at all ranges effectively. However, my preferred primary and secondary weapons largely depend on both what my requirements are, as well as what the most difficulty-appropriate weapons I have available are.
- Because I’d not entered the Dark Zone previously, I leveled up twice from shooting out one veteran NPC, and in the space of ten minutes, reached Dark Zone rank ten after engaging a named elite. Here, a gear set piece is seen dropping: characterised by a teal marker, items in a gear set will confer bonuses if one has more than one of the pieces equipped. They specialise a player for certain roles, and The Division also introduced the concept of loadouts so players could quickly set themselves up to be effective as a support or offensively-driven player to help a team out, switching out to gear more suitable for solo play in other instances.
- I can’t quite remember if Landmarks with elite enemies were present in the open beta, but in the full game, they’re populated with elites and named elites. Clearing them out will provide rewards for the player. Unlike the Light Zone, named elites will respawn in ten minutes rather than four hours, making it possible to devise a route for killing off the elites, moving to the next area, and then returning to kill them off again. In this manner, players can amass a sizeable collection of items and caches in the Dark Zone.
- The large yellow bag with the biohazard markings on it telegraphs to other players that I’m carrying contaminated items, including caches. Some folks suggest running the Dark Zone and leaving all drops, using the Dark Zone only to level up until one reaches rank fifty, after which the vendor in the sixth zone will begin selling blueprints. This is to dissuade would-be rogues from stepping in and stealing one’s gains. However, since the beta, the Dark Zone’s mechanics have changed so that going rogue usually is more detrimental than beneficial. Further to this, players cannot accidentally become rogue by shooting at non-hostile players. Instead, players must announce their intention to turn rogue.
- Extractions are among the most stressful events in the Dark Zone: once player fire off a flare, it telegraphs to other players that an extraction is in progress and immediately results in the spawning of several waves of NPCs who will swarm the extraction zone. Some extraction sites are notorious for having close quarters environments that are difficult to defend against: the parkade in zone two is one such instance, and I died here several times to NPCs before running in, pulling out my dropped gear and making for safer extraction sites in zone one.
- My first ever-attempt at securing a supply drop was met with success because I happened to be nearby: once deployed, I ran over and opened fire on the elites guarding the box. After scanning them with the tactical pulse, I moved in and mowed the lot of them down. I’ve attempted to capture supply drops on a few occasions; it’s important to have enough time to reach them, since they are guarded by elite enemies. I have access to a trump card to help with the fight: besides using consumables to boost damage and stacking this with the tactical scanner pulse, there’s also the signature skills.
- The observant reader will note that I’ve got the tactical link signature skill here. Doubling rate of fire, halving reload time and dealing bonus damage, the tactical link skill is The Division‘s equivalent of Trans-Am or the NT-D. I’ve not used in the Dark Zone at the time of writing, but while testing it, I managed to cut a named elite down within a space of ten seconds. Like the Trans-Am System and NT-D, signature skills vastly boost one’s performance for a short period and then requires a long cooldown, during which the skill is unavailable for use. Here, I receive the contents of the supply drop. Once items from a supply drop are acquired, the drop self-destructs, and these items directly enter the player’s inventory.
- Here is the moment where I run into the only other human player in the Dark Zone during my first few hours. We provided covering fire for one another while awaiting the extraction, and went our own ways after that; one feature I noticed here was the ability to hijack an extraction. While this could be amusing, truth be told, there aren’t enough incentives to do this.
- The post title is admittedly inspired by ARIA: The Animation. I finished watching all three seasons of ARIA a year ago, and never got around to writing about it. Peaceful, cathartic and presenting an exceptionally well-built world, ARIA is counted to be one of the greatest slice-of-life anime of all time, bar none. Having seen it for myself, I can see where this assertion comes from, and further remark that if remastered in a faithful manner, I could see myself watching all three seasons of ARIA again.
- Like the Light Zone, there are subway entrances in the Dark Zone that invariably lead to contaminated areas. Most subway areas in the Dark Zone have a contamination level of four, so it will take a level four filter to keep one alive in these areas. Entering with a filter below this level will result in the filter wearing down until the player sustains damage. The subway tunnels occasionally see contamination events where the contamination level rises up to six, instantly killing all those who enter. At level five, players may enter to try and take out named elites. Clearing an area successfully will provide players with new equipment that go directly into their inventory.
- I’ve yet to try out the contamination events, mainly because I’m always quite far from a subway entrance when they occur, but on my trips into the subway tunnels, I’ve always found a good number of crates to open: this is where most of my sealed caches come from, and while they may not always provide the gear one seeks, they are a fantastic source of Phoenix Credits. There are named elites that prowl the tunnels with their entourage of minions, and they will drop items, as well as Phoenix Credits, making entry into the tunnels a good idea (provided that a contamination event isn’t just about to begin).
- Because The Division is a gear-based game, where the end goal really is to collect increasingly better equipment by ways of a variety of events, there’s innumerable discussions out there on what builds are optimal for a given play-style. Gear Score is invariably at the centre of all discussion, and one important thing to note is that a higher gear score item might not inherently be superior to a lower gear score item. I constantly tinker with my weapon talents are active, as they confer additional bonuses that help with my survival. There will come a point where I will re-roll weapons, but I feel that at World Tier Two, the time is still early to be spending resources on Blueprints and recalibration.
- The relative quiet of the Dark Zone means that I’m usually forced to completely clear an area on my own, but one of the older tricks is to get a few good shots off against enemies; if other players finish them off, one will still get credited with Dark Zone experience. Going from these screenshots, the Dark Zone has not changed too much since the days of the beta, and it does feel a bit nostalgic to be running through this part of Manhattan again.
- The gas station visible here on the left is adjacent to my favourite extraction zone: during my run in the open beta, I camped behind a pile of crates while working on a presentation on the Sunday before the beta was set to close. I was in the middle of my final graduate course and was working on a presentation of some sort. This was prior to my travels to Laval, and I remember that the weekend of The Division‘s open beta was a busy, if fun one. It feels fantastic to return with full gear and explore the area again.
- The Division has seen considerable changes since it launched back in March two years ago, and I’ve read that higher Dark Zone sectors no longer give better gear: as of the current patch (1.8), all sectors have the same drop rates. What does separate the higher sectors from the lower ones is the number of named elites: players well-equipped to fight in higher sectors will simply get more gear. Of course, curiosity will lead me to explore some of the higher sectors, and there’s a mission in sector nine that I’ll eventually look at completing.
- The Library in Sector Two was infamous during the open beta: I recall being waylaid here by rogue Agents, and other players have recorded the same. Back then, I was not equipped to deal with them and so, played the evasion game, while TheRadBrad manages to take them out in a hilarious manner. These days, the Library is a landmark home to some named elites, and the amount of open space here meant that it was viable to sit back and snipe them.
- After clearing out this landmark, another piece of classified gear dropped for me. I initially wondered what the drop rates on classified gear was, but it turns out they’re not as rare as I thought they were. The “rarity” metric is actually somewhat misleading and is better described as quality (e.g. “high-end” items have more desirable attributes than “superior” and so on): at level thirty, high-end items drop more frequently than anything else. I played World of Warcraft years ago, and initially assumed that “rarity” corresponded to “probability of getting the item”; I imagine that the same thing holds true in World of Warcraft as it does for The Division in that rarity is only a measure of quality.
- It suddenly strikes me that I don’t have any pictures of the Dark Zone being a “dark” place, so I’ve added this extraction here to rectify that. The Dark Zone is a relatively quiet place by day, but at night, it becomes downright eerie and even intimidating. The atmospherics in the Dark Zone are unparalleled, and very few games have managed to create such an unsettling atmosphere as effectively as The Division has: every time I exit the Dark Zone, it’s like a great burden has been lifted from me. The tensions are tangible, and this is one of The Division‘s greatest strengths. I intend to see just how far I get on my own before either I reach the gear score limit, or the servers shut down: I’ll return occasionally to write about The Division, but in general, readers can expect this blog’s usual repertoire of anime posts to resume.
Having entered the Dark Zone and successfully extracted my gains on several occasions now, I’m going to continue exploring the higher-difficulty areas at a much more casual, relaxed pace: my main aim in The Division now is to improve my gear score such that I reach the final world tier. Once this is done, I will continue to enjoy exploring Manhattan’s last unexplored realms without worrying about being blown away by exceptionally powerful enemies or rogue Agents, as well as for bragging rights. I’ve heard that the Dark Zone is an unfavourable place for solo players, but I am curious to see the extent to which this statement holds true. With a bit more time in the Dark Zone, I’ll also unlock a special vendor and begin accumulating enough Phoenix Credits to buy some interesting gear: it’ll be quite interesting to test just how far one can get on their own in The Division, as well as seeing whether or not solo players can acquire exotic weapons and gear without joining any groups. Besides the Dark Zone, I’m also curious to see how I fare in some of the end-game missions and assignments; I’ll occasionally return to recount my experiences in The Division, as well as share some of the more amusing or entertaining things I’ve come across in the end-game. Finally, there are a handful of encounters and side missions on the eastern side of Manhattan that I’ll need to wrap up.