To (very loosely) paraphrase a certain songstress, ‘Hello from the other side, where everybody’s all up in my grille and trying to fuck my shit up‘. This is the first in a (possible) series of posts where I, Dear Reader, relate to you some of my experiences in the Dark Zone of Tom Clancy’s The Division. Given my review of the game ended up being quite long (as in, ‘War and Peace’ level long), I figured I’d give my Dark Zone shenanigans their own separate space. See – contrary to popular opinion – you absolutely can flog a dead horse!
Anyways, like I said in my review the Dark Zone is, in many ways, a slightly distinct experience within the broader world of The Division, and whilst there’s some general overlap with the main game, the DZ comes with its own set of challenges and dangers. Basically, it’s fucking brutal. As a n00b I got my ass handed to me all different kinds of ways, and – I’m not afraid to admit this – there were a lot of tears, and there may or may not have been a tantrum (or ten) too. The Dark Zone is a fairly cool concept, and it certainly adds a whole new element to The Division’s world, but at this point, I’m still not entirely convinced that I love it (see again: tears and tantrums).
If you’re one of the handful of people who don’t know what the Dark Zone is, it’s basically The Hunger Games turned up to 11, and hopped up on crystal meth and PCP. It’s where Ubi/Massive have allowed the biggest, baddest AI to roam the streets, and where you can be set upon by fellow agents who will happily murder you for a particular piece of gear they like the look of. Or, as I’ve found out a few times, just for shits and giggles. I’ll come to the PvP stuff in a bit, but for now, let’s focus on the AI, PvE stuff.
See, the Dark Zone is ram-packed with some bad-ass bad guys, and even though you may’ve only come across a handful of ‘named’ elites in your Non-Dark Zone Adventure, you will (quite literally if you’re not paying proper attention) run into them considerably more frequently in the DZ. Even the regular grunts who roam the DZ’s streets are – on average – waaaay tougher to kill than their counterparts outside those walls, and there are a lot of them. As in, a motherfucking shitload. Moreover, the bastards swarm like an angry, insatiable colony of wasps, and they’ll come at you from every-damn-where. That thing you’ve been doing outside of the DZ, where you take cover and pick off enemy AI before they rush you, safe in the knowledge that you’ve got ‘your six’ covered…. Fuhgedaboutit! Covering your six is an alien concept in The DZ, because when you engage the enemies in front of you, there’s about an 85.67% chance you’ll alert the group of bad guys behind you who will almost certainly take a perverse, sadistic pleasure in firing clip after clip into your exposed ass. Likewise, if you’re wise to that, and make sure you take out the potential ass-firing dudes first, before hoping to slowly, methodically take out the guys in front… Dream on, Dreamer. Those guys you’ve already killed will respawn (or be replaced) quicker than you can say ‘Seriously, can you all please just stop shooting me in the fucking ass!’ and will, erm, continue to shoot you in the fucking ass.
So, why bother? It’s a question I’ve asked myself (a gajillion times and counting), but the answer is a bit complicated – and involves a subtle mix of ‘challenging yourself’ and ‘getting some good shit!’. The first point I’ve just covered – and even though I died only a handful of times lone-wolfing it in 50+ hours of The Division, I’d died (considerably) more times within just my first couple of hours in The DZ. In and of itself, that wouldn’t necessarily be a huge problem but for two things: the aforementioned good shit, plus the fact that your Dark Zone level can go up and down.
Whilst loot (both found and dropped) in the DZ is still mostly random, on average your chances of picking up genuinely great gear is higher in than outside it. I’ve certainly noticed less green pick-ups, and more blue and purple ones, but so far, I’ve only come across three things that were better than what I’d already got (two of which I now “own”, the third I lose sleep over – see below). Nevertheless, in my relentless (and obsessive) pursuit of that elusive gold drop, the DZ is likely my best bet (because, probability), so I keep at it. I also keep at it because, in addition to loot drop-age (and even as a back-up plan), you can buy weapons and gear from DZ vendors but – and here’s the kicker – you’ll need Dark Zone funds (which can only be earned in the DZ), and you’ll need a minimum DZ level to actually use them in there.
Even more of a kicker though, is that when you get killed you’ll a) drop all the loot you’ve picked up, b) lose some of your DZ XP and funds, and c) any loot you’ve managed to get will always need to be extracted from the DZ before it’s actually, properly yours. If you’re killed by AI, there’s a reasonable chance that the stuff you’ve dropped will remain where you died, giving you the opportunity to retrieve it – but there are no guarantees because somebody else may’ve already half-inched it. Here you’ll have a decision to make: kiss goodbye to that gear, or risk whatever killed you the first time to try to get it back. If you choose the second option and die again, you may find yourself in a vicious downward spiral – like a gambler chasing his losses, and just getting deeper and deeper in the hole.
I’ve done that, and it actually, physically made me feel sick. After getting hammered over, and over again, I’d finally got some loot worth keeping, only to get killed on route to the extraction Zone, and I then died a further three times trying to get it back. On the fourth attempt, my Gear was already gone – and I’d dropped a level and lost a chunk of DZ funds for my troubles.
Infuriating doesn’t even come close.
And even if you’re super careful, super successful, or just super lucky and actually make it to an Extraction Zone with the piece of gear you’ve spent ages acquiring, your ordeal is only just beginning. See, calling in an extraction is done via a flare gun, which will immediately alert every fucker within a million miles to your presence – both AI and other players. Cue onslaught.
Again, if you’re on your own, the chances of surviving this are slim at best – and vanish to infinitesimal if a group of other players decide they want your shit. Hiding’s not an option either, because even if you avoid detection, you can’t hold the requisite button for long enough to attach your biohazard tube to the extraction rope if even one person is shooting at you. You might get lucky, and other players might turn up to piggyback the extraction, helping you deal with the AI onslaught in the process – or you might even be close enough to an extraction to do the same yourself – but again, there are no guarantees, and you might die, lose all your shit (possibly in a tantrum-ey way as well as a “dropping stuff” one too), and miss the extraction. I got killed about a millisecond before my extraction bar was full yesterday, and my eye still hasn’t stopped rage-twitching. Long story short: it’s brutal and really, really hard to do.
It, and everything else in the DZ, gets even harder when you factor in the PvP stuff I’ve already alluded to – whether it’s at an extraction Zone, or otherwise. Whilst the DZ offers a series of incentives and disincentives to stop agents going “Rogue” (i.e. attacking other non-hostile agents) they – it would appear – aren’t nearly enough to stop it happening and, if my experience is anything to go by, not that irregularly either. The disincentives amount to a bounty being placed on any Rogue agent (lasting a certain amount of time), an increase in the amount of XP/DZ funds you’ll drop if you die whilst Rogue, and a longer respawn wait if that happens too. Is that enough to stop, say, three high-level agents working as a team picking you off if you’re on your own? Of course it fucking isn’t!
Moreover, I’m of the opinion that the Rogue element of the DZ is seriously, inherently flawed. I get why it’s there, and I even get that objectively it’s a pretty cool concept, but I have some issues with how it’s been executed, aside from the basic three-on-one type imbalances. Absolutely some of that’s Sour Grapes (so sue me), but hear me out anyway. I’ma relate a couple of little stories here that’ll show you at least two of the fairly blatant loopholes that are big enough to pilot an aircraft carrier through.
The first is quick(ish) – and a slight variation of the numerical advantage thing. Consider the following; you’re at an Extraction Zone, you call in a chopper, and against all the odds, you survive the onslaught by the skin of your teeth, a thin slither of health bar all that remains between you and the big Division in the sky. Phew, right!? I mean imagine the thrill, the exhilaration, the sense of achievement. That’s the shit, right there!
Now imagine that three agents approach you from the shadows, and salute and jumping jack in your general direction (which, for whatever reason is the international symbol for ‘I’m friendly’)! Even better, right – because the only thing better than being a kick-ass agent is having an audience whilst you’re being a kick-ass agent! Lolz. FUCKING WRONG – you poor naive patsy.
The second you start attaching your hard-won bounty, those fuckers are going to kill you, take your shit, and then – to rub salt in your wounds – THEY’LL FREAKIN’ LOAD IT ONTO THE EXTRACTION YOU CALLED AND DEFENDED FOR 90 SECONDS. See, there’s no ‘no extraction whilst you’re Rogue’ safeguard built in to The Division, so if you’re on your own particularly, if you’ve got decent stuff, or there’s a bunch of high-level assholes praying on Extraction Zones, you’ll basically spend your time doing their looting for ’em. And they’ll extract it within seconds, thus negating a big ol’ chunk of their ‘dying whilst Rogue’ disincentives.
Fair enough, you might say. That’s just smart – being tactical, using your advantages, exploiting a loophole. Possibly, and whether it’s that, or a genuine dick move is open to debate, but a ‘no extraction whilst Rogue’ system would render it moot anyways.
My second little tale of woe involves what was – by some distance – the most annoying experience I’ve had in Gaming for a fair while. See, once upon a time, there was a giant über-cockwomble called InMorTal_camPER (if you’re reading, seriously, fuck you) who thought it’d be lucrative and/or hilarious to exploit another series of loopholes in the Dark Zone. He’d found a little area in the game that was a) close to a DZ entrance, and b) could only be accessed by a single, solitary ladder, thus making it almost impossible to reach if it was being defended.
The combination of those two things meant that he could murder agents as they entered (from behind, like a coward) take their shit, and retreat up said stairs. If other agents followed him, he’d just pick them off before they’d re-equiped their own weapon after climbing, probably take their shit too, and pretty soon, knowing it meant InstaDeath, agents stopped following. Thus, when his Rogue status had gone, InMorTal_camPER would come down the ladder (carrying everybody’s best loot), and there wasn’t a goddam thing anybody could do that wouldn’t lead to them going Rogue and getting heavily penalised. He’d then start the process all over again.
This little wheeze was facilitated by another loophole in The Division – THE WARNING SHOT. Accidents do happen, particularly when the screen’s full of enemy AI and other agents, so if you fire on another agent, you’ll only be warned about going Rogue initially, and from their point of view, you’ll appear with a little exclamation mark over your head. If they fire back, it’s them that’ll turn Rogue, not you, and you can then claim all the spoils of killing a Rogue agent if you so wish.
Basically, that put InMorTal_camPER in a win-win-win position. If he fired, and the player didn’t immediately react, he could finish the job and rob them blind. If they did react, and fired back, he could use his pimped-out out weapon, still take them down, get all the bonuses for killing a Rogue agent, and then run away to his hiding spot. If the agent immediately reacted, turned and/or took cover but didn’t fire, InMorTal_camPER – king of the über-cockwombles – would do jumping jacks in an ‘oops, sorry, that was a mistake’ kind of way, wait for the agent to turn away from him, then start the whole charade again.
I saw the guy do this time and time again, and against my better judgment, I didn’t immediately just leave and enter a different area of the DZ. He followed agents around, and if there were any that stood a decent chance against him, he’d just wait until they were taking fire from elsewhere, and finish them off when their health and armour were depleted. Like a Dick.
So, what’s the answer here!? I’m not entirely sure, but some kind of revenge system would certainly help, I think (as in a dude that killed you whilst you were non-hostile remains Rogue for you and only you for a decent chunk of time). Certainly, the whole ‘fire one shot with a fuck-off, wipe-out-most-of-a-players’-healthbar Shotgun and not being penalised for it’ thing leaves a little to be desired, and that agent who’s just been fired upon being penalised for firing back is just downright ludicrous. It allows people like über-cockwomble to follow people around, essentially only ever firing the “accidental” shot until either their victim fires back, or, if they’re wisely avoiding going Rogue, waiting until they’ve used all their medkits treating the “accidental” shots before just finishing the job off with ease.
Of the two stories, I can sort of make my peace with the first one – afterall that’s mostly just part and parcel of the risks inherent within the DZ, particularly if you’re alone – but the second one definitely leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Assholes will be assholes, and there’ll always be assholes, but shit like InMorTal_camPER’s MO can seriously ruin what Ubisoft have built, and for a lot of people. Loopholes like that essentially mean that you’re encouraging assholes to be assholes, and it basically makes all the fairly clever incentive/disincentive stuff mean the square-root of fuck all. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t entirely put me off the DZ per se, but it hasn’t made going in something I’m looking forward when I know cheap-ass shit like that’s a very real possibility.
Anyways, I’m aware I’m getting close to ‘War and Peace’ level length again, so I’ma wrap this up. If you’re still reading at this point a) thank you, and b) please feel free to share your own experiences in the DZ. Hell, feel free to tell me I’m being overly precious if you like, or point out the parts of the DZ that you think work really well. I’ll be going back in soon, so I’ll let y’all know if this was just an aberration, or if it’s a recurring theme, and I’ll keep an eye out for anything else I can witter on about too.
I’m sure that’s got you excited, eh guys? Guys….??