Since I wrote my last dispatch, Ubi/Massive – to their credit – have provided a fairly significant update to The Division which, as well as adding incursions etc, managed to make my DZ experience slightly less frustrating. It was mostly small things – like making it possible to open chests and buy weapons from DZ vendors, which for some reason were locked at level 30 before, as well as adding Gold drops to all named enemies – and for a wee while, it was enough to re-ignite my interest in, and enthusiasm for, The Dark Zone. At first, the vast majority of those Gold Drops were useful to me, and fighting my way through a horde of enemies protecting a loot crate and, you know, being able to actually open the damn thing became significantly more appealing than, like, not being able to open them.

the-division-dark-zoneThat said however, many of my issues with the DZ remain, including the exact things I was banging on about before – and that’s getting harder and harder for me to live with. More importantly, it’s getting significantly harder for me to justify the time I’m putting into the game when that time is, fairly frequently, resulting in little progress, little usable loot, and – to be honest – limited enjoyment. That last thing is related to the first two, for sure, and a Gaming experience that is just a time-suck, where you don’t achieve much, and where you’re not enjoying yourself is fundamentally problematic, especially when there are plenty of other games waiting patiently for me to play them.

Again – and for the record – I get that a lot of the stuff I’m whining about is exactly the stuff that makes the Dark Zone interesting and intriguing, and I even get that it’s this exact stuff that makes other people love it, but for me it’s just not that appealing anymore. In a recent conversation with a fellow blogger (who was also arguing that the DZ is currently suffering from ‘balance’ issues) I wrote the following:

“[….] I’m with you 100% on the exploits and balance things. I’ve finally done enough grinding to get half decent gear – giving me a reasonable chance against the AI in the DZ – but every damn time they drop something I want, or need, I get ganked at extraction by a team of overpowered freakin’ cyborgs. Obviously, that creates a vicious circle because the only way I’ll stand a chance against them is if I have really decent gear, but I can’t extract the really decent gear if I’m rocking up to a firefight at an EZ with the gun-ey equivalent of a plastic effing picnic fork.

I get that this was a big part of the idea of the DZ – and in theory, it’s quite intriguing and exciting – but in practice it often just means that there’s this two-tier experience, with it being almost impossible (or at least statistically improbable) that you’ll ever get to the top tier given the random nature of drops and the fact you’re at the mercy of overpowered cyborgs at EZs. I love the challenge of the Super-villains in the DZ, and it’s awesome finally taking one down – because you earned it, and you survived against really tough odds, massively outnumbered etc, etc – but to then get killed by somebody who can destroy you just by waving their supergun in your general direction is just really, really cheap. And soul destroying. And more importantly, there’s basically nothing you can do about it. There’s no strategy, no amount of practice, no amount of fine-tuning your reaction time that can stop it happening – it’s not like (eg) a CoD where you can just plug away, practice, git gud and hold your own eventually. If a guy’s basically carrying a miniaturised nuclear weapon, it doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re always coming out of that encounter very, very dead!”

maxresdefaultNow, at the time I was admittedly quite sore having just had ‘one of those days’ in the DZ – but even with a bit of time to cool down, my point still stands. Let’s take the CoD example a little further. I’ve said before that when I first attempted a CoD multiplayer I was woefully, hilariously bad but with practice, and with patience, I got better, and whilst I’d always have shockingly bad rounds from time to time, on average I became considerably better than when I started out. CoD is a fairly balanced MP because, with the exception of a few perks, weapons etc, you’re competing against people who are playing with a similar arsenal to you – and perhaps more importantly – you can tip the odds in your favour by really thinking strategically about which weapons, perks etc you would use. Likewise, you could also improve your game by thinking about maps, general strategy, and given the whole “teams” thing, you’d naturally find yourself with a known enemy and a known set of allies.

Now, given you’d (mostly, on average) be up against people who weren’t massively overpowered, you’d stand a reasonable chance against them – all other things being equal. Sure, you’d run into a group of enemy players on your own from time to time and that usually wouldn’t end well, but if and when you died one-on-one, it’d often be solely because you didn’t react quick enough, or you’d done something wrong, or another guy was slightly better equipped for that particular encounter. Yeah, getting sniped’s never fun but – crucially – that guy who’s just picked me off at range was using an option that was entirely open to me to use too, and he’d chosen to use a Sniper Rifle knowing it also had certain costs associated with its use. Had I come across the guy at closer range, for example, there’d be a fair chance he’d come off worse. In essence, there was a set of Pros and Cons to each Loadout, in every given map, and like in many games there was a fairly consistent balancing of these across maps, teams and the game in general.

tXbcroLNow, contrast that to The Division. Of course there’s still the weapon “type” to consider, but ultimately that’s considerably less important than the power (or DPS) of your weapon. Regardless of whether you’re better suited to an Assault Rifle or SMG, that’s likely to mean the square root of fuck all if you’re going up against a guy with any high-end weapon that might have a DPS two, or even three times higher than yours. Even if you’re a freakin’ headshot Ninja, you’ll be dead long before you’ve had chance to make enough of those headshots count, and if there’s more than one of those guys, it’s likely you’ll be dead before you even hear their shots.

What was that? “Quit your whining and get your own awesome weapon”, you say. Yeah, fair point, but here’s the thing – that’s exactly what I’ve spent a week trying to do, but it’s virtually impossible – thanks to a few things, but mostly because of the stuff I’ve just mentioned + the random nature of drops. I can kill named enemies to get better gear, and I’ve done that hundreds of times but given that the Gear drops are random, the vast majority of the time they’re things that are worse than I already have, or that I don’t need, and when I do finally get something I can use, I’m back to being at the mercy of the overpowered dudes at the EZ. So, when I try to extract a weapon that might give me a fighting chance against them, they’re going to Gank me and take it because I currently don’t stand a chance against them. Chicken and the egg. Vicious circle. Fuck my life.

Another way I can get half decent gear is to grind XP, so I can buy the better stuff from DZ Vendors once I hit DZ level 50, right!? I mean, that’s just like a CoD – put enough time in, eventually reap your rewards with patience, skill and practice, no!? No. Because – and you might notice a theme here – as you wander around trying to increase your XP and DZ funds, you’ll get killed frequently by the same overpowered cyborgs, and you’ll lose a big chunk of DZ XP and DZ funds in the process. Because in The Division you can go backwards, and quite significantly. Again, your best chance of not going backwards is to have decent weapons, etc, but you can only get decent weapons by not going backwards. Chicken and the egg. Vicious Circle. Fuck my Life.

Basically, you always get to the same point; whilst you’re at the mercy of overpowered cyborgs who want your stuff, or just want to kill you for shits and giggles, the chances are you’ll always be at the mercy of overpowered cyborgs. I put about 15 hours into The Division last week, and I didn’t manage to increase my stats in any meaningful way because I’m not getting decent drops and/or when I do I get ganked every damn time. My DZ rank has increased, but at a glacial pace and only slightly, and my funds are basically useless until I get to the point I can spend them on something decent, i.e. Rank 50.

division-phoenix-credits-3My only other option is to earn enough Phoenix Credits to outright buy a gun that’s better than mine from the dude selling top of the line shit at my BoE, but that ain’t going to happen for a long, long time. I currently have just under 400 Phoenix Credits, and the only gun the guy’s selling that I want or need is just under 900 PC. Nine fucking hundred. I mean, I get that you need to really earn stuff – and shortcuts are to be discouraged – but with an average of 20-30 Phoenix credits on offer every day, and with named enemies dropping 2 or 3 at a time, that’s going to take me several weeks to earn. Given the dude re-stocks every week or so, I’m basically looking at the gun, knowing it’ll take weeks to earn, and knowing the restock counter’s going to hit zero waaaay before then.

Now, here’s the crux of the issue: do I want to devote 3 weeks of my Gaming time to this kind of grind – and particularly to the kind of grind that is almost wholly determined by luck, and/or whether I’m in a server with a bunch of overpowered fucking assholes who just want to watch the world burn? Do I want to do it if – not infrequently – the experience is deeply unpleasant, massively unjust and – more often than not – where there’s not a goddam thing I can do about any of it? Is there any point at all when it’s not a test of skill, or patience, or strategy – but pure luck, and where running into certain dudes will always get you dead, no matter how well you perform?

I mean, objectively the answer has to be a no there, right!? I play games for various reasons, but usually enjoyment is a key part of that. The challenge is also a part too, but precisely because the challenge feels like it’s surmountable – which is basically the opposite of what I’m feeling in the Dark Zone currently. Finally, a big part of gaming’s appeal to me is that it’s about progress, working towards a goal, and because you steadily, slowly move in the right direction. Spending several hours in the Dark Zone and coming out with nothing to show for it (either because of the random nature of the drops, or because I’ve been robbed fucking blind) is, almost by definition, a complete fucking waste of my time. Sure, the next drop could be the one I’m after, and I might manage to extract it, but a combination of my experience so far and Murphy’s law means it probably won’t be and/or I won’t.

thedivision00-jpgAnd, whilst that’s the case, and whilst I’m up against shit that I’ve got zero control over, stand zero chance against, and whilst I’m achieving next to nothing on a regular basis, I’m just struggling to see the point. In theory, I like the idea of the Dark Zone, and for a little while I enjoyed that it was a bit different, but now that the novelty’s worn off, I can’t see past all the stuff I’ve just been whinging about.

I’m not saying I’ll never play The Division again, and I still feel like it was a great game, but I’m not really feeling any incentive to stick at the End Game now. Playing the same missions over and over again, constantly being ganked, grinding for hours in the hope of finally getting a decent drop all just feels like the opposite of what a Gaming experience should feel like. If it was a more balanced experience, I’d accept the grind; if there was an imbalance but you could still get decent gear without that imbalance preventing you from doing so, I’d accept that too – but when all of it’s working against you in tandem, it’s hard to see a point. Like, really really hard.

TL: DR…. Ganks, but no thanks.