My Weekend in The Division’s Dark Zone
Keep running. Turn right on the next street. Don’t stop to look. Just keep running. Down into the parking deck. Sprint past the thugs. Look back for just a moment… Okay, they’re still chasing me. Dart through that alley. Radiation. Don’t stop. Now past the gas station and into the junk yard. So close to losing them. Climb the ladder. Quickly now. Get to the rappel station on the other end of the roof. Descend. Get to the end of the street. STOP. They’re waiting for me. Turn around and book it towards Madison Ave. They’re firing now. Duck and weave. More soldiers filing in on the sides of the street. I’m completely surrounded. Nowhere to run. Grab some cover and fight. Protect your loot.
As cheesy as it sounds, this was an actual sequence I experienced while playing The Division’s Beta over the weekend. It started when I decided to ambush a group of three player-controlled Division Agents who were meandering around an extraction point in The Dark Zone; which is a quarantined area that is infused with elements of both player-vs-player and player-vs-environment encounters. I wanted the gear the other players were planning to extract. Once I decided to turn rogue — Ubisoft’s term for acting hostile towards another player — I lost control of the situation very quickly. My advantage on these seemingly innocent agents quickly vanished as another squad of players showed up to extract their loot. This new squad quickly realized what I was attempting to do and proceeded to aid their new allies by firing on me. I immediately fled the scene and started to plan my escape path. Of course, they followed me and an intense pursuit was now underway. Yes, you did the math correctly – there were six Division Agents chasing me through the mean streets of a snowy Manhattan.
As you previously read, things did not turn out well for me. The chase quickly ended as the other players surrounded me on both ends of a street. I was gunned down within seconds. Yes, I lost my loot and perhaps I wasted part of my afternoon; but the experience was incredibly fun and rewarding in its own right. Inside of this menacing environment, The Division transforms from a tactical buddy-shooter into a cutthroat flurry of kill-or-be-killed antics. The Dark Zone is certainly the highlight of the studio’s newest game.
While the third-person shooter finds many of its mechanics firmly planted in a simplified formula of Ubisoft’s previous Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter; it takes many cues from Destiny’s loot system and RPG-lite skill trees. In the main story, players will build up a Base of Operations by completing story missions. The further you progress through the story, the further your base progresses in its technology, medical, and security research branches. As these three branches expand, players will unlock new perks, abilities, and equipment.
All of this funnels back into The Dark Zone. A great squad will comprise itself with complimenting perks and abilities, such as a group critical damage buff or remote detonated sticky bombs. During the beta, I spent much of my time teaming up with my father who would run with a shotgun build while I covered enemies in the distance with my Police M4/ACOG setup. Our specialization? Quickly dispatching the agents who would inevitably fall behind their teammates. A few shotgun shells and a well-placed grenade can really disorient an unsuspecting team. It was incredibly rewarding to experiment with different team strategies and gear configurations.
I had a great time playing, but I certainly walked away with a few concerns for The Division. While it already seems to have more story than vanilla Destiny, I can’t help but shake the feeling of apprehension I have towards Ubisoft’s choice to base the main story around a silent protagonist. The missions that were available in the beta were fun in structure, but felt lackluster in narrative substance. For reference, I played through the instanced story missions twice to experience both difficulty settings and to see the varied dynamics between solo and group play.
Secondly, the open world seemed to lack a healthy population of enemy AI. On several occasions I ran around the map for several minutes without encountering a single enemy. This was also a problem in The Dark Zone. This needs to be fixed before the game ships in early March.
Lastly, The Division’s UI leads to a consistent problem in the Dark Zone. It should be known that whenever a player goes rogue, their name and health bar are displayed in bright red and are accompanied by a skull above the character’s head. However, anytime combat ensues, all players have the same red health bar displayed above their head. In an intense shoot-out, this often leads to accidentally shooting the wrong player, and going rogue yourself. While this helps out the enemy rogues, it often confuses everyone else and breaks the flow of combat. A simple fix to this issue would be to differentiate the health bar colors of rogues and non-hostile agents who are in combat together. While I have no problem attacking innocent players, I would at least like to know when I am doing so.
Overall, I walk away from The Division with high hopes. Whether I was giving med packs to the homeless for XP, tackling difficult missions by myself, or surprise-attacking five other players for their loot with my buddies, I was having a blast. It’s clear that this game will cater towards many different player types. Want to only play cooperative story missions? You can do that. Want to collect a variety of skinny jeans and baseball caps? Go for it. Just want to spend your time ambushing and backstabbing other players? You can do that too.
After spending a weekend with The Division, one thought resonates in my head: The Dark Zone is absolutely thrilling. It steals the show. It’s all I think about. The Dark Zone has totally and completely consumed me.
It’s going to be a long two weeks until The Division releases. In the mean time, you can listen to more of Alex’s thoughts on The Division via Episode 15 of Pixel Pulse Radio.