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‘The Division’s’ Dark Zone Ceasefire

‘The Division’s’ Dark Zone Ceasefire

After playing the beta of Tom Clancy’s The Division, I previously wrote about my experiences with the PVP-enabled Dark Zone area, and the design flaw that is forcing players uninterested in PVP to engage in it if they want the full experience of the game. Now with the full release, I still stand by my words. The Dark Zone is awkwardly designed and a poor excuse for endgame content, with players who aren’t interested in it at all limited in how quickly they can progress.

But none of that really matters, because The Dark Zone simply doesn’t appeal to me for the mere presence of PVP at all. It’s just the kind of gamer I am. I can certainly understand that it creates an effective sense of tension where every player is a potential threat, and you actually have something to lose when you die. For someone like me who is anxious enough in my day-to-day life, I don’t need more of that feeling, thanks. The heart-pumping feeling provided by a high-stakes confrontation with another player is exactly the opposite of how I want to feel when playing a game.

I’m someone who has a lot of trouble relaxing and remaining calm, and video games appeal to me so much because they can let me escape for a little while and forget about myself. It doesn’t really matter if there even are all that many things for me to worry about in life at any given moment, because I’ll feel anxious and tense regardless. So, for me, the ideal game is one set in an immersive environment (which The Division definitely has) that allows me a nice amount of customization to make my character uniquely my own (which The Division sort of has). For the time it took me levelling from 1 to 30 and completing all the story and side missions available, even gathering all the collectibles, it did a fine job of providing that experience.

That might even be enough. Even if I stop playing right now, I still got a pretty satisfying shooter game set in a gorgeously detailed environment. What surprises me the most in playing The Division is the actual enjoyment I briefly got out of playing in its no-rules zone and meeting other players. It hinges almost entirely on the fact that the system for punishing player-killing players was terribly balanced upon release.

Going rogue, and marking yourself to all other players as hostile and free to kill for a reward until the timer expires, was so harshly penalized should you be killed during rogue status that nobody was risking it. The Dark Zone, supposedly an area of total anarchy and backstabbing, was quiet and peaceful. Running into other players lost its tension and became instead either an exchange of greetings or a group invite. The game wasn’t working at all as intended, and players were right to complain, but for sunny flower children like me, it was kinda magical.

Tom Clancy's The Division

I was expecting something more like this.


On my very first visit to the DZ, I stumbled upon some pretty decent loot in comparison to my own. The zone so far had been very quiet, and I’d only seen one other player in the distance. There were no rogue indicators anywhere on the map. So with my shiny new guns ready for extraction, I headed to the extraction zone to safely secure my stuff. That was when I stumbled right into the midst of three other players, all carrying loot themselves.

“Woah woah woah hang on, got someone here,” one of them said. I guess they thought I might be one of those rogues they’d heard so much about.

“He’s got some loot, must be heading to extraction,” another said. I felt my heart sink. I wasn’t well-geared and didn’t have a chance against three people. So much for my new guns.

“He can probably hear us right now.” Which was true, as speaking into your mic in the dark zone broadcasts your voice to everyone else near you. So I chimed in.

“I, uh, don’t really have anything good,” I lied. “Just a couple things.” I was hoping maybe I could convince them that ganking me probably wasn’t worth the harsh rogue penalties.

“Hey, he’s got a mic, add him to the group!” they said. And poof, there was a party invite, and I had three new friends to explore with. We helped each other out, watched each other’s backs during extractions, and generally were quite friendly. I had feared the worst, but instead just met some helpful players who didn’t care that I had loot of my own.

We even happened upon an extraction in progress for another group of four. According to the game’s marketing campaign, this would be the perfect time to wage an all-out assault to claim their loot. But, instead, we just helped them clear the NPC enemies and let them extract their gear, after which they helped us do the same. Nobody was attacking anybody because it just wasn’t worth it. And everyone was just weirdly polite for an online shooter.

It’s not just a matter of rewards, either. Another time, while solo again, I accidentally shot another player for enough damage to mark me as rogue. I apologized over mic and said it was an accident. In gameplay terms, he was now free to try to kill me with no penalty and would be handsomely rewarded for it with experience and credits. But instead:

“No problem man, happens.”

He stayed close by while my short rogue timer wound down. Another nearby player came by.


“Just an accident.”

“Oh, okay.” And the other player left.

Not everyone was so friendly, of course. I did still get attacked by a group of four even while I had no loot who called me various slurs in the process. Other players would intentionally dive into my line of fire in hopes of accidentally turning me rogue and becoming a free kill for them. Every game will always have its jerks who just want to screw up someone else’s time, even if it gets them nowhere, but they were few and far between in the game’s early stages.

Tom Clancy's The Division

The NPCs are full of jerks, on the other hand.


After a patch, the Dark Zone became more or less the chaotic nightmare it was intended to be, where no one can be trusted and large groups band together just to kill everyone who crosses their path. I lost interest in it, as did most of my friends. But for the brief time from release to the March 22nd patch that greatly reduced the penalties for going rogue, it was a happy little sunshine kingdom where players were just there for the loot, and where anyone who broke the unspoken rules was frowned upon. Just by tweaking a few numbers, people unleashed their dark side, operating on greed and malice rather than just doing their own thing.

I suppose you could turn that into some sort of reflection on the nature of humanity, and the way we value personal gain over the happiness and goodwill of others. Let’s not do that though.