I found a superior-quality gun and a better vest while after I jumped a group of unsuspecting rioters. They set themselves up on a street corner in between a broken-down truck and a couple of wrecked yellow cabs. A pretty defensible position, but not against a David Beckham lookalike who in addition to being armed to the teeth with a variety of modded military-grade guns also has a portable turret and some incendiary grenades and who just so happens to be a member of The Division. The battle was over swiftly and while they, unfortunately, managed to shoot me a couple of times, I was the only one left standing when the dust settled. Unfortunately, for them, this meant that their stuff was now mine and all I needed to do to use my new equipment was make my way to an extraction zone and call in a heli without dying.
Upon arriving at the extraction zone I shot up a flare to signify the base that I had some items that needed to be hauled out of the no man’s land that is the Dark Zone. Past experiences with extraction made me a bit nervous when I shot up the flare because this could attract some unwanted attention from the local gangs and other agents in the vicinity. Sure enough, with a minute on the clock left, up popped a few people wearing the familiar equipment of Division agents. I shuffle about nervously and slowly back off to a position with cover. As I look back at the other 2 agents I see both of them move in opposite directions to find some cover at the edge of the extraction zone as well. This is good. Means they’re not in a group which makes escalation a little less likely.
When the clock strikes zero a chopper flies in and drops down a rope. As I move forward to link my bag full of stuff I either found in shops or took from the gangs by force, I see the other 2 move in to do the same. If there ever was the perfect moment to get the jump on someone, now would be it. But nothing happens. We all submit our loot and the chopper flies off to the base for to decontaminate it. The three of us take one last, long look at each other before we take off in different directions, glad the situation resolved itself without any violence.
This is just one of many ways these situations can unfold in Tom Clancy’s The Division‘s “Dark Zone,” a PvPvE area that was deemed “too unsafe” by government authorities who came to Manhattan after a smallpox outbreak ravaged the population and turned this once beautiful part of New York City into a warzone. Gangs roam the streets freely and open fire on anyone who took an unlucky corner, and Rogue Agents try to take advantage of distracted agents so they can get the jump on them and steal their stuff. I’ve had this happen to me quite a few times in my 30 or so hours with The Divsion, and I will probably find myself in the center of that unenviable scenario a few times more before I retire my agent indefinitely. I’ve also been on the other end of the spectrum, swooping in after an agent is licking their wounds from fighting a few elites and grabbing their hard-earned equipment from their bodies before they fully comprehend what just happened. It’s in the Dark Zone where The Division shows its greatest strengths, and it’s the place to be if you want tense, unpredictable gameplay.
While attacking other players is potentially dangerous, doing so adds a whole new layer of tension to your experience. Yes, you just got some cool new equipment for free by gunning down an unsuspecting player or, if you’re really lucky and/or skillful, his entire team, but this does mean that your newly acquired Rogue Status will be broadcasted to anyone within range. You’ll be a persona non grata for a set amount of time, which means that you’re open season for any other agents who want to avenge the death of their comrade. So you have 2 options here: find the nearest defensible position, shack up, and hope to God that you see your pursuers before they see you. The other one is to make a mad dash in the opposite direction and try to dodge the incoming gunfire to the best of your abilities, trying your hardest to move unseen from cover to cover. The reward for making it through the Rogue timer are substantial: a boost in experience and some Dark Zone credits, which you can use to buy high-quality gear from specific vendors. If you end up on the wrong end of a righteous agent’s muzzle, you die, get all your stolen gear stolen by your executioner, and if you’re playing at the highest level, possibly have the past few hours of progression grinding undone. The rewards are substantial, but so is your punishment if you’re not careful.
I have no idea for how long this mode will remain fun. You’re essentially doing the same things over and over on a gear and gun treadmill that feels very familiar to a veteran of any MMO (or MMO-Lite like Destiny), and those eventually do get tiring. I think the element that makes the Dark Zone more interesting than the aforementioned is that you’re fighting tough AI alongside unpredictable humans who know the possible upsides to greeting you with a salvo of bullets. It’s an interesting experience that, to me at least, is a lot more interesting than what the main campaign has to offer, and if there is one thing that will keep me coming back for the time being it’s going to be the Mexican standoffs and the nervous shuffling as you constantly try to choose between killing them before they kill you, or trusting the other to trust you.