Nerfed drops, penny pinched Phoenix Credits and friendly PvP. What the hell is going on?
“I don’t know of any other competitive online shooter where everyone will help you out. From impromptu team-ups, to rezzing strangers. It’s all love. Like Woodstock but with AK-47s.”
You’ve heard a lot about The Division‘s Dark Zone, the PvP area where players can battle it out to extract the best loot, steal from each other, or team up and attack Massive’s AI mobs in shaky alliance. We expected Mexican standoffs and shifting allegiances, the lure of better gear over-riding friendship with a quick bullet in the back.
The reality is considerably tamer than that. There are complaints amongst the community that it’s all too friendly, Phoenix Credits – the high-end currency you earn after reaching level 30 – have been nerfed, and rewarding loot drops are sparse. That’s not strictly true from my experience but there are areas of concern and it’s clear to see how the Dark Zone isn’t working as intended. I went solo in the Dark Zone using strict scientific parameters to find this out. Namely; play the game, write about it, put it on the internet.
Firstly, if you’re going to tackle the Dark Zone you need to rejig your character build. I bought a superior level 30 shotgun – the M870 Express – for enemies who flank closely. And I’m still rocking my trusty Lightweight M4 assault rifle for mid-range fights. I tweaked my perks a little for health and made sure I had explosive and incendiary bullets. They make all the difference on high-end yellow enemies.
I also re-rolled my Scavenger gear stats too. This is essential because I’m heading into the Dark Zone for drops, not to make friends. If you don’t know about re-rolling/recalibrating your stats check this out. I re-rolled two items and increased my scavenger stat from 14 percent to a 108 percent. That feels good. I’m ready.
Is the Dark Zone too tame?
So I entered the Dark Zone with genuine trepidation. It felt oppressive and I felt paranoid. But it soon becomes clear that the only dangers here are the AI bad guys, not other players. So far I’ve spent roughly eight hours in the Dark Zone and only been attacked by other players once. My first six hours were fine. I’ve been running around with 5-6 packages before I call in an extraction so there’s every incentive to overwhelm me. Two players could get the better of me easily. But no one did.
Once you attack another player you go rogue, which puts a bounty on your head. Other players are free to hunt you down, but survive long enough as a rogue agent and when the timer hits zero you’ll find yourself bagging loads of Dark Zone rank. Get to DZ rank 30 and 50 and you’ll be able to buy the best weapons and gear on offer. This is the promise.
The problem is it’s not worth the risk of going rogue. If you get killed as rogue you lose more Dark Zone keys (to open chests), Dark Zone rank and Dark Zone credits (used to buy special gear and weapons from vendors) than normal. The loot you’re stealing isn’t more valuable than any of those. So you focus on killing and looting from the AI instead. No one is going rogue.
This makes the Dark Zone remarkably friendly, which is great in a way. I don’t know of any other competitive online shooter where everyone will help you out. From impromptu team-ups, to rezzing strangers. It’s all love. Like Woodstock but with AK-47s. None of that is in the spirit of the Dark Zone. It’s meant to be a cut-throat riot of outlaws and thievery.
I want to reiterate I’m playing solo here, which should be a foolish decision. But I soon chilled out and went from tightly hugging my rewards to nonchalance if I lost them. I could probably respawn and pick it all up again anyway. In fact, the only time I was pissed with other players was when they picked up my gear when I’d respawned blocks away. I don’t blame them. If I came across a pool of keys, cash and loot, I’d snatch it too. It was only when I got my first high-end vest that the paranoia crept back in, but it was extracted safely enough.
Around eight hours in I rolled with a group of three other players for 15 minutes of looting until they turned on me out of the blue. Finally, someone grew a pair of balls.
Have Phoenix Credits been nerfed?
Yes, Phoenix Credit drops have been nerfed. According to this video, named enemies used to drop around 15 Phoenix Credits before last weekend’s update, now they drop around 2-3. That’s from one extreme to another and it would only take another quick update from the team at Massive to put straight. Somewhere in the middle of those two figures might be better, or maybe just a straight up 5 credits per named kill. To put that in context you get 15 credits for a daily mission and 20 for the daily challenge. The cheapest high-end guns cost just over 200 Phoenix Credits. Now you understand the complaints.
Are loot drops too stingy?
“I want to reiterate I’m playing solo here, which should be a foolish decision. But I soon chilled out and went from tightly hugging my rewards to nonchalance if I lost them.”
Some are saying the rate and quality of loot drops have been stealth patched, but I’m not so sure. I spent my first half an hour taking down groups of three yellow and three purple enemies and getting absolute buttkiss. I don’t need a new trendy scarf, thanks. But then it started to warm up and after just over two hours I’d extracted all the following superior (purple) gear: 1 mod, 1 sidearm, 1 sub machine gun, 1 assault rifle, 1 assault vest, 1 reflex sight. Almost all were better than what I had equipped at the time. By my eighth hour I had my first high-end yellow drop. Granted, I’m only in the early stages of my Dark Zone journey so superior gear is relative but I’m pleased with that outcome. I’d also extracted a bunch of green and blue stuff but that’s part of the deal.
Griefers gonna grief
The current system can of course be exploited for those that want to rank up. You could describe this as griefing when it’s not just taking advantage of a broken system, but pissing off other players. Agents block doorways until rogue timers have cooled down. Attack those blockers and you’ll be labeled rogue yourself. Others will happily jump into your grenade and take damage to turn you rogue, or purposefully wander into your line of fire. Teams of players will use alts take it in turn going rogue and killing each other.
Gimmie the loot, gimmie the loot
I don’t want things handed to me and I don’t want everything all in one go. I want to work hard for my rewards. But right now, the Dark Zone feels like you’re playing the campaign in co-op but with all the spectacle stripped out. There’s no story chatter or distraction, it’s barebones The Division, as you circle, flank, kill and extract your gear. That’s great, but it’s not the lawless boroughs of New York we were expecting.
Massive can fix this, I’m sure. The speed at which it reacted to the Trained talent problem is encouraging and with online games like this, rolling out updates and tweaks are a given. It’s a tricky balance, loot needs to be worth stealing and penalties should be harsh but worth the risk. I’m hopeful next week’s update will be the start of change. Because The Division’s end game needs to get a lot more cut-throat with loot worth coveting if it wants to keep us coming back for more.