The Division's Dark Zone has finally got some teeth.
"Shaky alliances, backstabbing and paranoid loot runs are what it all hinges on, and with different ways to play there’s more variety in the fight."
As of yesterday The Division's PvP Dark Zone has been patched to make it more competitive, aggressive and rewarding. For its first two weeks it was all a little too friendly, with players farming AI instead of going toe-to-toe with one another for the spoils of war.
But with more loot drops, less punishment for going rogue (killing other players) and more rewards for tackling and surviving PvP conflict, Massive hopes to bring back players and deliver on the promise of a cut-throat arena that balances uneasy alliances and ruthless opportunism.
Buoyed by my recently crafted High-End Vector ACP and the fact that I'm only DZ Rank 21 and have little to lose, I go straight into Dark Zone 03 to see if it's still sweetness and unicorns or sweatiness and uzi guns (sorry).
Here's just some of the things that happened to me in my first 120 minutes of playing through Dark Zone 2.0:
- Instantly teamed up with three other players for silent co-operation. We bagged and extracted a lot of loot from high-end enemies.
- Accidently went rogue and got spanked to death by other players.
- Extracted 6 purple and 1 yellow item in one go. Whooped.
- Stole a yellow item left by a dead player.
- Single-handedly took down three level 31 yellow badasses. I felt pretty good about that.
- Got killed by a rogue player for a meagre handful of DZ credits.
- Went up a DZ rank, got killed and dropped down a DZ rank, in the space of five minutes.
- Went up two DZ ranks overall.
- Had multiple pieces of purple loot stolen off my corpse. You ghouls!
- Wandered into DZ 06 on my own and got killed from every direction.
- Went rogue on a couple of solo players and survived.
- Watched a groups of Rioters and Cleaners battling each other in the street, waited until one side won and then picked off the rest.
- Ran away from a few fights I knew I couldn't win.
My loot haul doesn't seem like a lot, but I didn't go in with a plan. If I was focused on grabbing gear and extracting I could of got more, but I really wanted to see if the Dark Zone was different overall.
Where before it felt tame, it now feels like it's got teeth. Pre-patch there was just one simple way to play; kill the AI, extract, repeat. But now you need to keep your wits about you. Friends become enemies, randoms save you at the last minute, and some people just want to watch the world burn.
It's chaotic and feels much more like the original promise. Shaky alliances, backstabbing and paranoid loot runs are what it all hinges on, and with different ways to play there's more variety in the fight.
"You can spend hours in there and come out with nothing at all. Or you can spend ten minutes in there and come out with everything."
There's a lot of random elements as you would expect from PvP, but you can overcome that with quick reactions and on-the-fly strategy. You're evenly matched if you have the right gear and skills set up, but you have to remember not to panic and chalk up your losses to experience. Whether you can survive against other players seems more of a numbers game than anything else, and going solo in the higher ranking districts can leave you trapped and dead in seconds.
I'm pretty sure more and better loot - whether high-end gear, XP, Dark Zone cash, keys or Phoenix Credits - is dropping a little more regularly too. It's difficult to gauge, because your fortune can turn on a dime. But that's the whole point of the Dark Zone. It's unpredictable, not uncontrollable. Anything can happen, and your only breathing space comes when you shelter in a safe house.
The Dark Zone at times feels like a war of attrition. It can be infuriating and thrilling, and if you let a grudge get the better of you you'll likely keep on dying with revenge creeping into your black heart. You can spend hours in there and come out with nothing at all.
Or you can spend ten minutes in there and come out with everything, due to both luck and skill. Time will tell if this is sustainable and whether it's really what The Division players want long-term. But only two weeks from launch and Massive has managed to tweak the most important part of the game for the better. You win or lose in seconds in the Dark Zone. But you'll want to go back for more.