The Way to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

It had all been going so well.

The Division has been out for several weeks now, and it has been dividing people into either large scale fans or turning them off entirely.  Many gamers aren’t quite sure how to handle an open-scale game that’s trying hard to be restricted by real-world scenarios and the Tom Clancy name, while others are reveling in the abandoned streets, running from broken car to broken car to stay alive in gunfights.

One thing that nearly everyone does agree on, however, is just how damn interesting the Dark Zone can be.  A thought experiment in player interaction, the Dark Zone is the center of New York City that is walled off to your normal wanderings in a desolate environment.  It stands large and looming, covered in quarantine signs and black tarps, with your NPC earpiece friends warning you exactly how dangerous it is when you walk near the checkpoints to sneak inside.  However, when you finally walk through the decontamination chambers to get inside, there’s static in your ear, your onboard computer warns you that the signal back to base is cutting out, and suddenly, it all goes quiet.  You are left alone in streets filled with abandoned blockades and skyscrapers that have fire licking up their sides.

 

You walk a few feet, but there’s a flicker of movement, and you ready your rifle, dashing to cover.  You pop up to take a look, ready for the shot, before realizing that the person you saw running behind the emergency vehicle is also a Division agent, another player, scurrying down these darkened streets cautiously.  Unlike the rest of The Division, the Dark Zone doesn’t leave you and your team alone: other players wander inside, looking for weapons and equipment that was left behind during the breakdown of the city that is simply better than what you can find outside of it.

Both of you are looking down the barrel at each other.  You may see a small yellow pouch, marked with a biohazard sign, dangling from her backpack; it’s proof that they were able to find a crate of supplies, or slay one of the dangerous roving groups of enemies to find themselves something worth taking.  The question is now, do you take the shot?

How the Dark Zone Works

The Dark Zone is Player versus Player, except…not exactly.  You are all on the same side, after all, pushing back the various factions of foes from New York City.  Normally, team matchmaking and groups are limited to four agents, but here teams can run into each other at random moments, joining forces in large numbers to gun down an absurd amount of NPC foes that skulk in the alleyways.  Let me just say here, some of my absolute favorite moments in The Division have stemmed from this:  Myself and my partner-in-getting-killed-horribly, Reid, sneaking down the streets, before seeing a shootout already in progress.  We jump in from the side with grenades and shouting, and as we realize that we are outmanned by four times, the original player group is able to advance.  The firefight grows, as the shots attract patrols of other NPCs, and as it continues, named mini-boss bad guys crawl out from the woodwork.

Centered right in the middle, the area is an intimidating blank on your normal map filled with tidy story objectives and missions.  You make your own problems in the Dark Zone.

You get close enough to other players that aren’t on your team, and there’s proximity chatting that gets enabled.  You’ll start shouting out that you’re dropping a healing kit, or leaping to revive some poor agent you’ve never met before.  The fight ends, and you’re left breathing a sigh of relief….guns trained on the other players.  Everyone starts asking “We good?  We’re cool?  Everyone good?”  Alliances occur, where you work in teams of five, or six, or more to clear a dangerous building to get to a loot chest, or to get to the extraction zone, everyone trying to get their gear out before things take a turn for the worse.

Of course, things can go badly during these encounters.  One of the first multi-teamed fights I was a part of ended with my entire team having gone Rogue, entirely by accident.  My ISAC had warned me that we had disavowed our agency, and I soon realized what had happened: in a grenade volley, we had caught one of our new friends in the crossfire, dropping him.  As the three person group started shouting in surprise, I yelled apologies as Reid leaped into danger to revive the fallen member to show it was an accident.

That shootout ended tensely, but thankfully, no one dropping dead and leaving their loot behind.  We all had guns on each other.  Apologies were shared.  We all slowly backed away into different alleys, and disappeared.

We’re the Good Guys, Really!

Reid and I don’t like going rogue; in fact, many people don’t.  There’s a Dark Zone rank, which rises as you slay NPCs and complete extractions, but you actually lose some rank when you die.  Your gear drops where you land, you lose keys that you need to break into crates.  Starting fights with other players dramatically ups the chances of a bullet-ridden death, and while you can gain ranking pretty quick by murdering other players than waiting out the rogue timer on yourself, you lose a lot of rank if you are caught.  A little red marker appears on the radar, showing that rogue agents might be nearby.  Some players like to hunt them down for the ranking and the sport - after all, rogue agents usually will have stolen loot on them.

Now that I think about it, rogue agents might just target people in those silly fargo-style hats...

I’d like to think that most players just want to work well together.  They want to help each other get loot out of the extraction points, because well, it makes it safer for themselves too.  Fighting amongst yourselves doesn’t stop the NPCs from spawning, so why make more trouble for yourself?

…I can remember the first time I willfully killed another player.  It was at an extraction zone, and just a few minutes ago, Reid and I had died in a fight with NPCs.  Other players can run up to your lifeless corpse while you respawn and take things off it with no repercussion, but you get a little notice and their name when they do. While we were running back to our failed extraction point, we had gotten notice that suddenly our loot was gone.  We both groaned in frustration, and saw the agent starting a new extraction.  I remember asking Reid if it was worth going after him.  With a reluctant sigh, we agreed on no – there were other agents showing up to fight off the NPC waves, trying to get their gear out.  If we started the fight, we would have been gunned down, and probably lost even more equipment.

Fifteen seconds before the helicopter reached us, the loot-stealer threw a grenade, and had clipped Reid.  His beacon lit up bright red, marking him as rogue.  As my teammate asked if we were in danger, and as this other agent screamed for mercy, I gunned him down in cold blood.

The feeling of justified revenge felt so, so sweet.  The rush of the kill, of me and Reid looting our stuff back, plus a little extra, was intoxicating.  We extracted the gear, then vanished deep into the Dark Zone before anything else could happen.  We hid, unsure if we would end up being hunted; Reid felt bad about taking advantage of the situation, but in momentary rush, I shouted back he had it coming to him.  This wasn’t the first time people had looted my body or killed us, and it was exciting to finally fight back.

The game rewarded me for killing another player - how bad can it REALLY be?

Thus, my slow descent into madness began.

Don’t Show Weakness, ‘Cause There’s Blood In The Water

Up until this point, I too, had barely seen any rogue activity myself.  The first time we played in that first week, Reid and I were chased down by a pack of four, but it was after we had all worked together to extract.  They laughed at us, amused at the thrill of turning on another.  We died, and decided to come back after we were more than just level 10.

Another time, we walked up to an extraction point to see a very tense, awkward sight: three or four groups all arranged in a circle around each other.  They were doing jumping jacks, making the surrender emote, over and over, as a helicopter started to land.  Reid and I had a bad feeling about this particular situation, and so quickly vanished deeper into the streets.  Moments later, six red rogue icons appeared on our radar as the shootout started.

In those first two or three weeks, we realized two things: one was that, that like many people, the risks of going rogue far outweighed the rewards before that first patch was released.  Secondly, it was becoming second nature to anticipate when things might go badly.  If we saw rogue symbols on our maps, rather than try and interrupt (since both of us were relatively low level and rank), we went to the furthest extraction point before getting out of there.  If we saw teams of players that wouldn’t communicate over mics, we also went in a different direction.

What did happen, on more than one occasion, was ruthless opportunism.  Extractions are a clarion call, to both players and waves of bad guys in the Dark Zone.  Often times, you’ll see your radar fill up with red dots, but as you and your friends are feeling overwhelmed, lone agents will come in and flank your foes, helping clear up the mess.  They’ll even revive you at times, just to keep everyone on the same side to help push back the bad guys.  It can often be a win-win, as more NPCs show up, more loot drops.  You and everyone else are able to fill up your bags as the helicopter finally comes, and in near silence, the other groups vanish, the temporary alliance fulfilled.

When you see this?  You are either going to excitedly get your loot out of the Dark Zone in just a few seconds, or die horribly as NPCs swarm you/your 'friends' go rogue and murder you for loot.

If you actually die though, may your deity of choice help you.  Reid and I were overwhelmed at the extraction point more than a few times, and more than once, we could see a lone agent fighting their way towards us, once... we were already on the ground.  We died, and our loot was quickly scooped up and put on the helicopter we had worked so hard to obtain.  By the time we got back, there were just scraps and nothing else.

Another no-win situation is when stray bullets make your whole team go rogue.  You see the timer over your head, and if you are at one of these multi-grouped extraction zones, you should probably run.  As we played The Division more and more, we found that our temporary allies became more willing to murder us, even as we shouted that it was a mistake.  The ranking bonuses of rogue-killing can be wonderful, not to mention having loot delivered right in front of you.

This was the sort of slow escalation of tension that started to build inside the Dark Zone during the first month of The Division.  People often didn’t want to be the original aggressor, but agents would attack on a hair trigger if they thought they were in danger.  Players like myself had plenty of positive experiences in the past, but they had also found themselves screwed over far too many times as well.  It’s why when that one agent went rogue, I immediately gunned them down, rather than risk having a now desperate player start to lob grenades into the extraction point.

It wasn’t every man for themselves yet, but everyone couldn’t get that worry out of their heads either.

Questionable Allies

It was during one of these mass extractions that we found ourselves going down a dark path.  Reid and I had been already in the zone for a little while, and we had seen rogue markers pop up on the map several times, albeit at a good distance.  Reid had died once after we had intercepted a group of elite cleaners chasing down a different squad of agents, and so we were already a bit tense.  This was also the week where the new changes to the Dark Zone had occurred, making “Going Rogue” a bit more profitable than it had been previously.  

The waves of enemies were thick, as the group of agents at the extraction point numbered over seven.  One poor sap went rogue, by accident or otherwise, and he was immediately taken down by everyone else, his gear picked clean like vultures descending on a corpse.  Reid and I kept shouting over the speakers that we were just there to keep the area safe.

That’s when one of these solo agents finally called back.  “Hey there, can I join you lot?”  He sounded British, and so we immediately felt that he was cultured and therefore trustworthy.  Nervous at the growing tensions, we invited him to the group, and he quickly showed himself as being useful.  We got into a fight with a group of elite rikers around a loot crate, and the british gentleman proved he was very handy with a marksman rifle.

Having a 'team' will give you safety in numbers...but also means things can fly off the handle a lot faster, as we found out.

His name was X_X_F_E_L_I_X_, and we quickly found out that not only was he a bit younger than ourselves, but that his cheery announcements of “That’s Brilliant” and “Bit of a Fuss” meant that there was a lot of bodies around the corner, NPC or otherwise. In hindsight, what happened soon after was probably all his fault.

We got a fourth team member, Mazharbasha, who was another solo agent that had been interjecting himself into larger firefights with NPCs, both to show he was helpful, and to also try and get into loot heavy areas.  Now, until this point, we had been mostly fighting in the DZ01 and DZ02 areas; those are the southern points of the map.  We knew that as you moved north, things started to become more and more difficult.  For the first time though, we had a full party, and so it was time to have some fun.

Warning Signs

Of course, as you expect in the Dark Zone, nothing goes as you plan.  We moved up past the library to get towards a landmark that Reid and I had accidentally walked into previously, and gotten destroyed immediately when trying to get inside – the Kalkesse sports shop in DZ03.  Before even arriving, we were beset upon by multiple elite agents, including a named NPC that sniped us from a block away.  I’ve noticed that in the Dark Zone, the game intrinsically knows when an area is more populated, and compensates for that by making sure you never run out of bad guys.

Things went badly, as we spread out.  Mazharbasha and Reid were taken out in the wave of foes, and myself and Felix took for cover.  As we shouted over the comms that we were working our way to their bodies to protect their gear, new ‘friends’ arrived, and while they helped mop up the mess, they also stole gear from our downed comrades.

Hearing a British teenager go off on someone is the most polite ranting I have ever heard.

We cleaned up, got a good bit of loot, and started heading for an extraction site to get what we had earned out of there.  The trick was, the location was already occupied by some other agents that had started an extraction; the agent’s names also looked very, very familiar from just a short time ago.

“I’m going to kill them.”

“Are you sure we want to go rogue?  They already got our stuff…”

“Just take two shots, I’m not going to let them get away with that…”

“Hey guys, we’ll get gear in the sports shop, let’s just not make enemies right now.”

“Wait, look look look, one of them’s down, this’ll be brilliant.”

“If we get a chance to steal our loot back, then let’s go for it, but-…”

“Brilliant, watch this!”

Our entire team lit up bright red as sniper rounds went through the other agent who was running to assist his wounded team member.  Our own comms lit up with shouting, confusion, and laughter as Felix cheered on about how good a play it was, Reid was trying to say we should get the hell out of there immediately before hell was rained down upon us, and I tried to stop us from firing on the other lone agents around the extraction point.

The regained loot, plus a little extra, was split up and put on the incoming chopper.  Our team dashed north to the Morgan Library, moving to hide on its rooftop until things died down.  Felix was laughing, about how we couldn’t be taken down now, even as the now respawned agents followed us for a while before realizing they were outnumbered.

I have to admit, deep down in my dark heart, I was pleased.

Seeing Red

The Kalesse Sports Store in DZ03 is a death trap.  Reid and I had found this out previously, when we wandered in the front door; it’s a maze of empty shelves that funnel you right to the stairs inside to the 2nd floor, and balconies on the upper areas are able to fire down on those below.  We had died immediately, and had said we shouldn’t go back.

 

Fortunately, our new friends had been outside there before, and they had seen a different way in.  There was a way right up to the third floor from the outside street by climbing up a set of scaffolds.  We were going to take it slow, and we were prepping each other for the experience – closed off areas, multiple elite enemies spawning in on us – it was going to be a mess, but as long as we kept our composure….

…As we got up to the first set of scaffolds, we all saw it on our screens: there was a downed agent on the third floor, crawling towards cover.  All at once, the talk of a careful, planned approach vanished as we vaulted up the next set of scaffolds and jumped into the broken window to gain access.

Down the inside walkway was a pair of gang members from Rikers, backing up while shooting down the stairs at the fallen Division agent.  I gave the order to open fire, and shoot for the head of the NPCs, so we wouldn’t hit them.  Reid started running forward to try and save this poor soul.

That’s when we realized, too late, that the downed player wasn’t alone.  His friend, rushing to save him, ran up the stairs to him at the same time we opened fire.  Our entire team flagged bright red, and the ISAC narrator warned all of us that we had just disavowed the agency we had sworn to protect.

The agent turned and opened fire on us.  We gunned him down in a fit of panic, taking him, the Rikers members, and his bleeding out friend all in the same volley.

Point of No Return

Reid was yelling at us.  Sure, friendly fire in the heat of battle was one thing, but we just had hit, and purposefully taken down a player that was already on the ground.  At the same time, X_X_F_E_L_I_X_ was now vaulting forward, laughing at the large piles of blue loot that had dropped, from both PC and NPC alike. Mazharbasha seemed a bit stunned, and for my part, there wasn’t time to really make a moral quandary about how we were terrible people.

We were now trapped in a building filled with elite bad guys, with large targets painted on our heads thanks to the rogue status.  The clock started at 90 seconds, which isn’t exactly long, but engaging in combat of any kind, including NPCs, freezes that number.

“Alright, we can’t freak out.  Find the bad elites, and let’s take them out, hide up here until the counters go down, and”

“One of them is shooting me!”

“An elite?”

“No, a player!  Aww, that’s brilliant, just sniped him, yeah!  We’re being clever now.”

…Okay, so, things weren’t going according to plan.  Moments later Mazharbasha shouted that three elites had turned a corner from the back of the first floor and were firing up at him, but there was a crate they were guarding at the same time.  Red dots filled the radar as the NPCs were starting to flood us, but since we had the high ground, spread out to the mountains of cover below.

The next ten minutes were a blur of murder, loot, and shouting.  I found myself wading down the stairwells into the fray, because my role was one of tank, using riot shield and pistol to control the flow of battle.  Reid and Maz were throwing turrets down from the 3rd floor, and dropping as many healing stations as possible to cover space.  Sometimes, one of us would go down, but we had enough adrenaline and cover to get each other back up.  We had fought hard for this pack of much better loot, damnit, and no one wanted to lose it inside of this death trap.

Players started coming in from the first floor, down that long entryway.  Some of their names seemed vaguely familiar, and they had guns trained not on any NPCs….but us.

I had run clear out of the ability to care or worry about right or wrong.  I pulled up my pistol and pulled the trigger until they went down.  Cheers went up as we kept living and anyone else that entered the sports store kept dying.  NPCs tried to take it back, but we were simply ready for them.  The cheers got louder.  Felix kept getting more smug as the other players, some of which were clearly out for revenge, couldn’t make it back into the building.  Maz was joining in on the sounds of triumph as our kill counts kept going up, and I think I remember myself cheering too.

Slowly, the stream of players and of NPCs slowed down.  Our rogue counters timed down, and our bags were filled with loot.  It was time to try and escape.

I had personally killed three players.  Part of me was disappointed when the excuse to keep murdering them stopped.

Rooftop Revenge

Reid was, by this point, pleading that we didn’t start any more trouble.  We all had full loot, and after the last firefight, probably had more than enough enemies out there.  I was trying to swallow my feelings of murderous rage, and calling for a cease fire.  Felix was now offically the devil on our shoulder.

“Look, that one’s alone.  It’ll be brilliant if we take him out from all the way out here!"

All of us shouted back to not start.  We were climbing up to the rooftop extraction point, the one closest to the sports center.  It was known for having waves of Rikers, so no one wanted things to go badly.  The fact that all of us had full loot helped our case for not continuing our war with absolutely everything that moved.  Still, the wish to make sure nothing moved within an 100-yard radius of us, just to make sure, was pretty strong by this point.

The extraction started, and within moments, there were four or five other agents near us.  I have a pretty good feeling we were going to be destroyed, but then the NPCs came.  In the Dark Zone, the NPC waves feel like zombies at times, simply because more show up whenever you and other players start making too much noise.  There were elites even climbing over the various shipping containers and cement blocks, and everyone was running for cover.

The helicopter came, and absolutely everyone dashed to get their gear on it.  Each helicopter can only grab four extraction bags, and while no one was fighting during the chaos of the battle, no one wanted to be left behind for fighting so hard.  Fortunately, karma saved Reid and Mazharbasha, who were close enough to clip on their bags.

That’s when in the heat of battle and the rush to the helecopter, grenades were thrown as suppression against the enemy.  I don’t know whose it was, but again, suddenly, our entire team was flagged as rogue.  There was a wave of shouting: there were too many other players, and too much happening for us to just mow down the problem.  Other agents were down on the ground while their friends ran to save them, and many of them – again, some of the names very familiar from the sporting good store – were looking at us like we were the enemy.

Felix shouted to light them up.  Reid was running to try and revive one of the downed other agents to show we weren’t terrible people.   Maz ran for cover.  I remember covering Reid while he tried to revive that agent, by shooting the other player trying to save his friend at the same time.  My earpiece was erupting with people yelling that we needed to run, or needed to kill all the other players.

I am fully aware that I deserved this.

The bullets came from everywhere.  I hit the ground at the same time Reid did, and watched as many, many justified players ran up to take loot from my and Felix’s bodies.

Revenge Solves Nothing, And Causes More Problems…But It’s Hilarious.

When we all respawned, civility was gone.  There was a pile of loot at an extraction point, and before I was done loading back into the game, Felix was running back up there with a sniper rifle.  The hope that his gear hadn’t been stolen was on the front of his mind, and while Reid and our other new friend were happy just trying to get out of the Dark Zone or going on another loot run inside DZ03, it was too late: we were rogues again, and the next twenty minutes were us getting the remnants of our gear – and the gear of people we had killed – out of the zone.

We were legitimately afraid to leave that extraction point after besieging it to take it back.  People that came up on their own were sniped off the rooftop.  We played king of the hill with NPCs and players alike for two more extractions to get what we could.  It was late, and we were tired, but a resolute determination to get what was ‘ours’ had set in.  We waited until there was no movement nearby before finally climbing down.

As we left the Dark Zone finally, we were still convincing Felix not to start another fight as other agents started following us back to the entrance.

…It’s safe to say, since that fateful run, The Division was even more fascinating for me.  I couldn’t help but love the dynamics, the push and shove of trying to be friends, but also being always ready to pull the trigger.  When it was Reid and I alone again the next day, we settled on a set choice of never initiating, but always finishing a fight if it started; if either side accidentally flagged as rogue, the Dark Zone was officially too trigger happy to wait and try to calm things down the normal way.  It was kill or be killed if you saw the chance to kill a rogue…or if you were the rogue, you were now a target.

Of course, that same day, Felix joined our group after seeing us online again, and within the hour, ended up in an hour long stand-off with two professional rogues that were murdering lone agents.  We hunted each other down multiple times, until our group ended up being the rogues instead, and hid in a third story little niche hoping they wouldn’t get to us.  Which worked, until they both switched to master-mod seeker mines to roll up the stairs.

When we were trapped with this mural behind us in a dead end, that was probably a hint that we were going to have a bad day.

Things Can Always Go Bad, But That’s The Fun

As of me writing this, the new patch for The Division has just finished downloading; it’s a patch that adds more content all over, but when it comes to the Dark Zone, it’s added a new little game, where crates of high value gear that are NOT contaminated are going to be dropped off about every hour.  That gear is surrounded by very strong NPCs, and it’s first come, first serve to see what’s inside.

I can’t wait to see what terrible things are going to happen in the dash for that gear.  I can’t wait to see what terrible things happen to me and Reid when we sneak back up into the Dark Zone again.  For that reason alone, The Division’s experiment in PvP is a success for me, and I can’t wait to see what they do with it next.

Have you found yourself stuck in no-win situations in the Dark Zone?  Do you have The Division war stories of your own?  Tell us about them here!  Like our articles?  Check out our Facebook, or follow our Twitter to stay on top of all of our newest content.  Want to help finance us our writing?  Check out our Patreon, and we swear we’ll try not to drop those funds when we die in the Dark Zone.