One of the most fascinating features of Tom Clancy’s The Division is the Dark Zone, a lawless area where players can go up against other players. The Dark Zone is dramatically unlike most traditional multiplayer modes, however; here there are no leaderboards, no formal confrontations, not even game modes in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s an area where players can seek out unique and valuable gear… which might be carried by non-player characters, but might also be carried by other players. It’s hard to distinguish friend from foe in this situation, which leads to the development of a few significant character archetypes:
The most common denizen of the Dark Zone. These characters bolt at the slightest movement, loud sound, or bright light. The briefest glimpse of another player will send them scurrying in the opposite direction. Most commonly found furtively diving from cover to cover on otherwise deserted streets. To be fair, as a newcomer to the Dark Zone (as most Squirrels are), this is probably a sound strategy. Until you get the lay of the land, you’re going to want to be very careful. But you don’t need to assume that everything is out to get you. Just most things.
In contrast to the Squirrel, the Joiner actively seeks other players. This is also a sound strategy, as having someone along to watch your back can be extremely beneficial in these mean streets. And The Division makes forming groups (of up to four players) incredibly easy, with a simple system that’s activated by highlighting a player and tapping a button. However, it’s important to learn how to take “no” for an answer. A particularly neurotic sub-species of Joiner will hitch himself to any passing wagon; in most cases, this may be completely fine for all parties. But dedicated solo players may value their alone time enough to take… drastic action… to preserve it.
The next stage of the Squirrel’s life cycle is a more cynical variety: the Opportunist. These characters continue to do their best to remain unseen and unnoticed – until loot comes into play. Opportunists can be frequently found skulking around the periphery of Extraction sites, hoping for a shootout as players scramble to get their contaminated loot onto the chopper for cleaning. If gunfire erupts, you’ll find the Opportunist sprinting through the field, scooping up dropped gear. Interestingly, the Opportunist’s natural enemy is other Opportunists, who might see that new collection as an irresistible target.
In the Dark Zone, you either die an Opportunist, or live long enough to become a Villain. As players gain better gear and more experience, they can begin to see the influx of lower-level players as a private feeding ground. It’s Villains who tend to initiate those firefights around Extraction sites, but the more clever members of the species work with a bit more subtlety. See, if you take down another player, you’re marked as a Rogue Agent: A red skull will appear over your head, giving everyone in the area your exact location. But that marker wears off over time, as long as you’re not actively engaged in fighting another player. So the particularly nasty Villains will wait to encounter solo players, take them down, grab their gear, and then hide out until they’re no longer marked as Rogue. That means literally anyone you run into could be a Villain in disguise.
What’s worse than a villain? A whole group of villains, roaming the ruined streets of New York with murder on their minds. There is most definitely strength in numbers in The Division, and when that strength is turned toward nefarious ends, well… things can get ugly. Your first indicator that a posse has formed will be a string of announcements of player deaths. Soon, you’ll see a group of skull icons, indicating where the posse is operating. If you’re feeling brave, you can wade in and try to take one out; the bounty for doing so will give you a nice boost to cash and experience points. But expect to die. And should you choose to return upon respawning, expect to die early and often.
If all this sounds nerve-wracking, you’re right – it absolutely is. But understand that the Dark Zone is an entirely optional portion of The Division. You can complete the entire game without ever having to risk your neck at the hands of other players. However, keep in mind that the very best loot is almost always found in the Dark Zone. So you’ll need to balance that reward against the risk of embarrassing defeat.
Tom Clancy’s The Division is available now on Xbox One, and Xbox One players will have 30-day exclusive access to the upcoming Underground and Survival expansion packs.