In a multiplayer-controlled video game world, player vs. player has always been a huge priority among game developers, as they work on their next big project. Over the years, it has had many shapes and forms, ranging from the traditional “arena-style” multiplayer found in Halo to the open world multiplayer found in the large MMO shooters like DayZ — which is something that many, many people wanted to believe in.
Back in 2012, the open world multiplayer of DayZ was a new concept that threw a large group of players into a zombie apocalypse with the ability to kill or help each other. At first, the results were phenomenal. Players made their own experiences, helped each other survive and obtain the best loot — but a few months after the concept began, it quickly started to fall apart. Players started to kill each other for fun in the game, going so far as to camp the areas where new players spawned in without gear for laughs. This behavior led to a “shoot on sight” rule being the first thought in most player’s minds when encountering fellow survivors, thus crippling the potential for the unique multiplayer world DayZ was aiming to accomplish. Gone were the days of friendly experiences and players banding together, and in came the days of everyone being a bandit for the sake of fun or the next great YouTube video. Everybody knew banditry and betrayal were a part of the game’s formula, sure, but they weren’t the only path that the development team had hoped to inspire players to follow.
Since then, many similar titles and mods have been released: H1Z1, Infestation: Survivor Stories, ARMA 3: DayZ, and more — but none have accomplished the task of bringing a completed open world multiplayer game to the market that encourages interactions besides playing killing.
Come March this year, The Division may just change that.
Set in post-apocalyptic New York after a virus outbreak, The Division puts you in the shoes of a sleeper agent who was activated as the last line of defense. It’s filled with cooperative gameplay, lukewarm missions, cover-based combat, and cool gadgets — but the best part about the game so far lies in the Dark Zone areas of the game.
Located around the map, the Dark Zone areas were locations where the government tried to quarantine those infected with the virus before it spread across New York. But after containment failed, the military and population quickly evacuated — leaving all their gear behind. In the game, these zones are where the best gear is located and the only known place where you can engage in player vs. player combat.
When in the Dark Zones, your main goal is to pick up loot from the various crates scattered about the area and extract it via helicopter. The catch? Other players can kill you and take all of your hard-earned gear for themselves. Naturally, I assumed this would lead to a community of players who would just shoot on sight — but the results were actually quite the opposite during my time with the beta client of the game, which led to one of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve had in the last few years.
Ubisoft clearly felt the need to avoid a situation similar to what DayZ became, and put a few clever design tricks into The Division that work to keep the experience enjoyable. The first of these is Rogue Protocol, which serves as a bounty system within the Dark Zone. When you attack another player openly, you will be marked as Rogue. This essentially paints a target on your back for every other player in the Dark Zone who encounters you over a limited period of time, who will get a reward for killing you. As expected, the more players you kill the higher your bounty will become — eventually causing the game to make you a manhunt target, who is marked on the map of all players as an objective of the zone. I was honestly surprised at how efficient Rogue Protocol was at keeping players in check while in the Dark Zone. Not only did it keep a vast majority of players from engaging me openly, but it also made sure that those who did had a severe risk (and reward) for doing so.
Like Destiny, The Division also allows you to party up with your friends and communicate via voice chat — but, it also allows you and your friends to communicate with every other player out in the world via open proximity-based voice chat. The result is a tense few moments of voice-communication where players are trying to decide if they want to be friends or enemies — and it’s beautiful to witness every time. I had numerous encounters with players that ended in hours of friendship while we roamed the Dark Zone, and plenty of encounters that also ended in me becoming a manhunt target, which were entertaining and intense no matter how they played out.
That being said, it’s important to note that the Dark Zones are only part of the experience offered in The Division — with cooperative missions and a complete story set to be the backbone of the game. But if the beta test from this weekend is any indication, the player vs. player section of the game may be the best part of the entire package. While The Division certainly isn’t a perfect take on the open world multiplayer genre, it sure is a step in the right direction for player vs. player combat thanks to the Dark Zone.