It’s nearly been a week since players first got their hands on The Division, the latest hybrid-MMO from Ubisoft – and with it, its signature area the Dark Zone.
Located in the center of the map, the Dark Zone is an area where players can score some of the game’s best gear — from scavenging, looting enemies, and leveling up your Dark Zone Rank through XP gains. It’s a system we at Inverse really enjoyed back during the alpha and beta testing phase of the game, but after devoting more time to it this weekend, it’s safe to say a few improvements are needed.
While in the Dark Zone, players have one primary goal: To gather loot from crates and bosses scattered on the map. During the alpha and beta testing phase, these bosses and crates were limited in number, which really made the experience a little dull. You essentially run from point A to B continuously, grab loot, and store it for later. The key to making things interesting? A a wild card element: Players could kill you can take your loot for themselves, making every moment with another player a risk. While playing the alpha and beta players continuously engaged each other, encouraging manhunts and placing danger all around the map. But now that the full game is out and everyone is diving into the Dark Zone? Nobody is willing to take the risk due to lack of rewards – and it’s killing the appeal of the Dark Zone.
Players have a few different rewards and items to manage in the DZ. The key one is your Dark Zone level, which is accumulated through killing other players and enemies within the Dark Zone or completely other actions like extractions. Unlike your actual character level however, your DZ level can downgrade after death – meaning that you can lose access to specific gear that requires DZ levels and the ability to open higher level chests for better loot. Along with this rank, players also have to worry about their Dark Zone Credits (the currency for vendors in the DZ) and Dark Zone Keys (used to open high-level chests for loot) on top of their collected loot.
After death in the DZ, players lose their loot alongside a decent chunk of DZ credits, their DZ experience and a DZ key. It’s fair due to the nature of the zone where greater risk leads to greater reward, but when it comes to engaging other players well, nobody seems even consider it worthwhile.
The Dark Zone is suffering from a lack of player vs. player combat, namely because Ubisoft just hasn’t made it worth their time to be anything besides a crime-fighting Batman.
The issue lies in the Rogue Protocol system, which kicks in after you’ve opened fire on another player within the Dark Zone. This system places a marker over your head for other players nearby to see alongside a bounty for taking you down – including a reward of DZ experience, credits and naturally, the loot you’re carrying. Now, the more you kill, the higher this bounty goes until the point of manhunt, where every player in the area has you marked on their map in order to incite a zone-wide bounty hunt. As I’ve previously mentioned, these moments are tense and filled with action, but in the full game being the target of a manhunt is one of the biggest risks you can take because of the progress you lose if you fail to survive.
If you manage to survive a manhunt, you’ll only be rewarded a mediocre sum of credits and DZ experience. But if you die, you’ll typically loose a few thousand DZ credits alongside a few DZ levels to boot – which is equivalent to a few hours of progress.
So if you place this system in a world where everyone playing the game is concerned about getting the best gear in the game for their characters, players are going to opt to work together or ignore each other for the sake of farming gear to further themselves first. It’s just easier to ignore other players and focus on the bosses for gear, at least until your character is decked out in top-end gear. Then, it may be worth the risk to engage others, but at that point there’s really no incentive to do so outside of boredom.
But how can The Division fix it?
The system they have developed is a fragile one that lays on two different competing foundations. On one side, you have to make the rewards for pursing rogue agents worthwhile to other players who would typically ignore the danger in search of playing it safe to farm loot for their character. But on the other side, you have to make the reward for engaging another player equally as satisfying without so great a risk to someone’s DZ level and credits that they refrain from doing it. It’s a tough teeter-totter to balance, but one that the games developers need to fix before it falls down.
The simple solution is to find increase the rewards for going rogue and successfully surviving while also decreasing the risk involved. By lowering the amount of DZ level and DZ credits rogue players lose after being killed by a friendly player while increasing the amount for surviving an encounter after going rogue, the developers could successfully address the problem. Obviously, this reward can’t be too high as to encourage consistent player vs. player engagement by everyone either. I also feel that by placing a marker on rogue player’s heads with their exact location puts them at an immediate disadvantage, so by changing that to ‘general area’ location on friendly player’s maps – it would put rogue agents on a level playing field when fighting against those hunting them down.
Granted, this wouldn’t be a fix for the Dark Zone entirely, which suffers from a handful of other balancing issues among the various systems at play including the Rogue Protocol system. But what it would do is encourage more of the open conflict that is supposed to exist in the Dark Zone according to The Division’s plot and the developer’s intentions.
The Dark Zone itself is brimming with potential to become a truly next generation game mechanic, all it needs is a little work to bring it up to snuff – starting with the Rogue Protocol System.