The Division 2's Dark Zone PvP Can Be Fun, If You Don't Mind the Chaos
Betrayal and greed are prominent in The Division 2's PvP Dark Zones, which allows players to go rogue and turn against others in the blink of an eye.
Seven months have passed since the events of the first Division game—it is now the summer, and with it comes storms, flooding, heat, and decay. There are a lot of frightening words used when describing the state of the world after the Green Poison left civilization in ruin. Decay. Collapse. Chaos. What The Division 2 focuses on are the communities and settlements attempting to rebuild and regain safety, but they are hanging by a thread.
This is a scenario that the 40-hour campaign will present, said co-developer Red Storm Entertainment. But what the studio wanted to show off in their North Carolina offices was the player-versus-player aspect of The Division 2, and just where these new Dark Zones fit into this depiction of Washington D.C. in crisis. In going along with the chaos of the new world, what Dark Zone offers is a PvP experience based around intensity, paranoia, and greed.
Red Storm laid down the details for two aspects of PvP—there was Conflict, a traditional organized PvP mode that pitted squads against each other. But the more enticing aspect here was Dark Zone, a player-versus-enemy-versus-player experience that is seamlessly built into the open world, likely familiar to players of the first game. Where this second game differs is the fact that these are Dark Zones, plural—there isn’t just one epicenter in D.C., but three.
Each Dark Zone has its own gameplay style, visual density, and story of how it came to be, and as such, each has their own story mission that is played in private before the full Dark Zone online experience is opened up. Red Storm walked us through one such mission, specifically the one for Dark Zone East. I’m someone who isn’t too familiar with the first Division, but the relatively basic third-person controls were a language that was quite easy to comprehend. Of course, having never played the first game extensively, I spent some downtime in The Division 2 running around and closing every car door I saw.
The structure for this introductory mission was relatively simple—shoot some guards, open the gate to the Zone, enter the checkpoint, scan areas, shoot some more guards, gather supplies, and so on, all with a voice through a headset giving the generic player characters instructions. As simplistic as I make it to be, it did exactly as intended by introducing gameplay concepts and common tasks to familiarize myself of the bread and butter of the Dark Zone. I became used to the UI, played around with my loadout, tested different skills and equipment, and learned the importance of looting and extracting said loot.
More importantly, the Macarena was an emoji in the game, although without any music, it was perhaps a sadder and more pitiful sight than any of the corpses that adorned the desolate streets of D.C.
When talking about Dark Zone, Red Storm shined a light on the enhanced Rogue System. For starters, the new Rogue loop adds normalization, making the Dark Zone an even playing field to create what they call a “fair, yet intense experience.” The developers have taken player feedback to heart, and The Division 2 will make an attempt to reduce toxicity and improve the online experience. This means no VoIP between hostiles (voice chat stops the moment bullets are exchanged), increased the server count, and the implementation of an improved anti-cheat system.
Those are just the basic preliminary points for the Rogue System—things get a bit more interesting when we get back to those negative terms, like “theft” and “greed.” The risk-reward is increased in the PvE aspect, and players are given new options that weren’t present in the first game. One example given was a locked chest—in the first game, you’d have to leave and farm for a key, but in The Division 2, just break the lock and take what’s inside. Instead of sharing supply drops, steal them—but in doing so, you go Rogue.
That is where the madness began during our own play sessions. Like in the first game, a player becomes disavowed once they kill another player—continue your dastardly deeds and the game sets you as a target for a manhunt, making you an objective for surrounding players. Going Rogue can also be toggled manually, but regardless of how it happens, going Rogue surrounded by other players will instantly change the dynamic. Bullets will fly, teammates will be downed, loot will be dropped, and upon respawning, rinse and repeat.
While I may have reveled in the initial chaos, I did come to a point where I forgot just what the heck I was supposed to be doing in the first place.
Perhaps it could be chalked up to my naivete and lack of Division experience, but I surprised myself more than once picking up loot only to put my entire squad in a rogue state. Sometimes we would induce the role upon ourselves to complete Rogue Action objectives, which to my understanding would lead us to some more goodies. Skull-looking waypoints would pop up on the map for us to complete a series of objectives, but these mini-quests usually ended in confusion for my squad—waypoints would seemingly appear and disappear from our HUD, or the Rogue state would expire, ultimately wasting our time with an incomplete objective.
That isn’t to say that we weren’t able to create our own fun from the Rogue mechanics. At one point after a supply drop, we set up outside that area to potentially ambush another squad coming for a subsequent airdrop. We positioned ourselves carefully behind obstructions, occasionally questioning if they saw we were coming or not. After much patience and watching the supply drop commence and conclude, we opened fire.
Yes, they totally did see us, and yes, our ambush failed to a comical degree. It was a moment I rarely felt in these types of online games, where we truly created our own moment. While success may have been satisfying, trying to intricately plan something with the tools The Division 2 provided us was just about as fun. I couldn’t say the same for the random chaotic shootouts that I would often find myself in. The Rogue System does provide an interesting dynamic where anything can happen when you collide with players with unknown intentions, but left to their own devices and the Dark Zone becomes a pointless shooting gallery.
While we didn’t get to experience this, the endgame of The Division 2 will feature a sort of free-for-all “Occupied” Dark Zones. Friendly fire is on, normalization is turned off, and there are no visual indicators for Rogue status. I for one look forward to seeing what this Wild West D.C. will look like.
The organized Conflict PvP felt “traditional,” in that it was here where The Division 2 most resembled other shooters. There are three unique maps that are custom-built for PvP and inaccessible in the open world. Progression is separate from the rest of the game, matchmaking is skill-based, clans are supported, and game types at launch include “Skirmish,” the team deathmatch mode where teams deplete each other’s limited respawns, and Domination, with three control points to capture.
Like in the Dark Zone, players can utilize equipment such as a drone or a turret to provide support fire, or a scanner to reveal positions of enemies. These become a bigger part of the meta-strategy when put into close-quarters objective matches, but by and large, Conflict felt like any other multiplayer shooting experience. Not necessarily bad, as there was still satisfaction to be gained from calling shots and creating winning plays, but everything seemed less dynamic without those fun Dark Zone mechanics we were just playing with.
From my brief time with it, The Division 2 is a highly-competent and polished online shooter. I was intrigued by the RPG elements, and I could have spent the longest time trying to find a perfect loadout, and conceptually (and usually in practice) the Rogue System added a fun, unstable element to the usual online shooter structure. But as someone who fell out of other similar titles after my own friends stopped playing them, I can’t say that I can imagine myself getting on The Division 2 by my lonesome. Otherwise, it’s just another game where I shoot people—and I love myself too much to hold a solo Macarena dance party.
The Division 2 launches later this year on March 15 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.