Alone In The Dark

If you’ve been reading my recent articles, which I doubt, as there’s gaming time to be had, then you may recall that it took me a while to get into the swing of things within The Division‘s Dark Zone.  I was being killed by rogues at practically every turn, and some of the general encounters in DZ05 and DZ06 left me clawing the ground, begging for someone to come by and give me a second chance.  If anyone did happen by, it was more likely that they’d clock me on the head with the butt of their gun rather than offer me a helping hand, and so the Dark Zone was somewhere that I avoided, for the most part.  After a while I tried again and managed to work out the best way to get through it solo, which is why I offered my advice in The Division: A Guide to Surviving the Dark Zone Solo.

More recently, however, things were starting to get a little stagnant with the PS4 version, mainly because neither me nor my partner-in-plague, Pete, were able to make our way through the various incursions without dying constantly and losing heart.  Being unable to complete these new (free) missions meant that our gear and weaponry wasn’t advancing as quickly as those we’d come across on our travels.  The Dark Zone became a place where, even though we’re obviously playing within our own level bracket, we were having issues with being massively underpowered.  Rather than give up entirely, we focused our attention to the daily and weekly HVT missions but, as they’re PVE rather than PVP, the weaponry and gear maxed out below what we needed.

Hello. Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home?

Then, a week or so ago during some quiet weekend time, I boot up the mini gaming rig and went back to my PC character.  I’d only taken them as far as clearing out the Base of Operations, so they’d reached level 5 and not done anything beyond simply getting to that particular level.  I sat down, closed the door away from the ridiculous noise level of two role-playing kids, and started to plough through the main game again.  With missions slowly reaching completion, the character was starting to pick up some decent gear and weaponry, and so I thought I’d venture into the Dark Zone once again. Sadly, I was still very much underpowered, and my level 11 character was being quickly destroyed by veterans with skulls above their heads, telling me in no uncertain terms that I WOULD die if I dared to attack them.  I did, and I did.

A few days ago, however, something odd happened.  I took a break from the main-game missions and thought I’d brave the Dark Zone once again, knowing that I could at least do some decent damage with my blue First Wave M1A, even if it meant retreating constantly to give myself enough distance to survive and do some damage.  I went in, as usual, through the south-eastern entrance and cleared the first corner without incident.  Almost immediately, the crowd of elites appeared in front of me, fronted by Cowboy.  I attacked, ran around on the floor like an idiot to avoid incendiary grenades, and eventually took them all out.  I picked up my spoils and carried on through the alleyway into Korea Town where I, once again, cleared the area of all enemies.

By this point, I had maxed out all eight spaces in my contaminated bag.  I knew that I had to either extract, or forfeit all of the pieces that I’d worked hard to collect, but the most recent experiences of extracting within the PS4′s Dark Zone had been nothing but rogues descending upon us to either hijack the extraction or kill us before we were even able to hang the items on the rope.  With it being hard enough as a team of two, I knew it was going to be a struggle trying to attempt it solo.

Regardless, I made my way around the corner and up to the extraction point.  My radar wasn’t showing any red, and so I called for the extraction and put myself in a position where I could see the approximate drop-point of the rope, but still had enough cover to be able to take care of myself should the need arise.  But it didn’t.  At no point did any of the surrounding enemies leave their posts and venture towards my place of safety, and no non-hostiles appeared to go for that last-minute rogue status and rob me of my spoils.  The chopper appeared overhead, the pilot announced himself, the rope dropped… and I had a decision to make – should I hang my items and hope for the best, or leave it until the last few seconds so that they can’t be hijacked?

I opted to hang back, pretty secure in the knowledge that within the final ten seconds, I would see at least one non-hostile run towards the rope or, if the PS4 experience was anything to go by, a group of three or four non-hostiles primed to go rogue at any moment.  Yet they didn’t.  As the countdown continued, I saw a few flashes of red as a couple of enemy stragglers made their way up and were subsequently taken out by my M1A, but at no point did any other player come near me, let alone rogue me.

Extraction successful!  As the extraction report obscured my ability to see where I was going (why do this?), I ran off to the nearest checkpoint to get a closer look at my spoils, and then headed back out.  I explored the Dark Zone for more than an hour, and never encountered a single person.  There were no rogue skulls appearing on my map anywhere, no non-hostile agents running around to take cover or quickly gauge my threat level before either opening fire or going on their own merry way.  In fact, for a couple of hours I was able to go through the whole rinse-repeat cycle of taking down enemy mobs, extracting their drops, and either breaking down, keeping, or selling anything that I didn’t want.

Then I realised something pretty damned important – none of the landmarks were being cleared.  I couldn’t do them some of them anyway, as I didn’t have a high enough virus filter, so I wasn’t actually bothering to head for landmarks.  I was literally wandering the streets, taking out every mob I stumbled across, and the occasional street-level boss, but I hadn’t yet ventured in to any buildings.  My first drop-in was at Kalkesse Sports Store, where I was able to take out Zeke and his minions before emptying their loot chest.  As I opened up each Div Tech case, each weapon cache, each loot chest, and cleared each landmark it became pretty clear to me that I was, in fact, on my own.

At one point I headed back to the door of the checkpoint, knowing that enemies never came down that way unless attacked, and hoping that nobody would burst through the door and rogue me, and I just stood there for five minutes, staring at my map.  There were no extractions going on, none of the landmarks were being cleared, and no rogue icons popped up at any point.  Over the past few nights, with the exception of one session last night with at least three or four other agents (who remained friendly, and shared a few extractions with us), Pete and I have been able to enjoy the Dark Zone and capitalise on its current barren state by levelling up as much as possible.  In just a few days, I’m already at DZ level 32, which is half of where I managed to reach on the PS4 since the game launched back in March.

If this keeps up, we’ll both manage to hit level 99 in a couple of weeks, and never again have to wish we had a high enough level to buy that beautiful high-end blueprint with the level 80 pre-requisite.  I’m sure this will all change as soon as we reach level 30 within the main game, however, as we’ll be back in the bracket where most end-game players find themselves.  For the time being, however, the solitude is bliss.

Last five articles by Mark R


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