The Dark Zone is The Division’s hardcore arena. From the moment you walk through its gates you’re a corpse in waiting. Every enemy inside is powerful, armoured, and ready to gun you down. And while the other players roaming the zone are not necessarily hostile, every single one could potentially be a serial killer despite their friendly bobble beanie.
If ever an area of a videogame needed a survival guide, the Dark Zone is it. Like mothers watching their children leave home, we’re very worried about what may happen to you when venturing past those imposing gates. That’s why we’re here with tips to help you stay on your feet. This is our guide to The Division’s PvP world, and how to make the most of it.
On the level
Before you even take one step beyond that boundary, are you ready? Ideally we’re talking level 30 ready, but don’t even consider opening the door until you’re level 10. Why? Because this place is dog-eat-dog. Few will show you mercy, and death comes with steep penalties. If you can’t stay alive in the zone, you’ll be actively punishing yourself, so you need to be solidly confident with the game’s combat, and have a good set of skills and weapons you can rely on.
Map the zone
The Dark Zone is split into various districts, each one with checkpoints to the east and west that lead back to the main city. These gates are where you’ll be resurrected if you die. Like Safe Houses in the PvE areas, they need to be visited before they are available to you, so it’s best to skirt the edges of the zone and unlock all these potential spawn points before you head deeper into the area. The last thing you want is to die and be forced to walk ten blocks to get back to where you were.
Using a headset is very useful in The Division, especially if you want to make it clear whose side you’re on (or convince people you’re ‘safe’ *wink wink*). Do remember that voice chat is proximity based though: if you’re chatting to your squad about ambushing other players, stand too close to your targets and they’ll be able to hear exactly what you’re saying.
If you’re a bit shy or don’t have a headset, emotes are your best friend. Jumping jacks have become the universal sign of “I’m friendly!”, and can be performed by typing ‘/exercise’ into the chat panel. Use emotes to signal to others your intentions and help prevent violence.
Plan your expedition
Teaming up is the best way to survive the Dark Zone. As a group you can effectively battle the area’s tough AI enemies, and you’ll want to kill them to claim the rare loot drops they carry. To get a team together, use a matchmaking laptop at a Safe House, and then co-ordinate using voice chat. If you can, group up with friends you know. This should (hopefully!) eliminate any risk of allies turning traitor on you.
Ideally you should make purple and yellow enemies your core targets. Gangs hang around at the intersections of streets, and you’ll notice boss characters with names leading them. These guys drop the best loot, as well as Pheonix Credits: a special currency you can earn when you’ve hit Level 30, used to buy top-tier items.
During your travels keep an eye out for chests; they don’t always contain the best loot, but everything is worth grabbing, even if you just break it down for crafting components. Some chests unlock based on your DZ Rank, while others use DZ keys dropped by AI enemies.
Progress with caution, sweep the streets of enemies, compliment your skills with team members, and you’ll soon have a bag full of loot ready to extract.
Extract with vigilance
You may know by now that any treasures you find in the Dark Zone are contaminated, and can’t be equipped straight away. Instead loot must be extracted for cleaning first, and until then it stays in a bright yellow bag on your belt.
To extract your newly-found loot you’ll need to go to one of the gold-marked extraction zones. They’re normally surrounded by enemies, so be sure to clean up before you fire off a flare to summon the helicopter and start the extraction countdown.
The other thing you may notice at extraction points is other players hanging around. Simply put: they want your stuff. When the countdown is up their plan is to shoot you in the back and take your loot for themselves, extracting it with the very chopper you called in. If you see these guys, be wary: it may be best to walk a few blocks and find a less-busy area.
Firing a flare will attract people from around the map. Perhaps they just want to take advantage of your chopper and airlift their own gear. Perhaps they want to fill your face full of 9mm. Be sure to be in defensive positions when the countdown starts, because you may need to fight before the extraction is done and dusted.
Understand the ranks
When in the Dark Zone you’ll notice you don’t level up. That’s because you can’t earn traditional XP here. Instead you gain Dark Zone XP, which contributes to your Dark Zone Rank (the purple number and bar at the top of your HUD). Your Rank is very important as it dictates what you can unlock in the zone. There are chests and loot items that will be unavailable to anyone under a certain level, and gear sold at checkpoint vendors is only available to DZ ranked agents, too.
Basically it’s important to boost that rank as high as possible. However, as you’re about to learn, your DZ Rank is flexible. It can go down as well as up.
Death is costly
Snuffing it in the main city has zero impact on your progression, but it’s an entirely different story in the Dark Zone. Die here and you pay a price. That toll comes in a variety of forms: loot, cash, XP, and keys. You’ll lose a portion of each every time you die.
The loot you’ll lose is what you’ve picked up during your adventures in the zone. If you die before you can extract, it’s left on the floor where you snuffed it. Should you be speedy you could make it back to that location in time to reclaim it. The more likely story is that another player will dive in and steal it for themselves.
Less reclaimable are the other death taxes. You’ll lose a portion of XP, which could result in your Dark Zone Rank being lowered, as well as a chunk of Dark Zone credits (money gained in the zone that can only be spent at DZ vendors) and some of the Dark Zone keys you’ve amassed. Yup, death really is costly, so try not to do it.
The Dark Zone is PvP, which means any player inside can attack and kill you. The game isn’t PvP by default though, so in many cases you’ll find that players don’t immediately want to kill you. Don’t think that they’re your allies though; anyone can turn traitor at the drop of a hat. If you’ve got precious loot with you, assume everyone’s out to get you.
People become ‘rogue’ when they open fire on other players. They are marked on the map and their health bars will turn red, indicating that they’re now an enemy. If you kill a rogue player you don’t become rogue yourself: you need to start an unprovoked attack to be considered a baddie.
Should a rogue agent manage to survive and kill again, they begin to climb the rogue ranks. Level 5 is the highest you can become, and the longer you can survive as a Level 5 rogue, the more Dark Zone credits you can earn. If you see a gang of rogues sticking together, this is almost certainly their intention. Best option is to run. Seriously, get out of there!
If you die while rogue, the tax on your XP, DZ credits, and DZ keys is even higher than if you were a regular agent, so do consider the risks of turning to the dark side. You’ll also be a bigger target, as killing a rogue is worth a lot of XP to a ‘straight’ player. Die over and over because you put a mark on your head, and you’re only asking to find yourself back at the bottom of the Dark Zone Rank ladder.
The Dark Zone is a scary place, but it’s also the area where you’re going to collect the best things The Division has to offer. And we’re not just talking a sniper rifle with super-high DPS; the zone is where you’ll make stories that you’ll share with you friends over morning break or on Twitter. No two sessions will ever be the same, and the combination of tough-as-nails enemies and rogue agent encounters keep it continually tense.
Take what you’ve learnt today with you beyond the zone’s gates, and you should become a master of the toxic urban sprawl in no time.
Do you have any tips and tricks for the budding Dark Zone survivor? Let us know your own strategies in the comments.