A to Z 2016 : THE DARK ZONE

You've seen (heard?) me mention it multiple times already in my previous A to Z 2016 entries. The Dark Zone. A mythical enchanted landscape filled with luscious greenery and prancing unicorns? Or a living, breathing cesspool of death, decay, and treacherous scum? I assure you there's no known unicorns in the Dark Zone (DZ). I've been there. I've stared the DZ in the eye, and survived to tell the tale.

Well... more accurately, I died and then respawned, died and respawned again, repeat this a few more times, and then I got the Fuck outta Dodge!

What's the Story?!

The Dark Zone was ground zero, the epicenter, of the virus outbreak. Above, the DZ is represented by the deep, red swath cutting through Manhattan. This was the designated walled-in area for rounding up the sick and infected, an effort to contain the spreading of the disease. Quarantine centers were established, military and medical support provided. But it wasn't long before everything got out of control. And when the shit hit the fan, all support was withdrawn. Abandoned. Everyone and everything.

The highly contaminated streets are overrun by rival, warring factions (the details of which being examined tomorrow) and agents who have cast aside their loyalties (again, another upcoming topic). This makes it one of the most dangerous locations in The Division. It's split into six subzones, DZ01 to DZ06 (South to North respectively), each area harboring stronger enemy threats than the last, the deeper into the Dark Zone you travel. You'll want to make sure you're properly geared up for the Northern subzones where the NPCs can reach beyond level 30.

DZ System

The Dark Zone is a separate entity within the game — It has its own set of rules, leveling system (DZ Ranks), and loot drops. When entering the DZ, all experience you accrue will go towards your DZ Rank (current max level of 99), the level of which will be relevant when attempting to buy from vendors spread throughout the Dark Zone (Mainly DZ Rank 30 and 50). There is also a separate currency system awarding DZ Funds. This currency can only be used to make purchases inside the Dark Zone, or DZ specific vendors found outside it.

One of the most surprising, and punishing, elements of the Dark Zone system is the loss of DZ experience (DZ XP), DZ Funds, and Dark Zone keys (which some slain NPCs or other agents drop and are used to open rare, randomly spawned/activated crates throughout the DZ). It's been a long time since I've played a game where XP/Currency loss has been implemented! This makes staying alive while in the Dark Zone all the more pivotal!

I'm not going to lie, I've dropped DZ Rank levels and had Dark Zone keys completely wiped from my inventory. It happens. Recent updates, however, have buffered these losses, making them a bit easier to swallow.

It's Only XP, You Can Gain it Back and Then Some

Despite those brutal Dark Zone realities, there are still plenty of incentives that will drive agents to gamble with their digital lives and explore the DZ. Most of that revolves around loot.

There are DZ Rank 30 crates containing Superior items, Dark Zone SDH (Strategic Homeland Division) crates — needing keys to open — loaded with Superior and potentially High-End items, and a multitude of lesser-quality filled crates with items that can be broken down into crafting materials (it's not worth much else).

There are landmarks to explore. Many of these potentially house active Dark Zone SDH crates or Division Tech (a crafting material) cases, and a swarm of enemy mobs to bring down. Speaking of enemy mobs, there are plenty of named bosses to hunt down for even greater chances at Superior and/or High-End loot!

Contamination Examination

Hunting down and obtaining all that loot is awesome! But there's one caveat. It's contaminated. You keep all contaminated Dark Zone loot on your back in a bag marked with a biohazard symbol (see above). This means that your agent can't equip any of it until it has been successfully extracted from the Dark Zone and decontaminated. Legit style. You can't just bring in a bottle of Purell hoping to wipe the stuff down on the spot!

So how does one go about this process?

First you have to find an Extraction Point within the Dark Zone. They are marked by little orange arrows on the map (sometimes extractions will already be triggered and a fuller area will be highlighted and flashing). Then you have to survive long enough to reach said point and call in an extraction. This brings in a helicopter from the Base of Operations.

I should warn you, though, calling in an extraction draws both enemy NPCs and other agents. And it's more than a minute to win it, it's 90 seconds! If you can live through that time frame, long enough to attach your bag to the helicopter's drop-line, then you can travel to anywhere granting access to your Stash (your personal crate to store items) and collect the loot.

Easy as that!


Wait a second? Did I say "other agents" are lured to Extraction Points? Why should that concern you? Good question! One other important feature of the Dark Zone is that the entire location is a designated Player Vs Player (PvP) area. Any agent, at any given time, may turn on their own and attack other players. But why would they do this? Aside from finding it hilariously fun? Likely the loot on your back!

I will highlight the PvP aspect of the game in a later entry for this A to Z, but I will say this: regardless of how frustrating it can be, being attacked by other players, it adds an incredible tension to the Dark Zone overall. Never knowing if an agent you run into in the field will be a potential ally or deadly enemy can be highly nerve-wracking. It's a very thematic element and I love it!

Division Tech and High-End Blueprints

Before I forget. Yesterday we touched briefly on Crafting blueprints. The Dark Zone is where you'll find a majority of your High-End options, available from various vendors. Some of these blueprints cost DZ Funds and create level 30 items. However, some blueprints cost Phoenix Credits (uh, what?! Exactly. We'll get to those too) and create level 31 items.

Level 31 items? But the Open World level cap is level 30! Indeed it is, but I'll explain some once we get to "H" — spoiler alert!

Anyway, these High-End blueprints require Division Tech (yellow), so you will undoubtedly be finding yourself hunting down D-Tech cases, though sometimes enemies drop it too. If you get green or blue D-Tech, which can't be converted, don't fret, they can still be used as supplemental crafting material you may be lacking for non High-End equipment.

The Dark Zone is one nasty, dangerous place. You can try to navigate it alone or team up with fellow agents. Just be mindful of who you build fragile alliances with! Whatever you decide, one thing is certain, the DZ is where you'll find some of the most powerful items in the game, whether from NPC drops, chests, enemy agents, or purchased High-End blueprints.

You can try to avoid it for as long as you want, but eventually you have to venture over the wall!

Have you been to the Dark Zone? What level were you when you first entered? What are your thoughts/opinions about the current Dark Zone system? What changes/suggestions would you make and/or like to see implemented? Any advice for those looking to jump into the DZ?