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Hands-On With The Division's Dark Zone

by Bryan Vore on Jun 15, 2015 at 01:01 PM

As The Division's early 2016 release date approaches, Ubisoft is granting hands-on access with the game for the first time. 

While nearly all of The Divison is PvE co-op, the newly revealed Dark Zone blends in PvP elements as well. It's designed for endgame play, hosting some of the best loot in the game.

"The Dark Zone is where the military tried to contain the pandemic. It didn’t work out," says  associate creative director Julian Gerighty. "They had to abandon it. They built a huge gate around it. And all of the equipment is still in there. So that’s particularly motivating not only for you as an agent to get that equipment, to be able to use it outside of the Dark Zone, but it’s also very attractive to the enemy factions."

All of the loot in this mode is contaminated so even if you pick it up from fallen A.I. enemies or chests, you don't score it permanently for use wherever you like until you bring it to an extraction point for a helicopter to whisk away. 

There are no pre-set classes in The Divsion, but Ubisoft made three different archetypes for demo purposes. I played a character equipped with a shotgun, light machine gun, and pistol. His specials include a pulse that highlights surrounding enemies, and a turret that can be placed on the ground or thrown to a more useful spot. My teammate had an SMG, DMR, and pistol with sticky bomb and seeker mine specials. The third co-op character came equipped with similar mix of guns and healing capabilities.

The Division's Dark Zone mode in action. 

This demo pits three teams of three against each other and A.I. enemies. We find a few enemies, take cover, and eliminate them one by one. Once it's over, we pick over loot from fallen bodies and chests. Our character models now carry yellow packs, indicating to all that we've all got loot worth stealing. 

Once we're loaded up, we run to the extraction point. We summon the chopper and try to hold the landing zone. Other teams quickly swarm, but we're not necessarily enemies yet. All teams are neutral toward each other with gray nametags until somebody fires the first shot. Once this happens, a team is considered rogue and their nametags turn red with a skull on top. If you kill these rogue teams, you'll get more of a reward for taking down the bad guys.

We all teamed up on A.I. enemies like an extra tough flamethrower squad, but it's not feasible to stay nice. The whole point is to bring back awesome gear, and you can't do that if another team is extracting. 

At this point we all start blasting each other and stealing loot. Movement is relatively responsive for a third-person shooter. The run is extra fast and rolls get you out of the way of gunfire. Cover is plentiful and is easy to snap to with the press of a button. 

Gun handling is a little loose at this point. A shotgun isn't the best primary for an open landing zone, but in the final game you'll be able to choose whatever weapon you want. Even if I got the jump on players, a single headshot wasn't always enough to kill. The light machine gun covers more distance, but the extreme recoil makes it tough to stay on target. There's still plenty of time for the team to polish things up, and the RPG-style upgrades could help improve accuracy and damage as well.

It was tough to extrapolate how much depth Dark Zone has in the long run. In our quick 15 minutes it seemed pretty simple and straightforward. The final game will support teams up to four players and more simultaneous onscreen teams than we saw today. The Division is all based around one giant, seamless recreation of New York so if you can freely roam the map looking for an extraction point that's not slammed it could stand out from a standard, contained zone control competitive multiplayer mode. Hopefully, future showing of the game will make this and other gameplay systems of The Division clearer. The upcoming beta on Xbox One this December should go a long way.