The Division: How To Level Up Quickly

We are enjoying The Division [official site] and some of us are not even sure why. But it looks like half the world is doing the same. If you have yet to begin your tour of duty in New York’s unfolding Armageddon or if you are currently taking your first steps, we have some tips and advice to get you started. Here, we tell you how to get yourself leveled as quickly as you can.

Sort out your Security Wing

The Security Wing is the first thing you should get installed because it grants you an XP bonus very early on. Luckily the game pretty much guides you this way. After the first proper mission in Madison Square Gardens, you’ll have a few new missions available. Complete the blue Lincoln Tunnel Checkpoint mission in Hudson Yards before the others. When you rescue the police captain and are safely back in your Base of Operations, you can upgrade the Situation Room. Generally, I find the Security Wing the dullest in terms of skills and abilities. But this first upgrade gets you a 10% XP boost on EVERYTHING you do, which is super important to get as early as possible.

There is also an upgrade for a Barracks, which gets you 25% more XP for accolades. These are things like killing an enemy with a headshot, or killing multiple enemies at once – basically anything that appears in orange writing on the right of your screen in the middle of a firefight. Considering these happen quite a lot, it might be worth investing in this upgrade as early as possible too.

Mission types

The Division doesn’t level you up in the same way as other MMOs. XP does not earn you new skills or abilities. You need ‘supplies’ for the three different wings of your HQ for that. In this regard, you need to be aware of what you want. If you want to upgrade your Base as much as possible before anything else – and I recommend doing this – then the story missions are the way to go. In fact, even if you just want to level up, the story missions are the best route. They can offer around 500 supplies as the reward for each mission, as well as ample XP, whereas the encounters (those smaller missions in green, blue and yellow) only offer 60 supplies. In terms of time invested, story missions are still better than running around collecting the rewards from smaller encounters and they are more interesting to boot.

Eventually, you’ll find yourself too low a level to take on a story mission. These are the XP plateaus I mentioned in our review. In this case, it is tempting to go around collecting tech, security and medical supplies from encounters. But the side missions – the pale blue hexagons – always offer more XP. If you are just looking to level up fast so you can hit the next story mission or to use a better piece of gear, it is often quicker to hit these instead. Besides, they are more interesting and they sometimes come in multiple parts which weave you through the district in such a way that you pass the encounters anyway. In particular, the ‘missing person’ cases are the best for this.

Once you’ve cleared all the missions in a district (story, encounter and side missions) you should also drop by and tell your handler at the safehouse for a small bonus injection of XP. Often you can get XP just by heading to the safehouse in the next district straight away and interacting with the lockers in that building. This is kind of hard to see and the game never tells you any of this but it is supposed to be an incentive to clear the districts in order, as if you are taking back the streets block by block. My advice is to remember you can do this but don’t get distracted from the story missions by your desire to “clean the map”. The rule is: if you can do a story mission, then do it.

Gear up

There is plenty of gear with bonuses offering a percentage boost of extra XP for each kill or for each headshot. They can be hard to collect but if you have multiple items with these bonuses, consider using them in tandem to scrounge as much experience as you can from every delicious murder. If you only have a single pair of knee pads with +4% XP per headshot, however, it’s probably not worth it.

I also recommend investing in the Recalibration Station in your Tech Wing as soon as you can afford it. This table allows you to re-roll a single bonus on each item of gear for a few credits (but not weapons or mods). For instance, you can change a +200 Firearms bonus to a Stamina bonus of approximately the same amount. This means you can recalibrate your gear to include XP bonuses. So long as you are collecting enough trash and remembering to sell it, you should have enough credits to re-roll everything you are wearing. If you have trouble getting coin, check our guide on greed.

But remember that adding XP bonuses to your gear will mean that you sacrifice re-rolling a different bonus. Remember, you can only re-roll each item once. This is really a matter of preference. I shaved a lot of extra XP with these bonuses but others have said it is negligible when you consider the other bonuses you could have instead. That’s opportunity cost, yo. It’s up to you. It’s also important to note that the re-roll is exactly that – a roll of the dice. You will not always get what you want.

Bits and bobs

There are small things you can do to earn extra XP. Helping civilians in need, picking up collectibles and investigating echoes all win you a little snack of experience points. My advice is to only do these things if you’re passing by anyway. Always help civilians because they more or less come to you on the roads. But scouring the map for phone calls and other collectibles is only going to soothe your completionist streak. It isn’t going to level you up very quickly. If you REALLY do want to do this, however, the Canine Unit upgrade in the Security Wing is your best pal. It will reveal all undiscovered collectibles in a district once you clear it of all side missions and encounters.

Resist the urge to “murder up”

The Division is more gated than a community of stock brokers, so moving from one part of the city to another is already a step towards getting yourself killed. The enemies in harder districts do not offer that much more XP per kill than the baddies you will face in your “normal” districts. They also absorb a ton more damage and can take such a long amount of time to kill that doing so is not usually worth it in terms of experience. Don’t go looking for tough guys to shoot up thinking it will yield greater rewards.

For the same reason, don’t get carried away by the Dark Zone. If all you want to do is level up for the next mission or get yourself to level 30, going behind the walls is counter productive. Your Dark Zone rank and your PvE rank are completely separate. You do not gain XP toward your “outside” rank at all. Every kill goes into your DZ rank instead. We cover more about the Dark Zone and how to handle things there in this article.

Slow down

It’s not all about getting to thirty. Speaking as someone who has been blasting through the game level-to-level as fast as my little mitts can handle, there is a surprising amount of fine detail and atmosphere to soak up in The Division and it is a shame to miss it. It is an MMO, of course, but remember to stop and smell the bodies every once and a while.

We are splurging loads more guides and tips for The Division. Find them all here


  1. Wisq says:

    The sidequests and main missions are generally enough to get you up to the level you need to be. If you really want to level up as fast as possible, just complete side missions and main missions in each area sequentially.

    The article mentions some of this, but here’s the exact procedure:

    1: Clear all the side missions (NOT encounters) in your current district
    2: Go back and talk to your handler to “finish” the district
    3: You’ll get a side mission to go to the lockers in the next district’s safehouse
    4: Repeat

    Obviously, since you’ll be walking around a fair bit — particularly to get to the next safehouse before you can fast-travel there — I suggest you also participate in any encounters that happen to fall on your path. And you may also want to choose what skills/talents/perks you want and get enough points to unlock those. (It’s not a bad idea to pick up a “signature” ability early; that slot is being wasted otherwise.)

    All in all, I’m actually surprisingly engaged with The Division. I mainly just got it because all my friends were getting it and I wanted to prove to myself that they’d bought into the hype and weren’t very good judges of games. (YES I AM A GRUMPY OLD MAN.)

    But I’ll admit, I was wrong — even mostly soloing it (except main missions), it’s not bad at all. I was worried about the bullet-spongey enemies, but going a sniper+shotgun route seems to mostly mitigate that. And my one brief foray into the Dark Zone so far was interesting, with people teaming up ad hoc to kill big baddies and then defend the extraction zone. I’m hearing there’s a bunch of cheaters running around in the DZ, so we’ll see how that goes once I hit the endgame, but for now, it’s pretty good.

    • KDR_11k says:

      The sidequest finishing sidequest also gives you a good blueprint. Definitely worth getting that for the final district even if you’re already at 30.

  2. KDR_11k says:

    I’d suggest making sure you make occasional dark zone trips so you don’t have the grind from DZ rank 1 to 30 before you can spend any DZ currency while you’re already at level 30.

  3. Moraven says:

    Dark Zone 10-14 bracket sells Dark Zone Rank 10 items. Rank 10 is pretty quick to get and you will have enough credits to buy 2 items. Its a nice side trip.

    Deconstruct everything but armor, as Fabric is easy to obtain and you want a stash of materials stocked up for 30.

    Doing all Side Encounters, as someone above noted, unlocks a completion quest (Blueprint) and a bread crumbs quest to the next safe house (XP). One of the teens districts unlocks a nice Purple Weapon blueprint that is great until 20-23. Doing the last district unlocks a High End pistol blueprint.

    There are lots of hidden chests and places, so simple exploring is always a fun diversion.

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      Qazinsky says:

      If we’re talking about good items to look out for during level, I recommend doing the side mission that nets you the extended magazine blueprint in the lvl 16ish area. The three level 16 mags I made was with me all the way to lvl 30, more bullets in your gun is great.

      Keep your eyes open for x15 scopes drops. They have the highest zoom level I’ve seen, so great for a sniper rifle. They also give +headshot damage, rather than the +xp on headshot kill the x12 that marksman rifles come preinstalled with, I personally prefer extra damage over extra xp. I’ve personally had a hard time finding blueprints for good high zoom scopes, so save those that drop, put any extras in your stash for alts.

  4. Distec says:

    I’d also recommending taking a few trips to the DZ any way if you’re somebody who is 1) Intrigued by it, and 2) Somewhat anxious about the idea of losing your hard-fought loot to other players. At the very least, it’s a good way to get your feet wet and get used to the sensation of somebody going Rogue on you.

    Whatever you lose at an earlier level (like 19) is not going to matter much at that point in the game. The gear you collect is temporary any way since you’re likely to outgrow it in a few levels any way.

    • Distec says:

      Original post was a reply to KDR_11k, but whatever.

      I also have to say that I’m a little surprised that this article exists. That’s not a complaint. I’m just surprised that there are players who apparently have troubles with XP gains? I have consistently outleveled every new area I venture into simply by doing all the main and side quests. I did go back and pick up all intel in some of the starter areas, but I reckon I’ll leave the rest for when I hit the cap. And while I picked some of the obvious HQ upgrades for increased credit/XP payouts earlier on, I’ve mostly just upgraded whatever I have the funds for at the time.

      There’s been no plateauing or grinding in my experience, and I don’t feel like I’ve done anything special or clever; merely following the bread crumbs left for me. I can only guess that I’m just really good at consistently placing headshots or something, and I can’t imagine that amounts to much significance.

  5. MabusGaming says:

    By far the best way to level is definitely from completing the story missions, and then doing side missions. One night on a fresh character a bunch of us powered through every story mission one after another skipping side missions, and were able to hit level 20 in about 8-10 hours pretty quickly. Then we went back and started completing side missions until the level 22 story mission, and continued. Even in crap gear because we were powering through all the missions it still went rather quick.

    Also don’t forget that for every side mission you complete in a zone, you actually get a free “bonus” side mission to go back to the safe house in the zone which will reward you with even more experience.

    I generally avoid all encounters doing this method, unless you hit up the encounters in the higher level zones, because the experience reward isn’t as great as side missions, and main story missions give you.

    – Mabus from Division Dominance

  6. lglethal says:

    Just so you know, this article is the only one currently available in your RPS division guide link (from the bottom of the article).

  7. korefuji says:

    oh btw there’s rumours that level 90 rank blueprints will be added to the game at some point