The Division: How To Thrive In The Dark Zone

The Dark Zone of Ubisoft’s new apocalypse, The Division, is a mish-mash of fresh ideas and unassailable tradition. On the one hand, you have to be slightly wary of other players at all times. On the other, you basically run around killing things and collecting loot as if you were playing Diablo. But it feels like a good direction for any game about the chaotic aftermath of civilisation’s downfall. Here’s how to make a killing living behind the walls.

Don’t be afraid

The Dark Zone, despite its name and the reputation, is not actually that dangerous at the moment. The NPC enemies are a little tougher and, yes, there are other players living here who could theoretically shoot you at any time. But in reality, very few people are choosing to go ‘rogue’ (more on this later). DayZ this is not. So, even if you are a low level and are thinking of saving your trip to the DZ until you have a better gun, better gear or better skills – forget all that. Just jump in, the loot is warm.

Be wolfish

Form a pack. Not only is this good for, you know, friendship, it will also speed up all your loot collecting and XP nabbing activities. Loot is not divided between players in the DZ – what you see dropped on the streets is always for you. Your friends get their own drops. XP works the same way. You will all earn XP together and each kill is awarded to everyone in the group. Even if you didn’t kill anybody in that last fight, even if you did not fire a single shot, even if you are halfway across the map – you will still get XP, so long as you are grouped.

This makes everything faster. It’s simple maths. Four people shooting at dudes will weave their way around the DZ quicker than one person or two people. And it’s more fun besides. If you don’t have friends with the game, the matchmaking is fairly well-implemented. Going up to random strangers and following them for a while, then inviting them to join you in group also works surprisingly often.

Stay south

The enemies become much stronger the further north you go. Killing level 31 or 32 enemies does not necessarily get you more money, XP or loot, considering the amount of time you have to put into bringing them down. The last patch was supposed to increase the amount of Phoenix credits dropped by higher-level named enemies but this has been postponed. The only real incentive to go further north is the challenge and a slightly increased drop rate. It is definitely more fun if your wolf pack is bored of the same route in DZ01 to DZ03. But just be careful.

Stray shots

If you do find yourself shadowing other non-hostile players but haven’t formed a group with them, you can always sneak XP from their kills by simply landing a single shot on the body of their targets. The game will count you as one of the contributing murderers! How delightful. XP will be awarded and loot will drop just the same as if you had killed them yourself. But please maintain…

Trigger discipline

For heaven’s sake be careful of other players. It only takes a few badly-aimed shots to mark you as a rogue. If you are in a group and you accidentally pummel a handful of bullets into a non-hostile stranger, your whole team will be marked with that little red skull. Decide beforehand what your group’s response ought to be if this happens. Kill everyone around you and go rogue in earnest? Or leg it to the nearest alleyway and run for your lives? The first few seconds of accidentally becoming rogue are the most important. Don’t waste them.

Be polite

When the extraction chopper arrives to pick up your loot, let somebody else attach their stuff first. Some players have discovered that folks are at their most vulnerable when they are tying their goodies to the chopper. They will wait until you go to attach your stuff, then fire a sticky mine or throw a flashbang at you, murder you, steal your things and extract them all for themselves. This only happens occasionally. But for this reason, if you are extracting and there is a stranger nearby watching you, without their own loot, either be very careful or let somebody else extract first. A lot of players are aware of this dastardly tactic and it is currently causing some ridiculous dances of mock-civility, as two or three people who don’t know each other will all tentatively circle the helicopter rope from a few metres away, all waiting for someone else to make a move.

Don’t die

I mean, obviously, don’t die. But really, just don’t. Dying in the DZ is worse than dying outside the walls because there is a penalty. You will lose a chunk of XP, a bunch of funds, and some of the DZ keys you have collected. If you are unlucky enough to die while ‘rogue’ you will lose a huge portion of XP from your Dark Zone rank. This is the main reason so few people are going rogue. This penalty was lessened in the latest patch but it remains to be seen if that is enough to entice the horrible PvPers to come out of their shells.

Maximise high-end drops

Supposedly, you can do this by having your scavenging trait as boosted as possible. This should mean more loot will drop and of better quality. Plenty of pieces of gear will add big bonuses to this. More importantly, make sure you get all the Security Wing upgrades at your Base of Operations installed. This will grant you a scavenging bonus of 15% on top of any other bonuses your kit gives you. Stack as much scavenger-centric gear as you can, regardless of its downfalls, and just rely on your group to pull you through the ‘farming’ process. You can always return the favour for each of them in turn.

Don’t bother going rogue

Like I said, the penalty for dying while rogue is huge compared to any other punishment in the game. Every sucker in the streets will also be hunting you, meaning you are unlikely to keep any loot from your murders unless you can keep your distance. And to get the best reward for outliving your rogue timer you have to kill multiple people, so hiding is not an option until the end of your murder spree. If you are a skilled PvP player, knock yourself out. Everyone else, keep it legal.

Kill rogues?

I have mixed feelings about this. On paper, killing rogues gets you good XP and they are likely to be outnumbered by the huge mob that descends on them, giving your group and any other ‘non-hostile’ players a huge advantage. But what happens when a stranger you have been hanging around accidentally shoots you? Do you hunt them down like a dog? It seems kind of unsporting. I have been in situations where a bunch of strangers agreed that if anyone mistakenly went rogue among them, nobody would fire. Another man promised not to fire at me when he stepped into the blast of a grenade I threw. Not only did he stick to his promise, he also warned me when he saw someone else coming to kill me, and told me to “Run! Run!” as if I was some kind of post-apocalyptic Forest Gump.

Hopefully, that will see you through the Dark Zone. For more help outside the walls, check out our other guides to The Division


  1. KDR_11k says:

    I have a tendency to use the defensive T skill just before evacing, so far nobody tried to attack me during that but there’s still the goddamn NPCs.

    • KDR_11k says:

      Oh, also as far as farmable loot, the DZ becomes less and less viable as a source of that once you get kitted out in yellow gear from challenge missions and crafting Phoenix Credit blueprints. At that point you want only DZ XP and Division Tech (which is practically unobtainable from crates but you can get blue DT from killing random enemies in the DZ and that’s basically a wildcard yellow material).

      Oh and be aware that the next patch will double or triple the cost of combining crafting materials to a higher tier so do all your up-tiering now.

      • Misfit_Division says:

        But in exchange you will have one gold item per named NPC you kill in the DZ. So you get easier way to deconstruct gold loot to get the gold materials required. They just want the players to use deconstruction of stuff instead of farming the ressources area. And i have to say it’s a better idea to push the players to play in the dark zone to get materials, rather to send them in the PVE to grab what they need quickly.

        Division tech drop will also be raised in the next update.

        • KDR_11k says:

          They’re reducing the resources gained from deconstructing lower tier gear though.

  2. Alfius says:

    Haven’t tried the Division yet (there’s a war on in Eve, don’t you know) sounds like it might be a pleasant enough blast, although from the article my take away is that it massively discourages PvP without going the whole hog and banning it. Isn’t PvP the point of an MMO? (not trolling, genuinely interested in other people’s take on this)

    • MiniMatt says:

      In my view it depends on the MMO. In Planetside 2 then yep, PvP is the point of it :)

      Eve is an interesting one, it’s been a few years now, but PvP never felt like the point of the game there either. Which is odd, because it obviously is – but the point always felt to me more to be co-operation, meta-game intrigue, back stabbing, and – yes – a good bit of spreadsheet wrangling. PvP wasn’t the point to it, it was the threat which could be wielded to advance your other goals.

      Back to the Division, and shooters in general, I’ve never really liked the PvP side, Planetside excepted, as the smaller the group the larger the influence of… intolerable swines… becomes.

      A handful of bunny hopping / ganking / corpse camping / trash talking jackasses can leave a bad taste on a server of 32. Something with Eve or Planetside’s scale however, you can always find space and friends to play your own way.

    • Nauallis says:

      Gaming philosophy dilemma arises from questions like this (and it’s a good question to ask) – PVP isn’t so much as discouraged, more that it isn’t incentivized. When you go rogue, you risk being shot at by anybody who wants to kill you for a small reward, and you risk losing out on dark zone experience and chest keys. So yes, you risk watching your “rank” decrease, and you decrease temporarily your ability to grind for better loot. Thus it really can be a setback, sometimes even debilitating.

      On the other hand, in the sense of the “endgame” being a grind for better numbers, there’s not really a reason (right now) to grind up to higher gear levels. As of writing this comment, there are not yet dungeons or raids or any of the typical high-level MMO tropes that are usually the incentive for gearing up. The options are to play “hard mode” and “challenge” versions of the story missions to grind for better gear against frustratingly difficult bullet-sponge NPCs. And for what, trinkets with slightly better numbers, which help you repeat the same process you just went through?

      I’ve had a number of great experiences where I chased a rogue in the dark zone (or was chased), killed or was killed, and then ended up teaming up with that other player, and then having the same thing happen until we ended up with a four player group, and then going rogue just for the hell of it.

      And that’s the meat of it: for what reason are you playing the game? In the cases where I’ve been part of a group that goes rogue “just because” we’ve ended up losing quite a few dark zone levels but ultimately not caring because the fun of the camaraderie and gameplay was more of a draw than the prospect of grinding for pointless gear. The handful of times that we successfully survived our manhunt-massacres, the rewards weren’t the motivating factor – it was the ability to say “yeah, I survived a manhunt” or “hey, remember the time that…”

      When the new mission/dungeon/raid content releases, hopefully there will be more incentive to grind for gear, but right now I hope that other people are playing because they enjoy the game (including enjoying grinding, if that’s their thing), not because they feel some obligation to “make the numbers go up.”

  3. crowleyhammer says:

    What do Dark zone keys actually do?

    • Nauallis says:

      Open loot chests in the dark zone

      • crowleyhammer says:

        Cheers, I take it you get them from random drops then? are they rare?

        • Nauallis says:

          Sort of rare. Get them from killing Dark Zone enemies, though I have no idea if they drop from the regular DZ enemies or only from the elites (gold) enemies. I’ve never actually paid attention to the circumstances! It’s also possible to pick up keys from slain players, but I seem to recall reading that the keys that drop don’t actually come from the other player’s inventory, but are spawned by the game when you down a player.

          The chests seem more rare, and are locked based upon the player’s Dark Zone level. Only one person in your group has to use a key to unlock a DZ chest, and everybody who meets the level requirement can collect the drop.

          • crowleyhammer says:

            Thank you for explaining this to me.

          • that_guy_strife says:

            They drop any kind of enemies – purples, golds, named. The game also does not spawn keys on player death: if you die neutral, you drop one key that anyone can pickup by simply walking over your dead body. If you die rogue, you drop about a third of your keys, that similarly anyone can pickup in one swoop. Locked chests (hence key-requiring chests) do not have either a lvl or rank requirement. Pre-patch they dropped purple and blue items only. Now they drop only purples (usually 2, sometimes just 1) with a chance for a high-end (gold) item. Only 1 player form the group needs to spend a key, the loot drops for all group members.

            Rank restricted crates (DZ rank 10/30) can only be opened by someone with the requisite rank, but the loot is dropped for all group members, even if they do not have the rank requirement.

            There seems to be a certain vicinity requirement for both XP and loot to drop: don’t stray too far from your group, and wait for them to be there to open boxes (locked or ranked) unless someone else will open it.

  4. CitizenX3639 says:

    If you start treading towards the higher DZ you HAVE to be in a group of at least 3 people, otherwise the cowards running around shooting you in the back just become so annoying and you have no way to defend yourself.

  5. DeadCanDance says:

    Isn’t it strange how every week there’s three to four articles about this game here on RPS?

    • Wisq says:

      RPS writes about the games they’re playing. When a big title comes along and they’re all playing it, it’s not uncommon to see a ton of posts about it in a short time. Three or four in a week is actually rather tame compared to some previous games.

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      Is it? In what way? What do you suppose is behind that?

      • Fnord73 says:

        Alice: In a friendly voice, its kind of funny how RPS/PC Gamer/Eurogamer all seem to boost the same games.

        • Barberetti says:

          Indeed. The fact that these gaming sites all write about popular games at the same time, ie when they’re released, instead of staggering their articles to throw off any suspicion that they’ve been taken over by the lizard people from their secret base in the hollowed-out centre of the Earth, is the sort of error a child would make.

          It’s such a give-away that the Illuminati have complete control of the gaming press.

      • DeadCanDance says:

        Money and hands, money and hands…

    • popej says:

      (x-files music)

  6. Kirudub says:

    I find the DZ to be a PITA so far, since I’m 30/17. I love MP games (I’ve got 400-ish hrs worth of BF4 hard core mode), but I’ve lately just been running hard dailies solo, and starting an alternate character build.

    Last time I was in the DZ (weekend before last), there was a hacker that was being hunted by around 15 players right outside of the safe house I’d spawned in. Massive firefight, they were pulling out all of the stops; explosive & incendiary rounds, turrets, seeker mines, etc. I observed from a distance.

    He killed them all, and they kept coming back via Safe House. Rinse, repeat, until they started simply leaving the DZ instance. And then he walled with a head shot. After I came back into the game, another player I was talking to said he’d already been reported to Ubi.

    Other nights I’ve run around an empty DZ for 5 minutes until I come across a mob, and they usually piƱata nothing of value, so I leave it (why deal with the hassle of an extraction if the haul isn’t worth it?), and now I’m short on ammo.

    now the new “Battlegear” sets pose to be… interesting when it comes to how people grief in the DZ:

    Striker’s Battlegear

    Set bonus (2): +20% enemy armor damage.

    Set bonus (3): +100% critical hit damage

    Set bonus (4): Talent: Shooter (every consecutive hit deals 1% more enemy damage. Stacks up to 100%. Missing shots drops bonus by 2% Bonus is reduced by 1% every second.

    *Path of the Nomad *

    Set bonus (2): +50% scavenging

    Set bonus (3): +20% health on kill

    Set bonus (4): Talent: Nomad: When receiving fatal damage, you are instead healed to full health. Can occur once every 10 minutes

    *Tactician’s Authority *

    Set bonus (2): +4000 skillpower

    Set bonus (3): +20% skill haste

    Set bonus (4): Talent: Tactician’s Authority: Every 60k damage your group deals adds 1% skillpower to you for a max of 100% bonus. Bonus is reduced by 1% every second the group isn’t dealing damage

    *Sentry’s Call *

    Set bonus (2): +30% headshot damage

    Set bonus (3): +20% damage to elites

    Set bonus (4): Talent: Stalker: Headshots mark the enemy, increasing the damage inflicted on the target by 15% for duration of 10 seconds each. A target can receive up to three marks.

    Full Striker with an SMG? *Spit-take*

    • Nauallis says:

      That or Nomad using smart cover w/ damage buff.

    • KDR_11k says:

      There are talks about SMGs receiving a nerf.

      The penalty for hacking is supposedly only a 3 day ban, nothing permanent. So no wonder that people aren’t worried about getting caught.

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