While exploring what remains of Washington, D.C. in The Division 2, you may have come across an area called the Dark Zone – but what is it, and how do you survive inside? Whether you’re a hardened Division series veteran or you’re venturing into the Dark Zone for the first time, our handy survival guide is here to help you get out alive.
What is the Dark Zone?
The first Division game contained a single Dark Zone, a relentlessly hostile area in which you trade bullets with treacherous player-controlled agents as often as with violent AI thugs. The Division 2, meanwhile, has three of these zones, each with a unique environment that’s also probably going to try and kill you, and surviving a trip inside can be a pretty intense (but extremely rewarding) challenge.
The first time you enter them, you’ll play through an enemy-free tutorial, in which you’ll learn the ropes by completing missions, finding extraction points, and navigating the dangerous environment without dying. Once you’ve completed that, the bad guys start to appear…
1. Unlock both skill slots before heading in
The Dark Zones operate by slightly different rules compared with the main game, which ensures that newcomers don’t immediately get blasted to bits on entry.
From the moment you enter the Dark Zone to the moment you leave it, gear and base stats are normalised across the board, so everyone should be fighting on a level playing field. In theory, that means that a newcomer to the Dark Zone should have an equally good chance of winning a firefight compared with someone at a much higher level with the best possible items from the main game.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t get an edge over your opponents. Before you head to the Dark Zone, it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve got some good perks and both of your skill slots unlocked. That carries over, so you’ll be able to make much better use of the loot you acquire.
2. Focus on earning Dark Zone XP
Perhaps because of the gear normalisation, the Dark Zones have their own levelling system too.
There are lots of ways to earn Dark Zone XP, from discovering locations and special items right through to killing enemies, and better still you won’t lose any of it when you die, so you shouldn’t have much trouble levelling up fairly quickly.
As you level up, you’ll gain access to increasingly useful tiers of perks – though you can only have one active perk per tier, so choose carefully.
3. Focus on completing landmarks
One of the fastest ways to earn Dark Zone XP and level up is to find and clear landmarks – or in other words, head to a special location to beat up a bad guy and earn some decent loot before someone else does.
There are two types of landmark to clear, and your map will show you which category each one falls into. Some can be completed solo, while others are probably better attempted in a team. But hey, if you can do them alone, major kudos to you.
4. Pick your extraction point carefully
In the first Division game, loot had to be extracted via helicopter before it could be used. That’s no longer the case for the majority of items, but it still applies to the rarer stuff, like powerful contaminated weapons.
Be savvy about which extraction point you head for, and you might be able to get your loot out of there safely. If there are lots of landmarks around, it’s likely that there’ll be a lot of other players around too, which means they may try to steal your loot. If you have a team of allies around you, then you could feasibly get them to hide and snipe enemies while you rush in to start the extraction process, but if you’re on your own it’s best to head for somewhere quieter.
5. Remember the Rogue Agents
Teaming up with other players is a great way to take on tougher challenges, but it’s also possible for them (or you) to go Rogue and stab teammates in the back.
You can either actively choose to go Rogue by selecting it as an option, which means other players will be able to see that you’ve turned on them, or you can complete certain actions (like hacking terminals, stealing particular items, and so on) which will also trigger the change in your status.
You can lose your Rogue status at certain terminals, or if you choose to stick with it for a bit longer, you can earn more valuable loot, but at the risk of being more visible. And if you become particularly villainous, you’ll show up on the map for everyone to see (and shoot), but you’ll also get access to a special area called the Thieves’ Den, where you can grab some extra high quality loot.
So there you have it – five handy tips to help you survive your Dark Zone experience.
It’s also worth noting that periodically, any one of the three Dark Zones will be listed as “occupied”, which means that the usual rules (such as gear and stat normalisation) don’t apply. Friendly fire will be a thing, and you won’t be able to see if a player is a Rogue Agent or not. If you’re looking for a serious challenge to flex your Dark Zone skills, this is probably where you want to head next.