The Division is currently heading toward yet another major patch, 1.6, one that developer Massive has said is going to focus mainly on PvP. They’ve assembled another Elite Task Force of players and community members to give them suggestions, something that’s worked out rather well for them in the past, but the focus on PvP has sparked some of some of the most intense debates about the game since its launch.
Right now, the topic of the moment is whether or not The Division’s famous Dark Zone should get a PvE component at last, rather than simply continuing on with the PvPvE format it’s had since launch. I believe this debate began in earnest when SkillUp, a Division YouTuber, dedicated an entire ongoing video series to the PvP patch, and reversed a long-time position he’s held that yes, it’s finally time for the Dark Zone to get a PvE variant. Since then, The Division subreddit, the main fan platform for the game, has been swamped with everyone weighing in about the issue, and after watching this for about a week, I wanted to throw my hat in the ring. I’m no YouTuber, but I’ve probably written more about The Division than any other single games journalist out there, and I have a few thoughts of my own, for the two or three people that may want to hear them.
If you have been following my work for any amount of time, you’ll know that I’ve been pretty anti-Dark Zone/Division PvP from the very beginning. Back in June, I called The Dark Zone a failed experiment, and today, I still stand by the assessment. In fact, that description seems more appropriate than ever.
To sum up The Division in its current form, the game is a very good PvE looter which is being restrained from being truly great thanks to balance concerns with PvP. There have been countless items, builds, talents and perks that The Division has nerfed in order to retain some semblance of PvP balance. While many of these things may have been just fine in PvE, they unbalanced PvP so dramatically, the build or item was killed for both modes. This has happened time and time again, and with a PvP patch looming, that seems destined to happen again with current top-tier builds (AlphaBridge, RIP, most likely).
SkillUp makes a good point when he references other loot-based games that have tried PvP. It rarely, if ever works, and when it does, you’re sacrificing a lot to make it that way. Diablo 2 and 3 each had bare-bones PvP modes that were comically unbalanced and shoved away in tiny corners of the game. But a game like Destiny has crafted a pretty effectively PvP system, though it’s done so by normalizing damage and armor levels in many modes, and by limiting build diversity pretty severely. You will not see multi-piece gear sets with crazy bonuses in Destiny like you do in Diablo or The Division. This makes PvP more competitive, but it really limits overall build potential, which is a complaint I’ve had about Destiny since the very start.
The Division has been moving in a very good direction by introducing cool new sets and items that really change the way the game is played. I have never had more fun in The Division than I have after 1.5, assembling full AlphaBridge, Firecrest, Frontline and Striker sets on my four characters, and despite the fact that The Division has no different “classes” having the ability to effectively create new ones with these builds has been great. And yet, the amount of truly “good” sets is limited by PvP balance issues, and many that used to be good are now either worse or just garbage for PvE and PvP.
I am not as optimistic as SkillUp and certain players that A) The Division PvP can be saved or B) that The Division PvP is even worth saving. While no, I’m not calling for its removal from the game, I do not think that The Division’s increasingly great PvE should be hamstrung by the roughly 10% of the game that’s geared-up Dark Zone PvP.
PvP can still exist in Survival, which is the Rust-like battle royale The Division’s PvP probably always should have been from the start. Here there are less balance issues to worry about because everyone has the same, relatively crappy gear, and no one has time to make min-maxed builds.
Dark Zone PvP is another story, and this is where we get into the great PvE Dark Zone debate.
If you asked me around launch whether The Division should have a PvE version of the Dark Zone, I would have immediately said yes, without question. But today, even though I hold the same opinion, I ultimately care a lot less about it. Why? Because of how the game has evolved since then. PvE is in a great spot in The Division right now. You can do one of a zillion activities to gear up in the Light Zone, from missions to HVTs to LZ bosses to Incursions to Underground to Survival. There’s actually so much to do, I really don’t even think a PvE Dark Zone would add all that much to the game given how many great options there are for PvE farming already. This was absolutely not the case for a long while after launch, hence why a PvE DZ back then would have been such a great addition at the time.
With that said, I see nothing empirically wrong with splitting the DZ into PvP and PvE variants. It’s not taking anything away from PvP players other than easy targets who aren’t geared for PvP and just trying to farm in the DZ. But it opens up a whole enormous section of the map that many players have probably avoided to this point for even more farming opportunities.
The DZ isn’t going to be the most efficient place to farm, even if you’re not having to look over your shoulder for Rogue agents. Limited bag size and extraction are a pain in the ass, and while mobs are plentiful in the DZ, they often take forever to repopulate.
But the DZ is arguably one of the best designed farming locations on the map. Enemy encounters are larger in scale, more numerous and a lot more tense than they are in the light zone, and it’s a hell of a place to explore. I know there are many players who probably played the DZ a handful of times, hated it, and never went back. Well, starting up a PvE variant would practically be like free DLC that opened up 30% more of the map.
The problem seems to be that Massive just doesn’t want to let the DZ go. They want to hold on to their original intent of having the place be “high risk, high reward,” as is the common phrase, and judging by their comments and streams, many of them are huge PvP players themselves. While again, I don’t begrudge PvP continuing to exist, I do not think that’s what most of the community enjoys playing, nor do I believe that Massive should be hurting the aspect of the game it gets right, PvE farming, in order to try and make its never-going-to-actually-be-good PvP a little better.
There are more complicated issues at hand here, and there probably isn’t space here to go through them all. I would suggest you watch SkillUp’s video series for yourself. I agree with some of his suggestions, like tiers for a group PvP DZ, a normal PvP DZ and a PvE DZ, but I disagree with the idea that DZ funds should be used to purchase god-rolled maxed items Massive hand-crafts for vendors. Putting “perfect” items in any one activity alone is never a good idea in a game like this, as it hurts everything else besides that activity. And I think he had a cool idea about different premade classes for PvP matches, though I’m less sure about his plan to give victimized, non-Rogue players crazy buffs like 100% movespeed and such when Rogues first descend on them. It’s too convoluted and still wouldn’t fix a lot of the core problems with the system. But at least he’s trying to problem solve.
My own opinions are more cut and dry. The Division should continue to shift focus away from PvP, letting it exist in Survival and one DZ variant, but not letting it lead to nerfs for fun PvE builds. I’m trying to imagine what a game like Diablo 3 would be like if it tried to balance its gear sets for PvP play, and it would be an utter nightmare. For The Division, rather than broad nerfs that affect all game modes, if something is a serious problem? Ban it. Is that one weapon talent or sniper rifle or gear set making the DZ crazily unbalanced? Well, you can’t enter with it, and you can’t equip it there. The end. Problem solve that way, rather than nerfing things that destroy viable, fun PvE builds. As much as I’ve enjoyed getting gear sets the past few weeks, it’s incredibly irritating that only 3 or 4 out of 13 feel at all viable. It doesn’t have to be like that, and PvP is the main culprit as to why so many of these sets are so useless or dull.
The Division is a great loot-shooter. It is a not a great PvP game, and never will be. Focus on what works and continue to improve it. Don’t sacrifice any more of this game on the altar of PvP, as it’s lost too much already.
Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Pick up my sci-fi novels, The Last Exodus, The Exiled Earthborn and The Sons of Sora, which are now in print, online and on audiobook.