After a month long symphony of gunfire echoing off the walls, my living room has finally fallen silent. My PS4 sitting dormant on the shelf. This coming in the wake of my recent separation from “Tom Clancy’s: The Division”. Looking back, it’s almost hard to recall what life was like before I was first introduced to Ubisoft’s third person shooter. When I first met “The Division” we shared a brief courtship before I was completely consumed by the addicting gameplay and deep RPG elements. We were inseparable. The two of us spent every available hour together as I plowed through the main campaign. In a matter of days my gruff looking, sunglass-clad, avatar had reached Level 30 and my base was fully operational. I had completed every available encounter, side mission, and checkpoint.
When it seemed that my infatuation was beginning to wane, our relationship had evolved into something new, the quest for loot. My world had turned into blues, purples, and golds. High end gear became my new obsession. I scoured the icy streets of Manhattan in search of whatever enemies I could find to generate loot drops. Daily missions and weekly challenges became my new routine. I watched videos online of other players discovering various glitches that could be used to exploit and “farm” the coveted materials. Before long I was using ground cover to scoot through locked doors and purposely dying to respawn enemies. But despite my best efforts the rewards seemed few and far between.
After days of grinding for higher rated items with little success I decided to take our relationship to the next level. It was finally time to enter the infamous “Dark Zone”. To this point, much of my experience with “The Division” had been spent solo with the exception of a few co-op missions. I had intentionally avoided the “Dark Zone” for fear of its competitive PvP environment. In order for players to obtain any of the valuable loot they find within the walls, the items have to be extracted from designated locations. But like anything with reward, there’s always the associated risk. At any point other players can go “rogue” and steal your hard earned items before you extract them by gunning you down. My lone wolf approach to online gaming would put me at somewhat of a disadvantage, but I needed new gloves with a higher stamina count so something had to be done.
I may not have been outfitted with the best arsenal, but if I were going to die in the “Dark Zone” then I was at least going to do it in style. I popped on a white slouchy to coordinate with my avatar’s shell jacket and entered. For the first hour or so things went fine. I was able to collect a few items and successfully extract them. But eventually my luck ran out. Being alone exposed me to roving bands of rogue agents and made me easy prey, which they took full advantage of. I got killed. A lot. Even other solo players couldn’t resist the temptation of shooting a defenseless person in the back. Every time I tried to tie my loot pack to the extraction line dangling from the helicopter overhead I was met with a hailstorm of gunfire. The more I watched my lifeless body topple into a heap on a pile of my soon to be pilfered items, the more my faith in humanity was tested. If playing “The Division” truly was like being in a relationship, then the “Dark Zone” was like dating somebody who openly flirts with your friends in front of you. It’s a cold, harsh place that doesn’t care about your feelings.
In the following weeks my neverending quest for higher ranked gear forced me to return to the “Dark Zone” frequently, but I had learned from my mistakes. I no longer ventured into the wasteland of human indifference alone. Banding together with other players made the experience significantly more tolerable. I even began to enjoy my time spent within the hostile walls. Playing with members from my friends list and utilizing microphones to communicate was actually quite fun. But the fun would inevitably be interrupted by a gang of adolescent pirates with overpowered Vectors looking to poach our hard earned spoils. Hours spent in the “Dark Zone” would usually end in frustration and only yield a few meager gold modifications. As the endless cycle continued I could feel a wedge growing between me and “The Division”. What was once a vibrant, exciting relationship now seemed like a chore. I could feel myself starting to yearn for freedom from the game’s seductive grasp and an end appeared to finally be in sight.
Then came the “Falcon Lost” DLC and with it, the finish line had moved. Only a month after the game’s initial release, the free update added a new “Incursions” mode along with making a slew of modifications to the crafting, currency, and loot systems. The promise of a now guaranteed gold drop from every named enemy and the introduction of more advanced “Gear Sets” was enough to win my forgiveness. With open arms I re-embraced my relationship with “The Division” and happily jumped back on the proverbial hamster wheel of loot grinding. But it only took a few days before I realized that my renewed feelings towards the game might be unrequited.
Gold drops were now in abundance, but seemingly insignificant as they’re usually littered with attachments or mods. The few weapons and armor pieces that did materialize were often inferior to what I currently had equipped. So in an effort to acquire one of the new gear set items I decided to try my hand at the recently introduced incursion mode. “Falcon Lost” proved to be much more than I had prepared for, both mentally and physically. After the longest two hours of my life, my squad and I were no closer to completing the objective than when we had started. Frustration soon turned to exhaustion and after a round of solemn salutes, our group disbanded. Without the motivation to attempt the relentlessly grueling and punishing incursion again I decided to head back to the “Dark Zone”.
Now with the increased possibility that every agent you pass might be carrying a gold item the temptation to turn rogue is even greater. Since there is little to deter players from attacking other agents the number of turncoats had increased exponentially. Team size aside, it seemed to be a literal free-for-all as every encounter with other agents was rife with tension. On more than one occasion my teammates and I were slaughtered even after helping our soon to be assailants clear the area of hostiles. This trend would continue over the next few days and yield very little in terms of valuable items. My inventory was now almost completely gold, but even that presented a new set of problems.
With no items standing out from their counterparts I began the maddening dance of swapping gear and mods in an effort to maximize my weapons. Combining the various mods to unlock certain perks without upsetting others proved to be a delicate balancing act. After sacrificing another forty-five minutes to the inventory screen while I watched attribute numbers rise and fall, I finally had a passable configuration. I then headed into my arsenal to examine what newly acquired weapon attachments had populated the growing list. With all the perks now available for my FAL I wanted to outfit the gun with the best equipment possible. I had been using the red tape skin along with a matching red angled grip that had given the gun a carefully manicured, yet stylish look. I had grown fond of the color scheme over the past few days and wanted to upgrade the scope. I scrolled through the long list of sight attachments, which now included seven different varieties, looking for the perfect piece to plop on top of my trusty mid-range weapon. That’s when I realized that I didn’t posses a black scope. Somehow every attachment that I had painfully extracted was either coyote, tan or bronze.
And that’s when a fuse blew. Something in my mind short circuited. It was 3 AM. I had spent hours on the couch, giving every part of myself to “The Division” and in return it couldn’t even give me a black 12x scope. The realization was sharp and a wave of clarity washed over me. “The Division” and I were finally through. I felt nothing but relief as I set my PlayStation to rest mode and untethered myself from the post-apocalyptic New York. Bleary eyed and tired I headed to bed. That was three days ago. Like with any recent breakup the feelings are still fresh. I often think about my avatar and wonder how things might have been different if I had found the perfect black scope that night instead of three different pairs of cargo pants. Would we still be together?
As I write this, I can see the game case sitting on the shelf. In between sentences I’ll occasionally glance over and make awkward eye contact. It’s hard to forget the past month and all the late nights we shared. Together we had built a character with a reputable arsenal and solid gear configuration. It’s truly a bond than can never be severed and I’m grateful for the time we spent together, but in the end it just wasn’t a healthy relationship for me. I’ve decided that going forward I need to be with a game that values my time and shows me the same kind of love that I show it. I need to be with games like Insomniac Games’ “Ratchet and Clank” or Naughty Dog’s upcoming “Uncharted 4”. I can’t be certain whether “The Division” and I will have a future together someday, but I can say that for right now, we’re on a much needed and indefinite break.