Is The Division’s endgame already in trouble?
If there is one lesson that Role Playing Games had to learn the hard way, it’s that a good RPG has to have some kind of endgame content to encourage you to keep playing the game, even if you already got the best loot possible and such. The Division is no different, and to that end, it features multiple endgame activities: Challenge mode and the Dark Zone. However, it is entirely possible that The Division’s endgame mechanic is running into trouble already, especially given how the Dark Zone works in its current form.
The tamest Wild West ever
When the Dark Zone was first unveiled, it was touted as an area where players can kill other players and steal their loot. To keep the Dark Zone from becoming a shoot-on-sight no man’s land, the Rogue system was implemented. In short, if you deal enough damage to another player, you essentially get marked as a Rogue agent to the entire Dark Zone lobby, and if you die, you lose a significant amount of Dark Zone XP and credits.
Unfortunately, it seems as though the Rogue system is a bit heavy handed in its punishments to the point that the Dark Zone has become a glorified PvE area. Currently, going Rogue is the riskiest thing that you can do, but the rewards do not match at all. Sure, you could steal some guy’s loot, but you don’t know what kind of loot he was carrying (have fun getting chased around the map for that cosmetic item). On top of that, even if you do survive the ensuing Manhunt, your only reward (outside of what you steal) is a paltry amount of credits that you could’ve easily obtained in some 30 minutes of PvE (at most). But if you die, you can lose thousands, even hundreds of thousands of credits, not to mention the significant XP drop that can amount to hours of progress.
This leads to a situation where most rational people will simply avoid other players, not because they’re afraid that they will get killed for loot, but because they’re afraid that they will accidentally shoot someone else and have nothing to gain for it at best. Needless to say, this jeopardizes the tense atmosphere that the Dark Zone was intended to convey where you can’t trust anyone because they might steal your stuff.
It’s like reverse elitism!
But let’s say that you prefer pure PvE with your friends with no chance of running into someone who will shoot you in the back. The Division has just the endgame activity for you, where you can replay the main quest missions at a significantly higher difficulty (aptly dubbed Challenge mode/difficulty) than before for extremely valuable loot. In theory, this is a somewhat clever way to combat the fact that The Division has no traditional raid. In practice, this brings up a slight problem regarding how The Division handles playing with friends.
Let’s say that you and some friends play together regularly and are roughly the same level. But for one reason or another, some members of your group couldn’t play as much as the others during a couple of days. Naturally, this puts them at a 2, maybe 3 (or more) level disadvantage. You want to help them through hard difficulty in a main quest because it guarantees a reward that scales to everyone’s level, but the game scales the difficulty to the highest level person in the group. As a result, that friend essentially has to hide in a corner the whole time unless they want to be instantly killed by everything, making it almost impossible for them to contribute.
This leaves your group with three options: either agree to play separately until you are all at the same level again, play everything on a lower difficulty (ultimately leaving at least one member of your group with relatively poor gear), or “encourage” the highest level person to effectively not play the game because of the practical negatives it has to the group as a whole. Obviously, this has a negative impact on groups that want to run Challenge mode, especially considering the fact that many people simply don’t have the same schedules.
It’s not the end of times…yet
Fortunately, The Division’s developers appear to be very proactive in addressing faults in their game (for now anyways). The aforementioned problems, while glaring, can easily be fixed in the short term with a few simple tweaks to how loot works in the Dark Zone or how much XP and credits you lose while dying as a Rogue, or how the game scales the main quest difficulties. Even more fortunate is the fact that most people probably haven’t reached the point by which these issues are causing problems, given that the game just came out not that long ago, so time is on Ubisoft and Massive’s side.