Saturday, March 26, 2016

Being harassed in The Division's Dark Zone  

So tonight, I "finished" The Division.

Altogether, I spent about 60 hours (more or less) and usually played in a team of three. We completed every main and side mission, and also maxed out the headquarters. I’m not going to collect all the random pickup doodads, but I will come back for the DLC after giving it a little rest.  

Over the course of playing the game, we dipped into the game’s online quasi-PVP called “The Dark Zone” a few times -- nothing too frequent, but we had some good runs. Sometimes we’d get some good loot, sometimes we’d lose it to other players, but overall I felt like it was a great idea and a neat twist on the usual PVP offerings.

We went back in today and had what is, hands-down, the worst experience I've had in The Division, and probably one of the worst online experiences I've ever had.

When we first entered the DZ, we were approached by another player. We were having headset difficulties at the time and none of us could hear each other very well, so we didn't think too much of it. After the connection improved, we started catching bits and pieces of this guy talking, and it was along the lines of "Let me join your group or I'll kill you".

Obviously, this is not the proper way to approach other players if you want to work together, and since he seemed like he had a screw loose, we moved on and ignored him.

The thing is, he did not ignore us.

He started following behind us silently, and I thought he'd eventually get bored and buzz off. However, he persisted. Once my team started taking down AI characters and accumulating some loot, he opened fire on us from behind and took all three of us out before we could do anything.
We immediately respawned and ran back to the scene of the crime, and he was still there.

I figured that the three of us would open up on him and get our stuff back, but even with three of us firing at him in unison and giving him everything we had, we barely scratched him.  He took the whole team down a couple more times without breaking a sweat. While he was doing it, he kept saying "You should have let me join your group." and "I thought we could be friends."

After repeatedly getting killed by this guy, we decided to bounce and go to a different zone, but he kept following us wouldn't leave us alone. Even after we completely left the DZ and came back, he still found us and wouldn’t stop tailing our group. The whole time it was the same M.O. -- he'd follow us and not do anything until we collected some loot, and then he'd kill us in a matter of seconds and take our stuff.

Don’t’ get me wrong here -- the problem is not that somebody in the Dark Zone killed and robbed us (it’s been clearly stated since before The Division‘s launch that this was part of the online) but the problem is that it’s absurd for one player to be able to steamroll a team of three with impunity, and then keep on doing it, effectively preventing us from doing anything in the DZ.

In The Souls series (another game with unusual online PVP) things are different. After getting beaten by someone, that person returns to their world and it's just luck of the draw if you ever see them again. Unless the servers are deserted, you probably won’t. I certainly don't mind getting beaten by someone who's better than me or who has better gear, but being beaten by someone and going your separate ways is not the same as being killed by someone and then having them follow you during every minute of your playtime to kill you over and over and over again.

Another difference is that there’s no talking in Souls. No matter how cheesy or awful someone might be, the devs don’t make you listen to their taunting or verbal abuse. In The Division, we went to PSN party chat to avoid hearing randos talk in the DZ, but we could still hear this guy talking (environmentally) when he was close to us.  Thankfully there are options in the menu which prevent verbal communication with other players, so as soon as we stopped playing, I shut all that stuff off. It's going to stay off. 

This experience was incredibly frustrating and discouraging, and is by far the worst time we’ve had with the game overall. Ubisoft definitely needs to address a few things in order to improve things here because there are always going to be people who want to be the biggest fish in a small pond, and if someone like that can be an active barrier to the gameplay of others, then action needs to be taken.

For starters, let’s talk about the balance. Prior to becoming level 30, the DZ is sectioned off to players in certain segments. Levels 1-5 play in one zone, levels 5-10 play in another, and so forth. My team were all level 30. The guy harassing us was also level 30. In The Division it’s possible to find or craft gear that improves individual stats regardless of level, and I’m guessing this is how he was crushing us – on paper we seemed like equals, but in practice this was clearly not the case. It seems like assigning point values to players based on their gear might prevent the sort of one-sided domination we saw here. People who grind for days to get the best gear should be matched against people who are doing the same.

Going further, despite the everybody-for-themselves nature of the DZ, I’d say this guy’s behavior was straight-up harassment. It's one thing to take a headshot in PVP or lose a match here and there, but it's something else altogether to have someone watching over your shoulder the entire time you're playing, arbitrarily stopping your progress and verbally taunting you.

In situations like this, I’d like to see some sort of system to let me avoid being instanced with an abusive person – if I tag them as being a harasser, let the servers put us in different games. There's a similar system in the phenomenal Helldivers. You can down-vote a player who's a jerk, and the game will then take steps to avoid bringing you two together, which is brilliant. If Ubisoft can't do that, then at the very least there should be some sort of reporting system. I know it might be hard to implement since anyone who gets their stuff stolen might want to ‘report’ the thief as a knee-jerk reaction, but I felt like this went way beyond gameplay and became full-on harassment.

If Ubisoft wants The Division to have a robust player base and become a persistent online platform, they’re going to have to take steps to stop people like the guy we met tonight from dominating the online component. If there’s nobody in the DZ except nigh-invulnerable creepers who get off on actively interfering with others, then they can kiss any dreams of long-term success goodbye despite everything The Division gets right, and it gets a lot right. Seeing all of that hard work go down the drain thanks to people abusing the system would be a real shame, but I’ve gotta be honest – after a session like tonight, I’m pretty reluctant to ever go back into the Dark Zone again.   


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