There are understandable complaints that The Division’s expansions are really just new game modes and not actual storyline extensions. But there’s a story in The Division’s Survival mode. I think it’s about me and a guy named Kirk.
Kirk was this Division super-agent, all levelled up from his time in the PC version of the game. I was a super-agent, too, but only on Xbox One. On PC, I was as levelled up as a hole in the ground.
When it was time for Survival, that didn’t matter. As Survival’s starting cutscene tells it, we were two agents who had the bad luck to ride a helicopter that crashed onto the edge of Manhattan during a blizzard. Our mission was to retrieve antiviral medicine. The playing field was levelled; we had no levels of our own. Our gear sucked equally. And we both had a little over an hour to live.
We started on the West Side, in Chelsea. We needed to make it to the Dark Zone in the middle of town.
In the early going, we had very little. He had enough cloth to make himself a scarf. I made myself a hat.
We went outside. Kirk was new to this. I’d tried getting through this blizzard before and took on the role of leader. I would walk him through this, as best I understood it. I explained that we could keep warm by a burning fire barrel.
We worked well as a team. We trudged through snow, scavenged and killed bad guys together.
Once, early in our run, I wanted us to attack some guys with flamethrowers. But Kirk talked me out of it. We couldn’t afford to be reckless.
We found safer routes and some weapon parts. We went to a hideout on Manhattan’s west side and built ourselves some rifles. I made myself a warm coat, too. We found a subway station and explored, but some other guy was already running through, snatching all the good loot.
Things were easier with Kirk around. In harsh wintry conditions, we thrived. But, truth be told, I was getting hungry. And thirsty. And feeling sick. My infection was setting in.
We pressed on. At a vending machine that was somehow still working, I drank a refreshing drink. It helped me see better, made some of the hidden loot brighter in the game world.
We found a train yard that had some good stashes. One contained gloves, a denim shirt and some food.
I left the food for Kirk. He was coatless, maybe not faring so well. I didn’t want him to starve.
Out on the West Side, we flanked our foes and took their loot. A finer tandem operation you’ve never seen.
A thought crept in. Kirk may have verbalised it first. Maybe we were spending too much time on the West Side. We’d taken medicine and slowed the rate of infection. After a half hour, I still had 38 minutes to live. Kirk had a little less.
Other people were dropping off. We’d started with the knowledge that there were 24 souls playing through the snowy city. We kept getting alerts that people were dying.
We went north and found some loot in a ruined jewellery store. Some tools and electronics.
We trekked east, toward the centre of Manhattan, while also cutting north, hoping to find better armour and maybe better guns at a helicopter crash site. It sounds gruesome, but I thought we might even find good gear on the corpses of other players. Red Xes marked their spots.
But the crash site had been stripped bare.
The corpses were gone.
We were freezing. We ran toward Times Square, closer to our Dark Zone destination. We found a theatre and went inside to warm up.
It was around this time that Kirk told me that he only had 20 minutes to live. He hadn’t taken as much medicine as I had. I could still hang on for another 28.
We had collected a lot of supplies by this time. I’d used some of them to craft myself a skill. If we got hurt, I could build a support station and heal us.
Soon enough, after I exited an obliterated electronics store, I ran into a very tough enemy.
This enemy had a grenade. The grenade set me on fire.
Things were suddenly not going well. But at least I had Kirk watching my back. And at least I had my support station.
That encounter was a wake-up call. Kirk really didn’t have that long left to live. Worse, we soon realised, we hadn’t crafted our Basic Virus Filters, which we would need to enter the Dark Zone. Kirk scraped and scrounged until he had enough fabric and tools to make one. I came up short.
We fought tougher guys and got better gear. Purples would do us good, we thought.
Surely we were ready for the Dark Zone. I sure felt like I was.
Despite my good gear, though, I didn’t have the materials to make that Dark Zone breathing filter. I dismantled some gear and wound up with enough fabric. But I didn’t have any tools.
We left the subway station together, but time was running out. Kirk had his air filter. He’d made it some time ago. He could survive in the Dark Zone, but he only had 15 minutes to live. He was going in. Said he had to.
He ran east. I ran south.
We could still talk over our headsets. I couldn’t see him on my map, but we were in touch. He told me how it was going. I’d only been in the Dark Zone for Survival once before. When I went in, it had been full of powerful enemies. It’s why I hadn’t rushed to go there this time. It’s why I wanted to prepare. But Kirk told me the Dark Zone seemed empty. There wasn’t anyone there.
We’d survived for over an hour by this point, both past our life expectancy. Painkillers had helped. Kirk also discovered he had picked up some medicine. It temporarily stalled his infection.
I searched and I searched.
I was sick. I was dying. Turns out I was on fire, too.
Kirk was down to five minutes, he told me. He’d found the antiviral drugs that were our mission goal and just needed to get airlifted out. He had also found enemies and some other players. They were trying to survive together, he said. I could see the readouts on my screen. The going was tough.
I ran and I ran, looking for supplies. It sounded worse and worse for Kirk. And then he was down, without a health pack or a friend to revive him.
There were seven players left, one trying to trade food for meds. There was a five minute window where I could revive Kirk if I could reach him. But I only had six minutes to live. I didn’t have the tools, couldn’t make that filter, couldn’t get into the Dark Zone.
My mind was racing. I thought about how we’d paused our run for a minute when I needed to fix something on my computer. I thought about how we’d waited 30 seconds when Kirk briefly needed to step away. What I wouldn’t give for another couple minutes now!
And then I found the tools.
I made the filter. I checked the map. He was the blue dot. I was the little line. He was way too far to the south.
All that time we had wasted. All that time we had spent on the West Side and running to that helicopter site and to those corpses that weren’t there.
By the time I entered the Dark Zone, Kirk’s revive timer was almost done.
As my life expectancy dropped to three minutes, he was gone.
I found painkillers to slow the infection. I found enemies, but ran right past them, even as they shot at me. I found Christmas Trees for sale, but that was no help.
Freezing, with one minute of life left, I found an energy bar.
I needed medicine, damn it.
At 45 seconds to go I found a valuable sealed weapons cache.
At 25 seconds to go, there were only four of us players remaining.
At 17 seconds to go, I found fabric.
At 2 seconds to go, I saw the antivirals ahead of me, a whole lot of good that would do.
And then I died.
Yeah, probably should have spent less time screwing around on the West Side.
And that’s the story, or at least one of the stories possible in this mode. We’ll go for a more triumphant ending next time.