For over a week, Zachary Jaglowski has been trying to figure out what the deal is with a mysterious basement in The Division 2. The 24-year-old graphic designer from New Jersey has explored the small downstairs space with a friend, and they’re convinced something is up with it. They’ve had their characters shoot out all the lights, made them do jumping jacks. On a hunch, Jaglowski made his guy salute. So far, nothing has happened.
“We were messing around with the room for a while,” Jaglowski told me when we talked about his efforts to figure out the significance of a room that players reach at the end of an odd and unusually short hidden Division 2 side mission.
The strange basement is one of several mysteries players have been working through in the game, on message boards, and on Discord since The Division 2’s launch two weeks ago. These puzzles, which, like the game’s hidden ducks, are nestled off the main questlines of the sprawling third-person shooter’s open world, have further excited players who already seems largely pleased with the game. Some puzzle solutions have come quickly. Others have been more stubborn, even with hundreds of players working together to crack them.
The mysterious G. Phillips basement.
The most elaborate mystery encountered by players so far involves a set of eight coded messages hidden in graffiti around the game. Seven of them have been solved but one is so vexing that even the YouTube chat window next to The Division 2’s latest weekly livestream video on Wednesday was spammed with the word “UNITE,” which is shorthand for the unsolved riddle.
Many of the pieces of graffiti tied to the puzzle were found back when the game was in beta. That’s when the cipher behind the eight coded messages was cracked, too. Shortly after release, players had spotted the graffiti and decoded the riddles, leaving them to figure out what to do with clues like:
WHEN ORANGE WATER
WAVES AT NIGHT
THE POTOMAC CAMP
WILL FIND RELIEF
Soon, players started figuring it out. Each riddle, when acted on correctly, would cause one or more extremely powerful enemies called a Hunter to show up. A clue that included the line “gather round the tree to bring cheer and light” involved interacting with a specific Christmas tree. The Hunters are tough but rewarding foes; killing them makes them drop special masks and sometimes an item called an ivory key, eight of which are needed to open a box in the player’s base of operations.
Players quickly figured out six of the eight riddles. A seventh clue eluded everyone until Sunday, 12 days after the game had first gone on sale, when a Ubisoft forum user known as Viking-Skjald posted the message “We solved the next riddle! Ivory key 7/8 awaits you!”
The riddle, decoded from markings on in-game graffiti, was as follows:
AGRARIAN TRUCKS SIGNAL THE RIGHT PLACE
A WRONG TURN THEYLL PUMP THE BREAKS
ONE F(OR?) ONE AIM WELL BREAK THE GLASS
A GREAT REWARD AWAITS YOUR ASS
The solution, it turned out, was to go to climb onto the back of a specific truck outside the game’s version of the offices of the Department of Agriculture and shoot 13 windows with one bullet each. Then a Hunter would appear for battle.
A visual guide to solving one of the ivory key riddle created by the game’s secret hunters. Screenshot: Ubisoft forum user Viking-Skjald
In the message announcing the discovery, Viking-Skjald plugged the Division 2 Secrets group that fans had started on Discord, noting its membership had swelled to nearly 1,000 members and cited the two members who’d come up with the ideas most helpful for figuring things out. “Props to our whole community, you guys are absolutely dedicated, some of us having slept just around 10 hours within the last days,” Viking-Skjald said. The Discord now has more than 4000 members.
An eighth graffiti riddle still confounds The Division 2’s secret hunters. The clue, which appears near the word UNITE that is painted onto the game’s Washington Monument, is as follows:
SCAN THREE LOST SOULS
FIND THE TIME TO PAY RESPECTS
AFTER DARK RETURN TO FIRST MONUMENT
AND RELEASE ANOTHER
Players have tried following those vague directions by activating a terminal below the Washington Monument, going to three areas marked on the terminal’s map, saluting gravestones in those areas and returning back to the monument, where the the terminal is updated but then… nothing happens. They haven’t figured out that part yet. (A post on Reddit from a few days ago catalogues many of the attempts to solve the riddle. Its author says they’ve spent 30 hours trying to crack it.)
When people start playing a big new video game, they usually want to tackle a lot of its challenges on their own, but it’s unlikely that many Division 2 players are interested in scouring its hundreds of city blocks for eight pieces of graffiti, decoding a cipher, and figuring out the clues. That’s part of the fun, but it’s part of the fun for the community as a whole. Blessed are those who spend the sleepless hours doing the hard sleuthing.
For most players, it’s likely they’ll hear a rumour about Hunters, Google for how to activate them, then walk the path blazed by the game’s secret-hunters. That’s been the pattern for how players crack the elaborate secrets tucked into the Destiny games, that regularly updated series about shooting mean aliens and collecting better loot that The Division 2’s adventures about shooting mean people and collecting better loot seems designed to emulate.
Games like The Division 2 and Destiny are crafted to be ongoing experiences that involve some amount of give and take from game creators and players. Creators offer new adventures and challenges, while players offer feedback through what they do in the game and what they have to say about it. At least, that’s the theory, when the two parties aren’t sweating bugs, bad design choices, or other malfunctions in the game.
In series like these, the developers want players to keep playing, and the players often crave more stuff to do. Some difficult, elaborate puzzles add more life to the game, keep more buzz going, and give the player base a chance to split in a constructive way. A small number of dedicated players can devote themselves to putting their heads together to solve the puzzles, themselves setting some of the pace for how the game unfolds for everyone else.
The mysterious G. Phillips Protocol mission has a custom icon not used anywhere else in the game, but the mission consists of opening a single door. Players are convinced there’s more to it.
Zachary Jaglowski has been an avid Destiny player and enjoyed playing through the player-cracked mysteries of that game, too. He got the Division 2 back on March 12 and by the end of the week had discovered a hidden mission called Navy Hill Transmission, which leads to a fun, short adventure that’s better left unspoiled. When he was doing it, he was on the cusp of that laundry room thing, which remains unsolved.
Completing Navy Hill Transmission triggers another hidden mission called the G. Phillips Protocol, which is marked on the in-game map with an icon not used for any other mission in the game. The only surprise about the G. Phillips mission so far is that it is anticlimactic. It ends the moment the player opens a door to start it. Beyond that door is a hallway, and downstairs from the hallway is the mysterious basement. No one has figured out what might happen beyond that. “It just kind of didn’t make much sense ending with nothing,” Jaglowski said.
Players like Jaglowski have tried a lot of things in that laundry room, including trying to parse whether a blinking light is sending Morse code. Jagloswki has spend several hours doing online research, reading about a real man named George Phillips, a Medal of Honor recipient who died in World War II. He’s cross-checked the locations for the missions, noticing that the Naval Hill Transmission seems to be set where the CIA predecessor agency, the OSS, was originally based. He’s wandered The Division 2’s D.C., and earlier this week posted a video showing that there is a very similar laundry room to the G. Phillips one in the southern part of the map. He’s kept a thread on the game’s subreddit cataloguing his research and discoveries.
One of the catches with in-game secrets is that sometimes the secret has a flaw. Sometimes a puzzle is implemented incorrectly by the developers or is just too tough for the players to solve. Sometimes there’s just nothing more to it. Jaglowski recognises that this could be the case here, that the laundry room could just be a laundry room and there are no proverbial 13 windows to shoot. “There is a possibility,” he said of the prospect that the G. Phillips room leads to nothing. “It is very interesting with everything they did up to it and giving it a unique icon. It would be bizarre for them to do it, but it is a possibility.”