Tom Clancy’s The Division Levels Up Squad Based Multiplayer

We got our grubby little hands on the upcoming squad-based, third-person shooter Tom Clancy’s The Division at Ubisoft’s E3 booth, and left the experience adrenalized, exhilarated, and all-around stoked. The game looks beautiful, of course, but the graphics aren’t the main selling point. The deep customizability of characters, weapon loadouts, and teams are what keep each gameplay session feeling fresh and exciting – as do the complex, completely free interactions that players can engage in with each other.

We played a session of three-vs.-three-vs.-three – though not exactly “versus” since the player squads didn’t start off hostile to each other. Sure, we entered into a nominally player-versus-player area, the “Dark Zone,” near New York City’s Battery Park, but our first encounter was with a group of AI-controlled “Cleaners,” a squad of flamethrower-wielding thugs up to no good. Much like another Ubisoft title, Rainbow Six: Siege, good communication among team members is critical to success in The Division. First, our team leader used a sonar-like device to “ping” the enemies, tagging them on all of our HUDs. Then we coordinated a plan of attack, involving a simple suppress-and-flank tactic.

In moments, the enemies were down (we’re guessing our characters were a little overpowered for demonstration purposes), and the combat felt visceral and real. The AI could be heard barking out commands to each other, just as we were doing. Continuous machine-gun fire can be used to suppress enemies, making it harder for them to move, and that allows more flexibility for your team, which was critical for the tactical approach we’d chosen. Grenades, medkits, deployables (like turrets) – all were available at the click of a button, thanks to The Division’s intuitive controller layout.

Having taken down the squad of Cleaners, our next step was to gather up any of their dropped loot. A key aspect of The Division’s Dark Zone is that, while a lot of the best loot is in the area, players can’t use it immediately after picking it up. It’s contaminated with the plague that’s affected the entire city, so players must take the loot in special biohazard containers strapped to their backs – which, by the way, are easily visible by other players in the same area – and extract by helicopter to a safe zone to have the loot made ready for use. Of course, this is where the real fun begins.

Calling for a helicopter is globally visible, and it’s sure to bring other players to your extract point. Some will help you out by holding off AI or jerks trying to jack you, and some will be the jackers. An extraction in our map took 90 seconds, so we had to focus on laying down cover fire, holing up, and trying to make it to the helicopter before other players took us out. That last bit is no easy task, by the way, since climbing the extraction rope leaves you totally exposed. But we did make it, and got out with our filthy lucre.

But, there’s another angle: Your own teammates can turn on you at any time. The Division is game theory in action, folks: Do you stick together and share the loot gained, or take advantage of a weakened friend and grab his stuff when you can? For our demo, we stuck together, but it could easily have gone a different way. And that’s the beautiful thing about The Division: It’s an experience in social interaction in the purest sense. Nothing is keeping you together except your word and your past experiences. Be careful who you trust, because in the Dark Zone, life is cheap, and loot is valuable.

You’ll be able to get in on the action when Tom Clancy’s The Division hits Xbox One on March 8, 2016.