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The Division has promise — if you can keep from shooting the wrong people

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At this point, Tom Clancy's The Division has been at two E3s with fairly major presences. It's been at three (!) Ubisoft press conferences. It's been written about again and again.

But this year, I finally played it. So let's focus on that.

My demo for The Division focused on the game's player-versus-player element. While The Division is an open-world, cooperative action-RPG, its virus-plagued New York City is full of "Dark Zones" — spaces under full quarantine where the virus is still especially active. These spaces are cordoned off, and you have to deliberately enter them, making them a very smart, logical gate to potential PVP encounters in the game.

But even if you're not interested in going full post-apocalyptic on other Division players, you might still want to brave dark zones, where you'll find some of the best loot — yes, loot — in the game. This loot is virally contaminated however, and the only way to safely claim it for good is to reach a marked off extraction point in the dark zone.

Here's the catch though, or rather, the catches: There are powerful enemies in each dark zone, including flamethrower-wielding sanitation workers hoping to burn the virus out once and for all; former prisoners from Rikers Island who have formed their own gangs roving the dying city; and, finally, well, players.

This last catch is the most unpredictable, and the most dangerous. Other players may be a threat whether they're strangers or your own teammates. And I found this last part out the hard way — by being the threat in question.

I swear I didn't mean to.

It went down like this: My teammates and I entered the dark zone each playing as a different role — one of us was more of a long range specialist, while I had a deployable turret, a scanner that would search for hostiles and objectives within a short radius, a machine gun and a shotgun for more intimate moments, and the Ubisoft employee guiding us through the viral end-times was a medic.

The Division slice I played felt very familiar as a fan of the Splinter Cell series and as someone who enjoyed the basic cover mechanics of Watch Dogs. It's a third-person, cover-based shooter, with a lot of environmental reaction factored in with a lot of mandatory strategic positioning. You need to hit enemies from weak points — think: from behind, from high ground, from advantageous viewpoints. Overwatch is vital to winning fights, especially if you're outnumbered, though I didn't feel like my gunfire was at the mercy of any dice rolls.

It took some time to get used to the sponginess of enemies, which is really where the online RPG part of The Division became more obvious. Opponents take a lot of hits to fall compared to every other Tom Clancy game, and while this isn't bad, broadly speaking, it does chip away at the sense of identity it would otherwise share more strongly with its canonical brethren like Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon.

But The Division has the loot, which adds a hook unique to the brand. As we took one fight, and then another, we discovered some of the precious elite gear the game has to offer. The only problem? It was contaminated, as I explained above. As we moved to the extraction point to get away with our haul, we encountered a firefight between enemy AI and another squad of players. Our guide suggested helping the other squad or staying out of it, and I, feeling benevolent, wanted to help. I worked my way around the fracas and set up my turret, then opened fire on the AI opponents with my shotgun.

Except I missed.

the division e3 screen 2

Once you shoot another player in the dark zone, you'll be declared rogue, and you're fair game for anyone else to kill without penalty or issue — though what the penalty for being a regular rogue is, I'm not sure yet. The immediate repercussions of my actions was a pissed off group of players who now considered me, and, as importantly, my squad, as actionable targets.

Things disintegrated pretty quickly after that. I was taken down, and though there's a pretty standard multiplayer oriented respawn system in place, you drop your loot when you die. If another player doesn't pick it up, you can retrieve it. But this can be a trap, as I found out the hard way when I tried to recover my gear and got ambushed again. A minute or so later I watched helplessly as the other team extracted via chopper with their winnings while my teammates and I were left behind.

My concern with The Division right now isn't how it plays, as I think developer Massive has that all down pretty well. But I started a fight by accident, and I feel like it was done with the best intentions. I worry that might be entirely too easy to do, and worse, that I might inadvertently shoot a teammate and start a little Reservoir Dogs-style stand-off if I sneeze at the wrong time while playing.

I'll learn whether this could be a bigger issue when The Division's beta launches on Xbox One in December.