If what you’ve seen so far from the trailers and demos for Splinter Cell Blacklist hasn’t been doing enough to scratch your itch for Tom Clancy video games (OK, admittedly Clancy’s involvement with his current video games doesn’t seem to extend beyond having his name on them), then perhaps you have eyes for Tom Clancy’s The Division, a brand new IP that was unveiled at E3 earlier this month, with gameplay previewed by Game Rant.

The basic story of The Division was revealed in a lengthy teaser trailer for the game, but here it is again in a nutshell: the United States government, for unclear reasons, decides to invest a hefty chunk of money into a simulation of what would happen if a devastating virus was put onto banknotes and distributed to the general population. Naturally, someone signs the wrong dotted line and the simulation becomes a reality, leaving the world held in the terrifying grip of chaos, sickness and lawlessness.

The player has been trained as a member of a shadow agency to respond to the crisis, mainly by crouching behind chest-high walls, shooting people and blowing things up. Hey, no one ever said that conflict resolution had to be peaceful.

Interest in The Division is high, as with any new IP from a major studio like Ubisoft, and VG24/7 has sat down with the developers in order to try and nail down details of what kind of game it is: does it have a story-based linear narrative, or is it a sprawling MMO with a set-up-and-go style of emergent gameplay and storytelling?

Tagline from the trailer for 'Tom Clancy's The Division'

Fredrick Rundqvist, the COO of developers Ubisoft Massive and producer of the division, laid out the bare bones of the story, but also explained that most of the plot is not fixed, but will be formed by the player’s interactions with the world and with other players:

“There is an overarching story line that, as one of the last functioning agencies, you need to set out to solve the mysteries behind the man-made virus. Who was behind it? Who distributed it? How can we cure it? All that stuff. And of course, to do so, you need to first of all survive in this chaos where everyone is fighting for the same resources that’s still out there. And you have all the government services shutting down one by one, because people simply don’t show up for work anymore, right? It’s both helping who is left out there and of course going after the big bad guy, you know, the mystery behind the virus.

“The structure that we built for the game so far is that there is a story, but it’s not a linear story. So you need to explore the world and pick out pieces and bricks of the story everywhere. And on the way, doing that, you will also encounter other content and other dynamic encounters and missions. Obviously, if you play with other real players, that’s dynamic in itself. You never know how that will play out.”

Rundqvist also promises that the game was designed with infinite gameplay in mind, with “hundreds, if not thousands,” of hours of gameplay to enjoy. Obviously this is appealing for Ubisoft from a developer perspective, since it leaves the door open for things like ongoing DLC and micro-transactions, but from a gamer perspective the concept of a sandbox RPG with infinite adventure possibilities, in the style of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim but with multiplayer gamplay and a real-world setting, does sound incredibly appealing.

The challenge, of course, is making the game fun enough that you won’t get bored of playing it after just twenty hours or so. To combat boredom or fatigue, Rundqvist says that The Division is designed to be as customizable as possible:

“When you start the game you’re actually asked to pick a background. The Division is an agency that’s a combination of disciplines that would be useful in this scenario — engineer, military, law enforcement, intel, medical… stuff like that. As you progress into the game world, you define your own play style so it’s not a typical class-based game. You upgrade your skills and talents and you customize your weapons, the looks of your character. And you can respec right away in the middle of the game. You can continue to develop your play style. Whatever fantasy you want to pursue, it’s up to you.”

Based on this description of the role-playing elements and levelling system, it sounds like The Division will not be class-based in the same way that, for example Mass Effect is, but will instead be more along the lines of System Shock 2 – offering the player the choice of mission history before the main game begins so as to decide what kind of background they have, and then allowing them to develop their skills organically from there. The ability to pick and choose a blend of preferred skillsets actually sounds more enjoyable than being locked into a particular class, because it allows the player to tailor the gameplay very specifically to their chosen style.

Cover-based combat in 'Tom Clancy's The Division'

To survive in a multiplayer environment however, you might want to bring along a group of friends with a mixed range of skills, as the developers suggest that the focus on online multiplayer will be quite strong. Production director Petter Mannerfelt says that multiplayer is more than just an addition to the singleplayer campaign: it can be both part of it, or the entire focus of your playthrough.

“This game, at its core, is a multiplayer online game. It’s based on online and grouping. You can play with your friends and play with a lot of other people. You can, of course, play by yourself and play all the story stuff by yourself and as I said, seamlessly with your friends and seamlessly into PvP if you feel like playing PvP. In the PvP areas you will meet many, many other players.”

It’s a relief to hear that The Division will have a singleplayer option for the unsociable among us, but the mention of “seamlessly” entering multiplayer or PvP is what sounds most interesting. Perhaps different areas of the city will provide different areas of gameplay, or perhaps your friends will literally be able to drop into your game whenever you feel like you need some backup – or are too scared to go into a dark, ruined building by yourself.

Like the sound of Tom Clancy’s The Division as a post-civilization sandbox with RPG and multiplayer sandbox, or would you have preferred a more story-driven singleplayer campaign?

Tom Clancy’s The Division will be on shelves for PS4 and Xbox One some time in 2014. We’re still waiting on an official announcement for a PC release.