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Tom Clancy's The Division is out today. Here's what you need to know

Take back New York in this third-person shooter.

In Tom Clancy's The Division, New York is a desolate wasteland. A smallpox epidemic has ravaged the US, and as the member of a strategic task force, it's up to you and your fellow operatives to piece the nation back together. Naturally, this mostly involves shooting at a lot of things.

Screenshot by Nate Ralph/CNET

What exactly is Tom Clancy's The Division? And when can I play it?

The Division is a cover-based, third-person shooter; expect to spend a lot of time ducking behind conveniently placed dumpsters and vehicles, taking potshots at similarly crouched foes. It's also an RPG: you'll roam the rather stunning backdrop of a dilapidated New York City, checking out points of interest scattered around the map, hopping from mission to mission, or just exploring the desolate city streets. There's also loot to sift through, levels to gain by earning experience, and skills to earn and equip.

And you can play right now! The game is available today, on the Xbox One, the PlayStation 4, and PC. Don't expect reviews for a while, though: developer Ubisoft believes that the best way for reviewers to assess the game is to get into the trenches with the players, and play the game the way it's meant to be played.

Screenshot by Nate Ralph/CNET

That sounds like a lot of random stuff, cobbled together.

I know, right? But it actually works rather well. Co-operative play is at the heart of the game, so you can run around tackling events and the like with a crew of up to 4 buddies if you'd rather not go it alone.

It actually really reminds me of a more grounded version of Destiny. There are no spaceships and aliens, and you won't scale towers, or leap around verdant jungles. But the tight, focused levels should lend itself well to chaotic gameplay.

Screenshot by Nate Ralph/CNET

What if I want to, say, shoot other people?

The player-versus-player mode offers some of the best loot in the game: you just have to go get it. The catch, of course, is that the goodies you find inside these "Dark Zones" won't be yours until you've successfully escaped -- die, and you'll lose everything you picked up.

And so every trip to the Dark Zones is one fraught with a kind of terror. Any player can strike you down at a moment's notice. Or maybe they'll cooperate with you, sharing the spoils so you'll all get ahead, together. I aware there's little to no chance of that actually happening, so be sure to rope some (trustworthy) friends in.

Screenshot by Nate Ralph/CNET

What do I do when I'm not shooting?

Well, there's an entire city to explore. It's not exactly a 1:1 representation of New York City -- that would take ages to roam. But as someone who was born and raised in the city, it's eerily reminiscent of the place I used to call home.

Beleaguered citizens roam the streets, looking for a hand -- in exchange for loot -- or just trying to get out of your way. There are bad guys to tangle with, random nuggets of information hidden discarded documents and voice recordings, and lots of random encounters littered around the city. You also have a base that you'll build up and personalized, using supplies earned from completing missions. Ubisoft has also pledged to ship three expansions for the game over the course of the year, promising to flesh out the city and give us more things to do over time.

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