In a market overcrowded by cover-based shooters and online multiplayer games, “Tom Clancy’s The Division” is easily one of the first must-have games of 2016. With an engaging story, intuitive controls and an almost eerily realistic depiction of a devastated NYC populace, the game stands as a testament to the developers’ originality and dedication.

Part single-player campaign, part MMO, part co-op RPG, the game offers its players more gameplay choices than almost any other title on the market. “The Division” offers the best of online-gameplay, finding a perfect situation in which friends can easily game-together to annihilate NPC gangs, or to team-up and take on other players.

Whether you hate playing with strangers and only enjoy playing with friends, enjoy PvP or despise it, “The Division” won’t force you into anything you don’t feel like doing. That’s the secret ingredient baked into The Division’s core gameplay-mechanic; player choice.

If you enjoy playing games solo, then you can spend countless hours in and around NYC helping to stabilize the outbreak. While it may prove to be difficult to play solo at times, the game won’t force you to join other players. In fact, you won’t have to team-up at all if you prefer to maintain your lone-wolf status.

Of course playing with a group does have its benefits and if you need a little help now and then, or want to join-in on a friend’s game, all you have to do is join their group and you’re off adventuring together.

In co-op “group mode” players share XP, they don’t fight over loot boxes or item drops, and there is no bidding system to get the gear you’ve earned. You are playing the same game as you normally would, only with a friend or companion(s). In single-player or group mode, you are the only non-NPC players roaming around New York. You will see other players in safe-houses, and they are only a “group search” option away, but you won’t have to run through crowds or see anyone while hitting the streets. It’s a beautiful system, and one that I think many co-op fans have been asking developers to make for sometime now. This is co-op in its simplest form, with maximum results.

Let’s not forget PvP, because there are people that love to take on the world. The PvP in The Division is held within a gated area of NYC called “The Dark Zone”. This area is separated from the normal game, so if you don’t want to fight other players, you never have to. It’s a really fun and trying time in the Dark Zone though, and even if you have disliked PvP in the past, I would recommend trying it out. I would suggest you watch a few videos on the mechanics of loot extraction though before venturing into the DZ, but we will talk about that in a bit.

The game begins shortly after a biological weapon is released in New York City. The terrorist attack is released on Black Friday and soon the entire city is under martial law as citizens go into panic mode.

With food, water, electricity and medical supplies running thin, violence and fear take over the city. An elite cell called “The Division” is soon activated and they are sent into NYC to stem the violent outburst, isolate the virus and restore order to the street.

Unfortunately, the first team sent into NYC went dark. New players in “The Division” will assume the role as the second wave of Agents sent in to take control of the city.

This serves as the backdrop to all aspects of the game. The story plays out like a mystery-thriller as you piece together the clues about the virus’ origin, all while fighting your way through the mobs, gangs and PMCs that have taken advantage of the lawless city.

While the game plays like a standard cover-based shooter, fantastic RPG elements like skill-trees, crafting and mods really elevate the gameplay experience. Players can also take a break from the story-missions to find hidden collectables, much like other open-world games, each that tell a portion of the story that began with the Black Friday attacks.

Other highlights of the game include a wonderfully challenging AI system, spectacular graphics and little to no loading screens or other common hang-ups that players sometimes have to endure with these kind of releases.

The three distinctive skill-trees and seemingly endless arsenal of guns that you come across offer some amazing gameplay scenarios. Combat in the game is fine-tuned, often times frustrating, but very addictive.

The side-content keeps the game from getting stale and there is a lot of it. Simply running down the avenues and alleys of our dear city will offer hostage rescues, missing soldier missions, breach-and-clear ops, or salvage missions. These are just a few of the side-missions that are offered “on-the-fly” as you run through the streets. There are dozens more awaiting your expertise in the safe houses and bases of “The Division” HQ.

The Echo locations are particularly interesting, and they can be both illuminating and silly. These unique location offer a quick glimpse of a special moment that happened in the city during the outbreak.

Sometimes reliving these “paused moments” can be crucial for finding intel that will lead you to the virus’ origin, other times it can be a simple callback to a scene from “Shawn of the Dead”. I won’t spoil anything for you though.

If you spend enough time in the single-player/co-op portion of the game, you might want to test out that “Dark Zone” we spoke about earlier. Living up to its name, the Dark Zone can be an absolute nail-biting experience.

All players in the Dark Zone have the option to kill each other, but more often than not, players will still band together to make it out alive. The NPCs that patrol the Dark Zone are elite, armored manics that will stop at nothing to hunt you down and murder you. The loot you collect in the DZ is usually better than the standard drops you would find in the PvE areas, but you have to extract it to get it.

Extractions can be done by calling in a helicopter at particular locations on the map. Players have to wait at the location until the chopper arrives, then attach their loot bags to the dropped rope. Your DZ loot is separate from your standard backpack, that’s because when you die in DZ, your loot drops at your feet.

You can go back to retrieve and dropped loot, but anyone could take it while you spawn and are running back. This makes waiting for the chopper an intense experience. Not only are you inches away from securing your loot to safety, you know that if anyone kills you they will only have to move a few feet to secure it for themselves.

In my time in the DZ, 9 times out of 10 other players were helping each other to secure the extraction zones and “playing nice” with one another. The fact that NPCs are so brutal in the early stages keep players working together. That being said, I was killed trying to send my loot-bag to the chopper, and it made me want to destroy all in my path for the rest of the night.

If you do decide to kill a fellow agent, you will be marked as wanted agent. A reward bounty will be placed on your head and you will have to escape the DZ, or suffer the wrath of other players. It’s a fun gamble, you can kill a man to steal his loot but you don’t know how great their loot is, and you will still have to get it extracted and escape through the DZ to survive. Luckily players are zoned by ranks, like 1 -14 levels, so you won’t have to battle the vets right away.

Outside of the gameplay, The Division successfully managed to adapt standard PvE, PvP zoning from MMOs and add it to single-player gameplay. The co-op system is brilliant, with open-questing, shared XP and non-sharable looting. The entire experience is just wonderfully fun and the game is challenging, not the mechanics.

While the game is simplistic in entertainment, the intricate leveling and crafting systems offer gamers a wide-array of choices and customizations. The skill-trees offer unique gameplay experiences, and when coupled with the weapons of the game, offer a seemingly endless combinations of strategies and attacks.

The game is streamlined to get you into the action and playing with or against friends, but diverse and challenging enough to keep you invested over time. It’s not often that ‘fun’ and ‘online-shooter’ go together, but if you have the right companions and a rig to run the game, then you are in for hours of entertainment.

Tom Clancy’s The Division” is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.