Games offer up magic in lots of different guises, but working with a friend to achieve a goal is arguably where they really shine. But what are the best PC co-op games? What are the titles that will really pull friends together and offer the best group-based thrills?
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The best co-op games are the ones that let you explore new worlds with a buddy by your side, triumph over evil as a team, introduce a novice to the wonder of the medium, or simply just beat each other over the head with questionable weaponry for kicks. These are some of the very best co-op games for you to share with your favourite people.
Ubisoft’s latest open-world game may have everything you’d expect - hundreds of collectables, repetitive side quests, absurdly detailed buildings - but it’s got one important addition that changes the dynamic entirely: co-op. In fact, The Division doesn’t just have co-op bolted on, it’s designed for it. You and up to three pals can join forces to take down the gangs of looters, pyromaniacs, and PMC soldiers who are out to claim a disease-ridden NYC for themselves, and along the way you’ll be finding a gazillion different guns and armour loot drops.
The missions are exciting and clearly designed for multiple players to make the most of them: labyrinth-like office blocks and department stores offer plenty of flanking opportunities for well-coordinated teams, and the classless RPG character system lets you respec at any time so your group can equip a balanced selection of skills. Taking down the game’s most challenging bosses together - such as those in the Incursion update - is a genuinely rewarding experience, and the world is perfect for a sightseeing trip with friends.
Want more? Here's our The Division review.
Divinity: Original Sin
Where most co-op games sacrifice a certain amount of depth to speed up conversation and inventory management, Divinity: Original Sin is a full-fat RPG adventure, chucking both players into a well of mechanics and waiting patiently for them to get their bearings. This Ultima-indebted adventure is more tactical, wordy, and comprehensively interactive than any other modern RPG you’d care to name, cooperative or single player.
The plot is built around a custom-built duo, and players will take control of one each as they explore embattled beaches, locked basements, kool-aid camps and doomed dimensions. NPC companions quickly flesh out your party to four diverse members.
Though combat is turn-based, it’ll require close communication if you’re to have any hope of besting enemies. The best strategies lie in combining the elements to explosive or paralysing effect; having your mage open the clouds so that your comrade can zap the resulting puddle with lightning, or breaking open a barrel of oil for a friend to light on fire. It’ll leave you glowing.
Been there and done that? Fear not, Divinity: Original Sin II is on its way!
Red Rope: Don't Fall Behind
Also known as "the Dark Souls of skipping-rope games", Red Rope is a unique and perculiar spin on co-op. Banished to a mysterious and unforgiving underworld, you and your friend must battle through hordes of ghouls, zombies, skeletons and various other flavours of the undead in a bid for freedom. The twist? You're connected by a rope.
Ohhhh, so that's what the title is all about, right? Right. Killing said ghouls requires the two of you to wrap your rope around them and squeeze them to death. Completing puzzles asks for a heck of a lot of communication and concentration, because you can drag each other off course very easily. How easily? See the video above. Joel and Phil tried their hands in a Red Rope Let's Play series in which they (fail to) get to grips with the ruthless difficulty and enigmatic storytelling of one of co-op gaming's most original recent treats.
Left 4 Dead 2
We're currently waiting with bated breath for any news of Left 4 Dead 3, which Valve have teased before. We've even got our own Left 4 Dead 3 wishlist. But until that day comes we've still got Left 4 Dead 2, which certainly is no bad thing.
One of Valve’s true classics, Left 4 Dead 2 really emphasises teamwork to endure through an exceptionally gruesome zombie outbreak. Thanks to the sheer number of zombies it’s vital to stick together and assess threats at each turn of the campaign’s sprawling maps. You'll need to make sure there’s always someone ready to save you from a surprise special infected attack, or just help thin the horde so you can make your escape.
It’s best played with friends equipped with headsets as the frantic pace means you need to be able to re-plan and alert your friends within seconds of things happening. Playing with strangers isn’t impossible though, especially if they’re willing to teach you a few things. Try and keep away from filling spaces up with bots though: they’re barely capable with a gun, and won’t help respawn you if you die.
Want more? Here's our Left 4 Dead 2 review.
Orcs Must Die! 2
Orcs Must Die! 2 is murder at its most gleeful. Limbs fly high as blades swing out from wall traps triggered by the hordes that storm your castle’s corridors, and flesh melts as acid rains down. The cartoon chaos almost disguises the vast amount of tactics that Orcs Must Die! 2 demands.
There’s a lot to think about. Before each wave of orcs stampedes through your halls you have time to set up your traps and purchase new machines of death. With a second player involved you essentially have two inventories, as each player can purchase different traps to create two complementary loadouts.
Orcs Must Die! 2 doesn’t ease up with two players though, and forces players to split up as enemies swarm from two entry points; a great move to ensure that both players are integral to achieving victory.
Playing Diablo III as a team makes tremendous sense. With two players you can compliment each other's classes, such as combing the long-range Wizard with a melee Barbarian. Teaming up also allows you to be a bit braver with your skills; playing solo as a Wizard would require you to think about shields and defence, but with a close-quarters friend acting as a tank you can focus on all-out firepower; the “glass cannon” approach.
The Reaper of Souls expansion and constant patch work has done a lot for improving Diablo since its iffy launch, and 'Loot 2.0' ensures that you’re constantly filling your pockets with treasures. But it is Adventure Mode that does the most for co-op play, allowing you to undertake missions anywhere in the world of Sanctuary without being tied to a plot. It means you can continue play even without a pal around, and you won’t have to wait for them to catch up or replay areas when they’re next online. Combined with the continual seasons system, Diablo III should be a mainstay of your co-op shelf.
Portal 2 is frequently cited as the king of co-op for numerous good reasons. It requires genuine teamwork to solve its conundrums, preventing that frequent co-op problem of one player running off and impatiently doing everything before the other has chance to even move the mouse. A microphone and a good friend is recommended, but Portal 2 has a neat voiceless chat system that uses emotes and pointing to make co-op with strangers easier.
There’s no denying that Valve’s dedicated co-op campaign is a work of genius, especially in puzzles where both players are required to be working simultaneously, but it’s the Steam Workshop that makes Portal 2 a co-op must. The range of user-created puzzle chambers is vast, with phenomenally well-designed challenges that can make Valve’s work seem like preschool logic toys.
Borderlands 2 is a seriously great shooter. Its Diablo-influenced approach to loot means there’s literally uncountable weapons to find, and the discovery and sharing of these guns is half the charm of the game's co-op play.
The harsh truth about Borderlands 2 though is it’s actually a little bit boring. It’s a long game, the quests are mostly of the ‘go fetch’ variety, and there’s a lot of fairly mindless grinding involved. Bring a second player to the party though (or a third and fourth) and Borderlands suddenly becomes the best game on the planet. Taking down swarms of mobs feels heroic rather than tedious, you can assign MMO-style roles to each player for tactical advantage, and the game’s comedy is simply funnier when enjoyed with others. Exploring Pandora becomes an epic adventure rather than a time-consuming slog, and half your skill tree suddenly becomes useful.
Want more? Here's our Borderlands 2 review.
There are three game in the Trine series, but the second remains the strongest example of a superb puzzle platformer. Trine 2 casts you as one of three fantasy archetypes: a warrior, a wizard, or a rogue. Naturally each one offers different abilities which are solutions in themselves to puzzles. The entire game is designed to be tackled solo, but it’s when two players with two different abilities come together and essentially subvert the game that Trine becomes really fun. Playing alone there are plenty of areas that feel inaccessible, but in co-op one player can cast a levitation spell as a wizard and lift a second player to where they need to be. Take that, game rules!
Trine 2’s puzzles are never quite as demanding as Portal’s, but having extra help from friends is always useful, especially when things get fiddly and timings become crucial. But like Portal, discussing the problem and solving it with friends feels much more of a co-op victory than taking down a boss in a shooter ever will.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes
Realistically you could replace Marvel Super Heroes with any of the Lego games - Batman, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings et al - and gain a largely similar experience, so select on personal taste. Traveller’s Tales’ Lego games are frequently lauded for their charm, character, and loving respect for their source material. Lego Marvel Super Heroes is no exception, bringing together pretty much every Marvel character you can think of (and about sixty more) and interweaving them in an epic narrative to defeat intergalactic hungry man Galactus. You’ll also have to smash a lot of things and rebuild them into useful puzzle-solving devices.
They’re fun but exceptionally simple, making them a super introduction to games for the people in your life who don’t normally play. If you’re a parent these are spectacular games to enjoy with your kids, but equally they’re great fun to play with an uninitiated partner, or even your skeptic older relatives. With two of you playing together, your character can act as the leading guide in-game, physically demonstrating how to do things rather than simply shouting at the person holding the controller. If you want to share the fun of games, there’s no better starting point than the Lego games.
Success in Monaco is brilliant: sneaking into a casino, bank, prison .etc, lifting your target without leaving a fingerprint, and escaping not having moved guards from their patrol paths. The reality though is that this will never happen. You’ll trip an alarm, bump into security, or accidentally fire a gun before you’ve got halfway to the loot. With sirens wailing and enemies hunting you down, rather than keeping cool the default reaction from seemingly every player is to scream and frantically dart from one room to another in desperate hope you can still make it out alive. It sounds frustrating, but it’s not: it’s hilarious.
Missions do become more demanding as the game progresses - especially in DLC territory - but it’s wonderful that you can still complete a lot of Monaco’s missions when almost everything has gone to pot. It’s the closest games have ever come to replicating the ‘caper’ style of movies, and everyone talks in fantastic French accents. You can also play as a pickpocket with a pet monkey, and if that’s not a convincing argument I don’t know what is.
Don't Starve Together
Looking to share the sort of moments you’ll never want to speak of again? Why not kill and eat your pigmen slaves in Don’t Starve Together?
Klei’s Burton-esque open world remains open, and your pockets just as empty - but this time you’re joined by another player or three in an identical predicament. The standalone game currently features two modes. You can either spawn next to your fellow survivors and enjoy infinite lives, or be scattered randomly across the map and be subject to permadeath.
In the first, dead players can float about as ghosts and drive the rest of the gang mad. That’s not a figure of speech - a good haunting will lower their sanity and put their lives in even greater danger. Resurrection is easy, for a price: a piece of your max health.
It's a weird, unique take on the survivial genre, and while the isolation of the brilliant original was one of its strengths, fending off starvation together is simply a better way to live. If you've had your eye on it but been put off by the incomplete status, worry not: Don't Starve Together is now out of Early Access.
Magicka looks fun and games with its short, hooded wizards and parody ye-olde-english dialogue, but it’s actually bloody hard. Casting spells requires you to tap in a sequence in quick time using the top two rows of keys on your keyboard. The more powerful the spell, the more keys you need to press. And a single wrong stroke can cast something entirely different.
The key to hilarity lies the fact that all your co-op buddies can be hit by friendly fire. Send out a scorching fireball and if a friend walks in the way it’s off to the pearly gates with them. It becomes a frequent occurrence, as you’ll always have half your brain attempting to calculate your spells, meaning sometimes your aim will be a little… off. This thankfully rarely leads to frustration, but always leads to Skype becoming astonishingly loud with the sound of people falling from their chairs laughing.
Broforce perfectly captures both the difficulty and absurdity of the 16bit era. Its levels are packed to the rafters with dastardly, faceless villains that are just begging to be blasted to piles of sloppy goo by your collection of ‘bros’.
These bros are where Broforce’s pop-culture references grab and refuse to let go. Without quite saying so (stay away, copyright infringement!), you’ll be able to play as the likes of The Terminator, Robocop, Rambo, Ripley, Chuck Norris, the Boondock Saints, among many others. Each are distinctly unique in their weapons and approach, and you’ll die so frequently that you can try out everyone of them in a single level. Joining in with friends ensures the chaos is as unstoppable as the finale of Rambo IV.
Want more? Here's our Broforce review.
Those are our picks, but what games do you love to play with your friends? Why not offer up some recommendations in the comments?