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 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.
In this brave new world of Unreal Engine 4, Epic have left behind their brown and browner Gears of War colour scheme in favour of something more lurid and vibrant. They’ve not abandoned the idea of horde mode, though, and that is what forms the backbone of Fortnite; Epic’s increasingly-popular shooter/builder hybrid.
Banding together with up to three other people, you’ll combine your efforts to build an impenetrable fortress around a McGuffin in desperate need to protection. With the defences built and a variety of eccentric traps prepared, triggering the ‘go’ button will start a series of relentless waves of deadly-but-oddly-cute zombies. With an arsenal of weapons amassed from your never-ending drip-feed of loot boxes, you’ll hold the undead at bay and claim victory.
Its progression systems are over-engineered, but the core components of Fortnite are incredibly polished and, importantly, fun to play. If the building and tower defence-style gameplay doesn’t do it for you, there’s also the Battle Royale mode, which can be played in duos or squads.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Where most co-op games sacrifice a certain amount of depth to speed up conversation and inventory management, Divinity: Original Sin 2 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 revolves around outlawed magic and the impending end of everything, which you'll attempt to avert with the aid of a friend or three. You'll each take control of either a pre-made character complete with their own goals and backstory, or a blank slate on which you can project all your fantasy... fantasies. As you explore doom fortresses, trap-filled mazes, and ethereal realms, you'll soon discover that there's a unique and fun logic at play in everything you do. Work with those laws and you'll find that more is possible in Divinity than most RPGs combined.
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.
Ubisoft’s near-future 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 find 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.
Without a doubt the most insane, stressful, and joyful game on this list, Overcooked tasks four players with making food. Sounds simple, but as anyone who’s ever worked in catering will tell you, a kitchen is the devil’s own workhouse. As timers tick down you’ll need to coordinate on veg chopping, burger frying, soup stirring, and dish washing. Each subsequent level introduces a more varied menu and increasingly complex dishes.
The incredibly designed levels only add to the challenge; sometimes your restaurant will be broken in two by an earthquake, meaning you’ll have to not only cooperate in separate halves, but time things so you can pass them to the right side of the kitchen when the opportunity arises. It’s this chaos that creates Overcooked’s best moments. Expect shouts and screams across the living room as you gleefully panic your way to victory.
Played it? Why not tell us why you loved it in our Overcooked review?
Rainbow Six Siege
You’ll find Rainbow Six Siege over in our best multiplayer games roundup thanks to its award-worthy PvP competitive mode. However, while lesser spoken about, its co-op terrorist hunts are also superb. Incredibly tense, tactical affairs, they insert a squad of buddies into a map with the intention of wiping out a few dozen bad guys.
Akin to the competitive modes, terrorist hunt has a couple of guises. You can go in as attackers, which requires you to methodically prowl the corridors of the map in hunt of every last hockey-masked villain, or defend a McGuffin against waves of assaulters. Both are beautifully executed, requiring you to make good use of Siege’s varied operator skills. They’re also generally much longer sessions than the speedy multiplayer rounds, meaning Siege really does have an equivalent to the intense, careful room clearing seen in classic Rainbow Six games.
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 to 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. But playing with strangers isn’t impossible, especially if they’re willing to teach you a few things. Try to 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.
Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide
We’ve already sung the praises of Left 4 Dead earlier in this feature, so it’s no surprise that developers Fatshark looked at Valve’s zombie classic and thought ‘Hey, let’s do that’. Rather than cast the undead as antagonists though, Fatshark turned to the Warhammer fantasy universe and opted for a plague of rat men. Turns out the Skaven are the perfect analogue for a tide of zombies, scuttling across the roofs and cobbles of olde worlde Europe.
Your team of Warhammer heroes battle in a very different way to their L4D counterparts. It’s all flaming swords and blasting powder muskets, leading to a more frantically melee focus with the odd bit of desperate shooting. Combined with cinematic end goals for each map, it’s one of the best Warhammer games ever made, and perfect for a team of four friends with a keen eye for pest control.
Want more? Here's our Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide 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 number 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, as it forces you 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 combining 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 to 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 co-op a 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.
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.
Those are our picks, but what games do you love to play with your friends? Why not offer up some recommendations in the comments?