Co-op gameplay is at the core of video games as a medium, dating back to the early days of the arcade. From Metal Slug and Double Dragon to Wolfenstein: Youngblood and Divinity: Original Sin 2, developers have been constantly looking for new ways to allow players to play together. Now, it’s easier than ever to do so, with digital marketplaces bursting at the seams with excellent co-op games. Here are our favorite ones.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch)
If you’re reading this guide, you’ve undoubtedly already heard of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and you know it’s great. Although the game is wonderful for relaxing alone after a long day, it’s with friends that New Horizons comes into its own. The sense of satisfaction that comes from showing off your island to your friends, and on the other side, visiting theirs, is unmatched in video games. Even the animation for going to another island is so adorable that you’ll want to vomit.
Read our Animal Crossing: New Horizons review
Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
The Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare games delivered an excellent mix of cooperative and competitive action, and that continues with their successor Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville. Set in the titular town, which happens to be in a never-ending struggle for control between the two sides, the entirety of the game can be played in split-screen. This includes the online multiplayer, as well as the story mode and free-roam, which sends you off to complete short missions and find collectibles.
Most important for cooperative play is the “Ops” mode, which makes its return from the Garden Warfare games. This mode is a short horde-style defending game that tasks you and your team with protecting a key point from enemies, and you must work together to plant traps and effectively fire at enemies. It’s a blast, and it is simple enough for younger players to enjoy.
Gears 5 (Xbox One, PC)
Third-person shooters, particularly cover-based ones, aren’t always the most accessible games for newcomers. Microsoft and The Coalition seem to have recognized this with Gears 5, which gives less-experienced players the chance to help out their veteran Gears of War friends. The robotic character Jack can be used in both Horde mode and the campaign, providing support and damaging enemies while the other players fire away with their Lancers.
In a squad full of experienced players, you can also play the brand-new Escape mode. An aggressive cooperative mode that plays almost like a reverse-Horde, you must storm through a short level and make your way to the exit as a venom bomb slowly fills up the halls behind you. It’s difficult and requires plenty of coordination, making it the perfect option to play with a few friends.
Read our full Gears 5 review
Wolfenstein: Youngblood (Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC)
Thus far, MachineGames’ Wolfenstein titles have been strictly single-player affairs, with protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz shooting through waves of Nazi scum with a smile on his face. That changed with the spin-off sequel Wolfenstein: Youngblood, which put players into the boots of his daughters Jess and Sophie. With support for two-player action across the entire campaign, Wolfenstein: Youngblood lets you bring a friend along as you show just how much the girls learned from their famous dad.
One of the coolest features of Youngblood is in its Deluxe Edition: the Buddy Pass. With this digital item, you can invite a friend to enjoy the game with you online, even if they didn’t purchase it. It’s the easiest way yet to introduce more people to a criminally under-appreciated series.
Read our full Wolfenstein: Youngblood review
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
You can play the majority of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 by yourself, but the real way to play the game is to invite three of your closest friends and brave the toughest missions together. Enemy scaling means that you’ll face tougher challenges, but with allies by your side to revive you if you go down, you’ll still be ready to brave the apocalypse and save the United States from total collapse.
Alongside the campaign, side missions, and endgame content, The Division 2 brings back the Dark Zone player-versus-player area. Long wolves might encounter trouble, but with someone watching your back as you search for the game’s best loot, you can survive and show other players what you’re made of.
Read our full The Division 2 review
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Switch)
The Mario series has always been appropriate for all age groups, but the 2D games’ difficulty could sometimes throw a wrench in kids’ enjoyment. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe for Nintendo Switch manages to avoid this by including two additional characters — Toadette and Nabbit — who have enhanced abilities that will keep them alive as older players brave levels’ obstacles as Mario. Up to four players can enjoy the game simultaneously, and the Switch version even comes with extra challenges in the New Super Luigi U expansion.
Despite not being as massive or ambitious as Super Mario Odyssey, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is one of the best cooperative platformers around. Its levels are creatively designed and make use of several different power-ups and special abilities, and they’re filled with secrets to keep players busy for hours, days, or weeks at a time.
Read our full New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe review
Borderlands 3 (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
When it comes to cooperative open-world games, Borderlands 3 stands among the very best. Gearbox has created its biggest game to date, packed full of goofy characters to meet, objectives to complete, weapons to discover, and multiple planets to explore. It can be played as a solo experience, but longtime Borderlands fans know that things get much more interesting when you bring a friend into the mix. Using your Vault Hunters’ different abilities, you can deliver combinations of attacks to deal massive damage to enemies.
Several cooperative changes have been made compared to previous games in the series, as well. A level-sync system now lets you join a friend to play together, even if you differ widely in level. A loot-instancing option will give everyone in your group their own drops after beating enemies. If you want to team up with another player for couch cooperative gameplay, the game also supports split-screen.
Diablo III (Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, Switch, PC, Mac)
The game began with a bit of a rough launch, but Blizzard’s Diablo III has grown into a phenomenal action-role-playing game from the king of the genre. Its campaign is short but sweet, packing in a ton of action and several boss battles where you and some friends can tear through mountains of enemies in search of better gear.
With multiple classes to choose from, the Reaper of Souls expansion, and a steady stream of new content being released through “seasons,” Diablo III is a hobby-grade game that gets even better when you bring some friends along for the ride.
Read our full Diablo III review
Pokémon: Let’s Go (Switch)
Yes, you can fully play Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! as single-player games, and you’re likely to do so for much of your time with them. However, the cooperative second-player mode makes for a great way to experience the joy of the Kanto region with friends, both young and old. By shaking a second Joy-Con controller, another player can instantly be dropped into your world, free to run around in your proximity and explore with you.
When you face off against another trainer, the two of you can work together to coordinate your moves and win the battle, and when catching Pokémon, you can time your throws to get an even better chance of success. It certainly isn’t a traditional cooperative mode, but it gives fans who might not be ready to experience the game on their own a great first step toward a lifetime of Pokémon fandom.
Read our full Pokémon: Let’s Go review
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 may have ditched the previous games’ single-player campaign mode in favor of the new battle royale option, Blackout, but Treyarch didn’t ignore those looking for a rewarding cooperative experience. At launch, three different Zombies maps are included in Black Ops 4, each offering a radically different setting to destroy the undead and survive for as long as possible.
As was true in past Zombies modes, working with your teammates is absolutely essential, as you’ll need their assistance in case you happen to be knocked down by a horde of zombies you didn’t see. With sprawling, multi-level designs and a bunch of different types of undead creatures sprinting toward you, Black Ops 4‘s Zombies mode isn’t easy, but it is incredibly rewarding.
Read our full Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 review
Sea of Thieves (Xbox One, PC)
We’re the first to admit that Rare’s Sea of Thieves is light on content at launch. This open-world online piracy adventure game reveals nearly everything it has within several hours of play, and it could definitely use an infusion of things to do and see. Players that just want to burn through content are missing the point, though: Sea of Thieves is about people.
Its loose framework of going out on voyages to dig up treasure, fight skeletons, or transport cargo, is just meant to create opportunities for fun and interesting player interactions, both with your own crew and with other pirates you meet out in the world.
It looks a lot like an MMO if you squint, but one that’s radically friendly and accessible in practice, focused on moment-to-moment play and creating stories instead of metagame progression. As such, we can’t think of any other games that are as custom-built for lighthearted, cooperative fun with friends.
Read our full Sea of Thieves review
Overcooked (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
If you ever wanted to feel the rush of a competitive cooking show like Chopped or Top Chef, Overcooked might be just what you need. Up to four players control chefs completing cooking challenges that generally involve some combination of gathering and chopping the right ingredients, cooking, and plating.
The twist is that the levels make it tricky to get around between stations: In one level, the kitchen is divided across the back of two flatbed trucks, moving down a highway at variable rates. In another, you’re on a slippery iceberg. It’s a great balance of relatively simple tasks that compound in complexity when you’re yelling at your friends and sliding around, which is exactly what you want for a light, local co-op game.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
As modern video games, a lot of the entries on this list are gritty and realistic in style. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is the opposite: Bright, colorful, and cartoony, it’s a Lisa Frank-style explosion of pink and cute animals flying through space.
Up to four players working together (or one with an artificial intelligence-controlled dog friend) pilot a small, round spaceship through levels to rescue cute animals from captivity.
Like in FTL, the ship is divided into separate stations that control movement, weapons, shields, etc. There are always more stations than there are players, forcing you to run around to get things done. It’s charming, colorful fun.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
While many of these co-op games are focused on fun, fast, lightweight experiences that are relatively easy to drop into with new players, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is the opposite end of the spectrum: It’s an epic, fantasy, PC-style RPG with all the bells and whistles, but one that’s built from the ground up to be played cooperatively.
They don’t even have to cooperate! The game allows for party members to be actively working against one another if they so choose. Between that social structure and a deeply systemic, simulation-focused design throughout, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is about as close as digital games have come to capturing pen-and-paper role-playing.
Portal 2 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
The original Portal is a perfect, focused, and hugely influential curio of game design, combining razor-sharp physics platforming puzzles that explore its core, portal gun mechanic, with hilarious writing in your taunting robot overlord, GLaDOS. The sequel is bigger and better in every way, with a highly-produced campaign, an expanded cast, and new mechanics to explore.
For our purposes, it also adds a truly excellent co-op campaign, completely separate from the single-player story, which tasks two robot friends with solving puzzles that require two sets of portals. Doubling the number of portals in play makes the co-op campaign fiendishly tricky at times, but all the more satisfying when you do solve it, especially with a friend.
Read our full Portal 2 review
Overwatch (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
First-person shooters almost always offer team-based modes these days, with games like Call of Duty, Halo, and Counter-Strike becoming some of the foundational esports. Those games are built on their symmetry, however, starting players off on equal footing in order to provide a test of raw skill. Blizzard took cooperative FPS play to a whole new level with Overwatch, a team-based “hero shooter” where every player controls a different character with unique skills.
Overwatch follows from the team-based gameplay of Team Fortress 2, which divides players into specialized character classes, but goes even further by offering heroes that play radically different from one another, making team composition and collaboration crucial to success. Few shooters reward creative teamwork the way Overwatch does, since its growing cast of characters and maps synergize and counter one another in a huge and ever-evolving combinatorial metagame. With such a range of characters and play styles, Overwatch is the perfect co-op shooter for people that aren’t especially into shooters otherwise.
Read our full Overwatch review
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (PS4, PC, Android)
It’s a classic, Hollywood scenario: A field operative is locked in a battle with time as they try to defuse an elaborate bomb. Meanwhile, a support team frantically digs through manuals remotely to help their colleague get out alive. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is one of the first virtual reality games that really plays with the medium (you can play it without, but the experience lacks a certain tactile suspense): One player, wearing a VR headset, must defuse a procedurally generated bomb, but has no idea how to do so. Everyone else in the game has to solve each of the bomb’s many puzzles, digging through physical manuals to help the defuser.
As you may have sensed, asymmetry is a running theme on this list. Putting players in different roles leads to fun and interesting cooperation, and this is a perfect example of how new technology can inspire wholly new types of play.
Destiny 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Bungie mastered the modern first-person shooter with its Halo series, but it took it to a whole new level with Destiny, using that buttery-smooth shooting as the mechanical foundation for an infinite, cooperative loot grind that draws as much from MMORPGs or Diablo 3 as it does Call of Duty.
The sequel refined and evolved what so many people loved about the first game into one of the most polished, online AAA experiences available. Destiny 2 has a little bit of everything: An epic, space opera story, intense structured competition, and endless hunt for better and cooler loot, and also surprisingly chill PvE missions when you just want to unwind and shoot aliens with your buds.
Read our full Destiny 2 review
Left 4 Dead 2 (Xbox 360, PC)
The oldest title on this list by several years, Left 4 Dead 2 retains such a committed community because nothing else has captured the fun and tempo of this cooperative, PvE first-person shooter. Up to four players have to survive as they make their way across zombie-infested levels.
The game is so deeply re-playable because of an innovative “A.I. Director” that can alter the layout of levels and the placement of enemies and items based on the players’ performance, in order to keep it fun, exciting, and unpredictable. Warhammer: Vermintide 2 just took a crack at translating the same basic gameplay into a gothic fantasy setting, but, for our money, L4D2 is still best in class for what it’s trying to do.
Payday 2 (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
Everybody loves a good heist movie, but there are shockingly few heist games. Grand Theft Auto V had a handful of co-op heist missions, but PayDay 2 is one of the only games where that is the whole point. There is no linear campaign to speak of, just a rotating selection of heist missions for one to four players, like robbing stores or hijacking armored vehicles.
Between missions, players earn money and experience to be spent on weapons, cosmetic upgrades such as a staggering variety of masks, and skill points that help them specialize into different criminal archetypes, like “Mastermind” or “Enforcer.” Released first in 2013, the game’s enduring community has led to a ton of additional content in subsequent years, making this a rich playground for any new players jumping in because of the heist fantasy.
Read our full Payday 2 review
Monster Hunter: World (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
In most role-playing games, battles play out fairly predictably. You approach a monster, you exchange blows, and it’s over and done with. In Monster Hunter World, taking down monsters is an art that requires patience, skill, and a few hearty meals.
Not only can you team up with a group of friends to track down stunning beasts, but you’ll also experience some of the most intense and highly rewarding battles in gaming today. With each successful hunt, you grow stronger, and the materials you collect allow you to upgrade your weapons and armor so you can take on even bigger and badder beasties. It’s unforgettable fun playing solo, but it’s amplified when you jump in with some friends.
The Iceborne expansion takes players to a new, frosty location dubbed Hoarfrost Reach. Covered with ice and snow, the elements in Hoarfrost are always working against you. The monsters are harder to take down but the gear you’ll get is totally worth the effort. Are you and your friends up for the challenge?
Read our full Monster Hunter World: Iceborne review
Deep Rock Galactic (PC, Xbox One)
Deep Rock Galactic is one of many Left 4 Dead clones. However, instead of sticking with the campaign-focused formula, developer Ghost Ship Games decided to take their first release in a different direction. In Deep Rock Galactic, you play as a space dwarf exploring a network of caves that have become overrun with aliens. The catch is, the caves are procedurally generated and the environments are completely destructible.
Those random elements breathe a lot of life into Deep Rock Galactic. In a genre where games often fail due to repetitiveness, Deep Rock Galactic gives you something fresh each time you play. You can choose how deep you want to go, too. It’s possible with the fully destructible environments to drill your way through the caves straight to the objective. Alternatively, you can scout around for alternate paths, searching for weapon upgrades and anything else that will help you on your run.
Don’t Starve Together (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Don’t Starve might be the most charming survival game out there. In a genre where every developer is concerned with realism, Klei Entertainment went in a different direction with Don’t Starve, honing in on the survival elements and ditching the realism for a gothic coat of paint. Don’t Starve Together is the exact same game, just with online and local co-op. Plus, it’s a stand-alone expansion, so you don’t need the original game to play.
As much as Don’t Starve is about survival, it’s equally about discovery. Each time you boot up a new world, everything is random. Your first few worlds are about figuring out how the game works, not surviving. Don’t Starve is tough and unforgiving, but if you allow it to teach you how to play over time, you’re in for a treat.
A Way Out (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
A Way Out is a co-op game, not a single-player game with a co-op mode. The only way to play it is with a friend. It comes from developer Hazelight, who’s known for Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons. Like that game, A Way Out is a story-driven adventure with plenty of twists and turns and a lot of depth. You play as one of two convicts, either Leo or Vincent. Leo acts first and asks questions later, whereas Vincent is much more methodical.
The pair, framed by a character named Harvey, vow to work together to escape prison and get their revenge. A Way Out is heavy on story and light on mechanics, and it’s only around five hours long. Those five hours are so enjoyable, though, that it hardly matters. Plus, the light gameplay means anyone can play with you, even if they normally don’t play video games.