Video games can be a harsh, dog-eat-dog place to hang out sometimes. Whether you’re getting repeatedly murdered by the same Dark Souls boss over and over again or being taunted by 11-year-old Call of Duty prodigies, the challenges they present can often slip from fun into frustrating. This is especially annoying when you’re trying to play games in order to unwind from a stressful day. Fortunately, games can also present wonderful opportunities to play with other people and not just against them. Here are some of the all-time best co-op games.
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 that 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 as 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 2 (Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, PC)
Gearbox’s Borderlands 2 took the loot-hunting open-world shooting formula of the original game and gave it a better story with more entertaining characters. The result was one of the most beloved first-person games of all time, and one that is even better when you’re playing it with a buddy.
As you explore the wastelands and destroyed buildings Borderlands 2 scatters throughout its world, you must use a combination of crazy weapons and your characters’ unique abilities to survive, and things get a little easier when you have a partner by your side. As we wait another 30 years for the third game to be announced, you can play Borderlands 2 on practically any platform, including the Vita.
Read our full Borderlands 2 review
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 replayable 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)
Striking out into the wilderness with your friends to hunt giant game just one step above Minecraft’s raw survivalism for capturing a primal, human fantasy in a video game. The Monster Hunter series has been hugely popular in Japan for years, and the latest iteIration returns from handheld platforms to mainstream consoles for one of its biggest entries yet. Fans love the series for the incredible depth of both its combat and the crafting you do with the spoils of your hunts.
Combat is big, chaotic, and visceral, made that much more fun with a friend or two there alongside you. Monster Hunter: World asks for a certain amount of commitment from its players to learn and master its many, many systems, but if you have friends that are up for the task, it’s incomparable.
Read our full Monster Hunter: World review