Online gaming has never been my forte. I would much rather sink dozens upon dozens of hours into single-player experiences that allow me to move at my own pace and without the need of anyone else’s participation over the internet. But that being said, there exists another way to play…a time-sink where the joy of gaming can be shared with close friends without the need of internet or a headset…the focus of those after-school gatherings that helped popularize the stigma of gamers feasting upon platters of Doritos and washing it all down with gallons of Mountain Dew. I’m talking, of course, about Couch Co-op games. These treasures were how I spent a large portion of my time with friends growing up. However, their frequency seems to have diminished with time and it feels like there are fewer and fewer opportunities to enjoy a game in person with friends. But fewer does not mean none. Here are my five favorite cooperative games from recent years that can still be enjoyed side by side with a friend.
5. Gears of War 4
Continuing in the tradition of its predecessors, this fourth main entry in the Gears franchise took players on an action-packed journey full of danger and high-stakes. Best of all, it was still a cooperative experience that allowed for split-screen play. The story takes a major backseat compared to the levels designed around teamwork, strategy, and fierce gunplay, giving players more chances than ever to work as a singular unit rather than being just one more soldier on the front lines. A friend and I blazed through the story within a handful of hours, where we then focused on the plethora of additional modes available. Classic Deathmatch is always a fun time, but we gleaned the most enjoyment out of a refined Horde Mode: a match type that pits all players against increasingly-challenging waves of enemies, with the option of setting up fortifications and upgrading weapons as you go. I’m not an avid fan of shooters, but having a buddy at my side for the duration of these adventures is always a good time!
4. Diablo 3
There’s nothing quite like a solid, cooperative dungeon crawler, and Diablo 3 is the best of the bunch on consoles. Players get their choice of five different classes (seven when including the DLC) to start from, each one with a variety of abilities, modifiers, and effect morphs as they level up. Two players could effectively choose the same type of character but utilize entirely different move sets, leading to bucketloads of replayability potential. In addition to getting stronger, every level is a loot-fest at its core: the goal is to kill bad guys, get better stuff, then use your new stuff to kill even stronger bad guys. It’s a simple formula that provides for a lot of fun and always has you on the lookout for better equipment, making it difficult for this game to get stale over time. Taking down an epic boss, then competitively mashing “A” over its corpse to try and claim the best loot before your friends do never gets old!
3. Super Mario 3D World
This direct sequel to 2011’s Super Mario 3D Land took the original’s blend of the classic 2D gameplay inside of 3D environments and brought it to a higher level, primarily through the addition of simultaneous cooperative play. Up to four people could enjoy this chaotic romp through the Mushroom Kingdom. Characters were able to interact with each other by stomping, picking up, or throwing each other into dangerous scenarios in order to maintain a lead on point collection. The “winner” of each level received a shiny, golden crown that boosted their point collection in the next stage. This trinket could be stolen by the other players, further encouraging the mayhem to unfold. But players were also rewarded by helping each other. Many of the long, perilous platforming stretches could be avoided entirely by carrying a player that has a Super Leaf, jumping as high as possible, and throwing them over the chasm so they could glide across with ease. It wasn’t a constant possibility, but thinking outside the box and working together opened up many unconventional avenues for completing challenging levels.
I know what you’re thinking: “Fortnite isn’t a shared-screen co-op game! It’s not possible to play the game with two people on one television! You’re an embarrassment to gamers everywhere! What an idiot!” First off, that’s hurtful and you should apologize. Secondly, the way that I experienced this game was much more akin to couch co-op than an actual online match. My friend began playing Fortnite before me and after watching a few of his matches over several days, I decided to give it a shot myself. I was immediately hooked. The dichotomy of alternating between quiet downtimes of stealth and preparation to jumping right into adrenaline-fueled combat within seconds was both mentally taxing and rewarding, making for a constantly-immersive experience that never seemed to get old. While the game itself was online, my friend and I would largely play together on a Duos team and talk with each other from just a room away to coordinate our tactics. Being able to run in and celebrate with high-fives and hollering after a Victory Royale brought the experience much closer to home than a typical online game would allow for. Enjoying Fortnite in this way made it deliver a much larger impact on me than it likely would have otherwise.
1. Divinity: Original Sin 2
An easy choice for the top spot for me, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is the pinnacle of cooperative fun. Players can join forces on one TV to undertake a massive, role-playing adventure full of quests, loot, excellent stories, and challenging battles. The game can be experienced independently if both players choose to part paths, but teamwork is where this game truly shines. Coordinating attacks to catch an enemy off-guard is a great way to begin a combat skirmish, as sometimes you’ll be able to completely decimate their armor and focus on chipping away at health. Different abilities can also be used in combination for greater effect: one player might be able to coat the entire field in oil and poison using Geomancy spells, while the other lobs a single fire grenade to ignite each and every enemy. Maybe one player has focused more on persuasion: let them do the talking so that the majority of dialogue encounters go the way you want them to. The possibilities are endless in this sprawling RPG, and taking it all on with a friend will only serve to maximize that experience.
These might be my favorite cooperative games from recent years, but they certainly aren’t the only ones! What are some of your picks for the best video games to team up with friends? Let me know with a comment! As always, friends, game on!