The 15 best co-op games of all time
7. Total War: Shogun 2 (2 players online)
Release Date: 2011
Developer: Creative Assembly
The Total War series has always been most impressive as a singleplayer experience—forays into competitive multiplayer are frequently confusing or ride high on unstable connections—but the team at Creative Assembly really nailed the co-op balance with Shogun 2. Rome 2 has had its share of problems, and perhaps it’s simply too big to be the same kind of focused team experience.
Whatever the reason, Shogun 2’s narrowed scope on the Japanese mainland allows you to indulge in a depth most cooperative games lack. Over the course of a long, long summer, a friend and I spent almost 100 hours securing the southern end of the island and blazing trails to the north and east. There’s also the distinctly Total War-flavored pleasure of having your back against a wall, only to see your friend’s cavalry come charging over a hill to your rescue. If you can make it through the Shogun 2 campaign with a friend, you’ve got a friend for life.
6. Borderlands 2 (4 players online)
Release Date: 2012
Endlessly entertaining, the guns-and-mayhem formula of Borderlands 2 is one of few games on this list that is great for solo players. There’s a ton of joy to be had in exploring the planet of Pandora, blasting fools, and taking their endless supply of firearms like you’re trying to stock up for a gun show. It’s just that all of that stuff is so much better when you’ve got friends with you. Each character class fulfills a unique spot in the team, and having a tank, an assassin, and a healer, for example, is essential on harder difficulties.
It's also a hilarious game. Showing off some of the slickest character writing this side of Mass Effect, Borderlands 2 is the endlessly quotable stoner comedy of the FPS genre. It’s also worth noting that creatures and their rewards scale up in difficulty and value the more players you have, so if you really want that teeth-gritted, seat-of-your-pants good time, you’re going to have to make some friends.
5. Portal 2 (2 players online)
Release Date: 2011
I know, I know: shocker. Portal 2, one of the most critically acclaimed games of the last five years, is on a best-of list? Surprise! There’s no denying the raw quality of Portal 2’s distinct co-op campaign, though. As the two testing robots Atlas and P-Body, you and a friend get to explore the darker, more dangerous side of GlaDOS’s testing routines—the stuff that’s too dangerous for (non-protagonist) human testers. The three-dimensional spatial thinking that makes the Portal series so addictive is only magnified when there’s another friend getting stumped at the puzzles with you.
Portal 2’s co-op is strongest when neither of you know the answer: if your partner waits patiently for you, you feel like a moron; if they don’t, they’ll be rushing you through all the discovery that makes the game great. Three years after release, though, finding two fresh players would be a rare trick indeed. Luckily, Valve’s excellent map editor community has created a full array of excellent new maps to explore, and get stumped in, together.
4. Divinity: Original Sin (2 players online)
Release Date: 2014
Developer: Larian Studios
By far the newest game on this list (side note: what’s with all the great co-op games coming out in 2011?), Divinity: Original Sin is notable for many things. It’s a return to form for the classic party-based RPGs of yore, so much so that it already landed itself a spot on our list of best RPGs. For another thing, exploring this game’s deep world and absurdly funny writing can be done with a friend in your party—a feature that we’ve never seen before, but makes perfect sense once you’ve already got it.
Exploring a massive, hundred-hour RPG can be done with friends on a drop-in/drop-out basis, but the most dedicated among you should think about making a, well, a monogamous commitment to your Divinity partner. It’s a huge commitment best suited to BFFs and spouses, but if you stick with it, you’ll experience a story together on a scale that can’t be found anywhere else.
Tags: Left 4 Dead 2, Portal 2, Co-op, Trine 2, Torchlight 2, Magicka, Total War: Shogun 2, Monaco, Dead Island, Arma 3, Arma III, Far Cry 3, Borderlands 2, Orcs Must Die! 2, Divinity: Original Sin, Artemis, Payday 2, Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine,