The highs of a great game can be so much sweeter when you share them with a friend or three, and co-op gaming has never been easier thanks to the rise of local multiplayer on PC and drop-in, drop-out online co-op. Here we've collected our favorite modern co-op games—grab some friends and dive in, and we hope you'll find something you haven't played before.
Note that we haven't tried to create a comprehensive catalog of every great or influential player vs. AI game ever made, just our current favorites that we think you'll want to play right now.
List updated November 2015. Some entries contributed by the PC Gamer staff.
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Warhammer: End Times—Vermintide (4 players, online)
Release date: 2015
Vermintide cribbed a lot from another game on this list, and in many ways it is Left 4 Dead in a Warhammer suit. Still, its focus on smoother, more nuanced melee combat and drop-dead gorgeous lighting effects make it a worthy choice for friends looking to smash some ratlings.
This game is especially attractive to fans of the Warhammer Fantasy universe, which is somewhat underserved in the video game world. It also features loot drops and upgradeable equipment, so rounding up a great group to play missions over and over again is a guaranteed good time.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (2 players, local)
Release date: 2015
Developer: Asteroid Base
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (or LIADS) is a real achievement of great local multiplayer design. We’ve seen a bit of a resurgence of local multiplayer games for PC, but few have the style, color, and whimsy of LIADS.
LIADS also forces inter-team conflict in ways that other co-op games don’t. There are just too many stations and only two crewmembers, so failure comes from lapses in communication instead of bleak incompetence. This game is so good, it’s a bit of a bummer that there’s no online play allowed. Still, it feels like side-by-side on a couch is how this game was meant to be played, and it's great fun if you have the setup for it.
Far Cry 4 (2 players, online)
The quiet joy of Far Cry is anticipation. Creeping up to an outpost builds tension. Taking out a couple of guards builds even more tension. Eventually, someone spots you, you go loud, and all hell breaks lose.
With a friend, the peaks and valleys of a Far Cry 4 attack is even greater. Co-op partners can always see outlines of each other, so it’s possible to watch quietly as your buddy does something truly risky. When it’s time to go loud, Far Cry 4’s huge variety of toys makes the chaos amazing to play with. Why slink around in the shadows when you can drop grenades from a helicopter as your friend charges the front door on a war elephant?
Kalimba (2 players, online and local)
Release date: 2015
Developer: Press Play
Word of warning: don’t play Kalimba with a new friend. It may look like a breezy puzzle platformer, but it’s actually a powerful tool for pushing the limits of human tolerance. Each player has two colored totems, and while solving the inevitable color-centric puzzles isn’t too taxing, coordinated platforming can be—especially when you’re relying on your partner to make the jump. Despite its complexity, it’s remarkable how intuitive Kalimba feels: watching people play can feel more daunting than picking up the controller (you simply must use a controller). It’s tough, but no problem can be overcome solo, and every minor victory is shared. Just make sure you learn together, because a roughly equal skill level is a must.
Magicka 2 (4 players, online and local)
The last time we updated this list, 2011’s Magicka was still holding strong. This year’s Magicka 2, though, is every bit as good as the original. Magicka 2 adds better netcode, nicer graphics, and more modes to one of our favorite co-op gaming experiences. And, as we mentioned in our review, it’s a game you shouldn’t even bother with unless you have backup.
One of the things we weren’t crazy about was a slightly simplified casting system. Enough players complained about this, apparently, that the developers added new spell elements and casting mechanics to better match the original game. With this update, even the most hardcore wizards will be able to enjoy shinier magical warfare with friends.
Dungeon of the Endless (4 players, online)
Release date: 2014
Amplitude made its name with 4X strategy games Endless Space and Endless Legend, but their most creative and original game is the beautiful (and a bit bizarre) Dungeon of the Endless. The hybrid tower defense/roguelike gives you fragile heroes to control and resources to manage as waves of enemies attack your crystal. Every concept here is familiar on its own, but twisted just slightly from what you’d expect. Time only progresses when you open doors in the dungeon. Finishing a level requires picking up the crystal and making a mad dash for the exit as enemies swarm in from all sides. You’re driven to explore, but exploring too far or too fast can awaken an overwhelming horde of enemies.
Single-player is a more tactical affair, with the option to pause and deliberate strategy during combat. Co-op removes that option, and is all the more tense for it. Surviving some of the brutally difficult later stages requires stockpiling resources, coordinating where heroes are positioned and abilities used, and who constructs what towers. It’s easy for things to get messy or fall apart in seconds, but that’s part of the thrill of playing together.
Roguelikes, tower defense, and co-op RPGs seem like impossible bedfellows, and yet here we are. After getting lost in this dungeon once, I’ve evangelized Dungeon of the Endless to just about anyone who will listen. And then I make them play it with me.
Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine (4 players, online and local)
Release Date: 2013
Developer: Pocketwatch Games'
If Payday 2 is Ocean's Eleven by way of The Expendables, then Monaco is the raw, distilled Ocean's Eleven experience. Monaco emphasizes setting up and pulling off the perfect caper, so all that excitement and tension is the perfect mix for getting friends together for a good time. This game's a deep, deep pool of details and blueprints, and there's something so delightfully devious about cutting the power at the exact moment a friend puts a guard out of contention.
At this time, can we have a moment of silence for security guards everywhere? They get such a raw deal in these games.
OK, moving on.
Killing Floor 2 (6 players, online)
The original Killing Floor deserves a shout here—it’s a great game—but it makes sense to recommend Killing Floor 2 going forward, as it has more players and more coming as new levels and perks are added during Early Access. And Killing Floor 2 is a great game, too, even in this unfinished state. It’s a wave assault FPS in which you and up to five other players shoot and bash some very unsatisfied test subjects while scrambling around open maps trying to stay alive—simple enough, but very hard on the harder modes, and teamwork is vital. It helps that Tripwire’s guns are some of the best—the reload animations, the sound effects, the recoil and bullet spread.
Read our complete thoughts in our preliminary review, written just after it came out in Early Access.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (multiple players, local)
Release date: 2015
Developer: Steel Crate Games
My favorite thing about Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is all the paperwork. Wait, wait! Come back! KTNB is a game about that scene in every action movie where the hero has to defuse a bomb, and the nerd on the phone asks him: what do you see?
KTNB made waves as a great Oculus Rift game, but you don’t need experimental VR hardware to have a good time. The defusing player can take a laptop to one side of the couch, and the advisors open up their bomb hardware manuals on the other. Communication is critical and any number of players can advise the bomb technician, making this a fantastic party game.
Torchlight 2 (6 players, online)
Release Date: 2012
Developer: Runic Games
Runic's excellent action RPG, Torchlight 2, came and stole me away from Diablo III. It was more Diablo than Diablo was, and its insane dungeon diving gets harder and more chaotic when you're not facing it alone. Diablo III maxes out at four players, but up to six of you can get your Torchlight on. Too many? In a game where monsters explode into fountains of gold, “too many” really doesn't enter into the equation.
Grand Theft Auto V (30 players, online)
GTA Online has a whole of stuff going on, but the multiple heists in the game bring out the best in Rockstar’s open-world playground. Four players team up to conquer a series of story-like missions that involve each team member performing a different role building up to a bigger heist. This includes everything from stealing vehicles as part of the setup to assassinations and other interconnected tasks—the missions very cleverly allow everyone to feel like they’re playing a key part in the journey towards that endgame of earning mega money.
When all four players come together in the finale of each heist, making a dramatic escape from the cops as a collective is incredibly exciting and rewarding—more so than anything found in the main story. If only Rockstar would make more of them. They’d be worth paying for.
Trine 2 (3 players, online and local)
Release Date: 2012
The trinity-based puzzle game Trine came out of nowhere when it released in 2009, the heyday of unexpected indie games. Trine’s success spawned two sequels. While this year’s Trine 3 was a bit of a letdown, Trine 2 takes everything great from the original and smooths it, refines it, and makes it better. With the addition of online co-op, you can pass control of the other two characters over to friends. Instead of switching back and forth to play all three perspectives yourself, there's something so much more gratifying about levitating a box to literally give a friend a hand-up. The colorful environments and soft, almost relaxing puzzles are just a bonus.
Total War: Shogun 2 (2 players, online)
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.
Borderlands 2 (4 players, online)
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, assuming your sense of humor lines up with Borderland's quotable stoner comedy routine. 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.
If you've already played through Borderlands 2, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is basically more of the same, but with low gravity.
Portal 2 (2 players, online and local)
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.
Divinity: Original Sin (2 players, online)
Release Date: 2014
Developer: Larian Studios
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.
The Enhanced Edition, new this year, added a complete overhaul to the voice acting, art, and loot systems. There are also new modes to play in, whether you like brutal combat or just want to explore the story world.
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 monogamous commitment to your Divinity partner. It's a huge commitment best suited to best friends and spouses, but if you stick with it, you'll experience a story together on a scale that can't be found anywhere else.
Artemis (6 players, online and local)
Release Date: 2011, hit Steam in 2013
Developer: Thomas Robertson
Let's get this one thing perfectly clear from the beginning: Artemis is not a Star Trek game. That needs to be understood for legal reasons, OK? OK. Definitely not a Star Trek game.
Artemis is the greatest Star Trek game ever made. It's billed as a “spaceship bridge simulator,” and its genius is that every player has a different control scheme and information readout. The players (captain, weapons, helm, engineering, communications, science) can only see what's in front of them or what's on the main viewscreen, so there's no way for, say, engineering to help out with aiming weapons or piloting the ship. If you want power redirected to subsystems, though, engineering can do that.
The center of this storm is the captain, who, bizarrely, plays the game without any controls: the captain just yells at the crew to get things done. Version 2.0 released last year, which saw a huge overhaul to its art and control schemes. If you haven't played Artemis since it first hit big, you need to organize a LAN to get another look.
It's incredible how quickly you fall into a perfect naval-style call and response pattern (“Helm, set course for Deep Space 1, half impulse.” “Half impulse to DS1, aye captain.”). Not because you're LARPing, but because you've got to make sure you heard the command correctly or you'll all die.
Well, maybe a little because you're LARPing.
Arma 3 (64 players, online)
Release Date: 2013
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
Arma takes second place on this list almost entirely due to its massive scale. It's one thing to have an adventure with two or three friends, sure, but the Arma engine supports dozens of players at once. There's really something to be said for having a human pilot fly you and ten humans to a war zone, drop you off, and leave you to link up with twenty other humans for an assault. Arma 3 doesn't have to be strictly cooperative, of course, but it's included on this list because it shines the brightest when everyone's on the same side against an overwhelming AI foe.
While you're diving into Arma 3, be sure to check out the Zeus multiplayer mode. One player, as Zeus, runs the game as a D&D-style dungeon master, spawning equipment and enemies. Anger your vengeful god, and Zeus will strike you down with a bolt of lightning. It's a fantastic, flexible take on co-op mission scripting that should not be missed.
Left 4 Dead 2 (4 players, online)
Release Date: 2009
It's really saying something about the strength of Valve's terrific zombie shooter that it's still clawing its way onto lists like this one after six years. A fanatically balanced, cleverly written shooter, Left 4 Dead 2 is built on the strength of four survivors working as a team. As it throws zombies at the team, the group must coordinate their movement and help each other out of danger or death with last second heroics that give each campaign a story worth retelling.
Valve must also get some credit for how long it has supported L4D2, adding level editors, Steam workshop support, porting in the maps and characters from Left 4 Dead 1, and continuing to offer “mutations,” always-changing game modes that offer something new for experienced players.
Left 4 Dead 2's active modding community is also a huge part of why this game comes so highly recommended, as it has produced new campaigns, like Lord of the Rings' Helms Deep castle, which have kept L4D2 fun even after the base campaigns grew old. Plus, you can play as a velociraptor, which clearly warrants our highest praise.