I have written much about my relationship with video games. Over the past few years, I have found a few stand-outs such Bioshock Infinite, Braid, and the Mass Effect series. However, I have found it more and more difficult to just sit down and play a video game by myself.
I tried to diagnose why. Maybe the stories weren’t compelling enough. The mechanics were tired and felt like a grind. I wasn’t looking for suspense or horror, as most immersive games tend towards. The game wasn’t challenging. Or maybe the game just felt repetitive where I couldn’t settle into the escape and was wondering why I was even playing.
Rather than focus on the negative, I reflected on my recent, positive gaming experiences, and the most fun I had was playing with friends. Specifically, I like playing games with Julie.
And so below are a list of games we have played together. We enjoy co-op games and thought others may be interested in finding ways to spend time together while sheltering in place. They’re roughly sorted from most to least accessible.
The LEGO Games
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is a video game about children’s toys about super heroes from comic books. It’s totally absurd, and the games really lean into it.
The LEGO games are an easy entry to the co-op games. The characters and worlds are derived from popular franchises. The gameplay is very straightforward and forgiving. There’s not only a big plot to uncover but also many incremental rewards with breaking things to pick up bricks. And there’s a family-friendly goofiness and humor to everything.
The levels take somewhere between 15 to 30 minutes each and involve a little puzzle solving and platforming. After playing LEGO Star Wars, I recommend playing the more recent LEGO games. There are fewer bugs, the puzzles are better built, and the experience is generally smoother without any added complexity.
Having written about Katamari Damacy twice already, I really shouldn’t again, but I love this game so much. Despite it ostensibly being a single-player game, Julie and I really enjoyed playing it together: we just handed the controller back and forth between levels. The world and music is goofy enough to keep you engaged, and it’s fun having an extra set of eyes to help you through a level or to appreciate your epic wins or failures.
I wrote Portal 2 before as well, but it’s up there for the greatest co-op games of all time. Portal 2 as a single-player game amazingly built upon Portal with even more interesting mechanics and story. The co-op experience kept going on top of that. My only caveat is that it does use first-person shooter controls, which may be frustrating for new players.
Snipperclips also falls into a similar bucket of co-op puzzle games. I wrote about it glowingly before, but we actually haven’t played it much since then. It’s fun, but the solution is usually easier than working the controls, so there’s often a valley of frustration before finishing the level. And since the levels are so short, it’s easy to stop at any time, especially after a frustrating level.
Obduction and Other Single-Player Games
Obduction is an adventure puzzle game like Myst set in a strange world with obtuse puzzles. Although it’s single-player, you can play it co-op because it doesn’t matter who’s driving: it’s all about the immersion and puzzle-solving.
If you want story, adventure, and immersion without the head-scratching, consider Firewatch, the so-called “walking simulator”. I didn’t play but did watch a 4 hour full play through on YouTube, and it’s a ride. Since I enjoyed watching it on YouTube, I imagine it would make a satisfying co-op experience as well.
We also played Kerbal Space Program, a single-player simulation game to administer and start a NASA-like space program. However, we aborted launch within 30 minutes. Frankly, the research, experimentation, and thinking, just felt like work to us.
Deep Rock Galactic and Arena Shooters
We are currently playing Deep Rock Galactic our recently revived Thursday night online gaming group. You’re space dwarves who explore procedurally generated mines to gather minerals and other items while fighting off bugs.
Like many arena/mission shooters, the missions take a half-hour each, and players can join or leave as needed. I particularly like this game because the mining component give combat-disinclined players something to look forward to.
Co-op mission-based shooters are quite popular right now with Destiny 2 and Warhammer: Vermintide 2 being other notable games in this category. I just don’t have hardware to have tried them out. Borderlands is similar but has a bigger story around it.
Of course, the classic is Left 4 Dead 2. We played a half-hour mission of this just a few weeks ago. I was having some lag issues, but otherwise, it’s totally still fun and fresh.
Divinity: Original Sin and RPGs
This is a terrible way to start a review, but it’s true: I really wanted to like this game more than I did.
Western RPGs are my bread-and-butter. Divinity 2 is often called one of the greatest RPGs of all time. And yet, I felt like I, at times, struggled through Divinity, and we quit Divinity 2.
To shorten the critique, I dislike item management, thought the turn-based combat was painfully slow, and didn’t find the story choices very fun. But Divinity 2 is critically acclaimed for a reason, so perhaps you will enjoy it more.
For hack-n-slash action RPGs, there’s Diablo 3 or Path of Exile. We played through the Diablo 3 demo and enjoyed it but didn’t continue. I played 2 hours of Path of Exile then uninstalled it because I could see myself getting addicted to it.
I will note that although many of the RPGs above (including Borderlands) support up to four players, but I think they work better for pairs. These games are long, and you are much more likely to finish together than trying to coordinate four players regularly.
Elder Scrolls Online and MMOs
I previously wrote about how Elder Scrolls Online and MMOs can appeal to many different types of players. I liked the story; Julie liked crafting. MMOs are truly an all-in-one game and often can be played co-op while ignoring everyone else in the world.
That being said, we did stop playing. Julie wanted to keep playing, but once we finished the main story, I was ready to move onto other games. We also played perhaps 10-20 hours of Star Wars: The Old Republic and enjoyed it for similar reasons.
Overcooked and Party Games
You might be wondering why I put party games so low on the list. Well, party games aren’t necessarily cooperative, and most of them really work best with four or more players. However, I have to mention them.
First, Overcooked is an instant classic in party games. How hard could it be to chop tomatoes, fry burgers, and deliver them on-time? It works at all skill levels. In fact, it is actually more fun with worse players because the chaos leads to instant hilarity.
In Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, one person sees the bomb with a number of puzzles to defuse while everyone has the manuals to solve the puzzles, so it’s all about communication. It works well online since only one person needs to actually see the screen. The Jack Box trivia games (also previously discussed here) also allow for remote connections and good effect through screen sharing.
Going back to my previous pitch for the Nintendo Switch, I have been playing a lot of Mario Kart online with friends in the past three weeks. Super Smash Bros Ultimate can also be played co-op against computers for some chaotic fighting.
And because we played them together, I’ll mention a few competitive games we played during our old Tuesday night gaming night together.
Of course, we started with StarCraft 2, which currently has a specific co-op mode for 2 players to play missions against the computer. I actually really got hooked earlier this year and sunk maybe another 20 hours or so into that before I got tired of that. I wasn’t actually playing with Julie, and that has always been a little difficult for us because we’re at different skill levels, but it can work.
We had our MOBA phase and played mostly Heroes of the Storm but also some Dota 2. MOBAs are obviously very popular, but as explicitly competitive games, they’re perhaps the least accessible.
And then we played Overwatch for a competitive shooter. I still enjoy dropping in for a chaotic game of Overwatch from time-to-time, but isn’t cooperative.
When I comparing these games against my complaints at the top, I could knock almost every game. Deep Rock Galactic has no story. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes isn’t challenging.
However, I enjoyed them because I was playing with Julie or other friends and family. It really isn’t so much about the game: as long as it’s just enough to keep everyone engaged, we had fun because we were doing it together.