The best co-op games for 2021

It doesn’t matter if you’re visiting a friend’s island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons or helping them mow down brutes in Gears 5 — the best co-op games offer gaming experiences that are best with a friend.

Co-op gameplay is at the core of video games as a medium, dating back to the early days of the arcade. From Metal Slug and Double Dragon to Among Us and Divinity: Original Sin 2, developers have been constantly looking for new ways to allow players to play together. Now, it’s easier than ever to do so, with digital marketplaces bursting at the seams with games with online and local co-op.

But which ones should you pick up? Here are the best cooperative games you can play right now.

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It Takes Two

It Takes Two

Available on: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC

It Takes Two is the latest from Hazelight Studios, which made a name for itself with exclusively co-op experiences like A Way Out and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. The studio’s latest attempt is its best, and that’s saying something. It Takes Two follows a struggling couple as they deal with an impending divorce. The couple’s daughter cries on dolls she made, transforming them into miniature knitted creatures. From there, it’s up to you and a teammate to make your way back to the house and, hopefully, fix your marriage in the process.

The story is touching, and it isn’t afraid to dive into the darker parts of its subject matter. Still, It Takes Two stands out with its gameplay. True to the name, every puzzle and enemy encounter takes two people to beat. Each character has access to a new ability with each level, forcing players to work together to progress the story. It Takes Two is co-op done right, and it shows just how powerful a cooperative experience can be when it’s built for two people.

Read our It Takes Two review

Outriders

Outriders

Available on: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC, Stadia

Outriders is an early hit for 2021. It comes from developer People Can Fly, known for its work on Bulletstorm and Gears of War: Judgement. Outriders brings together several elements from the studio’s previous games, combining a Gears of War cover system with Bulletstorm abilities and a Destiny 2-like loot system. All of these systems combine to create one of the most frantic shooters of recent memory, with the core gameplay looped backed up by RPG elements and exciting loot.

Although you can play through Outriders alone, it’s best with friends. The world tier system in the game allows you to adjust your difficulty, and you can drop into any story point from the home screen. That makes it easy for friends to drop in regardless of their level.

On top of that, Outriders has four unique classes. Each class regains health by performing a different action (the Trickster class, for example, regains health from getting close-range kills). With the class system, each squad member has a role to play in combat, encouraging parties to communicate and work together to win.

Read our Outriders review

Fortnite

Epic Games

Available on: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Switch, PC, Mac, Android, iOS

Fortnite is one of the biggest games in the world, and for good reason. Epic’s massive battle royale set the standard. Fortnite’s riveting combination of building and shooting brings a lot of depth, allowing players with the right strategy to make it to the winner’s circle. And now with a growing list of iconic video game characters and plenty of seasonal challenges, it’s never been a better time to play Fortnite. 

Read our Fortnite review

Monster Hunter Rise

Monster Hunter Rise

Available on: Switch

Monster Hunter Rise isn’t the only Monster Hunter game on Nintendo Switch, but it’s the best. It’s basically Monster Hunter: World, just in your pocket. Rise brings over the many gameplay improvements seen in World, including a unified map for hunting monsters and the Wirebug tool, which allows you to quickly get around and activate some special attacks in combat.

Although taking down monsters is fun on your own, Monster Hunter Rise is best with a group of hunters. Combining attacks and abilities to deal as much damage as possible is part of the fun. You can team up with up to three other hunters online or through local co-op.

Monster Hunter Rise also introduces the Rampage game mode, which tasks you with defending a village from monsters by attacks, setting up siege weapons, and instructing NPCs. Monster Hunter Rise is a true successor to Monster Hunter: World, and that’s seriously impressive on Switch.

Read our Monster Hunter Rise review

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

animal crossing new horizons friends

Available on: Switch

If you’re reading this guide, you’ve undoubtedly already heard of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and you know it’s one of the best multiplayer Switch games. Although the game is wonderful for relaxing alone after a long day, it’s with friends that New Horizons comes into its own. The sense of satisfaction that comes from showing off your island to your friends, and on the other side, visiting theirs, is unmatched in video games. Even the animation for going to another island is so adorable that you’ll want to vomit.

Read our Animal Crossing: New Horizons review

Among Us

Available on: Android, iOS, PC

Among Us was released almost two years ago, and for the majority of its life, it drew around 500 to 1,000 players a day on Steam. Now, in late 2020, it’s one of the most popular games on Steam, peaking with nearly 500,000 concurrent players. If for some reason you haven’t heard of Among Us, it’s a social deduction game for up to 10 players. You play as a crewmember with a list of short tasks to complete, including dumping trash, diverting power, and uploading files. For crewmembers, the goal is simple: Complete all of your tasks, and your team wins.

The kicker, though, is that there’s at least one imposter among the crewmembers. The imposter’s job is to stealthily move around, killing off crewmembers in isolation while sabotaging different rooms on the map. Whenever someone finds a body or calls an emergency meeting, your group has a chance to talk and vote someone out. Among Us is a simple game that anyone can pick up and play, and with people spending more time than ever inside, a worthy replacement for simple tabletop games.

Among Us is free on Android and iOS, and it’s only $5 on Steam. Even better, the game supports crossplay between these platforms, allowing you to team up and play with virtually anybody.

Steam Android iOS

Phasmophobia

Available on: PC

It’s rare to find a game on Steam with an overwhelmingly positive review score, much less a game that’s already been reviewed by nearly 10,000 people (likely more, when you’re reading this). Phasmophobia is an early-access game that came out of nowhere. The first release for Kinetic Games, Phasmophobia puts you in the shoes of a ghost hunter. In each investigation, you and up to three others will use cameras, UV flashlights, thermometers, and more to find and track a ghost. Your job isn’t to get rid of the ghost, though. Rather, you’re tasked with gathering evidence to pin down what type of ghost is responsible for the haunt.

Although Phasmophobia is very much a horror game, it’s a ghost-hunting game first and foremost. The majority of each investigation is spent setting up equipment and trying to get a read on where the ghost is at. There are scares, but they’re few and far between, and Phasmophobia earns every frightening moment. It’s like playing an episode of Ghost Adventures, just without Zak Bagans to keep you safe.

Even better, Phasmophobia has a VR mode, and you can team up with your friends regardless if they have a VR headset or not. For a game only a few weeks old, Phasmophobia is surprisingly polished, and it has a good amount of variety, to boot. However, it’s still an early-access game, so there are a few rough edges.

Steam

Marvel’s Avengers

marvel's avengers

Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS5

Marvel’s Avengers may not be the world’s greatest video game, but it’s an enjoyable romp with friends. Beating up baddies with one of Marvel’s finest is a fun enough time on its own, but teaming with up your friends to assemble your version of the Avengers is where the game shines. Combat is tight and responsive, each character has a unique set of skills and abilities, and the games-as-a-service elements, while present, never sour the experience.

Unfortunately, the game’s excellent campaign is for a single player only. However, after a few hours with the main story, you’ll unlock the ability to invite others to your game — and join others’ games — without worrying about finishing it.

Gears 5

Gears 5 Escape

Available on: Xbox One, PC, Xbox Series X

Third-person shooters, particularly cover-based ones, aren’t always the most accessible games for newcomers. Microsoft and The Coalition seem to have recognized this with Gears 5, which gives less-experienced players the chance to help out their veteran Gears of War friends. The robotic character Jack can be used in both Horde mode and the campaign, providing support and damaging enemies while the other players fire away with their Lancers.

In a squad full of experienced players, you can also play the brand-new Escape mode. In an aggressive cooperative mode that plays almost like a reverse-Horde, you must storm through a short level and make your way to the exit as a venom bomb slowly fills up the halls behind you. It’s difficult and requires plenty of coordination, making it the perfect option to play with a few friends.

Read our full Gears 5 review

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2

The Division 2 Hands-on Preview

Available on: Xbox One, PS4, PC

You can play the majority of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 by yourself, but the 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

Borderlands 3

Available on: Xbox One, PS4, PC, Xbox Series X, PS5

When it comes to cooperative open-world games, Borderlands 3 stands among the very best. Gearbox has created its biggest game to date, packed full of goofy characters to meet, objectives to complete, weapons to discover, and multiple planets to explore. It can be played as a solo experience, but longtime Borderlands fans know that things get much more interesting when you bring a friend into the mix. Using your Vault Hunters’ different abilities, you can deliver combinations of attacks to deal massive damage to enemies.

Several cooperative changes have been made compared to previous games in the series, as well. A level-sync system now lets you join a friend to play together, even if you differ widely in level. A loot-instancing option will give everyone in your group their own drops after beating enemies. If you want to team up with another player for couch cooperative gameplay, the game also supports split-screen.

Diablo III

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch

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

Call of Duty: Warzone

Activision

Available on: Xbox One, PS4, PC, Xbox Series X, PS5

Call of Duty: Warzone is Activision’s latest take on the battle royale genre, and it’s a good one. One of the biggest titles in gaming right now — even rivaling the likes of Fortnite — Warzone is a massive battle royale game, with 150 players on the standard game mode and up to 200 on certain limited game modes. It’s simply bigger than the competition, which is a testament to the talent at Infinity Ward. Despite photo-realistic visuals and a huge map, Warzone maintains a solid 60 frames per second across PC and consoles.

It’s not just the size that sets Warzone apart, though. The Gulag mechanic gives you a second lease on life, while Plunder adds a new dynamic to the battle royale formula. Even better, Warzone is free. While technically an extension of 2019’s Modern Warfare, you can download Warzone free of charge. Modern Warfare is an excellent co-op game in its own right, though, so a purchase there is worth it.

Read our Call of Duty: Warzone review

Sea of Thieves

Available on: Xbox One, PC, Xbox Series X

Although the game was light on content at launch, Rare has continued to build Sea of Thieves over the past few years. Even with a now endless list of things to do, our initial take on the game remains the same: Sea of Thieves isn’t about what you’re doing, it’s about the people you’re playing with.

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 2

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch

Overcooked 2 is easy to learn but tough to master. Don’t let its cutesy visuals fool you — Overcooked 2 presents more of a challenge than most co-op games. In increasingly complex stages and with increasingly complex orders, your job is to help run a kitchen and get orders out on time. Each round starts simply, with a coordinated team organizing themselves into stations to create an efficient cooking machine. As the orders and problems start to pile up, though, the kitchen quickly devolves into madness, where every correct order feels like a victory.

The first Overcooked is an excellent game, but its sequel improves on the co-op cooking fun in a number of ways. Most practically, Overcooked 2 has online multiplayer, while the first game was limited to local co-op. Playing games online with friends is becoming increasingly important, making the first game basically obsolete. Plus, Overcooked 2 has four pieces of DLC to the first game’s single expansion, so there’s no shortage of levels to play through.

Minecraft

Minecraft screenshot of water and shore
projectLUMA

Available on: iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, Fire TV, Oculus Rift, Gear VR, Windows Mixed Reality, PC, Switch, Xbox One, PS4, Xbox Series X

Minecraft is the bestselling game of all time — ignoring the multiple iterations of Tetris that have been released over the years — so it needs little introduction. Minecraft‘s massive reach shouldn’t undermine just how good of a game it is. It’s Lego for the 21st century, offering hundreds of hours of fun on basically any device with a screen and an internet connection. Even better, Minecraft supports cross-platform play. You can team up and build with your friends no matter if they’re on iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, Fire TV, Oculus Rift, Gear VR, Windows Mixed Reality, PC, Switch, Xbox One, or PS4.

Cuphead

Cuphead review mermaid

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch

Cuphead‘s 1930s cartoon aesthetic is enough to get anyone interested in the game. Lovingly hand-drawn, the characters, enemies, and environments explode off the screen in a mess of film grain and color. Cuphead is a beautiful-looking game, but more importantly, it’s a fun game. Knuckle-busting platforming levels give you the skills and resources to face the game’s many boss encounters, each of which offers a unique character design and a unique challenge. Cuphead is a great time with just Cuphead, but it’s even better with Mugman.

Playing as a duo isn’t any easier — bosses scale in difficulty depending on the number of players — but a player two is indispensable on run-and-gun stages. Cuphead and Mugman can revive each other, making a poorly timed jump or parry a little less punishing. Unfortunately, Cuphead doesn’t support online play. Co-op is restricted to two local players.

Read our Cuphead review

Divinity: Original Sin 2

Divinity: Original Sin 2 early screenshot

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch

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

Available on: PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Xbox One via backward compatibility

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

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch

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 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

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Android, iOS, Switch

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

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Xbox Series X, PS5

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 an 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

Grand Theft Auto Online

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Xbox Series X, PS5

Seven years after launch, and Rockstar is still supporting Grand Theft Auto Online with new content (enhanced versions are even coming to Xbox Series X and PS5). If you’ve played a GTA game before, you know what this one is all about: It’s Grand Theft Auto Vjust online. GTA Online takes the focus off of the story and puts it on the sandbox. Join up with a crew or take on jobs with just a small group of friends, the choice is yours. GTA Online makes being a criminal fun, and the illegal shenanigans are even better with friends.

Payday 2

screenshot of payday 2

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch

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

Monster Hunter: World Review

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC

In most role-playing games, battles play out fairly predictably. You approach a monster, you exchange blows, and it’s over and done with. In Monster Hunter World, taking down monsters is an art that requires patience, skill, and a few hearty meals.

Not only can you team up with a group of friends to track down stunning beasts, but you’ll also experience some of the most intense and highly rewarding battles in gaming today. With each successful hunt, you grow stronger, and the materials you collect allow you to upgrade your weapons and armor so you can take on even bigger and badder beasties. It’s unforgettable fun playing solo, but it’s amplified when you jump in with some friends.

The Iceborne expansion takes players to a new, frosty location dubbed Hoarfrost Reach. Covered with ice and snow, the elements in Hoarfrost are always working against you. The monsters are harder to take down but the gear you’ll get is totally worth the effort. Are you and your friends up for the challenge?

Read our full Monster Hunter World: Iceborne review

Deep Rock Galactic

Available on: Xbox One, PC

Deep Rock Galactic is one of many Left 4 Dead clones. However, instead of sticking with the campaign-focused formula, developer Ghost Ship Games decided to take their first release in a different direction. In Deep Rock Galactic, you play as a space dwarf exploring a network of caves that have become overrun with aliens. The catch is, the caves are procedurally generated and the environments are completely destructible.

Those random elements breathe a lot of life into Deep Rock Galactic. In a genre where games often fail due to repetitiveness, Deep Rock Galactic gives you something fresh each time you play. You can choose how deep you want to go, too. It’s possible with the fully destructible environments to drill your way through the caves straight to the objective. Alternatively, you can scout around for alternate paths, searching for weapon upgrades and anything else that will help you on your run.

Don’t Starve Together

screenshot from don't starve together

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC

Don’t Starve might be the most charming survival game out there. In a genre where every developer is concerned with realism, Klei Entertainment went in a different direction with Don’t Starve, honing in on the survival elements and ditching the realism for a gothic coat of paint. Don’t Starve Together is the same game, just with online and local co-op. Plus, it’s a stand-alone expansion, so you don’t need the original game to play.

Don’t Starve is a game that pairs survival of the fittest with adventure and exploration. You’ll quickly notice how random everything is every time you restart a new world. The first few worlds you create give you the chance to learn the game rather than focus on surviving. We won’t lie to you, Don’t Starve is a challenging and unforgiving game, but if you remain patient and willing to learn, you can benefit over time.

A Way Out

screenshot from a way out

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC

A Way Out is intended for two players rather than being a single-player game with co-op mode. So, if you want to play, you need a buddy. Hazelight, a developer known for another game called Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons, is also the developer of A Way Out. Similar to that game, A Way Out is a story-driven experience with countless plot twists and deep-rooted themes. Players can choose to play as Leo or Vincent, two convicted criminals. Leo’s personality is along the lines of act first and ask questions later, while Vincent is extremely analytical. 

In the story, another character named Harvey frames both Leo and Vincent. Together, they strive to break out of prison and obtain vengeance. A Way Out lasts about five hours, emphasizing the story and focusing less on logistics. The hours are incredibly entertaining, though, that it barely even matters. Another benefit is that the light gameplay allows anyone to play with you, even if they aren’t a die-hard gaming fan.

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