As our pick of the best co-op PC games proves, there are few PC gaming experiences quite as giddy as playing alongside a friend.
Whether you’re traversing an RPG that will take months to complete or anxiously creeping through a permadeath rogue-like, playing together pulls the game out of the screen and brings it into reality as you laugh, scream and bicker together.
The PC is very well-catered for co-op games these days, and here are our picks for the best co-op PC games that will cause no end of bonding experiences and rifts between you and your friends.
Also, make sure you check out our list of the very best PC games you can play in 2019.
1. Grand Theft Auto V Online
What started off as a barebones online mode some six years ago has evolved into one of the best online co-op experiences on PC. While playing with strangers tends to be shambolic, gather a crew of friends and you’ll have all the madness of San Andreas at your fingertips.
You can run around the world freely causing general mischief, or take on rival crews in dedicated missions. The best co-op experiences however, are found in the bank heists. There’s nothing like robbing a bank and running out to an alley where your driver screeches up right on cue, then fleeing for the hills with police klaxons in your rear-view mirror.
2. Path of Exile
What better way to get your attention than with a freebie? Path of Exile is a free-to-play action-RPG with one of the most intricate and robust character development systems around. What’s more, the game becomes a whole lot more enjoyable when played co-operatively, as monsters scale up and you need to coordinate your attacks with your pals.
If you’ve played Diablo, then you’ll settle right into the click-heavy mouse-controlled groove of Path of Exile. It’s a similarly dark theme, though Path of Exile is slower, with a deeper combat system and a formidable end-game. There are plenty of leagues to compete in too, and it’s great fun to jump into one of these at the start and compete against millions of other players for the top stashes.
3. Rocket League
The mass hysteria and weekly highlight reels on gaming sites may have died down, but the inimitable physics-based rocket-car footy game continues to be one of the most popular online games.
Matches range from 1-v-1 to 4-v-4, so there’s plenty of flexibility when it comes to gathering your friends for co-op play. It’s a game that requires endless communication, as you try to coordinate your team into a speeding carousel of goalkeeping, defending and attacking. There’s a league-based system online, so you get a nice sense of progression as your team evolves from a fumbling mess into a well-oiled machine.
4. Warhammer: Vermintide 2
Bring Left 4 Dead 2 into the current generation, then replace the guns and zombies with warhammers, magic and anthropomorphic rat-people, and you have Vermintide 2. It’s one of the greatest games at making first-person melee combat feel weighty and impactful, as you crush, dismember and magically eviscerate the streams of Skaven running you down.
Vermintide 2 works best as a co-op game, letting you and up to three friends pick from three characters, each of whom has three distinct ‘careers’ to develop into. It’s dark, funny, and you can get a nice sense of progression whether you play in short, vicious bursts or multi-hour marathons of mayhem.
5. Sea of Thieves
An inspiring example of a game that hit the ground stumbling but really caught the wind in its sails over the years. Sea of Thieves tasks up to four players with manning a ship, and sailing around a vibrant, cartoon Caribbean in search of plunder, adventure and notoriety.
Where the game used to feel loose and a little aimless, it’s filled out to become an ever-evolving world of possibilities. You follow maps to skeleton-infested coves, fight mythical sea creatures, and even take on other player-controlled ships and crews.
Sea of Thieves is the ultimate freewheeling pirate fantasy, designed specifically to be played alongside a motley crew of scurvy-infested sea rats you call your friends.
6. Dying Light: Enhanced Edition
It’s a few years old now, but Dying Light still does a whole bunch of co-op-friendly things that other games can learn from. Yes, the story is weak, but parkouring through the zombie-infested streets of Harran alongside your daredevil pals remains a thrill unlike any other.
You can play the entire campaign and every mission cooperatively, but what makes it special is the unique challenges that crop up when playing with others. Running to a mission start-point can become a race with XP on the line, or a mission can gain some competitive edge as you try to kill more zombies than your buddy.
It’s a unique competitive-within-co-op structure that adds a whole new layer to online play.
7. Monster Hunter: World
The long-running oddball series finally caught the attention of the entire world with its latest iteration, polishing many of the more awkward bits while doubling-down on making its primordial Jurassic world a hostile joy to explore.
Although perhaps a little more fiddly to set up than would be ideal, you can group up with your friends and hunt scaled-up versions of formidable dinosaur-like beasts together. The sheer variety of weapons offers plenty of tactical opportunities; for instance, assign someone to buff the squad while one player shoots from afar and the others get stuck into the melee with their swords and spears.
The dynamic world means that the unexpected can always happen; another monster may join the fray or the ground may collapse beneath your feet. It means that even with friends, it’s a world that never stops feeling wild and dangerous.
8. A Way Out
The high-risk decision to make this prison-break adventure an exclusively co-op game paid off for developer Hazelight. And once you start playing, you’ll see that this was really the only way this game would ever have worked.
You can play this cinematic adventure split-screen or online, with you and a friend controlling two prisoners who slowly form a bond and plot their freedom.
From playing Connect-4 to working out, all the way through to covering each other in life-and-death encounters, A Way Out is one of the strangest, most endearing co-op games out there.
9. Divinity: Original Sin 2
Everyone who’s poured hundreds of hours into RPGs has at some point fantasised about playing through an entire campaign with a friend. Divinity: Original Sin 2 goes one better, and makes co-op arguably the best way to play the campaign.
Up to four players (two in split-screen) can freely roam around Divinity’s rich, story-filled game world. You can stick together as a unit, maximising your chances during the deep turn-based combat, or indeed split up to try to find your own separate ways of solving a given quest. There are even in-game conversations between player-characters that shape their personality and ultimately how you play through the game.
Original Sin 2 isn’t just a well-designed co-op RPG, but outright one of the deepest RPGs ever made.
10. Streets of Rogue
Whether you’re a zombie intent on turning every NPC on a level into undead, a thief who lives for breaking into buildings undetected, or a tiny Shapeshifter capable of possessing any character on a level, Streets of Rogue is a joyous mish-mash of emergent possibilities.
This cutesy rogue-lite is both procedurally-generated and permadeath, raising the stakes as you and up to three friends bumble, sneak, smash and blast your way through the bustling urban levels. It’s hilarious in its chaos and unpredictability, and immensely satisfying should you somehow manage to organise your team of misfits.
Rather than blurring the line between competitive and co-op multiplayer, Crawl abuses it, violently throwing you into fleeting alliances in a game where there can only be one winner.
It’s a dungeon crawler, in essence, but one in which one player is the ‘hero’, while the other 1-3 players are ghosts who summon demonic creatures and possess traps in a bid to stop you.
Whoever lands the killing blow then becomes the hero, and this cycle continues as the hero progresses through randomly generated dungeons with the aim of defeating the final boss (also controlled by the other players).
The hero levels up, but so do other players’ monsters, making each 15-minute-or-so game feel like an deliciously dark dance of death that quickly escalates in intensity.
From Crawl’s depraved subterrane, you can cleanse your palette with this clean and cheery kitchen sim. One to four players control cooks in a kitchen, delegating responsibilities as they try to cook and serve increasingly complex orders to the contiguous restaurant.
It’s quintessential co-op, though as the pace and stress ratchets up, you begin to understand how Gordon Ramsey came to rely on such a profanity-filled vocabulary to get things functioning in the kitchen.
The beauty of Overcooked is that it leaves all organisation to the players; who’s frying the steaks? Who’s chopping the veg? Why is the onion soup on fire?!? Who the HELL is doing the washing up because we’ve run out of plates to serve food on?
Kitchens in later levels shift and change too, which can quickly disintegrate your clockwork-like kitchen into a hilarious omnishambles of rolling foodstuffs, dirty dishes and spreading fires.
13. Towerfall: Ascension
An old-timer as indies go, Towerfall: Ascension remains one of the most gripping, mechanically precise combat arenas around.
Set across a number of pixel-pretty single-screen levels (which crucially wrap around the sides, top and bottom), you and your friends take each other on in one-shot-kill bow-and-arrow combat.
A panoply of powerups – from wings to an edible that turns everything slow-motion – inject some chaos into the mix, but matches always feel like precise affairs, in part thanks to the limited number of shots in your quiver, and the fact that opponents can nab your wayward arrows.
Even though it’s accessible, there is still a level of mastery to Towerfall, such as the dodge move that lets you catch arrows, or learning to use the wrap-around screen to fire an arrow off the left side of the screen to kill an enemy on the right.
The instant replays after each round are an inspired addition too, because nothing stirs up competition like the round winner gloating and forcing you to rewatch their moment of victory in slow motion.
14. Sonic & All-Star Racing Transformed
Any mention of couch multiplayer is almost certain to conjure wistful memories of playing Mario Kart 64 or Diddy Kong Racing using a trident controller, or perhaps Crash Team Racing for those on the Sony side of the fence in the '90s.
The PC, scattered platform that it is, never had its own IPs or mascots to turn into kart racers, but it’s benefited from Sega’s cross-platform diaspora with this overlooked gem. Beyond Sonic and pals, the Sega character roster may not be as recognisable as Nintendo’s (‘Football Manager’ from Football Manager, anyone?), but that matters little when the game itself is so vibrant and accessible.
Sonic & All-Star Racing is fun and forgiving, with tight controls and well-designed tracks that seamlessly transition between land, sea and air segments. PC gamers aren’t exactly spoiled for choice with kart racers, so it’s just as well that this is one of the best around.
Draped in comical American patriotism and starring the great Hollywood action icons of the 80s and 90s, this 2D blaster gets so excessively explosive that entire levels crumble beneath your feet, as the entire screen becomes obscured by a cocktail of body chunklets and fire.
One of the more ingenious touches in Broforce (aside from skirting around copyright by giving each action icon a ‘Bro’ variant of their name – The Brominator, Rambro, Ellen Ripbro etc.) is that you’re assigned a random character each time, constantly tickling your group’s nostalgia senses and switching up the action; one moment you’re whipping enemies to their doom as Indiana Brones, the next you’re swinging your sword and making guttural Arnie grunts as Bronan the Barbarian.
The difficulty ratchets up quickly, but simple controls and sheer character of Broforce will keep you and your friends at it until your thumb joints start chafing.
- Want to play solo? Here's our pick of the best single player PC games