Where are the co-op video games?

Borderlands 2One of the more exciting things to do in gaming is to saddle up with a friend and blast away baddies and bosses as you work your way through a great campaign and missions. For a while now, co-op has been a misunderstood and often misused term. Too many games claim to have co-op play and just end up giving you quarantined side missions that have no relation or impact on the main game or story. Some have even touted co-op in cryptic non-specific language only to finally admit the cooperative elements of the game were completely separate and on their own (I’m looking at you Dragon Age: Inquisition). For fans of co-op, however, the tide seems to be changing. So what makes a good co-op game, and what do we hope to see in future titles?

Good co-op, bad co-op

Some of the more disappointing experiences of my gaming tenure have been where I suddenly realize, after cracking open the cellophane and putting the disc in my console, that I had purchased a non-refundable game with no true co-op gameplay. I read previews, press releases, and watched videos that showed amazing graphics and yet never truly described or said what the co-op would be like. I made this mistake many times, but he worst culprit of all time was Rage (no, it has nothing to do with my website name). It’s one thing to put “2 players” on the back of the box as an off-handed point about your content. It’s another thing to market your game to fans of the Borderlands franchise and boast of “2 player co-op” when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Rage was aptly named for those of us who purchased the game looking for a great co-op experience. The only content you could play with friends was a cheesy arcade-feeling-car-battle-mode. None of the great weapons and gritty massive boss fights could be enjoyed with a partner. This is probably the best example of the worst type of co-op: side content drivel that almost nobody is interested in. And a side note to developers: stop wasting time and energy on lack luster co-op content that almost nobody plays. You are wasting your own time and resources, all while irritating gamers. So what’s the best type of co-op?

The best type of co-op is exhaustive and complete, not marginal or minimized. Is there a campaign? Can I play it with friends? That’s co-op. Two of the greatest examples of good co-op are Borderlands and Diablo 3. Both of these titles offer seemingly endless amounts of content, levels, and weapons to be enjoyed and looted through with your friends. In fact, games like this tend to be far more enjoyable with buddies than by yourself. This can be a frustration for those struggling to beat really hard bosses or levels that would be more manageable with some friends, but I believe the future of gaming is proving itself to be more communal and cooperative than ever before. But are there ways co-op games can improve?

Mission tracking and role assignments

There are two areas that co-op games can make missteps or miss out on. The first is mission tracking. I already expressed my frustration with how Dying Light tracks missions in my review, but I will repeat the issue here: When playing with friends only the host’s missions are tracked and saved. Mission tracking and syncing has always been a challenge, which is why I think some games avoid co-op altogether. I think an easy solution would be to track all missions completed, regardless of who is host, and then when a player returns to their own game they have a list of all missions completed with the option to “sync completion” which would check off and remove those missions from their game. Obviously people who want to boost might take advantage and say “No I want to replay those missions” and get the XP all over again. But honestly, if someone wants to replay missions just to level up quicker, let them ruin the pacing and fun of their own game. Most players aren’t going to go through all that trouble because it throws off the level balancing and makes the game boring. Another side note to developers: stop micromanaging the experience of the gamer. If someone wants to boost and sour their own game experience, so be it. These people are fringe and shouldn’t be the focus of your development.

An area where co-op games miss out on is role assignments. I’m going to get into specific details about this when I write about Borderlands 3, but for now I will keep it generic. Rather than have everyone doing the same thing, bosses and certain engagements would be a lot more engaging if you had specific things each person had to do, either in tandem with the other players or by timing things. A simple example would be a boss that needs lured by one player while the other is in position to drop something on them. Obviously these sorts of role assignments get challenging when you want a game that allows players to go through the game solo, so some of the roles would need to be simple enough for an AI to complete them. And honestly the timing and working together aspect with an AI character would probably turn more people on to the idea of teaming up with friends instead of slugging it out on their own.

The future is bright

It seems as though more games are launching with co-op and teamwork as the center focus of their game. Evolve, Destiny, and FarCry 4 are all big titles that launched with co-op, and other big titles are on the way: Battleborn, Elder Scrolls Online, Homefront: The Revolution, Crackdown, Rainbow Six: Siege, and The Division are just a few very promising co-op games on the horizon. Buy them up, give them deserving reviews, and help shape the future of co-op games!

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2 thoughts on “Where are the co-op video games?

  1. I didn’t realize that dishonest promises of co-op play had become so prevalent. What’s funny to me is that, way back in 2002 and 2005, FreeRadical included full co-op support in the full campaigns for TimeSplitters 2 and 3. Forward thinking, they were, it’s a shame that TS4 never happened.

    On a less-ancient-history note, it is a bit disappointing that The Order: 1886 has zero co-op and a reportedly short playthru time.

    • Yeah, a game like Timesplitters makes me scratch my head at the current decisions with respect to co-op. I think some of it comes down to motivation. If a team or company is motivated to do all they can to push the graphics to the very edge of what is possible, that comes at a cost. It probably makes co-op more difficult, but it also strains content creation. The footage I have seen for the The Order looks stunning and fresh, but as you said, people are already complaining about the short lived content. This is why, in my post about AAA titles not making much profit, I suggest smaller deliverables spread out over time. So if a game decides that it wants the absolute best graphics, which slows content development, they could expand the game and story over time, like a TV show releasing seasons. I think that’s the way forward for big games, especially those that want over the top graphics.

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