What happened to Co-Op Games?

Without sounding like an old man too much I miss the days when you used to be able to go over to your friend’s house and play a game together on the couch. These days it all seems to be online, not only that, but there is a huge lack of Co-Op friendly titles, why is that?

If you look at the video game market today, I think you will struggle to find a highly polished and produced title that supports a co-op campaign, or at least isn’t detrimental to those who wish to play it that way. I find far too many games where you can play a co-op campaign, but the secondary player is essentially a shadow, an unrecognized entity in the game.

What strikes me as odd is that there is clearly a huge market for this kind of games and I feel that studios are limiting their reach by not developing these parts of their games. Take the Dynasty Warrior series as an example. Many of you might not know these games, but I have played these games for years. A certain friend of mine and me would spend hours and hours playing these games together, why? Because the co-op modes were excellent.

They recognized there we two players, allowed us both to operate independently and as one cohesive unit if we wished. This was the reason we picked up these games in the first place and subsequently have played most of the titles in the series since.

The reason I say most is that over the years the Dynasty Warriors developers Koei Tecmo have slowly started to reduce the co-op functionality in their games, all the way to the point where their newest planned title Dynasty Warriors 9 will not include any co-op at all. Why is this? I ask myself.

I still don’t have an answer. I’m sure this will be something to do with either development costs or that this new game just can’t handle co-op functionalities, but this doesn’t sit right with me. I, like many other people, want co-op games. The last game I can think of that actually encourage co-op play was the Borderlands and Divinity games.

There is a clear gap and lack of these titles in the market and the industry and its consumers are crying out for some co-op ability. Yes, the days of playing on a couch together might be gone, but what about online? The closest mass market things we have for playing a story together with friends seem to be in the form of MMOs and not everyone can commit that kind of time to a game.

What we want is a full co-op title. Something we’re playing through a story with friends is actually encouraged and rewards you for doing so. Not something that makes you feel like you’re at a disadvantage being the 2nd player in someone else’s game.

I tend to play a lot of RPGs and I find this is one area that needs most work to incorporate co-op gameplay. Yes, most of the stories revolve around a single character overcoming odds to save the world or defeat a particular person. Let’s face it, you couldn’t exactly imagine The Witcher 3 as a Co-op game, despite my thinking how cool it would be to just control Roach for my friends. Diablo III seems to be the closest thing we have to a game encouraging co-op gameplay, but again at times, this game seems to disregard the fact there is more than one player in favor of acknowledging the person who actioned the NPC.

We have all been in a situation where we have played video game director in our heads. They’re the moments when you’re playing something and you say to yourself that this game would be perfect if only the did this, or changed that. I do this all the time, but the most common one seems to be wishing this game was co-op.

I said that The Witcher 3 couldn’t exactly be a co-op game, but could you imagine how much more fun it would if it was? You already have an AI controller Witcher in the form of Vesemir. Now picture two player-controlled Witcher’s, fighting side by side. That’s one hell of game.

These sorts of observations apply to all of the great single player games and no matter which ones I think off, adding co-op to the mix always seems to improve them in my head. Take Skyrim as an example, now I know there are supposed mods that allow multiplayer, and I’m yet to try them, but picture how different this game could be with the help of a friend.

It’s not just RPGs this applies to but almost every genre. Strategy games have a huge market for this kind of co-op approach and although some games like Total War: Warhammer have this capability, there is a huge lack in cooperative campaign play from the Strategy genre. A huge trick missed in my opinion.

I’d like to think it’s only a matter of time before we get my wish and we see more games like this, but it feels like the industry is moving away from it. It’s a sad state of affairs when you have no power over what comes out of a studio and although the co-op market will never truly die, it feels like it’s missing so much. I know that if the kinds of games I’m talking about are ever developed, I’ll be first in line at the store to buy one.

Constantly threatening to write a book, but always with a story to tell. Tom has a typical northern English soul. He may sound as mundane as Jon Snow, but at least he tries to articulate. Lover of video games, comics, geek pop culture and wishing he could play Dungeons & Dragons.