The world is crazy right now, and the necessity of distancing means people have to rely on the internet for that social contact humans crave. Video games are a great alternative, but some are much better than others if you just want to hang out with friends.
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls/Eternal Collection
You could put a ton of action-RPGs here, although I think Diablo 3 is uniquely good for the forced isolation environment we're under right now. It's a very low-key, low-stakes battle when starting out, and a lot of people who never played Diablo 3 will appreciate just rolling around without having to worry too much about the challenge. Games like Path of Exile are a little more mechanically daunting. Nothing wrong with that, but if you're just jumping into a game to share with a friend or partner just as a way to stay social, Diablo 3 is the way to go.
This one is best in VR, although you can play Rec Room now without a headset. You'll be in third-person instead, and some of the quests aren't really designed around that. But there's plenty of mini-games where it doesn't matter, and the whole game is free anyway.
Rec Room is basically a social space for people to play all sorts of mini-games, ranging from archery, volleyball, soccer, paintball, table tennis and a hell of a lot more. People make "rooms" to play whatever game they like, and you can mill around and jump in and out as you desire.
I actually hate playing this because everyone just ends up flipping the goddamn table. But if people chill long enough to actually get through a game of Scythe, there's a ton of great games you can play to have a laugh. It's certainly the most sanitary way to play board games right now, and the implementations of games like Viticulture, Warfighter and Wingspan are really well done.
Also, everyone should play Wingspan anyway. Excellent game.
The whole world is slowly turning to shit, so why not build another bright, beautiful green world of your own? Stardew Valley has multiplayer on all platforms now, and all players share progress and proceed through the entire game world as one. That's great for splitting up various tasks on your farm, especially if you want to grow it to the size where baby dinosaurs and void chooks take up residence.
Normally the prospect of a game that you could sink hundreds of hours into would be ... a little daunting for some. But hey, who knows how long we're going to be stuck indoors for? So MMOs like Warframe, which have countless planets to explore and checklists to resolve, are a great alternative right now. There's been tons of updates adding different activities. New frames have their own mechanics and playstyles, which is fun to discover. Bosses take time and teamwork to overcome, and the game is much better in 2020 about rewarding players through quests and missions than it was years ago.
Plus, flying around as space ninjas is still cool as hell.
Warframe, a game which was first released in 2013, did not launch with an expensive cinematic intro. Six years later it’s got one, courtesy of director Dan Trachtenberg, who if the name doesn’t ring a bell is the man currently trying to get the Uncharted movie out of production hell.
The Borderlands series has always been about grinding loot with a friend, and there's never been a better time to get into Borderlands 3 after it launched on Steam in the last week. Most of the weird day-one quirks have been resolved, and being 50% off on Steam is a great deal for what you're getting.
Marbles on Stream
One of the most underrated social games is Marbles on Stream, a game where you watch a marble get lost in the immense chaos of trying to get to the finish line. People can join in the game through Twitch chat, and the chaos and lack of visibility as hundreds of marbles all collide together is pretty hilarious.
As far as escapism goes, Marbles is way, way more entertaining than the name first suggests. It's completely random and you have no agency whatsoever, but that's really part of the fun. You can get the game on Steam here, and watch the video above to get an idea of what it's like.
No Man's Sky
No Man's Sky has come so far from launch, and if you had any frustration over the game's lack of multiplayer at launch, that's completely resolved now. Up to 16 players can scour planets together; there's a galactic hub; players can create monuments with each other; share bases; download other player bases and even race on exocraft tracks. The game's Creative Mode has a ton of flexibility too: someone even made Rocket League in it.
Do you like Rocket League, but wish it were in space? A No Man’s Sky player has you covered.
Remnant: From The Ashes
Imagine Dark Souls with guns and a squad. The game has an awful lot more going on than that, to be totally fair, but it's a very simple explanation of what you're in for. It's available on Xbox Game Pass for consoles now, but if you want a looter-shooter style game that's more mechanically interesting and challenging than Borderlands or Warframe, Remnant can be a ton of fun.
Microsoft's X019 conference is basically like a mini E3, so it's no surprise that Xbox Game Pass would get a ton of new stuff to announce. From today, Xbox Game Pass will have RAGE 2, Remnant: From The Ashes, The Talos Principle and Hearts of Iron 4, and later this year it'll get The Witcher 3, Darksiders 3, the Final Fantasy series, and more.
Call of Duty: Warzone
Battle royales are basically social spaces of their own. Many people play Fortnite or PUBG to hang out with their friends 15 or 20 minutes at a time, and the recently-released Warzone fills that role really well.
It's free, which is a huge plus if you have a friend who's not really a gamer but they know they don't want to touch Fortnite, and still want something to do. Cross-play on all platforms is a huge help, so you don't have to worry about platform issues, and the game's speed and general brand awareness also helps as an entry point for friends with a lot of non-gamers.
Put simply: free Call of Duty is an easy sell.
It also helps that Warzone is really, really good. The gunplay is excellent with lower recoil than games like PUBG or Apex Legends, and the general size of the map and player count helps keep things varied early on. The money system is also a nice, almost Counter-Strike-esque touch too that adds another layer of decision making that gives people things to talk and think in between firefights.
Battle royales, of course, won't be for everyone. Some people will prefer more laid back games as something to relax with. But if you and your mates are the kind that like a bit of action as a way to unwind, Warzone is definitely worth a shot - just make sure you give the download plenty of time.
Jackbox Party Packs
It helps to have laughs in a difficult time, and the Jackbox Party Packs are well setup for weird situations like the self-isolation hell everyone is in right now. You can either stream or share the game online through a direct streaming service like Twitch, but all of the packs also support Steam's remote play services, as well as Remote Play Together. And if you are fortunate enough to be able to stream even a fairly low quality stream, that's enough still for friends and family to get involved and laugh at some easy jokes.
It's only natural to want to share your hobbies with people you love, but video games can sometimes have a barrier of entry based on skill. If you have friends who you'd like to play games with, but haven't played any before, here's a few good places to start.
Risk of Rain 2
Risk of Rain 2's shift to 3D was a gamble, but it's definitely paid off. The game's still in early access, but fans have absolutely eaten up the roguelike and its modern transition.
It's a great game to share with friends if you want that kind of shared, third-person action-RPG experience but you don't want the Souls-like combat of something like Remnant. There's still big bosses, plenty of vibrant worlds, support for four players online without having to forward ports on your router, plenty of theorycrafting, and tons of new survivors that you and your mates can unlock. A great co-op experience, and definitely worth picking up now: it's only $21 at GameBillet and the WinGameStore.
Risk of Rain 2 surprise launched in early access last week. The game is a follow-up to Hopoo Games’ 2013 Risk of Rain, a 2D roguelike platformer. Though it makes some changes to the original formula, Risk of Rain 2 is less a sequel and more the original game remade in 3D. This is great.
The Old Republic / Elder Scrolls Online / Final Fantasy XIV / World of Warcraft: Classic
I've put all four MMOs here together because any one of them could fill the same role. It really just depends on what flavour you prefer your enormous social space to be: Star Wars, a touch of Skyrim and Morrowind, high fantasy, or something completely different. MMOs have a long history of providing solace and connecting players in times and emergencies, and any one of these would be an excellent game to pick up right now.
If you're financially conscious, I'd say The Old Republic is the best one to start with. All of the individual classes have excellent stories to work through, particularly the Smuggler. WoW has its starter edition too, but that's much more limited than The Old Republic as you're capped to Level 20 and don't have access to voice chat, pets, or even the ability to emote. FF14 and ESO both are premium games from the outset - even FF14's "Online Starter edition" is $US20 - and all four games encourage players to acquire monthly subscriptions.
Euro Truck Simulator 2
This one is a little more tricky in that you'll have to also download the TruckersMP multiplayer mod, which adds multiplayer support to Euro Truck Simulator 2 or American Truck Simulator. But there's nothing like going on a long roadtrip just to unwind, especially if you're hanging out with mates on Discord and just exploring areas you literally can't venture to right now. Or shouldn't, anyway.
Dota Underlords / Teamfight Tactics
Both Underlords and TFT are well developed in terms of joining lobbies with friends and going through the dance of re-rolling just to find that one hero you need. The games themselves have various advantages and disadvantages, with Underlords obviously being fully available on mobile right now. But the main principle is the same. Autobattlers are games where you largely make your decision and then chill out while the action takes place, which makes it a great game for "playing" while you talk to friends and largely just unwind. It's why both games have done so well in the streaming space, because that decision making and discussion is naturally very social, and it's something you can easily share with friends.
Minecraft x Harry Potter
Hogwarts is probably the only place that can actually cure COVID-19 right about now, so why not get a server with friends and take some lessons?
Recreating Harry Potter in Minecraft? That's been done. But recreating all of Hogwarts into a mammoth experience that has quests, trading, support for co-op, Diagon Alley, Platform 93/4, Deatheaters, Hagrid's wonderful forests and you can fly around the whole lot ... well that's a whole other experience.