25 best video games to help you socialise while self-isolating
If the coronavirus means you’re facing weeks stuck at home, blasting aliens or exploring oceans together online is a great way to stay in touch with friends
In this time of quarantine and isolation, we all need to keep up both our social interactions and our spirits. Playing video games with friends online is the perfect solution. You don’t have to be good at them, that’s not the point – online games provide a location to meet up, chat and have experiences together that may or may not involve blowing stuff up.
Here is a range of titles that can be learned and enjoyed by both complete beginners and veteran gamers. Whether you have an old laptop or the latest smartphone, there’s something here you can play with pals even if they’re far away.
Console games – Keith Stuart
The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are excellent machines for playing with and against remote friends. They’re easy to set up online (you’ll need to pay a fee of around £45 a year for access) and they both have very intuitive “Party Chat” functions which let you talk to your friends via a gaming headset while playing – in fact you can chat between games too, or even while watching Netflix on your console. Things are a bit more complicated on Nintendo Switch which requires you to download a mobile phone app in order to chat with friends, but even then only a minority of games support the feature. So all our recommendations are primarily based on Xbox and PlayStation.
(PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, smartphone)
The most popular video game in the world allows groups of eight players to meet online, explore vast blocky worlds and construct amazing buildings together. Think of it as a cross between a Lego set and a fantasy adventure. You and your friends could collaborate on a project – such as building a scale model of the Taj Mahal – or play one of the competitive mini-games. It’ll keep you occupied for months.
Fortnite: Battle Royale
(PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, smartphone)
Still a favourite with teens everywhere, Fortnite: Battle Royale thrusts 100 players on to an island and then lets them fight it out to see who survives to the end. You can play alone, but the squad mode lets you take part in teams of four and it’s usually joyous and anarchic. Don’t feel it’s just about fighting either. If you land your team somewhere quiet, you can mess about together for ages, building forts and sailing boats. There’s also an ingenious creative mode where you can build your own levels.
Sea of Thieves
(PC, Xbox One)
This seafaring adventure from veteran developer Rare allows up to four friends to clamber aboard a pirate galleon then set sail looking for treasure and adventure. You’ll encounter other players as well as skeleton ships, islands and quests, and the whole thing is designed to get friends working together. It’s utterly enchanting and often hilarious.
(Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Star in your own slasher movie with up to seven friends, as teens desperately try to escape the murderous clutches of Jason Voorhees. One player is randomly selected for each round to play the killer, then everyone else has to work together to escape the camp. There are numerous weapons and items to discover and side missions to fulfil, and it all adds up to a tense, exciting experience. Dead By Daylight offers a similar experience with a wider range of monstrous homicidal enemies.
(PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Have you ever thought about what would happen if you and your friends tried to rob a bank? Or a casino? This is probably the safest way to find out. GTA Online is available when you buy Grand Theft Auto V and it allows groups of four friends to plan and execute multi-stage heist missions together, all taking on different roles – just like an interactive crime movie. At least one of you will need to have played the game before and reached the appropriate skill level, but playing with a mostly amateur and unfamiliar crew offers hours of knockabout slapstick fun. For a more sedate experience, Read Dead Online does similar things, but with more horses and moseying.
Don’t Starve Together
(PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Okay, the title is pretty grim, but this four-player cooperative survival game is strangely endearing. The idea is to survive in a hostile world as long as possible, gathering natural resources in order to make fires, cook food and craft weapons to fight off the extremely unfriendly indigenous wildlife. A pretty effective way of discovering which of your friends you can rely on in a life-or-death situation.
Mobile games – Stuart Dredge
The paradox of “mobile gaming” is that much of it happens when people aren’t mobile at all: they’re sitting on the sofa, lying in bed or (caveat: not recommended) perched on the loo. Most of these games will run happily on a recent (say, from the last three or four years) iPhone or Android smartphone, although a couple of them – Sociable Soccer and Butter Royale – are iOS-only and part of Apple’s £4.99-a-month Apple Arcade subscription.
Armchair golfers who like to play with friends are well-served on mobile: see also Super Stickman Golf 3 and Golf Battle. What I like about Golf Clash is partly the rapid-fire matches: if you come up against someone much better than you, the pain is over fairly quickly. But I also like the sense it gives you of a big community of players out there, including your Facebook friends.
Words With Friends Classic
One of the oldest mobile games still being actively supported – it was first released in 2009 – Words With Friends could be a marvellous tonic for anyone in self-isolation. You can have a bunch of its turn-based Scrabble-like matches going on at once, including in-game chat – and if your real-life friends aren’t playing, it’ll match you up with strangers.
Mario Kart Tour
This may be a controversial pick: I was as unsure as many people about Mario Kart Tour when it first came out for smartphones in September 2019. Its freemium model wasn’t super-aggressive by mobile standards, but it still stuck in the craw for Mario Kart. What’s changed my mind, though, is the recent addition of a proper multiplayer mode, including friend-matchmaking. It’s still second-best to playing online on a Switch or even a 3DS, but if you don’t have those available, this may grow on you as it has done on me.
Now four years old, this is one of the games I’ve tended to play heavily for a while, then drop out of for a year before firing it up again, and spending a week getting royally duffed up while I get to grips with all the new features. I’m firing it up again now, though, because Clash Royale’s blend of card-collecting/deck-building and strategic battles remains magic. But also because its clans system, where you can band together with friends for friendly matches and card-swapping, is one of the better mobile-game recreations of real-world networks.
Wait a second! A game that involves walking lots outside, at a time when we may soon be encouraged to stay inside? Stay with me. Developer Niantic is making some changes designed to make the game fun to play even if you’re stuck at home. More beasties will be spawning around you, and incense packs (which attract more of them) will be super-discounted, and will last for an hour. Meanwhile, another recent improvement is the “go battle league” which gets you battling your Pokémon against those of other players around the world. If doing it from your living room and garden is easier, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a big spike in players again.
You can guess a football-loving gamer’s age by whether they go misty-eyed at the mention of Sensible Soccer. Some of the team behind that series are back together for Sociable Soccer, an Apple Arcade exclusive. It’s more than just an homage to Sensi’s wonderful pinball-esque gameplay either: there’s an inventive card-based team-building system and a meaty 60-hour campaign mode to keep anyone busy. Plus there’s a new online multiplayer option, which right now is teaching me just how far my standards have slipped since my glory days of Sensible Soccer.
Asphalt 9: Legends
Something I gravitated towards for this particular roundup was mobile games that do more than simply let you play against other people online. The latest in Gameloft’s Asphalt racing series is a good example: it has a “club” feature where you can create your own driving club, add friends, and then challenge one another and run a proper league table. Even if you’re playing alone, there’s a decent career mode and regular new daily “events” to keep your interest up in this fun arcade racer.
Another Apple Arcade exclusive, this is essentially a top-down Fortnite with a dairy obsession. You run around grabbing food-themed weapons and splatting other players in 32-person battle royales, or teaming up with friends in squads of four. The pitch for a “child-friendly Fortnite” will elicit a massive eyeroll from most children (mine, certainly) but Butter Royale is great as a casual alternative – especially if you have an Apple TV and a compatible joypad handy.
This isn’t a traditional game: it’s a website (and apps) for playing, creating and sharing multiple-choice trivia quizzes about… well, about pretty much any topic you can think of. Designed to be used by schools as well as by parents and children at home, there are subscription options but you can do a lot with it for free. In my house we’ve been casting a quizmaster’s phone to the TV screen and getting everyone to play on their phones, which works really well. Plus – not to tempt fate – it could be a genuinely useful tool for parents if and when schools in the UK close, and we’re all scrabbling around for good home-learning tools.
PC games – Jordan Erica Webber
If you don’t usually play many computer games, an easy way to get started is to download the hugely popular platform Steam, but you can also buy and download games straight to your computer from online stores such as GOG.com (which has a great collection of classics as well as more modern games) and itch.io (which specialises in games from independent creators). You can also use the free voice chat app Discord to talk to each other as you play and its screen share feature allows you to show each other your screens. Me and my friend, who is stuck out in California, have been using this feature to show each other the houses we’ve been building in The Sims 4.
If you need a good laugh, this is guaranteed to deliver. You and up to three others team up to prepare meals for hungry customers: chopping, cooking, assembling, delivering, and washing up. Sounds easy, but each kitchen features unique and hilarious obstacles, from moving counters to collapsing floors.
A soothing game that’ll keep you occupied for dozens of hours. You and up to three others run a farm in a small village, carrying out tasks together or alone. Activities range from planting crops and caring for animals to fighting monsters and courting your favourite villager.
Tick Tock: A Tale for Two
To make the best of a bad situation, try a game that is better when you’re not in the same place. In Tick Tock: A Tale for Two, you and the other player see different versions of the game’s mystical world and must communicate effectively to solve the puzzles.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan
For a remote movie night experience, Man of Medan’s shared story mode lets two people play through a horror story together by controlling different characters. The story itself isn’t great, but it’ll give you something to talk about, and at about four hours long you can play in an evening.
Want to try your hand at ruling the world? In Civilization VI, you try to take your chosen civilization from the Stone Age to the Information Age. It looks complex, but there are tutorials for beginners, and it’s turn-based, so you can step away from your PC at any time.
Rocket League is football played with rocket cars, easy to learn but with plenty of room to develop your skills. With multiple modes for different numbers of players, this will easily fit into your schedule.
Ticket to Ride
Board game nights are not easily replaced, but we can try. Tabletop Simulator is software that lets you play virtual board games online, but if you want to keep it simple then grab a copy of Ticket to Ride, the classic in which you compete to connect cities by rail.
Sometimes only mindless button-bashing will do. If you want to run around a fantasy land with your friends, taking out hordes of creatures with a giant sword or magic spells, levelling up and collecting loot, all without having to concentrate too hard, Diablo III is for you.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
To make your separation part of the game, try Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, in which one of you has to defuse a bomb and one has the manual, but neither of you can see what the other can. It’s frantic, silly, and you only need one copy to play.
For a bit of nostalgia, Worms W.M.D. is a more modern-looking interpretation of the classic turn-based battle between teams of worms, wacky weaponry included, from bazookas to blow torches to banana bombs. And with its cartoon violence, it won’t matter if your kids glance over at your screen.