Internet strangers aren't always the friendliest bunch, but they can surprise you in ways that a static system can't. People form the living, beating hearts of the gaming moments I value the most. Join me, then, as I point at the games that encase those beating hearts best.
Outwitting another human will always be more satisfying than outwitting an AI. The games on this list are geared towards competitive multiplayer, though do check out our roundup of the 25 best co-op games if you’d rather work with your neighbour than beat them up.
On that note, I'd recommend giving the video below a watch. Again, many of these aren't technically multiplayer games where you'll compete against others for glory and fame, but they're fun all the same. A few involve friendly competition, at least.
And just remember, this list is in an order, but it's a loose one. They're all good games, so don't get too caught up in the number they've been blessed with.
Onward is basically a slower-paced Counter-Strike in VR, and it’s every bit as exhilarating as that suggests. Two teams of five fight over objectives while wrestling with guns that come with all the faff of their real world counterparts. I’ll never forget the time I lay quivering on top of a rooftop, forgetting how to reload my sniper rifle thanks to the panic-inducing bullets pinging off the concrete around me.
I’ve told this story in at least three different places on RPS, but you're going to hear it again because it’s such a good illustration of VR’s potential.
My back was pressed against a wall, and the fallen members of my team were pressed around their specating screens. The bomb needed arming and I needed to be the one to do it, but I was sure I could hear an opponent lying in wait for me around a corner. In a normal FPS, I’d have had no choice but to jump into the trap. In VR, I realised I only needed to stick one arm around the wall and fire.
I stepped out of safety to find my would-be ambusher crumpled at my feet. If you own some cybergoggles and haven’t tried Onward, sort it out.
24. Mount Your Friends
Mount Your Friends is what QWOP would look like if it was a multiplayer game about having an orgy on top of a goat. It’s about overcoming awkward controls to climb an ever growing mountain composed of your mates. It’s about cheering when they pull off something impressive and cheering harder when they spectacularly fail.
You’re eliminated if you can’t reach the top within 60 seconds, so when you start playing your piles of men probably won’t be that mountainous. Every limb needs to be carefully extended individually, and you’ll find yourself slowly dragging your way up before pressing the wrong button and plummeting to the ground.
Put a little practice in though, and you can do vertical cartwheels at speeds that would embarrass Mo Farah. Momentum can be used to swing your body far, far into the air… and over to the opposite side of the tower, before plummeting to the ground. That’ll earn you the biggest cheer of all.
23. For Honor
You won't find much honour in the servers of this third-person stab 'em up, but that's part of the fun. What sort of duel doesn't include the threat of being pushed into a pond?
I'm bringing up duels because those are where For Honor shines. There's a tortuous progression system that gives advantages to those rich in time or pocket money, but the 1v1 and 2v2 battles strip that out and offer a level playing field. Apart from those aforementioned ponds.
I know I keep banging on about it, but the pleasure of so many multiplayer games rests in getting into your opponent's head. For Honor excels at letting you do that, with a combat system that makes every feint, parry and dodge part of a mind game that varies depending on which vikings, knights or samurai are on the field.
There's a theme with the games on this list, where I highlight how they're a lovely time if you're playing with friends. Which is fine: these games are here because they're particularly good at facilitating enjoyment amongst company. But I've played an awful lot of Overwatch by myself, which is a sure sign that it's a cut above.
Much of Overwatch's joy stems from the way I'm not the only type who's spoilt for choice, and each of the characters changes how the game must be played in a multitude of ways unique to them.
Beyond the endlessly inventive character design, there are masterful touches everywhere you look. When opponent's use their mega-powerful ultimate abilities, a warning cry echoes across the battlefield in their native language. The footsteps of your opponents are louder than those of your allies.
Throw in some best-in-class voice acting complete with splendid cross-character interactions, and you've got a team shooter that will be played for decades to come.
21. Mortal Kombat X
Candid admission time: it felt wrong to leave this list without a fighting game on it, but they’re not really in my wheelhouse. I can’t tell you if or why Mortal Kombat X is better than other fighting games because I haven’t played many, so it’s OK if you want to mentally replace this entry with your brawler of choice. I’ll allow it.
But hey, Mortal Kombat X is great fun. Look past the gratuitous gore (or look at it through begrudgingly appreciative 'oh, come on now' spectacles) and you'll see a solid punchfest between pleasingly outlandish characters. There are nuances to delve into if you like, though you can go a long way with just a couple of combos and some panache.
This iteration of Kombat is particularly keen on turning each stage into more than a pretty background, offering opportunities to jump about and occasionally chuck passers by at your opponent.
Northgard is an elegant RTS where winter can pose a bigger threat than an army of axemen. Every villager adds another hungry mouth to feed, and food is always in short supply. Especially when the snow starts to fall.
Time ticks ever onward and winter is always just around the corner, bringing harsh production penalties along with rat plagues, blizzards and earthquakes. Even so, the slow pace and relative simplicity of Northgard make it easy to get into - if not to excel at. You probably won't meet your viking foes until you're fifteen minutes into a match, and it'll be longer still before you start poking at their territory. If you even want to.
The dash of 4X in Northgard's DNA means military conquest isn't the only route to victory. Amass enough fame, wealth or knowledge and it won't matter how many angry Norsemen are at your gates. That gives multiplayer matches a dynamic that goes beyond the one-note destruction of other RTSeses, where the leading player tries to distract everyone from their imminent victory.
19. Regular Human Basketball
Just some regular humans here, nothing to look at. Nope, no giant robots equipped with jetpacks, magnets and retractable legs playing basketball. I don't know what you're talking about.
You'll need to assemble four friends for Regular Human Basketball to work properly, but if you can manage that you're in for a treat. It's just like normal basketball, except each team controls a mech by frantically running around inside it to reach the controls.
It's difficult enough when you're on your own, but coordinating with a teammate who has a VERY different idea about 'appropriate times to activate the jetpack' can be a nightmare. A hilarious nightmare, but a nightmare nonetheless.
18. Neptune’s Pride
You start with just one lonely star, and win once you’ve populated 50% of the galaxy. Ships can take half a day or more to reach their destination, so strap in for a few weeks of excitement, exasperation and despair.
You make simple decisions with the stars you capture, devoting them to produce money, ships or research. That’s not really where the game is, though.
The game actually takes place in the 2am texts between you and the neighbour who you’re pretending to ally with, but are actually just milking for information before you pincer them between your forces and those of the person who you’re actually working with. For now.
Much like its board game inspiration, Diplomacy, Neptune’s Pride is about weaving a Machiavellian web around your friends while they attempt to do the same. Everyone goes home covered in the icky filament of betrayal. It’s an unforgettable experience, whether you wind up basking in that or loathing it.
17. Towerfall Ascension
Towerfall Ascension is my favourite local-multiplayer game. It’s got a neat wave survival co-op mode, but that’s not why it’s here. It’s here because nothing has thrilled or delighted me in quite the same way as one of Ascension’s archery duels.
It goes up to four players, and its best mode is its simplest: last archer standing wins. Ascension tells engrossing stories with just three verbs - dodging, jumping and shooting. It only takes a single arrow to take out a player, but a well timed dash can let them safely pluck the offending projectile out of the air. It’s a system that gives fights a wonderful back and forth feeling to them, and results in the best slow motion replays in video games.
Plus the jumping feels real good.
Hearthstone's a competitive card game that's just the right levels of accessible. Based off Blizzard's beefy back-catalogue, you'll throw down Warcraft-themed cards at opponents in the hopes of destroying their health bars.
Yes, there's a fair amount of money to be spent if you want all the strongest cards; but honestly, it's one of the rare breeds of CCG which remains so simple yet caters for big-brain-plays of the highest order. And for that reason, I wouldn't write it off just because of its microtransaction fast-track.
15. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is the culmination of 14 years of development to a genre-defining team shooter. Five terrorists want to arm a bomb, or defend a hostage. Five counter-terrorists want to stop them. You know how CounterStrike works, right?
It’s a deeply unimaginative premise, but that doesn’t matter - CS:GO is one of the most stimulating games I’ve ever played. The guns feel great and if the maps were any more refined they’d start cutting into the fabric of reality, but those are the factors that enhance Counter-Strike’s best moments rather than generate them.
There’s an exquisite tension to being the last person left alive on your team. The same can be said for any game with the same round structure, but the simplicity of Counter-Strike elevates that dynamic.
The knowledge that four pairs of eyes are studying your every move, especially when those eyes belong to people you know, has an impact that’s both intoxicating and paralysing. I can count the number of times I’ve come out on top when I’ve been outnumbered on one hand, but there’s no situation where success feels more rewarding.
14. Rainbow Six Siege
You know those movie moments where a flashbang goes off and a squad of highly-trained agents crash through windows while rappelling into a room? That’s what Rainbow Six Siege is all about.
People will tell you tactics are more important than aiming, but they’re lying. If you don’t want to be the first one to die each round in this Counter-Strike-like shooter, you’ll need both.
The basics will sound familiar: one team has to plant a bomb or pry a hostage away from the other. It diverges from Counter-Strike with its classes, which all bring different abilities to bear on levels with destructible walls and floors.
The team playing offense needs to carefully plan their attack, breaching rooms from multiple angles simultaneously. When you swing through a window at the same time as your friends detonate their C4 on the opposite wall, you can almost convince yourself you should be in the actual SAS.
13. Apex Legends
Apex Legends is a blisteringly fast-paced battle royale, where different heroes face-off to determine that they're the top survivor. And this is what sets it apart from the competition, really, as each character has three abilities to turn the tides of battle, as opposed to, well, none in other games.
I'm a big fan of Pathfinder, a robot with a grappling hook that lets you close the gap, or escape from an enemy's clutches. It also lets you build up some sweet momentum so you can swing into the air, drop onto a ramp, and pull off a sweet, sweet slide. Again, that's something else Apex nails - a good slide animation.
12. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds
A hundred murderers parachute onto an island. Only one can survive.
An average game of Plunkbat consists of 10-20 minutes of uneventful wandering, then being shot in the back of the head by someone you never had a chance of spotting. It’s the most fun I’ve had in a multiplayer game in years.
Well, maybe not specifically in those matches - but the frequency of failure is part of what makes success so thrilling. Tension escalates alongside heart-rates as the blue zone creeps in, until just a handful of players are hemmed together in the final minutes of a round. Every second of those final moments justifies the build-up, which has a tension of its own if you’re playing solo - but with some friends in tow it’s surprising how readily that tension sublimes into hilarity.
11. StarCraft 2
The holy grail of RTS design, and not for no reason. It's a slick, polished to perfection unit-bosser that hasn't been bettered in the X years since it came out.
Gosh, it's hard though. At least, if you want to compete on the ladder: that direction involves research, timing memorisation and a faster clicking finger than a snapping mouse trap. Playing with friends lets you be a little more goofy. Sometimes it's nice not to have to worry about zerg rushes because you know your mate always plumps for Hydralisks.
It's another one where playstyles lead to identities. I play a particular brand of Protoss, because I'm a prick who loves the idea of kicking ass with all their fiddly units when really I'm more cut out for Siege tanks and marines.
10. Among Us
Ahh, Among Us. A social deduction game where 4-10 players prepare a spaceship for departure, but one or two only pretend to do so; because they are secretly out for blood.
I'm terrible at Among Us, mainly because I'm awful at lying, but also because I dislike confrontation. But I can see the appeal of calling emergency meetings to discuss why there's a corpse in the engine room, or slitting someone's throat and blaming your friend for it.
Whenever I play Among Us, I mainly focus on doing the mundane jobs and nothing else.
9. Garry’s Mod
Garry’s Mod is many things to many people, but for me it’s collection of home-brewed nonsense assembled from Steam assets and unhampered imagination. I've dabbled in the free-form construction mode, but most of my time has been spent on Fretta servers.
Within the same half hour, I’ve dodged geometric shapes while clambering up a slope alongside 30 other people. I’ve built bobsleds, then raced them. I’ve hunted down players posing as inanimate objects, completed obstacle courses and played charades.
The game changes whenever enough people vote for it to, so if you pile into a server with a handful of friends you can form a voting cartel and ensure the game swaps at your whim. Plenty of the games are fun in their own right, but Fretta works best when you’re constantly pushing on to the next.
That ‘oh, so that’s what we’re doing!’ at the start of each game is a moment to be treasured.
8. League Of Legends
I lost thousands of hours to League Of Legends at university. I'm actually convinced I put more effort into learning this MOBA than I did my course.
To put League Of Legends as simply as possible, two teams of five battle to destroy each other's Nexus; a big crystal located in each base. As each match wears on, you'll get more powerful, kit your character out in new gear, and fight for map supremacy. I'd say it's best played with a friend who's played it before, as there's a steep learning curve, and a huge amount of depth here.
But don't let it put you off, as this is League of Legend's appeal - at least to me. I adored learning each character's intricacies and how best to work with my team to win important fights.
Nidhogg is electric. It’s sharp. It’s hilarious.
You play as one of two souls, both doomed to repeatedly die in a hellish battle to reach a mythical worm that will devour one of them and set them free from torment. It’s a series of simple 2D sword fights, where you and a friend compete to reach opposites sides of multi-screened arenas.
We haven't quite reached the best sword fights in video games, but Nidhogg’s come close. The mismatched weapons introduced in the sequel create duels with an appeal of their own, but they’re a messy counterpoint to Nidhogg’s cleanly symmetrical tussles.
Two evenly matched Nidhoggers are a glorious sight to behold, and they’re a sight that’s meant to be beheld. Nidhogg plays best when there’s a crowd to cheer at every stab and riposte, to gasp at every last-second comeback and laugh every time a player accidentally throws themselves down a hole.
Minecraft, a blocky multiverse of possibilities. There's a server for anything in this survival game, which turns it from a "survive with your friends by building stuff", to "survive to become the last person standing".
Or if you're after something that isn't a traditional battle royale mode, you can take part in Bed Wars - a game mode which sees you protect your bed, or destroy other players' beds to win. Heck, you can even drop the whole PVP thing and simply build mad creations with strangers across the internet if you want a more relaxing time. Honestly, you can't go wrong here.
5. Rocket League
Bombastic joy. Those are the two best words to describe Rocket League, a game about playing football with rocket-propelled cars.
That joy kicks in from the very first second. It’s scrappy at first, a mess that invokes childhood memories of school kids swamping the ball, not sparing a thought for teamwork or positioning. That can still provide a chaotic giggle, but Rocket League literally soars to greater heights once everyone knows what they’re doing.
A well-executed aerial shot is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in a video game. Combing the boost button with a double jump at just the right time at just the right angle opens up a space for dextrous plays that hover just out of reach, accessible only to the dedicated but on display for the masses.
Games have discovered plenty of ways to create tension, but chucking players into a field with a ball and two goals remains one of the most effective.
Valorant is a tactical team-based shooter that's similar to CS:GO, but with ninjas and cyborgs. This isn't a game where you can jump around corners and spray wildly, oh no. To succeed, you must coordinate with your teammates, get your aim on point, and master your favourite heroes.
And this is what separates Valorant from CS:GO really. Each hero comes with cool abilities like flashbangs that'll curve around walls, or teleports that'll shift you behind targets in a pinch. The fun lies in using these powers in creative ways and pulling off some clutch plays.
3. Call Of Duty: Warzone
I'm just going to come out and say it - for me, this is the slickest battle royale out there. I like the way there's no picking through inventories to equip items or standing stock-still sorting through attachments; there's no faffing about. Instead, Warzone is focused on getting you into the action, and with CoD's sublime gunplay each gunfight feels excellent.
I'm also a big fan of the fact Warzone is free. This game doesn't cost a dime and you've got something which looks and plays like a triple A game without the price tag. Plus, the devs keep the game fresh with fairly frequent updates, so there's never a bad time to drop into Verdansk.
2. Team Fortress 2
The problem with writing about Team Fortress 2, Valve’s unsurpassed class-based shooter, is that I’m in love with one particular version of it.
It’s the version I get to play as a Spy, the weakest character in the game when it comes to a straight up fight. His is a stealthy approach, often revolving around his ability to turn invisible with the aid of different types of watch. That’s deception of a sort, but not the kind that makes his the most unique and memorable role you can play in any multiplayer game. Really, the Spy is all about acting.
It only takes one suspicious Pyro for a ruse to come undone, but you’d be amazed what you can get away with. Slap on a disguise, backpedal from the frontlines while screaming for a medic, and four times out of five times the most important member of the enemy team (their medic, always their medic) will trot right up to you. Maybe he’ll try to give you an inquisitive whack with his bonesaw, but if you know what you’re doing that whack won’t land. You’ll have already stabbed him in the back with your insta-kill knife.
More so than with Overwatch, each class plays like a different game - and some items transform their wielder into new classes in their own right. I’ve spent dozens of hours with the double-jumping Scout and the ‘nade spamming Demoman, but it’s the Spy who stole my heart. Give him a chance, and maybe he’ll steal yours.
1. Dota 2
It feels contrived to describe Dota 2 as a hobby rather than a game, but that doesn’t make that description any less fitting. I’ve poured thousands of hours of my life into it, and I can see myself pouring in thousands more. Dota isn’t just a game: it’s an eternally evolving battleground where limits are tested and friendships are forged.
Sure, every competitive game is about testing limits, but part of what makes Dota special is how many it tests at once. There’s the sheer amount of knowledge that it demands you absorb, the hundreds of items and spells and the endless interactions between them. You’ll need to hone reflexes, develop strategies and learn to be patient with both yourself and others.
Dota is stupendously silly. I mean that both in the sense that it’s ostensibly about wizards trying to knock over rock-gardens that form fragments of a sentient moon, and in a mechanical sense. I could have learnt a language (or several) in the time I’ve spent playing Dota, but almost every match still includes unexpected moments that make me gasp and giggle.