If you were paying attention to this week’s E3 announcements and also care about co-operative games, you might have noticed something: There are a lot of three-player co-op games. Rainbow Six Quarantine, the new Escape mode for Gears 5, even Battletoads. To this I say: It’s about damn time. Three people is the perfect squad size, and I am tired of games that want me to find a fourth.
The Division 2, Anthem, every Borderlands game, Diablo 3, most online role-playing games—they all want me to round up a whole three other people in addition to myself when I squad up. Granted, they all don’t require a full four-person outfit, but the mere suggestion of a fourth means you’re always aware of the gap in your roster, suspicious that you might not be performing at the optimum level thanks to your missing party member.
I always struggle at finding a fourth person. Part of this is due to the fact that many of my friends don’t play video games—at least, they don’t play the kind of video games that I do, on a similar schedule to mine. I’m at that age where everyone is getting married and having kids; it’s only natural that gaming happens at an irregular rate for most of my peers. Besides, rounding up two other people is significantly easier than rounding up three. That’s just math.
You might say, “Joshua, this is also true of two-person squads, and much easier. Why not just roll through every game in a duo?”
“How astute!” I would say, out loud, like a college professor. And it’s true: I do like playing games with just one other pal. But to me, squadding up is about a sense of camaraderie, of being on a team, of having more than one person to high five when the job is done. Three people is the perfect number for that—all the benefits of teamwork, but low-key enough to still make things feel chill and casual, you know?
There are more practical concerns, too. The more crowded a voice channel is, the more obligated you feel to only talk when necessary and to shoot the breeze less. That is a bummer, since catching up with pals over a video game is nice. Of course, the ebb and flow of conversation very much depends on who’s present and what your relationship is with them, but I’ve found that three is generally the sweet spot.
In my usual trio, this extends to trash talk, too, since our odd number makes it easy to ensure an even and varied distribution of burns and dunks between the three of us.
Regardless of how much you talk to your comrades, a trio is just nice for solving problems—when you’ve only got two other partners, it’s easy to read a situation and tell where you’re most needed. Not to say that’s impossible with a team of four; it’s just the point where you can intuit less and have to communicate more.
I suspect this is why I don’t mind being randomly placed in a three-man squad for Destiny 2 or Apex Legends, despite primarily playing both games solo and without a mic. I can keep track of two people easily, and they can keep track of me. We don’t have to say much. If we did, though, we’d probably have a good time.