The best games on PC
The PC offers unrivalled flexibility and accessibility to developers, with the result that it is home to the greatest variety of gaming experiences of any hardware. Creating and curating a list of the best games on PC is a difficult task, so we’ve implemented some guidelines to shape our choices. The titles you’ll see here were released within the past half dozen years, and they’re exclusive to PC or offer a particularly great experience not found on other platforms. Otherwise we’d be here until your clicking finger fell right off, wouldn’t we?
And now, in alphabetical order: the best games on PC.
One of the oldest entries on this list. Although Blue Byte produced Anno 2070 in the intervening years, Anno 1404 is the stand out of the series so far. A combination city builder and strategy affair, it defies categorisation in a vanilla genre where it might be outweighed by more widely-recognised properties.
There’s not really anything out there quite like Anno 1404. If the idea of nurturing a culture through the Crusades, the birth of the Renaissance and the growth of patrician merchant states has any appeal, this is the sim-slash-strategy for you. We tussled a bit with putting one of the Tropico games in here, but in the end the significantly more robust offering of Anno 1404 has the greater tendency to swallow your life whole.
Here’s a name you should know: Thomas Grip. One of the key members of Frictional Games, Grip surveyed the state of horror games pre-Amnesia and came away unsatisfied. Drawing a distinction between games with a horror theme and what he calls horror simulators, he and his team took what they’d learned creating the Penumbra series and built a new kind of horror game that changed the scene forever.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is probably responsible for today’s wonderful collection of genuinely scary games, from Outlast to P.T. Terrifying and original, it is perhaps outdone only by its own sequel, A Machine for Pigs.
Honourable mentions: For an unusual alternate horror experience, check out Miasmata – an open world survival and exploration adventure with a genuinely creepy atmosphere.
The military sim for those who feel Battlefield has gone casual, Arma 3 is the ultimate squad shooter. Gameplay that not just requires but demands teamwork, drawing on skills and tactics used in real world military operations, is only the start of what Arma 3 offers. Add to that terrific ongoing content support from Bohemia Interactive and a flourishing mod scene (hello, DayZ) and you have a pursuit worth exploring.
Tripwire’s Red Orchestra series is probably the only other military shooter to approach Arma 3 for challenge and realism, but its hardcore stylings don’t have the broader appeal of Arma 3.
IGF 2013 Seumas McNally grand prize winner and prominent nominee for our list of games that mess you up, Cart Life is a very raw business simulation with unusual subject matter. Instead of a multi-million dollar theme park or agricultural empire, you’re tasked with keeping a street vendor and their family out of bankruptcy.
If you live in a wealthy first world nation, you’d be amazed at the startling number of the human beings you pass on your commute every day who are living at or below the poverty line. Cart Life forces you to look – actually look! – at things we often prefer to ignore. It will break you.
In an alternate universe where EA and Maxis didn’t drop the ball, this slot is occupied by the latest and greatest SimCity release. In fact, Cities: Skylines developer Colossal Order was miserably certain its project wouldn’t be greenlit thanks to SimCity’s announcement – but its subsequent pratfall only made Paradox more eager to bring PC gamers what they wanted most.
The best way to describe Cities: Skyline is “SimCity but made by people who liked the same things about the series as you did”. The indie team has demonstrated tremendous committment to ongoing support, too.
In the world of turn-based strategy there’s really only one possible choice. Civilization is the dominant name, sucking up literally hundreds of hours from those who succumb to its “one more turn” blend of real-world simulation and unpredictable strategic expansion.
Series aficionados may prefer Civ 4 or even Civ 3, but if you’re just starting out in turn-based games and want something with beautiful graphics and friendly-looking menus to ease you in, Civilization 5 is the best option. The vanilla release is a good starting place, but it’s not until you throw all the expansions in that things get really, really interesting.
Honourable mentions: Europa Universalis 4, Hearts of Iron 3, Galactic Civilizations 3, Endless Legend and Age of Wonders 3 are all excellent turn-based games well worth your time.
There are two sorts of people who like Crusader Kings 2. The first are old hands at strategy and simulation, perfectly at home with the game’s absolutely bristling menus overwhelmingly free-form sandbox. The second sort are happy just to click about vaguely and then laugh hysterically at the results of their efforts. Even when you do know what you’re doing it’s totally possible to end up Emperor of Shitsville, catching syphilis from your wife, who is also your sister, just before she murders you and allows the crown to pass to your fourteenth cousin, who is also her brother.
In other words, it’s both a delightfully silly toy box and a deeply accurate representation of medieval politics. It will eat your life.
To be honest we didn’t think anything could ever out Counter-Strike: Source as the go to competitive shooter on PC (and for some people, both CS:S and the original CS remain their primary shooter), but good ongoing support on top of the experience and flair of Valve’s development team has proved us wrong. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is now one of the top eSports titles in current circulation, and a damn good time even for the less competitively-minded.
Global Offensive is also available on consoles but like every Valve game support outside of Steam is limited. Steam is where you’ll find the best of the best, if you fancy being humbled.
We hear you: Early Access games are a contentious inclusion in any best of list. But we would probably have included DayZ in a best of PC list back when it was just an Arma 2 mod.
The countless imitators (a kind way of saying “clones”) that sprang up in its wake are testament enough to DayZ’s appeal. We’d never seen anything quite like the zombie survival sandbox, and its unforgiving gameplay and almost relentlessly hostile player community gave birth to stories that will become gaming legends. If you weren’t there you’ll never know what you missed in those early days – but you could start making new memories now that Bohemia’s doggedly working away at the commercial version.
The PC is where it’s at for adventure games with more complexity than the console-friendly episodes of Telltale fare. There’s a wealth of fascinating, mind-bending, hilarious games out there, and it was terribly hard to pick just one (or ten) to represent this rich, sadly under-appreciated genre.
But we did, and it is Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey. The long-awaited conclusion to the series beginning with The Longest Journey (1999) and continuing through Dreamfall (2006), Red Thread’s triumphant sequel has so far proved to be everything its many crowdfunding backers asked of it – and more than welcoming to those new to the beautiful dreamscape of Ragnar Tørnquist’s mind.
Honourable mentions: Technobabylon and The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 are more traditional adventure games that have both won high praise from fans and critics alike. Broken Age is a very funny and warm-hearted return to a humour not entirely unlike the LucasArts glory days.
A few years ago it felt like you couldn’t move for all the upcoming space sims, but as of July 2015 very few of them have materialised in any form a sane person would pay a retail price for. Elite: Dangerous practically wins over its genre buddies by default just by being a playable, full-featured game you can buy as opposed to something you’re allowed to look at in trailers while gibbering for a release date.
It’s also great, though, which is why it’s here. We don’t have much hope for the console builds, to be honest; what you want is a powerful old beast of a PC, all the settings turned up as high as they can go, and a gorgeous universe to go and explore. At least one of those things is yours for the taking, courtesy of Frontier Developments, and almost justify an investment in the first one so the second becomes a possibility.
EVE Online subscriber numbers recently hit a record low; worrying news for the economy of Iceland. I’m not kidding. Whether CCP’s sci-fi MMO will recover from this relatively recent crisis remains to be seen; proposed changes to the new player experience may radically shake the system.
We hope to see the old girl turn around, because even her current collapse is absolutely fascinating. Everything about EVE Online – the infinitely delicate and intricate economies, the everlasting emergent meta-battle – is fascinating, actually. People literally do PhDs in this hotbed of economic and psychological microcosms.
It may have made the jump to consoles but we have absolutely no compunctions about claiming Farming Simulator 15 for the PC. The console crew are leaping on a bandwagon, and probably only like it “ironically”. Only the master race really understands the appeal of Farming Simulator.
What exactly is that appeal? Is it the deadly seriousness with which this series has been produced, and the hilarious failures that accompany it despite that effort? Is it the creative and possibly cracked mod community? Is it the simple pleasure of hard work and its rewards – a gleaming stable of ever more expensive agricultural vehicles? Whatever it is, it speaks to us.
“The Forest, eh? Isn’t that one of those survival, crafting things? I can’t be bothered with it.”
“Why don’t you have a go, and report back?” “Yeah, let us know how it is.”
(The following morning.)
“You total bastards. You knew.”
“Scary, was it?”
“I fell down a hole and do you know what I found there? Because I don’t. What I do know is it had nine tits and an army of foetuses, and I had never been more happy to be holding an axe.”
And that’s the story of how we decided The Forest is special enough for an entry on our best games on PC list.
Contending with Dark Souls for re-popularising the idea that losing is fun, FTL: Faster Than Light is a sci-fi rogue-like in which you must bring an urgent message to command, staying ahead an enemy fleet’s relentless pursuit.
Even on easy the vast majority of FTL runs end in defeat – but every time you watch your ship fragment in flames or your crew suffocate in a vacuum, you feel like you’ve learned something to arm you against the perfidies of luck. Maybe if I tried building for weapons rather than shields? What if I invested in evasion? If I get this crew member and that weapon… eventually your mind is a teasure chest of strategies, and the random events in your path start to look like a candyland of tools to piece together into one of a number of potential war machines.
Honourable mentions: Imagine our surprise in learning one of our members has a secret obsession with rogue-likes. This is the classic genre that keeps on giving, and you’d do well to check out Desktop Dungeons, Dungeons of Dredmor, Crypt of the NecroDancer, Darkest Dungeon, Nuclear Throne, Hand of Fate, Dungeon of the Endless and Legend of Grimrock 2. A lot of dungeons.
A “walking simulator” designed as an attempt at compelling non-violent gameplay, Gone Home is set in a family home in the 1990’s. Returning home after many months away to a recently-inherited mansion in the woods, our hero stumbles into a series of family mysteries.
Beautifully leveraging near universal experiences like the spookiness of empty houses, the shock of disconnection from the loved ones you take for granted, and the guilty pleasure of rummaging through secrets, Gone Home is that rarest of beasts: an adventure on the domestic scale.
First there was nothing. Then there was Gunpoint. Now there are imitators – but nothing does it quite as well as Tom Francis did that first time, even if you can knock it over pretty quickly with your whizz-kid brain.
Gunpoint is a sort of stealth puzzle game in which players must infiltrate various buildings without being detected by guards. Making use of existing securities systems and eventually even rewiring grids entirely is far more satisfying than merely ninja rolling across a doorway.
Yes, GTA 5 is on our PS4 and Xbox One best of lists. Yes, it’ll probably go on every list we ever make. It is just that good. It is a titan of our times.
But also it’s especially good on PC. Even though Rockstar has not been hugely supportive of modding (arguably fair enough, given how hard it must be to police GTA Online), the GTA 5 mod scene is a gift that keeps on giving. The video editor has enabled some cracking bits of art and craft. And, of course, on Ultra settings the PC version of GTA 5 outshines all the others. Sorry.
We didn’t think we’d ever put a visual novel dating sim on a best of list, but we never prdicted the existence of a visual novel dating sim about getting it on with pigeons, either.
Hatoful Boyfriend is just such a perfect example of why you should keep a PC around: this is the sort of experience you only get on an open platform, where translators and modders deliver wonders from all corners of the world. It eventually got a proper western release, but that wouldn’t ever have happened without a tremendous amount of buzz from the underground.
No, you’re right: Blizzard did not invent card battlers. But despite the enduring popularity of Magic: The Gathering and the sterling efforts of alternatives like Scrolls, it took the tremendous sway of the Warcraft property to bring card battlers into gaming mainstream consciousness.
Everybody’s making a card battler now but even bearing in mind criticisms of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft’s systems we doubt anything will topple the phenomenon. We don’t let Pat near it any more; he stays in for days.
MOBA is an incredibly important genre. MOBA is making so, so much money. MOBA is a cornerstone of the modern eSports scene and attracts millions of hours of gameplay every month. You simply cannot have a best of PC list without one of these titans.
We had to pick one, and that was scary. League of Legends was the first to be successful and remains one of the main contenders. DOTA 2, Valve’s sequel to the mod that started it all, is already a pillar of the industry. But: Heroes of the Storm gets rid of all that hopelessly confusing and money-grabbing item stuff, making it significantly easier to get into and more about skill than who has the best build. Plus, it’s got Blizzard characters in it. Sorry.
If VG247 expanded its editorial remit to cover classic games, this would be a very different list – but in both parallel universes, Homeworld makes the grade. One of a number of properties put up for auction when THQ folded, support for Homeworld had well and truly ended and you couldn’t even buy the classic games any more, so the fanbase was hungry both for a re-release and for something new.
Gearbox’s Brian Martel was one of those fans, in the enviable position of being able to do something about it. The developer not only gave its blessing and financial support for spiritual successor and now official sequel Homeworld: Shipbreakers, it put together a wonderfully tasty package in Homeworld: Remastered Collection. Both games in classic and updated form, with a combined multiplayer suite? Yes, please. The classic gameplay is as strong as ever, by the way.
One of those games that simply couldn’t have surfaced on the console scene, Hotline Miami has since broken free of its early niche status and gone mega on multiple platforms. Nevertheless, the PC version remains the heart of the series. There was a time in 2012, well ahead of console launch, when it seemed like everyone was playing Hotline Miami, and raving about every aspect of the punishingly difficult murder sim. The music and the 1980’s aesthetic are among the highlights.
Inspired by Drive and Cocaine Cowboys, Hotline Miami is more involved than the OTT red sauce gore and viciously violent tale suggests at first glance. The story is only fully outlined if you complete the bonus levels and collect all the clues in the core campaign – and even then, not everyone puts the pieces together.
There’s nothing else quite like Jazzpunk. The cartoon aesthetic and definitely silly humour is part of it, but the surreal, cyberpunk plot and the creators’ obvious love of classic espionage media should not be overlooked.
A point and click (and occasionally play golf or even Quake) adventure with a delightful number of secrets to track down and delight in, Jazzpunk is an incredibly slick indie that more than belies its two-man team origins. You’ll never forget it.
In Kerbal Space Program you design, build and launch rockets from first principles. If this sounds like a doddle to you, you’ve been playing too many crafting survival sandboxes; building things takes more effort than slapping the appropriate number of resources down on a blueprint.
Getting Kerbals into space is hard, but every time you blow one up or leave them endlessly orbiting the moon as a corpse, you’ve gained something: you’ve learned what not to do. It’s almost like a rogue-like with persistent character progression, only what’s being carried over is your knowledge. Getting your little Kerbals to new reaches of the solar system, and then getting them back again, is an absolute triumph.
You can argue that it wasn’t until its Xbox 360 release that Minecraft entered the public consciousness, but it was and remains a cultural phenomenon on PC. 20 million purchases on a single platform is a huge amount by any measure, but the PC version of Minecraft is also where updates drop first, where mods and custom servers happen, where most of the amazing video content is made, and where educational programs are carried out.
Minecraft is also credited with kicking off or at least popularising a bunch of industry trends – paid early access schemes, crafting sandboxes and of course indie as multi-million dollar success story.
Papers, Please starts off simple – check the documents, stamp them or reject them – and gets very hard very, very quickly. It’s not just the increasingly finicky regulations handed down by your government overlords and the constantly ticking clock; the misery of applicants and the escalating political tension makes your role as a border guard feel like a penance. Of course, it pays the bills – if and only if you do a good enough job.
Channeling a kind of generic Cold War East European flavour, Papers, Please isn’t really about any specific place or time so much as it is about depressingly universal themes of hope, despair, bureaucracy and everyday people whose lives are just grist in its mill.
Oh sure it came out on consoles, including new-gen, but the PC version is simply the best PayDay 2 experience. Not to get all Master Race on you, but PC multiplayer aficionados are generally better equipped to deal with the kind of gameplay PayDay 2 encourages and often demands – leadership, teamwork, communication and patience, as opposed to racing to get the most kills.
Overkill Software has never stopped releasing new content and patches for PayDay 2, with a major new heist dropping in June. There’s always something new to see and collect, and the nature of the game means even running the same missions repeatedly can have wildly different results. Get a crew together, case the joint, and go for the loot.
Once again, imagine if this were a list of the best PC games of all time. Clearly it would not be complete without a bunch of Infinity Engine games like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment, not to mention other classic CRPGs like Fallout. In the absence of these vintage treasures we offer Pillars of Eternity, a love letter to a golden age of PC RPGs, crowdfunded to be the successor fans wanted even if they did have to wait ten years for it.
Pillars of Eternity is remarkably faithful to the formula, with a huge cast of diverse, complex characters, robust customisation and oodles of compelling content. If you’ve never tried a classic CRPG it may not be your best starting point, but if you’re even partly interested you’ll find plenty to love.
Honourable mentions: Wasteland 2 has diehard fans who swear it channels that old school Fallout vibe, for a non-fantasy approach.
Oh, man, Skyrim! The fifth Elder Scrolls game more than compensated for the slightly too conservative Oblivion with an absolutely rip-roaring Viking-feeling adventure in what was and remains one of the most luscious and detailed open worlds to grace a fantasy RPG.
There’s no denying Skyrim was a standout on Xbox 360, too (thought not on PS3, I’m afraid), but it’s on PC that it really shines. It’s not just a matter of Ultra settings and all that jazz; it’s the mods. It really is. Maybe you’re not interested in replacing mammoths with giant chickens or giving everyone trailing six foot wangs, but you don’t know how much you wanted to go fishing until you find the perfect mod for it.
Nominally a game with a very straight forward if surreal story line and a clever narration gimmick, The Stanley Parable only opens up for those who wilfully play with it. While many games spend a great deal of effort ensuring the player knows they have to go from A to B and trying to prevent them doing anything else, The Stanley Parable openly engages with the tropes of modern story-driven gameplay by rewarding you for doing the things a few gamers will always do: disobey. Wander off. Fiddle. Wall hack.
In this sense, The Stanley Parable is one of the very few gaming experiences with a story to tell and respect for its players as more than a passive vehicle for the creator’s artistic vision. Also, it is hilarious.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
A controversial inclusion because it is quite old and the world has since spawned a significant number of post-apocalyptic survival shooters, many of them set in Russia and surrounds. But we’d argue that nothing, no matter how technically superior, has ever quite captured the magic of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series.
If you never played S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat or other entries in the series, you may begin your explorations by wondering what all the fuss is about. So it’s an open world survival game, practically everything is hostile and there are weird radioactive zones, you may say, so what? So everything, young one; get out there and find out for yourself why people are still playing, talking about and modding a game that lingers in the memory long after you’ve hung up your gas mask.
The StarCraft franchise was essential to the growth of the eSports scene. Shooters have always been important, and MOBA has risen to prominence these days, but the tens of millions of dollars handed out at prizes at tournaments today would never have occurred without Starcraft. What says eSports more than a packed arena of cheering Korean fans threatening to Zerg Rush their heroes on the stage?
Although we’ve got a nod for recent entry Grey Goo, Starcraft 2 is the champion of the popular RTS scene. We’re only two episodes through the trilogy, but unless something goes radically wrong at Blizzard we feel pretty confident in predicting the continued reign of the king of competitive RTS.
“Eat your crew” is a hell of a tagline, and you will eat them, at least once. This unusual rogue-like is set in the same fascinating universe as browser-based adventure Fallen London, but in addition to the darkly beautiful fiction this time there’s a stressfully difficult survival and exploration game to conquer as well.
Roaming the Sunless Sea in silence as your food and fuel tick ever downwards, eyes and ears straining for any sign of monsters or pirates, hoping to find a port in need of whatever bizarre cargo you’re carrying – it’s a unique and challenging experience. Survive long enough to pass a trait to your successor and begin building a heritage of captains; Sunless Sea is not a game to be conquered in a single lifetime.
Another hotly debated inclusion, because of course Team Fortress 2 is as old as the hills by now. But even if you were to stick to your guns and ignore the fact that Valve’s constant updates turn into an almost new game about twice a year, we’re gonna call the 2011 free-to-play conversion a re-release, and just let you get upset about it.
Team Fortress 2 is definitely the best free-to-play, multi-class squad shooter available. It’s fast, frantic fun that caters to beginners but nevertheless offers a steep competitive curve. It offers a varied, constantly-expanding map selection and multiple game modes. Plus the whole thing is wrapped up in a warmly funny cartoon universe, and content creators are minting it selling silly hats. What a world.
With Minecraft in place you may think that Terraria is an unnecessary inclusion, but that just shows you haven’t been bitten by the bug. The 2D indie shares some elements – procedurally generated worlds, crafting, survival – but it’s sufficiently different to have won over a whole legion of fans and spawned a number of imitators.
Terraria is under constant development, and even upcoming spin off Other World hasn’t distracted the development team from its tireless work. The size and quality of the experience offered with the ticket price has increased dramatically since first launch and looks set to continue.
After a few rough releases, The Creative Assembly took Total War back to its roots with a long-awaited sequel to the very first entry. The result was a tour de force, earning rave reviews and, after the almost inevitable launch issues and rebalancing were in place, a warm embrace from the fanbase.
By the time all the DLC and expansion Fall of the Samurai were bundled in, Total War: Shogun 2 had become a near perfect strategy experience. Neither Rome 2 nor the most recent entry, Attila, has quite equalled it.
Pat once called World of Tanks “niche” on Twitter and was shouted at for days. The action MMO has a whopping player base from all over the world, because it turns out the desire to get in a tank and blow up someone else’s tank is quite universal.
Too many potential players dismiss World of Tanks because it’s free-to-play or in the belief that it’s a WW2 strategy affair. No, friends; it’s a PvP multiplayer action game with six game modes and a whole bunch of huge lumbering expensive tanks to collect. Which bit of this is not pushing your buttons?
Nice try, literally everyone else; World of Warcraft has never been toppled from its throne as the most successful fantasy MMORPG. It wasn’t the first, but WoW is definitely the biggest and most notable of a genre that remains largely PC-centric.
And look, even if World of Warcraft doesn’t have the latest and greatest and most innovative of whatever it is that makes you think Swords of Mysterious Blade Enigmas better, what it does have is the perfection of a formula that clearly resonates with millions of paid subscribers at a time, and the regular addition of new free content in addition to expansions. Nobody does it better. Yet?
Firaxis did an admirable job making its X-COM reboot playable with a control pad, but even so everyone knows the PC is the only place to play XCOM: Enemy Within (for one thing, it makes it easier to save scum, if that’s your bag). This is tactical combat made impressively user-friendly, with no loss of depth. The grand strategy and RPG wrappers are a secondary concern to the turn-to-turn tension of positioning, calculating and hissing through your teeth when a lizard man appears unexpectedly from behind cover.
The vanilla game is absolutely brilliant, especially after a bit of post-launch rebalancing, but Enemy Within ties the bow on the complete package. Highly recommended.