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There's no powerhouse on the gaming market that lets you customize your experience like the tried and true PC. It's forever upgradable, holds down the title for best graphics across any gaming system, and thanks to constant Steam and Humble Bundle sales, it makes games more accessible than any storefront or traditional online marketplace.
The games on this list aren't PC exclusives, but they are this generation's cream of the crop to experience all the industry has to offer. The graphics are all stand-out, but these games also offer up various gameplay strategies that will keep you on your toes. From the action packed, trigger happy first-person shooters to the brain strengthening real-time strategy games and puzzlers, you'll be spending your free time in very cool worlds.
Fallout 32008, Bethesda Softworks
The world of Fallout 3 is bleak and dreary. You're stuck with the surviving members of humanity in a post-apocalyptic world, made so after a nuclear fallout between the US and China. As an action strategy game, your player character is trying to track down his father in Washington D.C., after he disappeared under unusual circumstances. Filled to the brim with non-linear gameplay, an edgy and intriguing story, and plenty of dark humor, the exploration of the Capital Wasteland of Fallout 3 is a mature and entertaining experience that gives you plenty to do.
Considering the game was released in 2008, the graphics may feel dated, especially compared to Fallout: New Vegas or The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, but the gameplay is so solid and the flexible leveling systems are so accessible that the graphics become easy to adapt to as you gradually immerse yourself in the world.
The Orange Box2007, Valve Corporation
The best bang for your buck you'll find on this list is The Orange Box, which brings together five Valve games, and some of the best games ever made. First up you'll get Half-Life 2, along with the Episode One and Episode Two expansions. This sci-fi first person shooter series follows scientist Gordon Freeman on an adventure through a world gone to hell, set in motion at the end of Half Life.
Then there's Portal, the surprise puzzle hit that's launched a sequel and created a huge following. It's not as long as its sequel, but it's where the series got its start, and it's a great game to play through. Finally, The Orange Box comes packed with Team Fortress 2, a F2P multiplayer bonanza based on a Quake mod.
Another excellent feature included on the Steam version, excluded only in Half-Life 2, is the inclusion of the developers' in-game commentary on the creation of different sections throughout each game. If you're a developer-in-training, looking to get into the industry, or just like to know the behind-the-scenes factoids behinds the games you experience, this doozy of a feature is a welcome addition.
Brendan Sinclair: I know there's a bunch of other stuff in there, but this one's all about Portal for me. A brilliant gameplay mechanic, clever puzzles, fantastic story, and it lasts precisely as long as it needs to. I can't think of a single thing I'd want to improve with this game.
Sins of a Solar Empire2008, Stardock
Blending real-time strategy elements with science fiction and a light serving of 4X strategy -- that being explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate -- Sins of a Solar Empire is a game of conquest. Using resources mined from asteroids, you increase your space fleet with Metal and Crystal, while banking Credits, the in-game currency, by completing missions in the sandbox space arena.
As a real-time strategy game, you are constantly monitoring the goings on in a fleet that grows larger and larger throughout the galaxy. Without an explicit campaign, you can explore different solar systems, unlock achievements, conquer neighboring planets, and enjoy the massive 3D environment created by Ironclad Games. It's a task-managers dream, and the multiplayer allows you to go out into the nether-regions of space and take on fleets with your friends, or randoms, online.
Expansions since the game's release in 2008 can now be purchased as one big game. These three expansions, Entrenchment, Diplomacy, and Rebellion, each bring new features like weapon upgrades, diplomacy additions, and new factions and ships to use on the field.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty2010, Blizzard Entertainment
A big step up from its predecessor, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty brings a bevy of new features and improved storytelling to fans of military games, science-fiction games, and the mental chugging requirements of real-time strategy games. Wings of Liberty offers several expansions, but the main campaign has you play as a soured up mercenary captain named Jim Raynor, a series protagonist and middle-aged Terran. Rather than having a linear campaign, the Wings of Liberty campaign sees you taking random jobs like a mercenary, and using the money to upgrade your battlecruiser as you travel through space.
The game offers two expansions, Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void, utilizing different strategies in gameplay as well as featuring one of the three species from the original game. There is also an editor that lets you create campaigns, maps, and mods.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty supports up to 12 players online, and is considered by many to be the better mode to play, considering it's constantly challenging and runs smooth as silk. That being said, there is no longer a LAN-based multiplayers system in place.
The Witcher 22011, Atari, Inc
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings has made its way to console and Mac, but the premium experience still exists on PC. Based on a Polish book series bearing the same name, this visually polished action RPG originally met you with a steep difficulty curve, which kept a lot of gamers at bay, especially those not wanting to exchange maximum effort for maximum payoff. While suffering through difficulty can and often is its own reward, plus bragging is fun, there is now a patch that lets you adjust the difficulty setting. It was a user-friendly response on behalf of the developers CD Projekt RED, who were responding to their community.
In The Witcher 2, you reprise your role as Geralt of Rivia. As one of the last witchers, superhuman-like monster hunters raised and genetically altered for maximum carnage from a young age, Geralt is looking for a kingslayer and assassin. With an offensive arsenal that includes melee and range weapons, bombs, traps, and upgrades to your magic, alchemy, and sword fighting abilities, the kingslayer doesn't stand a chance, so long as you can keep your head up in the zone.
Pete Davison: The antithesis of Skyrim in every way. The Witcher 2 proved it's possible to have a Western-style RPG where your choices have real consequences and still have an interesting, compelling main character and story. And man, what a beautiful looking game it is, too. I think it broke my old graphics card, though.
Portal 22011, Valve Softworks
Trying to explain the game mechanics behind Portal 2 is about as challenging as the puzzles themselves. It's simple to start -- you've got a sweet gun that shoots a portal, and later you have two, and with these portals you go through levels trying to reach an otherwise inaccessible door. Then, all of a sudden, things get tricky. You've got to start timing your shots while you move through the air. You've got to move cubes onto buttons, maneuver gels that shoot from a spout, one of which let you move really fast as you run over them, another that lets you make portals in walls that otherwise can't support portals. Because the whole time, the creative team at Valve wants to mess with you in the best possible way.
Portal 2 is a game that can seem claustrophobic, cruel, and frustrating to the point of launching your controller at the wall. Which is exactly what makes it such a fantastic game. You can go through each puzzle, solving it mechanically, through trial and error to see what works. But if you sit and play through without taking a break, you start to feel like the test victim, and the puzzles, especially the trickier ones, can be a psychological experience too.
Valve had a hit with the original Portal, and Portal 2 ups its game with a longer campaign, a suitcase of new mechanics, and a wickedly clever script. The gravity mechanics are stellar, the corridors are well mapped, and the puzzles can at times be so tricky that the relief you get from completing a particularly tough one is incredibly refreshing. There's even a co-op campaign that explores the use of two players in one puzzle, working together to make it through to the end.
Pete Davison: This took everything I liked about the rather understated original game and simply turned it up. Not only is it an excellent example of environmental storytelling with some fantastic voice acting, it's also a hugely creative puzzle game with one of the best finales in recent memory.
Mike Williams: Portal was a breath of fresh air and the follow-up was nothing short of a masterpiece. While I loved GLaDOS in the first game, Portal 2 added Wheatley and Cave Johnson, two of the funniest characters to ever grace a game. Added to that fun was a solid world and tight puzzles, all in a game I could complete in one or two sittings.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution2011, Square Enix
One of the coolest games on PC, both for its visual style and gameplay malleability, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a dystopic cyperpunk vision of the future where human augmentation is possible and corporations are more powerful than the governments who seek to keep the people safe. As Adam Jensen, a man of many augmentations, you're granted superhuman-like abilities in the form of technological and mechanical mods that let you become better at combat, stealth, and hacking. This, in turn, allows you to have more control over how you play and excel with your combat style, or lack thereof.
The only time you have to use lethal violence in the game, as a rule, is in boss fights. If you're looking to improve your powers of stealth, you can virtually sneak your way through the entire game, upgrading your augmentations to enhance your ninja-esque capabilities, while making an ethical choice to keep your gun holstered till you absolutely have to. Or, if you're the guns blazing type, you can blast your way through every damn because blowing things away can be pretty fun too.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a slick game with poshed graphics and plenty of content to manipulate at your will. The dark story and variable modifications make the replay value extremely high, and the opportunity to take down corporate scumbags are a great way to feel like an underdog hero.
Jeremy Parish: Human Revolution lacks some of the intricacy of the original Deus Ex, but it still strikes a great balance between action, stealth, and progression through character interaction. The world of the future has a look and feel all its own. This is the ideal version for now, but I'm looking forward to playing the game again on Wii U with the terrible boss battles reworked to fit more seamlessly into the rest of the game.
Mike Williams: I remember playing Deus Ex: Invisible War and thinking, "damn. I wish there was a real sequel to Deus Ex." Human Revolution had big shoes to fill, and although it wasn't as perfect as the original Deus Ex (that could be nostalgia talking), it was a great game. Of course, I played it on PC in third-person with a 360 controller, so perhaps you shouldn't be looking at me as the Deus Ex expert.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim2011, Bethesda Softworks
For a series so saturated in Medieval fantasy and lore, it surprising to see that dragons are a new edition to The Elder Scrolls series. With The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the threat of dragons is a central pillar to the storyline, and as bosses, they are a very tricky obstacle to tackle. But you don't just go from one to the next. Dragons are as much a part of Skyrim as the environment they share and threaten. As a non-linear RPG, exploring the world of Skyrim is an adventure in and of itself.
The enormity of this world is filled with mountain ranges that give it a more divided feel, something Bethesta was hoping to improve from Oblivion's Cyrodil. Between both the main quest and the surplus of side-quests, there is always some new area to explore, and some new race to encounter.
The ten races in the game give the world a realistic feel, something very much supported by the stellar graphics. Even the anthropomorphized lizard and cat people seem as real as any human race. The adventure is dynamic and so very large in scope, it can at times feel breathtaking, and at others hugely threatening, especially in smaller areas like caverns, tombs, and caves. As one of the best single-player experiences out there, you will be glued to your seat.
Pete Davison: I realize I'm going strongly against the grain with this, but I did not enjoy Skyrim. It may have a huge, well-crafted world, but this didn't stop me from finding it drab and uninteresting. I couldn't name a single character you meet in Skyrim, nor could I tell you what happened in the plot over the 40 hours I spent with it - this is, for me, a Bethesda issue rather than a Skyrim-specific one, though.
Jeremy Parish: Only a handful of games have consumed more of my time than Skyrim, and the sad thing is I've barely even seen a quarter of the story. But Skyrim's hoary fantasy plot isn't the point at all. The joy of this game comes in exploring a vast world packed with things to discover, creating a godlike super-character, and finding all the neat little details the developers have sprinkled throughout the land. It's kind of a mess at times, but what a glorious mess.
Dishonored2012, Bethesda Softworks
Dishonored opens up right in the thick of things -- the Empress you serve has been murdered by her trusted spymaster, and you're the one everyone's pinned it on. As Corvo Attano, you are seeking revenge. As an elite and former bodyguard, you're a capable enough soldier of one. Your player character is also silent, in the hopes that you'll put yourself in his shoes completely.
You can fight, or you can sneak. The combat elements are gradually developed by using runes, a form of currency that allows you to purchase increasingly effective superpowers. You'll eventually be able to see through walls, teleport, swarm enemies with rats, and freeze time. You can also use a sword to slice up anyone who gets in your way. Or you can avoid combat altogether, although Dishonored then becomes a strategic game of patience.
Whether you slaughter your foes with powerful magic abilities that look amazing on PC, or choose to take your sweet time and your blood lust to a minimum, you can achieve two different endings, hear completely different dialogue, and find aid along your journey by different characters, whose ethics match your own.
BioShock: Infinite2013, 2K Games
If you step into Columbus, a city in the sky, and don't think BioShock: Infinite is a game that captures an era, you're doing it wrong. If you explore the storyline through to your first in-game decision and haven't had your brain throttled a bit, you're still doing it wrong. Infinite plays out like a typical shooter, a richly violent one at that, but the gameplay is placed knee deep in an atmosphere of controversy, political commentary, and science fiction. It's a game that Ken Levine and his creative team at Irrational Games are looking to wow you with.
We don't want to spoil a thing, but this is a must-play. Not only does the narrative hook you with an early century Americana feel fueled by racial inequality and a man with a vision turned Prophet with absolute power, but the plot twists and parallel dimensions will have your head spinning. There are also some cool ways to plow through enemies, including power-ups called Vitals that let you link enemy strikes with electric shocks, send swirls of hungry crows from your forearm, and even a powerful tentacle arm to help you along as you uncover the mysteries behind your mission.
Olivia Jane: I think it's a bit strange how much I both liked and disliked BioShock: Infinite. I recommend it to everyone I know who plays games casually or otherwise, but I found myself chugging through the repetitive combat just to get to the conclusion.