40 best PC games: the must-play titles you can’t afford to miss
With the gap in graphical capabilities widening every day, there’s never been a better time to make the switch from consoles to PC. Unlike the Xbox One S orPS4 Pro, a PC lets you configure your system however you want it, on any given budget, complete with the best processor and graphics card to suit your exact needs.
At the moment, PC is the only the only place to get native, no-frills 4K gaming as well thanks to graphics cards like the GTX 1080 and Titan X. Plus, unlike with consoles, you get the choice between Oculus Rift or HTC Vive for some of the best VR game experiences as well.
Regardless of if you’re on mouse and keyboard muttering “boom, headshot!” in your sleep or breaking combos with a gamepad, PC gaming is all about a personalized experience on a machine that’s built-to-order, DIY or otherwise.
So, with PC in-hand, boot up Steam and ready your wallet as we’ve prepared a list of the best games on the platform, currently available at your disposal.
Disagree with any of our picks? Sound off in the comments below.
1. Cities: Skylines
Cities: Skylines is SimCity updated for the modern era (and for those dissuaded by always-online DRM), proving a breath of fresh air for would-be mayors. Its core gameplay lets you dig deep into the various aspects of running a sprawling virtual city – from economics to macro and micro management and land planning. But Cities: Skylines really shines when it comes to mods, which allow you to create custom maps, assets and tools to share with other online players.
2. Dragon Age
Dragon Age: Inquisition places you in the heart of a huge, vibrant world on a far greater scale than its predecessors, and it does an excellent job of making you feel in command. Packing in a huge 90 hours (and the rest) of game play into its story line, Inquisition’s smart dialogue, compelling plot, savvy progression system and massive sandbox world will have you engrossed for months on end. Think the Elder Scrolls games meets the Diablo franchise and you’re halfway there.
Dragon Age: Insquisition is all about putting you in the heart of a huge, vibrant world while somehow managing a far greater scale than its predecessors. The increased world size doesn’t affect the amount of content, however, as there is over 90 hours of game play in its story line alone. Inquisition – with its clever dialogue, compelling plot, savvy progression system and massive sandbox world – will keep you engrossed for months on end. The Elder Scrolls meets Diablo? Count us in.
3. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
From the makers (and universe) of World of Warcraft, Hearthstone is easy to learn, but hard to master. Like the MMO its inspired by, Hearthstone combines classes, characters and a bit of random fortune when pitting you against either computerized or online opponents. Stick with and you’ll not only be rewarded by improved skill, but by in-game rewards as well. Keep in mind that, though, that while its accessibility might lead to addiction, don’t expect to be a world-class Hearthstone champion right off the bat. Practice makes perfect, right?
4. Dark Souls 3
Though it’s arguably not as difficult as previous entries in the series, From Software’s Dark Souls 3 takes everything you like about the Souls series and combines it with elements found in Bloodborne, the developer’s more recent game for PS4.
Don’t get us wrong — Dark Souls 3 is no walk in the park. It still takes skill to master its complex combat system, but it plays fair too, inviting more casual gamers to take part in its bleak, fantastical world. Plus, on the bright side, it brings remarkably better PC optimization than that of the first game.
5. Pillars of Eternity
Pillars of Eternity is a sprawling RPG in the vein of Baldaur’s Gate or Icewind Dale that combines highly detailed technical combat with hundreds of hours of game play. It has refreshingly low system requirements on the PC but still looks incredible thanks to its simple but effective art style, which harks back to those aforementioned isometric fantasy RPGs of the 2000s. But it’s not all about nostalgia: Pillars of Eternity has enough interesting characters, baddies and clever writing to make it a modern classic of its own.
6. Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V is one of the most anticipated console ports to ever hit the PC. You probably didn’t need telling twice to head back into Los Santos’s hugely detailed and interactive world, but it’s ten times more fun with the PC’s richer graphics and smooth 60 frames per second game play. Once you’re done with its 31-hour story line or had your fill blazing around the city causing chaos, an ever expanding list of GTA V mods – from fine tuning cars or throwing vehicles around with a Gravity Gun – are bound to keep you entertained for some time.
Originally released almost ten years ago, BioShock is recalled as one of the greatest narrative-driven gaming experiences of all-time. The story in BioShock is told primarily through its eerily bleak atmosphere, paired with some unique dialogue, characters and themes inspired by the holy grail of libertarian philosophy, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
BioShock is a first-person shooter that takes Rand’s concepts, such as Objectivism, and tosses them underseas. To be exact, BioShock takes place in an underwater city called Rapture, free from government regulation, designed for artists and entrepreneurs to thrive. Of course, not all goes well in a city where the residents have all the power and, well, stop what you’re doing and play it right now if you haven’t already.
You’re in for one of the great games if you play BioShock, one that balances story elements with horror nigh-perfectly. There’s a remastered version out there now, too, which is free of charge if you own the original.
8. Alien: Isolation
Set 15 years after the events of the first Alien film from 1979, Alien: Isolation is the suspense-packed game that fans of the franchise have been crying out for. Playing the role of Amanda Ripley, daughter of Alien protagonist Ellen Ripley, your mission is to track down and recover the flight recorder of the Nostromo spacecraft from the first Alien film which has been located aboard the Sevastopol space station. First and foremost a stealth game, Isolation ramps up the tension by providing you with minimal weaponry. Its excellent graphics shine on high-end PCs and clever AI helps ramp up the dread, leaving you to quiver when turning every corner.
9. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive remains a fantastic update to a timeless classic that continues to live on thanks to its vast online communities. A well-rounded tactical shooter that builds on the simple Terrorists vs Counter-Terrorists gameplay mechanics of Counter-Strike 1.6 and Counter-Strike: Source, CS: GO updates classic maps such as Italy and Dust while keeping adding new modes in Arms Race and Demolition. Simpler than Battlefield but more nuanced than the Call of Duty franchise, it’s a shooter for those who like to run, gun and think – if only a little bit.
10. Far Cry 4
Ubisoft’s latest shooter marks Far Cry’s most beautiful outing yet. Its graphically-rich world is eye-popping on high-end PCs, and you’ll see plenty of it thanks to a 30+ hour-long campaign. Aside from the main campaign, there are plenty of things to do in Kyrat – from hostage rescue and assassination missions to escort quests, resource collecting and, of course, avoiding being killed by bullets or rampaging animals. Whether you’re tearing across the savanna in a rickety car or slinging grenades around like tennis balls, survival has never been such a blast.
11. FTL: Faster Than Light
FTL (Faster Than Light) puts you command of running a spaceship and looking after its crew. Featuring a complex game mechanism that involves maintaining weapons, engines, shields and other areas, in addition to tactical combat, FTL can get extremely in-depth over time. Whether you’re ordering your crew to quite literally put out fires on deck in the heat of battle, or are navigating through asteroid fields, FTL is as much about long-term progression and satisfaction as it is quick fixes. Don’t let its indie stylings fool you: this is game with untold depth and scary levels of addictiveness.
12. Grim Fandango Remastered
A 90s classic brought back to life (unlike its main protagonist), Grim Fandango Remastered is a successful attempt at reviving one of the PC’s best adventure games of all time. Combining writing that matches the funniest dark comedies with clever puzzles and a still-impressive art style, Grim Fandango was the most entertaining work of art to take place in a Mexican setting for years until Breaking Bad came along. Now with updated graphics, sound and better controls, Manna Calavera’s adventure has never looked so good.
13. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
Four years after its initial release, Skyrim is going as strong as ever thanks to a vast selection of mods and high-resolution texture packs. Even if you’re only interested in playing the vanilla version of the RPG, it offers more than 100 hours of game play.
Throw in three action packs DLC expansion packs (Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn), and it lasts even longer. That Skyrim has been compared to graphically superior but similar RPG blockbuster The Witcher 3 is testament to its enduring popularity. Step into Skyrim and you too can be an adventurer – just try not to take an arrow in the knee.
Originally launched as an Arma II mod, DayZ is a standalone zombie shooter with a difference. Not only do you have to mind the undead when wandering around its sprawling maps, but other online players too. Armed with a lead pipe and carrying nothing but a backpack and a flashlight, you’ll need wits and guile to survive.
Pretty much the opposite of adrenaline-packed zombie fests such as Left4Dead, you’ll spent half of the time evading the undead and the other using a shovel to fend off any humans who are bent on trying to steal your last box of matches. And take it from us – they will try.
The phrase “build it, and they will come” quite literally rings true when it comes to Minecraft, the game that has been bought by more than 19 million people. The survival-themed sandbox RPG lets players build their own worlds or explore others, using the game’s multiple block types to construct anything from small huts to extravagant castles and beyond.
Minecraft’s ultimate appeal revolves around its open-ended nature. Creative types can build and destroy to their hearts’ content, while solo players can concentrate on not being eaten by the zombie hordes that emerge at night. A modern-day classic that has spawned its own genre, it’s not to be missed.
16. The Orange Box
The Orange Box may be showing its age, but it remains a must-play collection of games – particularly for FPS fans. Half-Life 2, technically still the most recent game in Valve’s franchise (excluding its Episode 1 and 2 add-ons), remains a modern masterpiece and is famed for being the first game to intelligently apply physics to its puzzles and combat set-pieces.
The collection’s other titles aren’t too shabby either: Portal takes gravity-based puzzles to the extreme by equipping the player with the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (also known as the Portal Gun), which places two portals for objects to pass through, while Team Fortress 2 continues to go from strength-to-strength thanks to the introduction of custom gear and well-balanced team combat.
17. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Gorgeous graphics? Check. Huge explorable environments? Check. Enthralling combat? Of course. The Witcher 3 stands tall as one of the most ambitious open-world RPGs yet, combining Skyrim’s unrestrained epicness with Grand Theft Auto 5’s scale. While the game has been criticised for its inventory niggles, less-than-enthralling plot and not quite matching the graphics shown in its promo materials, it’s so ambitious and jam-packed with detail that the package lives up to the hype. Huge, beautiful and an absolute time-sink, you’ll want to scour every inch of The Witcher 3’s glorious world.
Id Software’s Doom was a phenomena for PC gamers in the 90s. The crudely rendered first-person shooter series was as controversial as it was beloved, largely thanks to its cutting-edge depictions of gore and violence that only a computer could deliver. Parents be damned, the franchise has made a comeback in 2016 with a fresh restart, appropriately titled Doom. Although the multiplayer might not appeal to shooter fans regardless of age, the single player campaign will pit you against demons in Hell for a lengthy experience that’s as bloody as it is satisfying.
19. Project CARS
Project CARS is a racing simulator that guns for realism without leaving excitement back in the pit stop, as some racers tend to do. Slightly Mad Studios’ graphically-stunning title has enough car customization and handling options to keep the keenest of petrol heads happy. Car types on show range from F1 to road, retro, kart, Le Mans, GT and more. Throw in realistic weather effects and driving assistance by Le Mans driver Ben Collins – formerly BBC Top Gear’s Stig – and the smell of burning rubber will be floating up your nostrils in no time.
20. Elite: Dangerous
Modelled after the 1984 game Elite, Elite: Dangerous is one of the most ambitious space sims around. Featuring an in-game galaxy based on the real Milky Way (how’s 400 billion stars for depth?), the ultimate goal is to advance your rankings to Elite status by levelling up combat, trading and exploration.
Starting out with a rickety ship and 1,000 credits in your space suit’s back pocket, you’ll need to turn to piracy, trading, exploring, mining or bounty hunting to rise through the intergalactic ranks. Doing so takes time and requires serious graft, but the experience provides a level of satisfaction that few other titles can match. And then there’s the Oculus Rift.
From developer Playdead, the same team that devised the acclaimed (and platform ubiquitous) Limbo, comes another eerie tale. Like Limbo, Inside follows another nameless boy in a bleak world that’s apparently out to get you. Only, this time, there’s at least a few shades of color to keep you from complete despair. It’s not clear why, but the mute protagonist in Inside is being chased down by what appears to a group of shadowy men.
Nothing is explained in either spoken dialogue or text, so for the most part you’re on your own when it comes to figuring out the story. Nonetheless, Inside is bound to be an instant classic; although, revealing anything about it would inch into spoiler territory.
22. Ori and the Blind Forest
Described as “achingly beautiful” by Unity Engine boss John Riccitiello, Ori and the Blind Forest borrows its game mechanics from old-school 2D games such as Metroid and Castlevania while adding a modern twist. If any word can describe Ori’s atmospheric world, it’s alive. You’ll have to think fast and use new abilities gained along the way to bash, stop and manoeuvre your way through its gorgeous locations, and with no automatic saving system or easy difficulty level, it’s no walk in the park. As satisfying to master as it is to look at, Ori and the Blind Forest will re-open your eyes to what 2D games still have to offer.
23. Grow Home
Grow Home is an experimental PC platformer that looks like an “indie” game but is in fact the latest release from Rayman developer Ubisoft. Similarly charming thanks to its distinctive 3D art style, you play as BUD, the game’s robot protagonist, whose main job is harvest seeds and grow a beanstalk-like ‘Star Plant’ by grabbing its branches and connecting them to nearby floating islands in the sky.
There’s a fair bit of trial-and-error involved, and while having to climb all the way back up again after a fall is frustrating, grabbing a passing vine at the last minute by the tips of your fingers can be equally as exhilarating. The ability to move BUD’s arms and legs independently helps put you in control – just try not to get them tangled up. Because you will – a lot.
24. Sunless Sea
A 2D exploration game set on a boat can’t be that creepy, right? Wrong. More gothic than a Cradle of Filth concert, Sunless Sea throws all manners of joyless themes your way: death, insanity and cannibalism to name a few. Sailing from port-to-port in the monster-filled underworld of Fallen London, you’ll have to manage fuel and supplies while battling sentient icebergs, Zee-beasts and other water-dwelling nasties to remain afloat. Top-notch writing gives Sunless Sea an absorbing story line that’s up there with history’s best text-based adventures.
25. Rocket League
Already familiar to millions before they’ve played a played a second of it, Rocket League turns the age old game of football (or soccer, depending) on its head. Played with rocket-propelled cars in futuristic low-gravity environments, the aim is simple: knock the ball into the opposing team’s goal. Doing so is harder said than done because there could be up to three cars on the opposing team trying to steal the ball off you – or ram you into submission – at any one time. Gorgeous to look, simple to learn but difficult to master, Rocket League is the surprise smash hit of 2015 – and a wonderfully addictive one at that.
26. Heroes of the Storm
As inevitable as sandals in summer, Blizzard finally launched its first MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game in June. Featuring a ton of characters from Blizzard games such as Warcraft, World of Warcraft and Starcraft 2, Heroes of the Storm sees two teams of five attempt to destroy the other’s base. When not sounding out enemy units to destroy, its expansive maps give you room to take on secondary objectives such as finding skulls or unlocking special siege units to help your team.
Accessible to newcomers while packing plenty of depth, Heroes’ finely balanced gameplay mechanics, shorter matches (compared to League of Legends) and ability-based levelling system make it a refreshing alternative to established MOBA titles and a fine game in its own right.
27. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
The new Metal Gear, which is likely Hideo Kojima’s final game in the series, is a hugely ambitious title. Its massive open world setting lets you tackle missions using stealth, but it won’t punish you for going in guns blazing – which is often the most tempting option.
Set nine years after the events of Ground Zeroes, The Phantom Pain’s story unravels through its main missions and more than 100 Side Ops tasks. The action is interspersed with gorgeous cutscenes, and while you sometimes have to decode annoying military-babble to understand what’s going on, TPP’s fast pacing and gorgeous Afghanistan settings never make the game feel like a chore.
A gripping horror game in the vein of Amnesia: The Dark Descent (it’s from the same developer), SOMA has its fair share of “NOPE!” moments. But it’s not really about jump scares; the game’s most compelling aspect is its philosophical story arc, which unravels as you encounter a series of confused robots. Suffering from existential stress, the decaying machines believe they are human.
The tension builds as you venture deeper into the underwater research facility that you wake up aboard, avoiding murderous creatures, solving clever puzzles and checking voice memos to unravel the mystery. Expertly weaving elements of survival and psychological Sci-Fi horror, SOMA is a little less action packed than Alien: Isolation but engages more of the old grey matter. If that’s what you’re looking for in a fright-fest, SOMA doesn’t disappoint.
29. Prison Architect
if you think you’ve learnt a thing or two about prison life watching films like The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption over the years, cuff-em-up Prison Architect lets you put your knowledge to the test. Playing as wardens, you’re tasked with keeping prisoners in check, preventing riots from boiling over and foiling The Great Escape-style plots. And yes: it does involve sending men to the electric chair. Gnarly. Alternatively, a second mode called Escape lets you unleash your inner Bronson by hatching a plot to lead your fellow inmates to freedom. (Until you get arrested again, anyway.)
30. Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide
Five heroes, many Skaven. That’s the basic premise of Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide, a hack-and-slash fest that plays – and feels – a lot like Valve’s Left 4 Dead series. With a deep focus on co-operative gameplay, Vermintide’s melee-focused combat, random loot, level-based progression system and humanoid rat enemies make for a refreshing alternative to gunning down endless hordes of zombies.
Although it’s fun attempting to talk tactics over voice chat with players online, Vermintide is often too chaotic to try anything other than bashing or shooting the nearest Skaven between the eyes — and that’s fine — from giant Ogre Rats to stealth Gutter Runners, there’s enough variation to keep things interesting. And if you do start to get get bored, unlike the Skaven, ratcheting up the difficulty makes sure Vermintide won’t get long in the tooth any time soon.
31. Fallout 4
It’s official: Fallout 4 has lived up to the hype. Despite feeling a little bit like Fallout 3 but with nicer graphics at times, its tighter shooting, in-depth crafting system and well-thought out story make it a wholly more enticing affair.
As the Sole Survivor (the first fully-voiced protagonist in the Fallout series) in Boston’s post-apocalypse wasteland, you’ll take on Feral Ghouls, Raiders, Syths and Bloodbugs and more with high-powered weaponry that includes the Fat Man mini nuke cannon and the fusion cell-powered Laser Musket.
PC gamers can take Fallout 4 to even greater highs through a growing number of mods. They range from the Enhanced Wasteland Preset, which makes the wasteland look more vibrant on beefy PCs, to the sensibly named Fallout 4 Configuration Tool, which makes the game run smoother on wimpier PCs.
32. Rainbow Six: Siege
If the Call of Duty series is the poison that dumbed down the FPS genre with its run-and-gun gameplay, then Rainbow Six: Siege is the antidote. Working as a team to out-wit the enemy, Siege plays out like a thinking man (or woman’s) Counter-Strike that doesn’t simply encourage cooperation if you want to win – it requires it.
When you’re not peering down your gun’s iron sights, you’ll be laying traps, scouting ahead using drones, strategising with your teammates and building walls that could keep a herd of demented bulls at bay. While Siege’s heavy reliance on tactical team-based gameplay can prove its biggest weakness if you’re hoisted into a server with a particularly uncooperative bunch, when it does click, it provides a level of satisfaction rarely found in online multiplayer games.
33. Rise of the Tomb Raider
“Console port” is no longer a dirty phrase thanks to efforts like Rise of the Tomb Raider, which gets the treatment it deserves on PC. Featuring stunning and varied locations, exciting combat and effective stealth mechanics, Lara’s epic outing often feels movie-like in its execution and scope.
Crystal Dynamics has kept the soul of the original games intact too – there’s pistols aplenty, amazing architecture and angry animals that would quite like to gobble you up – meaning you’ll never get bored once you’ve soaked up Siberia’s amazing architecture. If you’re into adventures, it’s easily one of the best PC games around.
34. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition
After Microsoft acquired the rights to the Gears of War franchise in 2014, it came as no surprise that a full-fledged sequel would be making its way to Xbox. What we didn’t see coming, however, was a complete remake of the first game developed from the ground up for both Microsoft’s console and Windows 10.
Featuring over 3,000 original art assets, revamped motion capture and a refined control scheme, the original Gears of War is only bettered by its adoption of DirectX 12 and support for resolutions up to 4K. If you ever wondered where to start in this critically-acclaimed third-person cover shooter series, look no further than Gears of War: Ultimate Edition available on the Windows Store.
35. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Picking up two years after the events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, released back in 2011, Mankind Divided centers once again around the story’s protagonist Adam Jensen who is now outfitted with augmentations that allow him to turn invisible, punch through walls and hack stuff.
Like a more refined Watch Dogs, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided proposes a strikingly realistic cyberpunk alternate reality, but doesn’t go so far as to make a statement about it. Fortunately, the savory (and stealthy) gameplay makes Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s campaign well worth the 30 hour campaign.
Originally created as an entry to the 7 Day FPS Challenge, Superhot’s Polish developers were inspired by a top-down game called Time4Cat where time only moves when the player does. They took this concept one step further and turned it into a FPS. Falling somewhere between Portal and Max Payne, nifty reflexes, patience and an eye for puzzle solving is required.
The aim is to defeat a finite number of enemies by dodging bullets and returning a few yourself. The game is now available to buy and download on Steam, but you can head back to where it all began by playing the flash version of Superhot online for free. You’ll need the Unity Web Player plugin which is currently not supported by Chrome.
37. X-COM 2
X-Com 2 is one addictive game, and we still can’t put it down. Following up from 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which reimagined the 1994 cult classic UFO: Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2 has delivered everything we wanted in a sequel. Bigger, deeper, faster and even easier on the eyes, the turn-based tactics game takes place 20 years after its predecessor.
It pits you in control of the Avenger, a converted alien ship that serves as your mobile base of operations used to devise strategy and execute fight plans against otherworldly enemies. With a greater focus of stealth, more intelligent alien AI and deeper customization options, XCOM 2 is bound to end up one of our games of the year.
Battleborn is the product of a recent influx of “hero shooter” games. Down to the basics, this means in the case of Borderlands developer Gearbox’s latest hit, you get to choose between 25 characters each resonating with one of five factions.
The heroes range from hulking giants like El Dragón, who body slam their way to victory, to long-range snipers like Marquis. Unlike Borderlands, Battleborn is all about its three competitive multiplayer modes, although there’s a single-player/co-op-driven story mode to boot.
I mean, who doesn’t want to play a game where your character is quite literally referred to as a badass within the actual canon?
39. World of Warcraft: Legion
Anyone familiar with World of Warcraft knows that it’s among the most successful and influential massively multiplayer online role-playing games (or MMORPGs) of all-time. Comprising over 12 years of content, with over thousands of hours just waiting to be invested, there are few better games to spend your money on than World of Warcraft.
With the new expansion pack, however, dubbed “Legion,” you’ll not only get access to an entirely new continent, but Blizzard has completely overturned its leveling system as well. Instead of each zone having a predetermined level, zones actually adapt dynamically to the level of your character.
This way, no matter where you are in the game, you’ll be able to incur new challenges without the endless grinding required by the World of Warcraft of yesteryear. Not only that but the new class-specific “Artifact” weapons add even more replay ability to the game like never before.
In 1993, Myst was released by two brothers – Rand and Robyn Miller of Cyan Worlds – to an audience who likely didn’t expect what was about to infest their computer screens. Myst was a groundbreaking staple for the adventure game genre, and it still is today (it’s just a little harder on the eyes).
Fast forward 13 years and the same team is back again with a similar, albeit distinct formula that resembles the game we all got stuck in and rage-quit years ago. Obduction revives the instruction- and UI-less exploration of Myst and adapts it to the 21st century, converging inspiration from the more recent trend of “walking simulators” like Firewatch and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture with contemporary puzzle games such as Jonathan Blow’s The Witness.
Hence the name, Obduction features overlying themes of science fiction and intentional misspellings. Be warned that you may need to jot down a few notes to solve puzzles, and if you want an authentic reproduction of how it would have been playing Myst in the 90s, refrain from using online walkthroughs as a bonus challenge. No, you won’t rack up achievements that way, but those didn’t exist back then either.
June 7, 2021