You just got a new PC, packed full with terabytes of storage space, a top-of-the-line graphics card and more RAM than is legal in most countries. Congratulations, and welcome to the gaming platform that has the most choices across the widest variety of games.
But maybe all that choice is too much? Perhaps you find yourself paralyzed with indecision? Allow us to help. We've put together a list of some of the most must-play games on the PC, both recent and classic.
A couple notes before we get started. First, this list is not necessarily focused on stuff that will push new hardware to the limits. Certainly some of the games on here are gorgeous on their max settings, but some have retro stylings; some can even be run on a mid-level laptop. The point is to share the best and most interesting games on the platform, not the most hardware-intensive.
Along the same lines, we will be including some games that are available on consoles as well. However, as in all things, the PC port is usually the best port.
So you want to play the best PC games from 2016...
2016 was a good year for games in general, and PC is no exception. Here are some of the best PC games that released last year.
Darkest Dungeon: A stylish dungeon crawler with an epic voiceover, Darkest Dungeon is a side-scrolling roguelike that sets players on an epic quest to rid the land of evil. For the first hour or so, the game could pass for any other off-the-shelf dungeon crawler with good art direction. But once you’ve built up your base, collected a dozen heroes and begun to train them up you’ll start to see the deep management side of the game snap into focus. Before that second hour is through you’ll have made some tough decisions about who levels up and who dies. If you’re very lucky, one of your favorite characters will live long enough to see themselves go completely insane.
Doom (2016): It’s the granddaddy of the first-person shooter genre, reborn for a modern generation of players. Not only does Doom look the absolute best on PC, it plays better here as well. Face it, you ponied up for that rig so you could use a mouse and keyboard, and Doom shines with that particular control set. The campaign is brisk and free of distraction, and now that the multiplayer has been beefed up you’ll likely get more mileage out of it than we did when it dropped earlier this year.
Duskers: PC games have a control set that’s simply not found on consoles, namely the keyboard. Duskers uses this tool to full effect, making it the only method of input for the entire game. Players take on the role of a deep space scavenger set adrift after a mysterious, galaxy-wide catastrophe. You have to scrounge fuel and supplies from other derelict ships, and the only way to explore them is with a small fleet of drones. Using keyboard commands, you’ll make a roguelike journey through scenes straight out of Alien and Event Horizon. Grab your favorite mechanical keyboard, turn the lights down low and get to work.
Hitman: Lots of people slept on Hitman, a reboot of the venerable assassin simulator, when it came out in March of 2016, and not because it was a bad game. We gave it a score of 8.5, and many other outlets showered it with praise as well. The base game is excellent, but the real treat about Hitman is how developer Io Interactive has spent the year drip-feeding the community wacky new missions. Case in point, a recent holiday-themed update added Home Alone’s Wet Bandits as a target.
Titanfall 2: If multiplayer is your goal, Titanfall 2 may well be your prize. It’s a study in how to reinvent the classic FPS battlespace by granting the player new and powerful skills. Pilots run up walls and leap from building to building while dishing out punishment with small arms that feel both weighty and destructive. Add to that the fascinating mech-based combat and it’s a title simply not to be missed on the PC. There’s even a single-player campaign that some are calling the year’s best.
Inside: Playdead’s Limbo took our breath away in 2010, and this year the team came back with something even more spectacular. With Inside, players take control of a small child on the run from shadowy forces. Over the course of the game you uncover evidence of a vast conspiracy, and fight for your life using the environment and strange technologies as their weapon. It’s a masterclass in environmental storytelling, and the animation is second to none.
Overwatch: It’s the FPS that’s taken the world by storm, and there are plenty of reasons to praise it. Overwatch features an international cast of characters notable for its diversity of race, gender and sexuality. But it also supports a number of play styles, from long-range sniping to stationary defense and everything in between. To see so many different types of gameplay come together into a cooperative, competitive whole that is both challenging and fair is remarkable. Overwatch will be a staple PC gaming for years to come.
RimWorld: An unfinished colony simulation game still in early access, RimWorld maroons players on a strange and hostile planet and forces them to survive or die trying. It’s a game not without its controversies, but it’s set fire to the PC gaming community this year for two very important reasons. First, it’s a much more approachable game compared to it’s closest relative, Dwarf Fortress. It’s also an engine for emergent storytelling. What makes it so unique is that while you can tell the little people running around on the screen what to do, you can’t tell them how to feel. Expect a long learning curve, with a big payoff in the end.
Sid Meier's Civilization 6: One of the greatest grand strategy franchises in the history of gaming came on strong this year. Civilization 6 offers more variety and a wider array of activities than ever before. It’s not merely a game about piling up the most armies and marching, Risk-like, towards the horizon. It is a game of political intrigue and economic nuance, with a rich selection of technologies and tactics. And it’s only available on PC.
So you want to play some great first-person games...
Long before games like Halo developed a workable first-person control scheme for consoles, PC was the only real place to play this genre. And it's not just shooters! Here are some of the best first-person games to get started with on your new PC.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent: If you haven't played Frictional Games' breakout smash horror classic, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, you need to do so as soon as possible. Amnesia is one of the scariest, creepiest games ever made. It inspired an endless parade of imitators, but nothing holds up like the original.
Arma 3: If your exposure to military shooters is limited to Call of Duty or even Battlefield games, prepare to have your mind blown. Don't go in expecting to get headshots and cause explosions right out of the gate, or you're going to be very disappointed. This year’s Apex expansion adds a four-player, cooperative campaign that is essential for new players looking to learn its systems. Arma is also home to an incredible modding community that has created its own breakout hits, such as the online zombie survival game DayZ, which spun out of Arma 2.
Battlefield 1: An absolute tour de force, Battlefield 1 smashes up multiple game types into a globe-trotting campaign broader than virtually any other first-person game available today. It features air combat, first-person stealth and open-world action in the same AAA package. It’s also buoyed by a rich team-based multiplayer experience that is the equal of any other game in the franchise’s history.
Firewatch: An emotional roller coaster, Firewatch tells the story of a man running away from his troubles by taking a job in the remote wilderness. His only companion is a woman he speaks to via radio from miles away. Firewatch is a testament to the storytelling power of gaming as a medium.
Half-Life 2: Half-Life 2 is one of the greatest games ever made, a shooter whose tight level and encounter design would help determine the direction most linear action games would take going forward. If you've never played it (or if you've only played the inferior console versions), you need to remedy that. And yes, we may still be waiting forever for a sequel, but there's enough here to make Half-Life 2 satisfying all on its own. And get up to speed on Black Mesa, the nearly finished, Valve-sanctioned fan remake of the original Half-Life that is only playable on PC.
The Stanley Parable: The Stanley Parable is a game that defies explanation, so we'll just say this: It's hands-down the funniest video game we've ever played. Really! Give it a shot.
So you want to play something where you can level up...
There's a long history of deep, complex role-playing games on the PC. For this list, though, we've focused on some of the more recent excellent examples in the genre.
Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition: One of the best role-playing games of recent memory, Divinity: Original Sin proves that turn-based doesn't equal slow or boring. It has an incredibly fun combat system that lets you blend together different elements for surprising outcomes, and its world is full of off-the-wall, unique sidequests.
Tyranny: From the developer who brought us such RPGs as Fallout: New Vegas, Neverwinter Nights 2 and Pillars of Eternity is a return to the old-school. Sure, you could just hop back and play the original Baldur's Gate games, which serve as a heavy inspiration for the mechanics. But Tyranny, like Pillars of Eternity that came before it, provides all the depth of the classics with a level of polish and approachability that's more in line with modern sensibilities. It’s also a chance to explore your evil side in detail.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: Role-playing games don't get bigger or deeper than this. In the latest epic from CD Projekt Red, you play as monster hunter Geralt of Rivia as he searches the world for a powerful girl named Ciri. While the main plot is compelling, it's the dozens of wonderfully fleshed-out sidequests and hours of downloadable content that kept us playing literally for years. And while it's available on PS4 and Xbox One, naturally it's going to look best on a high-powered PC.
So you want a real challenge...
PC gaming is home to some real back-breaking games. Take roguelikes, a style of game where you generally have a single life to make it as far as possible. Roguelikes began as dungeon crawlers primarily, but the descriptor has expanded into a variety of genres, as you can see in this list. The PC is also home to hardcore simulation games, including the newest generation of spaceflight games that require practice, patience and a fair amount of skill.
Crypt of the NecroDancer: For those seeking a little more rhythm from their roguelikes, look no further than Crypt of the NecroDancer. In this game, you match up your dungeon crawling moves to awesome music. It's completely unique, and you can even play it with a dance pad if you have a PC-compatible one lying around.
Don't Starve: Unlike most roguelikes, Don't Starve isn't about exploring a dungeon or fighting monsters. In fact, most of your time with the game will be spent avoiding combat. Your goal is to gather resources and food, build a small encampment and see how many days you can survive against the increasingly absurd enemies and natural disasters that the game throws at you.
Dwarf Fortress: You just can’t put together a list of the most essential PC games without mentioning Slaves to Armok: God of Blood Chapter II: Dwarf Fortress, the decade-old work-in-progress colony simulation from Bay 12 Games. The game has two distinct modes. The most well-known is a fortress-building simulation that puts players in command of a small group of dwarves. The other is a roguelike adventure game that sets players loose across similar maps in a deadly quest for glory. Both are incredibly satisfying, based in no small part on the amount of depth each procedurally generated world has. What other game auto-generates thousands of years of history before the game even starts? Trouble is, it’s rendered entirely in ASCII and has its own, unwieldy control scheme that virtually no one likes. But hey, you’re a PC gamer now. Welcome to the party.
Elite: Dangerous: While available on Xbox One and coming soon to PS4, Elite: Dangerous is a PC game tried and true. There’s simply no better reason to get a hands-on stick and throttle set than to pilot your own starship through a handful of the 400 billion star systems in an accurately rendered Milky Way galaxy. 2016’s most important update, called Horizons, added the ability to land on the surface of rocky worlds and drive around in a rover, allowing players to witness the scale of mountains twice as tall as Everest in first person. Elite is a humbling game, and also a marquee experience for owners of an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive. Consider this an excuse to start saving for that VR headset to go with your new PC.
FTL: Faster Than Light: It's roguelike meets Star Trek. You control a spaceship and its crew as you bounce from system to system on the run from a devastating enemy force. FTL is one of those games that seems impossible to conquer at first, and later, impossible to stop playing at all.
Kerbal Space Program: In this quirky title, you build rockets and try like hell to get cute green creatures to the moon without blowing them up first. It features a full physics simulation, and allows you to build Saturn 5-style rockets and new-age space planes with relative ease. But trust us: You're going to be killing a lot of these adorable little green men on your way to mastering KSP's controls.
Nuclear Throne: You take on the role of one of a bunch of mutated, gun-wielding creatures trying to make their way through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Nuclear Throne is one of the fastest moving roguelikes ever, which makes starting "just one more run" all the easier.
So you want to command vast armies...
PC is still the king for strategy games, which often have a depth of tactics (and user interface) that can be hard to handle without a mouse and keyboard. Here are some games that will allow you to be a brilliant ruler (or a horrible dictator).
Cities: Skylines: EA's SimCity franchise has been letting down long-time fans of the series for multiple iterations now. Leave it to a tiny Finnish studio to pick up the slack with Cities: Skylines, the modern take on SimCity 2000 that we've wanted ... well, since SimCity 2000. There's a great DLC add-on called After Dark that adds in a day-and-night cycle, and a recently released set of natural disasters.
Crusader Kings 2: Where other strategy games might allow you to just build a giant army and barrel through your opposition, Crusader Kings 2 requires you to play a game of politics and intrigue. It requires making allegiances, which can lead to incredibly bizarre and memorable scenarios. There's enough behind-the-scenes deals and backstabbing for Game of Thrones. Oh, also there's a rad Game of Thrones mod.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak: The spiritual successor to the Homeworld franchise, Deserts of Kharak is a prequel of sorts that puts players on the ground fighting for control of a mostly barren planet. It’s a completely new style of warfare, which utilizes massive land-based supercarriers to launch attacks. Made by members of the original Homeworld team, its graphical presentation is second to none.
Stellaris: The 4x genre has felt a little stale the past few years. Stellaris breathes a bit of life into the model by adding some slick narrative hooks. The early game feels a bit like a good episode of Star Trek, and a recent update added even more narrative content to the mid and late-game from writer Alexis Kennedy. Stellaris also features an epic multiplayer system that allows competitive play for up to 32 people at a time. If that’s not a good enough reason to plan a LAN party, I don’t know what is.
So you want to become an esports superstar...
Esports is the future, and it's a future that's still primarily locked in to PC. Here are a few of our favorite competitive games that could end up making you rich ... if you're extremely dedicated and far better at games than we are.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: Though many questioned if Valve could ever create a follow-up to surpass the sensation of the original Counter-Strike, Global Offensive has pulled it off. This round-based shooter where terrorists try to set a bomb and counter-terrorists try to disarm it is one of the most-watched esports games in the world right now. It's also a ton of fun to play.
Heroes of the Storm: If you're new to PC, you've probably only heard of multiplayer battle arenas (or MOBAs) in passing. Rest assured, though, this style of game is huge and only getting bigger. While League of Legends and Dota 2 are both excellent games with a much larger current fan following (and a much more competitive esports scene), Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm is a more beginner-friendly introduction to the genre. It's free, so you've got nothing to lose by checking it out. And if you end up falling in love, you might want to consider graduating to League or Dota 2, where things get even more complex and satisfying.
Hearthstone: We play way too much Hearthstone, and we've got the YouTube playlist to prove it. This is one of the rare games on this list that doesn't lose much in transition if you're playing it on mobile, but at least on PC you won't need to worry about losing a game because you dropped reception for a minute. If you want a digital card game with a relatively low barrier to entry, this is the place to start. If you fall in love, don’t forget there’s Elder Scrolls: Legends and Gwent: The Witcher Card Game to try as well, both titles you can only play on PC right now.
Rocket League: Who knew that all we needed to do to make soccer interesting was to add cars to it? Rocket League is a sensational four-on-four team multiplayer game where you smash your rocket-powered car into a giant ball to try to gain points. It's one of those simple-to-learn, easy-to-have-fun-with, impossible-to-master games, the kind that keeps us tied to the servers long into the night. Every night. It’s also a generous game, doling out free upgrades like new maps and game modes well after its initial release.
So you want something weird or different...
One of the best parts about PC as a gaming platform is that there's so much, and so much of it is unlike anything else you've played before. Here are some of our favorite choices that don't easily fit into any of the popular genres above.
Euro Truck Simulator 2: Hear us out here. While the Euro Truck Simulator 2 craze seemingly started as a joke, it's kind of grown well beyond that. It helps that developer SCS Software has created an actual legitimately good simulation game here, but there's also just something incredibly relaxing about driving the roads of Europe, listening to the radio, making deliveries. And don't worry: American Truck Simulator is here as well, with a newly expanded map to boot
Minecraft: Yo, have you heard of Minecraft? It's only the biggest game in the damn world. As with others on this list, Minecraft has made its way to consoles and even mobile platforms at this point, but the PC is still the best way to play, with tons of interesting multiplayer servers to join, unique skins to download and mods that can improve your time with the game."
Papers, Please: We guarantee you've never played a game like Papers, Please. You take on the role of a worker drone paid very little money to check visas of people trying to get into a country run by an oppressive government. If that sounds mundane and even a little depressing, it absolutely is. But the deeper you get, the more complex the process becomes and the harder it becomes to stay alive and keep your family fed. It's something you must experience.
So you want to know what's next...
This list should give you plenty of games to chew on for a long time to come, but if you're already wondering what's coming in 2017, we've got you covered there too. Some of our writers sat down to think about what games they’re most looking forward to in the coming year. We’ll spend the next 12 months covering all of them, and more, right here.