clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Agent 47 holds an automatic shotgun and stands in front of the campaign map in his safehouse in Hitman World of Assassination’s Freelancer mode Image: IO Interactive

Filed under:

The 16 best games on PC

Here’s what you should be playing on your PC

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

PC gaming has always been about pushing technological boundaries. It’s the platform video games were born on, and it’s played host to dozens of genres that are still popular today — some of which are still barely playable without a mouse and keyboard.

As the world of console gaming has caught up with that of PC games from a technical perspective, the identity of a “PC game” has been muddied. It’s helped make more types of games available to more players, which is a net positive. But it’s also created a burning question: What makes a “PC game” in 2023?

To answer that question — or rather, to show how superfluous that question has become — the Polygon staff has compiled a list of the games that define the exciting, amorphous experience of playing games on PC in 2023. Some of these are available on other platforms, and some are just as good with a controller as a mouse and keyboard. Meanwhile, if you’re one of the lucky ones who has gotten their hands on Valve’s handheld, we have a separate list for the best games on Steam Deck.

Without further ado, here are the 16 best PC games you can download on your PC today.

[Ed. note: This list was last updated on Nov. 2. It will be updated as new and noteworthy games come to PC.]

Age of Empires 4

A screenshot showing a village from Age of Empires 4 Image: Relic Entertainment/Xbox Game Studios

Where to play: Steam, the Microsoft Store, and Game Pass

Age of Empires 4 will likely never replace Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings in the hearts and minds of strategy gamers. However, AOE4 does bring some interesting wrinkles to the familiar setting and gameplay, allowing it to stand capably on its own, despite living in the shadow of a legend.

Beyond the reimagined gameplay, creating a new game from whole cloth gave Relic the opportunity to imbue AOE4 with a distinct style of its own. Having the native languages of your civilization change as you advance through the ages or replacing the fog of war with a rudimentary map are just some of the stylistic choices that set AOE4 apart.

While the base game only features 10 civilizations compared to AOE2’s 45, each of the playable empires are much more distinct. Beyond unique units and civ bonuses, for instance, the Mongols can quickly pump out units if they have the necessary resources, while the Rus can use hunting to boost their late-game economy. —Alice Newcome-Beill

Destiny 2

A Guardian blasts Strand at a group of enemies in Destiny 2: Lightfall Image: Bungie

Where to play: Steam, Epic Games Store

Destiny 2 combines a typical loot-based shooter with Bungie’s best-in-class gunplay, and the result is one of the greatest MMOs on the market.

The Destiny franchise has had some rough patches, and was met with mixed reception at its initial launch. But in the eight years that it’s existed, Bungie has drastically improved the formula via multiple expansions and a complete sequel. Now, the studio has one of the most well-supported live-service games in 2023.

Every few months, Destiny 2 gets a new season or expansion, adding missions, activities, and endgame content like raids. Each of these different activities then provides its own unique rewards, creating an endless loop of grinding new activities for new weapons, which you’ll then use to grind the next season’s content. What makes that fun and not tedious, however, is Bungie’s extremely smooth gameplay, which can remain fun thousands of hours and nearly a full decade later.

Remarkably, Destiny 2 is only getting better. 2022 not only saw the series’ best expansion yet, but it also delivered an excellent story and added new weapons the likes of which players have never seen. In a world filled with hobby games that you can play for years without stopping — especially on PC — Destiny 2 is worth all the time you’re willing to put into it. —Ryan Gilliam

Dwarf Fortress

A mountain stronghold featuring large pools of lava from an in-development version of Dwarf Fortress for Steam.
The new, more legible version of Dwarf Fortress, coming to Steam sometime soon
Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games

Where to play: Steam, or via the Bay 12 Games website

If you’re ever in the mood to play god, you can do a lot worse than playing Dwarf Fortress.

As the title might suggest, this is a simulation/management game about building, optimizing, overseeing, and, accidentally or not, destroying a fortress full of dwarves. What the title doesn’t tell you is that you’ll have to consider the region’s soil type, elevation, and weather patterns. You’ll also have to take the attributes of each of your seven starting dwarves into account — their skill sets, physical characteristics, and mental dispositions. After beginning the construction and management in each new randomly generated world, you set about growing your colony and observing, as any number of unforeseen factors can go well or very, very wrong.

As explored in this excellent Eurogamer video by Chris Bratt (who went on to found People Make Games), Dwarf Fortress is so nuanced and complex that a colony’s cats have been known to die en masse because they had walked through the puke of drunken dwarves, proceeded to lick their paws clean, and promptly died. The comments on this video are full of similar instances of emergent simulation (ranging from disturbing to hilarious) and they showcase how deep, absurd, and wonderful Dwarf Fortress has the potential to get during any given playthrough. Playing Dwarf Fortress may not turn you into the most benevolent god — the dwarves have free will, after all — but you’ll almost never get bored. —Mike Mahardy

Elite Dangerous

PvP combat in Elite: Dangerous Image: Frontier Developments

Where to play: Steam, Epic Games Store

Elite Dangerous may be old, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.

The spacefaring MMO has everything you could possibly want in a game of its type — it’s just that some of the bits are a little better than others. The first-person shooting, for instance, is just OK. But Elite more than earns its spot on this list for the sense of exploration, discovery, and danger that comes with every flight.

That’s because this circa-2014 game features a realistic re-creation of all 400 billion star systems in our galaxy, each one with dozens of bodies that you can visit, and even walk on, in first person. It remains one of the best reasons to buy a VR headset — or build a working cockpit inside your home office. —Charlie Hall


Darth Vader wields a lightsaber in Fortnite Image: Epic Games

Where to play: Epic Games Store

Fortnite is the ultimate video game playground. Is it a battle royale? Is it a building game where you can make custom maps and games for friends? Is it still that weird zombie game that it was originally marketed as? The answer to all of those questions, inexplicably, is yes.

Crucially, Fortnite is also the only game where you can swing around using an official Spider-Man web slinger while dressed as Goku before subsequently blowing away Commander Zavala from Destiny with a shotgun, chopping down a tree with the Staff of Ra from Indiana Jones, and then get sniped by Darth Vader as he rides by on a wolf. It’s chaotic video game nonsense, and there’s nothing else like it.

Fortnite is the “it” game of the past five years partially because it’s the only thing out there that lets you dab as Kratos, but also because it’s an excellent shooter that’s a ton of fun to play with pals. It takes the old “fun for the whole family” moniker and really follows through with it — there’s truly something for everyone. Whether you want to compete for your Victory Royale or just make stupid machinima with Rick Sanchez and a Xenomorph, Fortnite can give it to you. —RG

Hitman: World of Assassination

A screenshot from Hitman: World of Assassination showing Agent 47 stalking a target in a dimly lit room Image: IO Interactive/Square Enix

Where to play: Steam, Epic Games Store

The final form of the immersive assassination simulator, Hitman: World of Assassination truly fulfills the fantasy of being the greatest assassin in the world. In addition to all of the content released for the first three games from the reimagined Hitman franchise, World of Assassination also includes the roguelike-inspired Freelancer mode, which forces you to eliminate targets with random equipment and mission modifiers.

Each contract is a unique scenario that unfolds like a stage play. As you explore each scenario, learning more about each player and their respective parts, you’ll find out how to effectively reach your target and eliminate them using a combination of keen observation and stealth. Beyond being intricate clockwork with a lot of moving parts, the graphics for each level are remarkable from a technical standpoint, featuring immaculately rendered crowds and varied environments that immerse you fully in the locations of the game.

While guns blazing is always an option, each target presents an opportunity to express your creativity as a contract killer, turning every mission into a cleverly designed puzzle with multiple solutions. Any fool can shoot someone, but pummeling your target with a brick of super cocaine takes an artist. —ANB

League of Legends

Pantheon prepares for battle in a League of Legends cinematic Image: Riot Games

Where to play: Riot Client, Game Pass

League of Legends is one of the most important video games of the past decade, and it has helped set an example for what a continuous game should look like. It’s an incredible live-service game with tons of new content added each year. It’s a complex strategy game that never plays out the same way twice. It’s one of the biggest esports in the world. And it’s completely free to play. While League wasn’t the first game to claim any of those accolades, Riot learned lessons from League’s predecessors (such as Starcraft and the original DOTA mod) to push the envelope of what a prestigious competitive game could look like, and has managed to keep it relevant for 13 years.

In true MOBA form, 10 players matchmake into a game together and are split into two teams. Each player on each team is then assigned a role, and they can choose from over 160 different characters to support their allies. During the match, the goal is to reach the other side of the arena and destroy the enemy team’s base. This results in a tense push and pull between both teams, gathering gold and empowering their heroes.

It’s extremely complex — almost like learning a new language — but that complexity is what keeps the game interesting and fun. After thousands of matches, there’s still nothing quite like spending an entire Saturday playing League of Legends and getting a new experience almost every time. —RG

Microsoft Flight Simulator

A plane flies over fields of colorful farmland in Microsoft Flight Simulator Image: Asobo Studio/Xbox Game Studios

Where to play: Steam, Microsoft Store

Microsoft Flight Simulator is truly a modern marvel. It pulls more than two petabytes of Microsoft Bing map data into a high-quality, VR-compatible flight simulation. Then it feathers in live air traffic and real-world weather, just because it can.

Float planes, ski planes, military jets, racing planes, even Halo’s Pelican — it’s all there, along with more once you access the in-game third-party storefront. And while MSFS is also compatible on Xbox consoles, it shines on PC, opening up a whole world of tinkering for dedicated fans.

Just plan ahead and make sure your hardware has enough USB ports for the joystick, throttle, pedals, head-tracking peripherals, and multi-function displays. Ohh, I could get a ButtKicker and a cup holder and... —CH

Return of the Obra Dinn

Return of the Obra Dinn - zooming in on a character Image: Lucas Pope/3909 via Polygon

Where to play: Steam

Return of the Obra Dinn is that rare game I wish I could forget. Not because it’s heavy or overly traumatic, but because I want to experience it again with fresh eyes. Like Outer Wilds, it’s a game that relies heavily on discovery and the use of newfound knowledge.

The less known before playing Return of the Obra Dinn the better, so just take our word for it and go play for yourself... Not convinced? Fine. I’ll spoil that you get to play as an insurance investigator. If that doesn’t get you to install, nothing will.

Jokes aside, Return of the Obra Dinn puts you in the shoes of an insurance investigator (that part wasn’t a joke) for the East India Company in 1807. Armed with a magic pocket watch, it’s your responsibility to discover what happened to the good ship Obra Dinn, a merchant ship lost at sea five years prior.

Each area you investigate on the ship will treat you to a short vignette and some dialogue or music. You then use that information to fill out your ledger and determine the fate and name of each soul aboard.

It’s a difficult game to describe, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since its launch in 2018. The music and visuals are intoxicating, and the game manages to surprise over and over again. Sadly, I’ll never be able to play it as a newcomer again — as I already know the fates of those aboard — but I can enrich your life by sharing it with you. —RG


Satisfactory - jumping around conveyor belts Image: Coffee Stain Studios

Where to play: Steam, Epic Games Store

Management and automation games are old staples of PC gaming, and Satisfactory is one of the modern best.

In Satisfactory, you play an employee of a space corporation who is dropped onto a hostile and unfamiliar planet. Your job is to use the planet’s resources to build up an incredible factory for your overlords, producing more and more technologically advanced items that you’ll eventually send back to the mothership via a giant space elevator.

The catch with Satisfactory is that it’s all in first person, and you’re just one small employee in what can turn out to be a giant factory. Not only do you have to visualize how to lay out your factory floor without a god’s-eye view, you’ll need to gather resources from miles and miles away — areas that are difficult to reach on foot — and make difficult decisions. Do you want to run a thousand-meter pipe filled with oil to your factory? Or do you want to mine that oil, package it into barrels, and build a train that will deliver to your factory on a set schedule? And how are you going to handle the power situation when you accidentally blow a fuse and your oil production halts all your other machines?

There are near countless formulae for new factory setups, and each problem you come across becomes increasingly more difficult to solve. But these puzzles are also extremely rewarding, ensuring that every area of your factory — the refineries, the power plants, etc. — all come with their own memories and triumphs. —RG


A screenshot of Stellaris showing two opposing fleets facing off in orbit of a neutron star Image: Paradox Interactive

Where to play: Steam

Stellaris is real-time strategy on a truly massive scale. Each procedurally generated map of Paradox’s extrasolar grand strategy game is inhabited by a variety of different alien species, each with their own governments, ideals, and ambitions that can greatly influence how an individual game plays out.

Every game of Stellaris begins with your empire exploring their own tiny corner of the galaxy, but the scope quickly expands to adjacent star systems, shaking hands with the neighbors, and engaging with just about every awesome sci-fi trope in existence. In Stellaris, you can terraform planets, discover space whales, build planet-sized superweapons, and broker peace between rival factions in just your first 100 years on the galactic stage.

While the vast array of interconnected mechanics can be quite daunting, especially to players unfamiliar with the grand strategy genre, Stellaris comes equipped with comprehensive guided tutorials that pop up whenever you’re introduced to a new mechanic or interface for the first time.

Since its launch in 2016, Stellaris has accrued over 20 pieces of individual DLC that add new alien races, planet types, and game mechanics that have kept the aging title feeling fresh. Thanks to its robust modding community and how much content is present in the base game, you’re more likely to experience the heat death of the universe before you see the end of what Stellaris has to offer. —ANB

Total War: Warhammer 3/Immortal Empires

A view from behind a horde of demons as they race toward the Tzarina’s lines in Total War: Warhammer 3 Image: Creative Assembly/Sega

Where to play: Steam, Epic Games Store, Game Pass

Sometimes, video games just can’t help themselves. They grow vertically, with so much systemic complexity that they destroy any chances at balance or elegance. They grow horizontally, with bigger maps, more characters, or new magical spells, until they’re bloated beyond repair. Eventually, they collapse beneath the massive weight of their own making.

Total War: Warhammer 3 is not one of those games.

What began as the first fantasy installment in a history-oriented franchise has become a trilogy-capping grand strategy game in which armored mammoths, sex-crazed demons, bipedal machine-gunner rats, dragon-mounted high elves, and four-headed hydras clash in massive battles.

Like the first two installments in the trilogy, Warhammer 3 is half empire-building, half real-time strategy. You expand your territory, improve your cities, build your armies, and march them off to war. When they encounter an opponent’s army or attack an enemy city (maybe it has valuable resources? Maybe it’s a strategic chokepoint? Maybe it just looks fucking cool?) the camera zooms in to real-time strategy battles on scales that aren’t comparable in any other game.

Unlike its predecessors, however, Warhammer 3 is an exercise in excessive scale. It combines the campaign maps and every single faction from all three games into one massive mode called Immortal Empires, in which you’re just as likely to see a world war play out between ogres, dwarves, vampires, and undead Egyptian pharaohs. Immortal Empires all but redefines sandbox video games, and it has all the makings of a desert island title. —MM


Characters shoot at one another in Valorant Image: Riot Games

Where to play: Riot Client

Valorant is Riot Games’ take on tactical shooters. But since it comes from the creators of League of Legends, it infuses its harsh, hyper-accurate gunplay with unique heroes in a vibrant, colorful environment. The result is one of the best and tightest shooters out there, with loads more personality than its dreary, militaristic peers.

In Valorant, you’ll play on a variety of maps as both offense and defense. The offense will need to plant a bomb at one of several key areas on the map, and the defense will need to defuse that bomb. If the bomb goes off or the defenders are all killed, the offense wins. If the bomb is defused or the offense is all killed, the defenders win. The rules are simple enough, but the characters add an extra layer of complexity.

Each round, players can buy weapons and abilities — the latter being unique to the Agent they selected at the start of the match. Some characters can place cameras to spy on opposing players, while others can resurrect themselves after death. Some characters can shoot arrows, while others can create massive clouds of poison to block off areas. These characters all work differently with one another, allowing coordinated teams to create devastating combos with their abilities.

Unlike League, the UI is relatively clear and easy to understand. But the skill ceiling is just as high as Riot’s other competitive games, and you can be easily outmatched by better players. This makes Valorant daunting, but also exciting. It’s a game where you can really feel your skill level increase over time, which helps losses feel like learning experiences and wins feel absolutely incredible. —RG

Valorant is available via Riot’s client.


Warframe - Key art for Angels of the Zariman, showing a selection of Warframes and support characters against an eerie teal background Image: Digital Extremes

Where to play: Steam, Epic Games Store

What began in 2012 as a game of ninja combat in narrow spaceship corridors has, over the last decade, become one of the strangest, funniest, most breathtaking science fiction worlds in video games. It’s also free.

Warframe is a game about collecting the titular cyborg space assassins and mowing through tens — or even hundreds — of thousands of enemies on planets, moons, and star bases across the solar system. It has dozens of different crafting systems, customizable dojos and landing crafts, three open worlds, daily and weekly events, and even a dedicated convention every year in London, Ontario.

Warframe can be a grind, sure — unless you spend real money in its marketplace — but the combat, which plays like a mashup of third-person shooters and Musou melee encounters, is satisfying enough to last you the several hours until your next new character, weapon, or upgrade. Whether that new addition to your arsenal be Frost, the defensive ice warrior; the Secura Lecta, a vicious whip that increases your credit yield; or Corrosive Projection, a mod that decreases the armor of enemies in your vicinity, there’s something new around every corner. It’s a collector’s dream, and it’s replete with gratuitous sci-fi violence. —MM

World of Warcraft

Key art for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft: Dragonflight expansion Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Where to play:

World of Warcraft is still the household MMO name, with Final Fantasy 14 only catching up in recent years. But unlike Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft has remained exclusive to the PC with mouse-and-keyboard controls. It’s also 18 years old and still going strong.

As you might expect from a game that’s old enough to vote, World of Warcraft hasn’t always been one of the best PC games out there. It’s had moments of brilliance and eras of serious disappointment. But even as the quality of WoW’s content has ebbed and flowed, it’s always offered an incredible world to adventure in, peacefully by yourself or in a boisterous group of buddies. It’s become a staple in the lives of millions of fans over nearly 20 years, and it’s always there for players who want to run a quick quest or upgrade a piece of gear.

World of Warcraft looks to be exiting its most recent dark period with the recent Dragonflight expansion. It’s an excellent reminder of why I — and others — have loved World of Warcraft for years. It’s a return to pure fantasy and simplistic systems that reward your time, rather than asking you to grind for days for minuscule but mandatory improvements. —RG

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen - The Hunter aims down sights with her rifle while standing next to a tree Image: Firaxis Games/2K Games

Where to play: Steam, Epic Games Store

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is one of the best video game turnaround stories since Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn. What started as a buggy and sometimes frustrating follow-up to Firaxis’ beloved XCOM reboot was rejuvenated with the War of the Chosen expansion, and is now one of the best strategy games in recent memory.

Like the first game, XCOM 2 is all about fending off aliens from another world with your army of soldiers. It’s a turn-based tactical game, so you’ll move each of your characters individually before ending your turn, causing the computer to move in response to your actions. It’s like a chess match where you upgrade and bond with your pieces between matches, and then have to say goodbye if the enemy ever takes them. (You can turn the permadeath setting off, but I highly recommend keeping it on).

War of the Chosen, on the other hand, added new enemy types and allied factions, which eventually offer entirely new soldier types for you to control. That bonus content is great, but it’s the way that content flows into the base campaign that solved the issue of vanilla XCOM 2’s frustrating and breakneck pace. With the expansion, players have so many more challenges to overcome and avenues to explore that it feels like an entirely new experience — where you’re constantly doing something new. There are challenging new bosses to hunt, a wider variety of mission types, and undead enemies that have the ability to disrupt your play style.

It’s a brutal game, and lives up to the endless memes of high-percentage shots that inevitably miss at the worst possible moments. But each encounter — be it an individual firefight between two opposing soldiers or an entire mission — tells a story. Not one written by Firaxis, but one crafted by you and your decisions.

If you love base/resource management, strategy games, or both, you’ll find a game that you can play over and over again with XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. —RG