PC gaming is always one or two steps ahead. Even in the early years of a new console generation, the big wheezing towers rapidly leap ahead in terms of tech, and game performance. Then add to that the greater range of possible genres like complex strategy and MMOand the incredibly vibrant indie scene, plus how PC tends to sidestep the “exclusivity” of the console wars, and it’s quite the most broad way to play video games.
Now even PlayStation’s first-party titles are belatedly arriving on PC in souped up versions, alongside Xbox’s cross-platform ubiquity via Game Pass, the loss of convenience of a simple plastic box can be ever more easily dismissed. For this list, however, we’ve focused on the most PC-centric games, rather than excellent examples ported over from other platforms.
But where should you start? And what might you have missed? Here are the 18 best PC games you can install right now.
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With v1.0 just around the corner, the break-out hit of 2022 is about to be considered complete. Reinventing the Robotron-like bullet hell genre, Poncle’s Vampire Survivors is a ridiculously moreish game of gathering an ever-growing number of auto-firing abilities, in order to deal with hundreds of on-screen enemies as they barrel toward you.
Spawning an entire genre of its own, this is the big fad game of the year, after it snuck out just before Christmas last year. And it’s no wonder, given what an incredibly satisfying experience it is to play, then fail at, then play again. With rogue-lite elements meaning you make incremental improvements between attempts, and an ever-growing number of locations and heroes to play, it’s extraordinarily difficult to stop playing. Believe us, you’ll be seeing those blue gems every time you close your eyes for days. This seems likely to become an all-time PC classic.
A Good Match For: Anyone who wants to forget to go to bed until 3am, and then wake up thinking about playing some more.
Not A Good Match For: Those without the patience to lose at something an awful lot.
While you may now find more kids playing Minecraft on Xbox or tablet, it’s unequivocally a PC game first and foremost. Originally released in 2009 as a Java game, the block-building open world has gone on to become one of the most successful games of all time. Now owned by Microsoft, but still in the hands of Mojang Studio, it’s sold over 238 million copies, and is a name known by anyone with consciousness.
More importantly, it still remains an absolutely superb game, and it’s always best experienced with a mouse and keyboard. Despite being reworked for controllers and touchscreens, its crafting and exploring is always better on PC. Let alone the astonishing projects that people spend years creating, like, you know, the entire universe.
With the 1.20 update due in 2023, the game is still always growing and expanding, and yet remains just as accessible to a new player just wanting to wander around, dig, build, and essentially do whatever they like in one of the most creative worlds in gaming.
A Good Match For: People who just want absolute freedom to wander, create, or team up with friends to build a super-computer.
Not A Good Match For: People who want to pursue a storyline.
While the PC has always been the natural home of adventure games, more recently its attention has been turned to visual novels. In Scarlet Hollow, the two meet in near-perfect harmony, with a VN that takes dramatically different branching paths depending upon the choices you make.
Visiting the rural town of Scarlet Hollow in South Carolina, following the death of your aunt, you stay in the creepy old house of your cousin Tabitha. Tabitha is very cold toward you, but you quickly make friends with some of the areas more friendly inhabitants, and get dragged into a very peculiar story of missing animals, strange creatures in the woods, and a collapsing mine.
Beyond the game’s stunning writing, and beautiful hand-drawn art, the way you experience the story is not only defined by how you respond to people and situations, but also on the character traits you pick from the start. You can make yourself oddly attractive to others, or especially smart, or even be able to communicate with animals, and each has a big impact on how the tale is told.
Three chapters of a planned seven are already out, with a fourth coming soon. Now’s a great time to jump in, especially as the first chapter is free.
A Good Match For: People who want to really sink into a fascinating narrative.
Not A Good Match For: Those who can’t cope not knowing how the story is going to end.
The first Total War: Warhammer was very good. The sequel was even better. But this third turn-based strategy-meets-real-time tactics game sees Creative Assembly at their absolute best, taking on board lessons learned in their more historically based Total War: Three Kingdoms, then reapplying it to the batshit world of Warhammer.
It then gets even better when you factor in the Immortal Battles campaign, which Luke described as “the best Total War campaign in years.” Why? It’s the sheer scale, with 550 settlements to conquer, and over 270 other factions to battle, with all three games in the series being collided into one ludicrously enormous experience.
This is a master strategy game, doing things at a depth and complexity that could only ever be possible on PC, while at the same time an incredible entry point to the whole Warhammer universe.
A Good Match For:Total War fans and Warhammer fans, but also people who aren’t into Warhammer yet but think they could be.
Not A Good Match For: Those who’ve tried Total War games in the past and just can’t get into them.
Disco Elysium has been lauded by many as the best-written video game of all time, and they might be right. It is 20-plus hours of totally immaculate prose, filled with the brilliance and tragedy of a broken city in bloom. As an RPG, it also has possibly the best use of a stat system ever developed, turning each skill into a fully developed character with a distinctive voice. Couple this with a legitimately engaging murder mystery—which navigates the local politics of a small, bombed-out, seaside district of the former capital of the world—and you have one of the greatest games of all time. Disco Elysium is a must-play for anyone with even a passing interest in PC role-playing games.
The Final Cut makes it even better. Alongside new art and animation, all 300 characters are now voiced, and four quests cut from the original release have been reimagined as Political Vision Quests.
A Good Match For: Anyone who appreciates great writing and complex, unforgettable characters, plus has a hunger for intrigue and mystery.
Not A Good Match For: Those who need combat mechanics in their RPGs.
Hitman 3 is the capstone to IO Interactive’s “World of Assassination” trilogy of Hitman games. Structurally, Hitman 3 is much the same as its two predecessors. As the genetically engineered Agent 47, you jet off to sumptuous locations with the intention of locating and assassinating high-profile targets—and then you do so in the most creative means possible. Hitman 3 adds some of the trilogy’s best levels to date. One sees you infiltrate a manor in the British countryside, disguised as a detective on-site to solve a murder mystery. Another flips the script, sets you loose in a Berlin nightclub, and sends rival assassins after you. Making a great game even better, any levels you own from prior Hitman games can be imported into the Hitman 3 launcher, so you can play them all on the same engine and with the same updated visual flourishes and UI enhancements. It’s a minor touch, but an easy way to make some of the great stages from previous games (Sapienza! Miami!) feel totally new. Also: train fight!
A Good Match For: Fans of stealth games, puzzle games, and James Bond flicks.
Not A Good Match For: Players hoping for an action-packed third-person shooter.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is unlike any other Yakuza game. Make no mistake: Most every modern entry in Sega’s genre-defying series is worth checking out. But at this point, being a newcomer means committing yourself to hundreds of hours of gameplay across more than half a dozen games just to get up to speed. Like a Dragon, on the other hand, doesn’t require any homework. It’s a spinoff, starring a totally new cast of characters. It’s a totally different type of game, too—a turn-based RPG inspired by Dragon Quest rather than a sprawling, brawling beat-’em-up. But it still has all of the Yakuza series hallmarks, from the humor to the pathos to the totally nonsensical mini-games. If you’re coming in fresh to the series, it’s the perfect place to start. And if you’ve already played a bunch of these games, it’s a welcome change of pace.
A Good Match For:Yakuza fans, Dragon Quest fans, anyone looking for a game to fill every hour of free time.
Not A Good Match For: Those who want to get straight to the action; Yakuza: Like a Dragon is approximately two-thirds talking.
It’s hard to find a universal opinion in gaming, but here’s one that’s about as close to unanimous as you can get: Crusader Kings III is better than Crusader Kings II in basically every way. It’s grander in scope but slighter in bloat and busywork. It’s easier to pick up (just ask any newcomer) and harder to put down (ask any longtime fan). It has a cleaner interface, sharper character models, and it’s also tremendously beautiful. Starting in the 9th century, you shepherd a dynastic line up and through the 15th century. To pinpoint Crusader Kings III as a strategy game wouldn’t be incorrect, but it’s also reductive: Yes, it’s a strategy game, but it’s also part management sim, part visual novel, and part role-player. Added all together, you get one whole awesome.
A Good Match For: History buffs. Fans of meaty strategy games with very few administrative tasks. Conquerors.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a breezy tutorial; though easier to pick up than its predecessor, Crusader Kings II is still more complex than most games.
Supergiant’s Greek mythology-themed Hades was forged in the hellfire of roguelikes. That means, like many other genre standouts, you’ll die (a lot) as you repeatedly run through a tiered dungeon full of randomized enemies, slowly accruing level-ups and making incremental progress with each round. But Hades puts a spin on a time-tested formula by betting big on narrative. You play as Prince Zagreus, the son of the god of the dead. Your goal, ostensibly, is to escape the underworld—and your father’s cruel, iron-fisted reign. On your quest, in classic Homerian fashion, you’re assisted by the Olympian gods (Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and the like). As you play you get to better know these deities and other members of the Greek mytheme. Every character has a believable, fleshed-out relationship with Zagreus, one that pushes forward with every run. In Hades, playing doesn’t just earn you more skill points or better weapons. You also earn a really, really great story.
A Good Match For: Fans of roguelikes, action games, isometric RPGs, dating sims, Greek mythology, and any prior games in Supergiant’s oeuvre.
Not A Good Match For: The easily frustrated. Those who don’t like frenetic, fast-paced action games. Sisyphus.
Read our review, and our piece about why everyone’s so freakin’ hot.
Cities: Skylines first launched in 2015 as a terrific if slightly wonky city-builder. Sure, the traffic mechanic might’ve been busted, but it captured the minutiae of urban planning—zoning districts, plotting plumbing, building bike lanes, fine-tuning tax policy—unlike anything else. In the years since, Skylines has become the best city-building game around. Patches ironed out many of the kinks. Expansions introduced winter weather, night-and-day transitions (complete with glorious sunsets), and enough public transit options to make any progressive urbanist weep in joy.
But the real evolution came from the mod community. Enterprising modders built on and improved nearly every facet of Skylines. You can download graphical update mods, custom buildings, expanded maps, and tweaked and streamlined game systems. There’s even one that automatically bulldozes abandoned buildings, effectively removing the most tedious part of the game. The result is a city-building game that also gives you a taste of playing god.
A Good Match For:NUMTOTS, urbanists, city planners, and fans of SimCity (not the 2013 debacle).
Not A Good Match For: Minimalists—this is one complex, intricate game.
What more is there to say? It’s The Sims! The fourth installment of Maxis’s long-running life simulator came out in 2014 and, through a seemingly nonstop string of updates and patches, has only improved with every passing year. Last year’s collegiate expansion, in particular, captures how and why this entry continually resonates: This is life. It’s messy and unpredictable, and you have no idea how your Sims might react in various situations. But in that too-real approximation of life exists limitless potential. In all of video games, few character creators are more in-depth. You can direct your characters how you want (mostly), and shape their surrounding environment how you please (mostly). And in a marked improvement over previous entries—one that further captures the whims of real life—your Sims can both multitask and feel emotion.
A Good Match For: Wannabe gods.
Not A Good Match For: Impatient players: The Sims 4 is slow-moving, but once you get in the groove, it’s near-impossible to put down.
There’s no shortage of ambition in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Geralt of Rivia’s latest adventure is massive, a world you can get lost in for hours and still have plenty to do. There’s a ton for die-hard Witcher fans to enjoy, but you don’t need to have played a Witcher game to enjoy the heck out of this one. While many games these days have sprawling landscapes, The Witcher 3 is utterly dense. Every nook and cranny is filled with memorable characters, clever writing, and rewards for curious players.
The main story is as thrilling as it is emotionally draining, and the side quests are actually worth doing. Since its release in 2015, The Witcher 3 has gotten a ton of free updates and improvements along with two terrific paid expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. The full experience is now even bigger, richer, and better than ever.
A Good Match For: Open-world fans, especially those who enjoyed Skyrim but were disappointed by the combat. In The Witcher 3, fighting is nearly as enjoyable as exploration.
Not a Good Match For: People who value their time and social life, anyone who wants a game they can finish in a handful of hours.
In the six years since Civilization V came out, we managed to review it not once but twice. That’s how much these games lend themselves to playing and replaying, and Civ VI is no different. The latest entry adds a lot of new ideas to the Firaxis’s tried-and-true formula, and while some new ideas work better than others, the whole is as usual more than the sum of its parts. The mechanical tweaks and refinements are wrapped up in a subtle, board-game-like aesthetic that is as pleasing on your twentieth hour as it was on your tenth. We’ll be playing this game for years.
A Good Match For:Civ fans, people who have never played a Civ game, basically anyone who doesn’t actively hate Civ.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone who actively hates Civ.
In 2010, Square Enix launched Final Fantasy XIV Online, and it was just the worst—buggy, over-complicated, unfinished; a mess. The developers spent three years rebuilding the game from the ground up, and the end result is one of the finest massively multiplayer online role-playing games ever made. It’s everything fans love about Final Fantasy—lush artwork, strong story, gorgeous music—only bigger, all wrapped around a traditional MMO framework. It’s that Square Enix polish that sets it apart from its competitors, earning it a spot in this list.
A Good Match For: Fans of fantasy role-playing video games looking to take the massively multiplayer plunge. The original Final Fantasy XIV was a tangled mess of conflicting ideas, when all players wanted was a standard MMO game with the familiar features of a Final Fantasy game. That’s exactly what A Realm Reborn is.
Not a Good Match For: Folks afraid of monthly subscriptions. Despite the MMORPG genre as a whole moving towards free-to-play payment models, Final Fantasy XIV stands firm by its monthly subscription plan.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a supremely entertaining and consistently surprising role-playing game, one that expands and improves upon almost everything about its already fantastic predecessor. It may appear to be just another rote fantasy world at first blush, but the more you explore, the more interesting it becomes. Between the complex and rewarding turn-based combat and the branching, open-ended quests and side-stories, Original Sin 2 gives players an uncommon level of freedom to tell their own stories. And that’s not to mention the elaborate Game Master mode, which lets you write and build campaigns for your friends to work through together. Time and again you’ll find yourself trying outlandish things just to see if they’ll work. Most of the time, they will.
A Good Match For: Anyone who liked the first game, fans of the Ultima series and other similar CRPGs from which Divinity draws inspiration.
Not A Good Match For: Anyone hoping for a more action-packed RPG, those who don’t like complicated or challenging games.
Just a man and a dog, looking to make a delivery. That’s how it all begins, anyway. But Kentucky Route Zero quickly becomes a mystical adventure through a land left behind by time, an odyssey in magical realism that feels grand and mysterious in a way that very, very few modern video games can muster. What started episodically is now, as of earlier this year, officially complete. Unlike the tapestry of roads that connect our cities and coasts, Kentucky Route Zero doesn’t always tell you where it’s taking you. The narrative is really about the journey, not the destination. It’s not like anything you’ve ever played. For that alone, you should try it.
A Good Match For: Anyone looking for something different. Those who still believe there’s magic hidden somewhere off the interstate.
Not A Good Match For: Those looking for a bunch of complex game mechanics—Kentucky Route Zero is a point-and-click adventure game, and a fairly simple one at that.
Undertale might look like a retro-style JRPG, but it’s unusually forward-thinking. As a human stuck in a world of monsters, you decide whether you want to win encounters with wanton violence or clever context-based interactions (talking, joking, petting, etc). Undertale keeps track of everything you do; it’s paying very close attention, and will often express that attention in surprising ways. Every life you take ultimately has consequences. Despite those grim trappings, Undertale can be an incredibly warm, fuzzy, and funny game. Whether you slaughter or befriend everyone (or walk a middle path), the writing in this game is top-tier, the soundtrack is second-to-none, and the plot hides a treasure trove of secrets that players still haven’t fully uncovered.
A Good Match For: Lovers of smart video game stories, fans of games that subvert expectations, people who’ve ever felt even a single pang of loneliness.
Not A Good Match For: People who hate shoot-’em-ups and tough boss battles (Undertale’s combat system has elements of both), those who aren’t fond of reading dialogue, haters of lo-fi pixel art.
“Be curious on your journey!” proclaims one of the characters in Outer Wilds. No line could sum it up better. At the onset, your silent alien hero is given a rickety spaceship and sent off to explore the universe with a single goal: Go on an adventure. Roughly 20 minutes later, the universe explodes, and you wake up on your home planet as if nothing ever happened. Soon you’ll find yourself ticking off goals and jotting down questions: Why is the universe exploding? How did that ancient alien race go extinct? What’s up with that planet that keeps disappearing when you try to land on it? And is it possible to save the universe? Outer Wilds mixes the exploration of Metroid with the time loop of Majora’s Mask to brilliant effect, and it culminates in one of the most satisfying endings we’ve ever seen in a video game.
A Good Match For: Curious gamers, anyone who loves the idea of getting into a space ship and exploring the cosmos.
Not a Good Match For: Impatient people, people who need combat in their games, people who hate finicky controls.
The games on this list are all great PC games. But of all the platforms in our collection of The Bests, the PC has been around the longest and therefore has the largest back catalogue. There are decades of fantastic PC games to choose from, and if you own a PC you’d be remiss if you didn’t go through the classics and play the best ones. Thankfully, we’ve got two lists to help you out. In 2013 our readers helped us make an exhaustive megalist of the best classic PC games of all time. Then in 2015, we made our own list of the 24 best classic PC games.
How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:
Update 10/20/2022: Total Warhammer II makes way for Total Warhammer III, Minecraft has been put back in, and we’ve added 2022's break-out hit Vampire Survivors, alongside stellar narrative adventure, Scarlet Hollow.
Update 9/16/2021: Gone is the 12-game limit! To that end, we’ve re-adding one of the greats (Total War: Warhammer II) alongside some newcomers: Hitman 3, Disco Elysium, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon. No cuts save for Hitman 2, which basically exists inside Hitman 3 anyway.
Update 10/5/2020:Crusader Kings II steps aside to make room for its smarter, younger sibling, Crusader Kings III, while Total War: Warhammer II forgoes its spot for Hades.
Update 6/10/2020: We’ve given Overwatch and Return of the Obra Dinn the boot to make room for two modern classics: The Sims 4 and Cities: Skylines.
Update 12/2/2019: We’ve added Outer Wilds and removed XCOM 2.
Update 11/30/2018: We’ve added Return of the Obra Dinn and Hitman 2 in place of The Witness and Hitman.
Update 11/10/2017: Another update to our trickiest list: we’ve added Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Total War: Warhammer II while removing Doom and Inside.
Update 12/2/2016: Big changes come to the PC list! We’ve added DOOM, Inside, Hitman, and Civilization VI while removing MGSV, StarCraft 2, Divinity: Original Sin and Civilization V.
Update 6/24/2016: Crusader Kings II and Overwatch make it onto the list, while Total War: Shogun 2 and Portal 2 exit. Rest easy, Wheatley. You had a good run.
Update 2/22/2016: We’ve added XCOM 2 and The Witness and removed Heroes of the Storm and XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
Update 10/29/2015: The list gets another shake-up. We’ve added Metal Gear Solid V, Undertale, and Divinity: Original Sin: Enhanced Edition in the place of Counter-Strike GO, Minecraft, and Pillars of Eternity.
Update 7/22/2015: We’ve shaken the list up with three new entries: Pillars of Eternity, The Witcher 3 and Heroes of the Storm take the place of Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and DOTA 2.
Update 11/25/2014: Fall 2014 brings with it a single swap: Dragon Age: Inquisition knocks off its predecessor Dragon Age: Origins. (Though you should still probably play Origins if you haven’t, because it’s really good.)
Update 8/6/2014: The list gets a shake-up: say goodbye to Half Life 2, Titanfall and Gone Home and hello to Dota 2, Counter-Strike: GO and Kentucky Route Zero. We’ve also reset the comments to allow for new debate and discussion.
Update 4/10/14: We’ve called in an orbital drop and replaced Battlefield 3 with Titanfall.
Update 12/9/13: At the end of the year comes a sizable update to the PC bests list. Gone are FTL, The Witcher 2, Team Fortress 2 and Far Cry 3 and in their place are Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Dragon Age: Origins, Gone Home and Portal 2.
Update 07/24/13: It’s a long overdue update for the PC platform, with four games leaving and four coming onto the list. Skyrim—which was out when this list debuted—jumps onto the Bests because of the post-release addition of Steam Workshop, which lets you seamlessly access and install hundreds of the awesome mods available for the game. It’s joined by XCOM: Enemy Unknown, FTL and Far Cry 3. Wave good-bye to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Dirt 2, Mass Effect 2 and Bejeweled 3.
Want more of the best games on each system? Check out our complete directory:
Note: While all of these games are available through some digital service or other, if you buy any of them through the retail links in this post, our parent company may get a small share of the sale through the retailers’ affiliates program.