Updated: September 2017
What are the best PC games? With dozens of new titles releasing each month, plus a Steam games back catalogue longer than one of Dhalsim's arms, it's a tough question to answer – and it's equally tough knowing which are deserving of your precious gaming time. Well, fear not, because we're here to help.
Keep coming back for everything else you need to know about PC games.
What you'll find below is a list of what we consider to be the best PC games to play at present. Some are new, some are slightly older, all are brilliant – and we've got a wide range of genres covered, so there's something for all tastes.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 | What Remains of Edith Finch | Dishonored 2 | Overwatch | Dark Souls III | XCOM 2 | Grand Theft Auto V | The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt | Elite: Dangerous | Hearthstone | Counter-Strike: Global Offensive | Alien: Isolation | The Walking Dead | World of Warcraft | BioShock | League of Legends | Portal | Braid | Minecraft | Cities: Skylines | Her Story | The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim | Rocket League | Total War: Attila | Kerbal Space Program
The best PC games to play right now
The best bits of Divinity: Original Sin 2 are the modes that most will forget to tell you about. Did you know it runs an excellent sideline in PvP multiplayer, for instance? There, an industry-best turn-based combat engine becomes the basis for an arena battler reminiscent of XCOM or Mordheim, and more than a match for both. It’s a war of the elements, where a well-placed poison gas bomb can turn an innocuous torch into an explosive inferno that consumes half the battlefield. At least until someone extinguishes it, exploiting the smoke to hide their party from enemy arrows. It’s a tremendously silly simulation in which the very blood you spill can be weaponised, electrified to stun your opponents.
Then there’s the Game Master mode: an attempt to synthesise everything good about tabletop RPGs that succeeds by pushing mechanics into the background. Don’t want combat to slow down an adventure? Simply roll the dice to decide who wins. Dialogue not doing it for you? Have your Game Master type a new option in on the fly, or just chat over Discord. So long as you’re having a good time, Divinity doesn’t mind - it’s entirely in service to the story you’re telling with your mates.
The solo and co-op campaign is the only part that’s familiar - employing the same mix of playful dialogue, robust simulation, and rock-hard-yet-satisfying combat as the original, er, Original Sin. But even there Larian are pushing things forward with highly specific character backgrounds that grant you unique motivations and ways to move through the world. I’d recommend playing as the Red Prince, but hey - if there’s one thing Original Sin 2 won’t do, it’s tell you what to do.
Firewatch, Tacoma, Proteus, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture - there are so many wonderful walking simulators out there that the genre really deserves a less terrible name. And none more so than What Remains of Edith Finch, which is the finest example yet of what we’ll creatively call ‘story-driven games that are light on traditional forms of action, focusing instead on immersion, artistry and emotional response’. Catchy.
The basic narrative is familiar - child returns to her family home and uncovers lost truths - as is the fact that you’re alone in this world, interacting with the environment as opposed to other characters. But the delivery of these things is a class above. You discover the fate of the various members of the ‘cursed’ Finch family through isolated vignettes, the variety and creativity of which is masterful. In one you’re swooping through the skies as an owl hunting field mice, then you’re playing through the panels of a slasher movie comic book, then splashing about in a bath as a baby.
It all combines together in a perfectly pitched and paced journey through both the history of one family and the emotional baggage of one member. You’ll struggle to find any game more worthy of 90 minutes of your time.
Welcome to Karnaca! This Mediterranean-style architectural wonder and multicultural melting pot has everything you need to put the horrors of Dunwall behind you. Let our sun-baked streets melt away the memory of the sodden Victorian plague city that featured in the first Dishonored. Sure, we’ve got man-eating insects that make nests in corpses, but at least they’re not rats.
Arkane’s stellar stealth series has a new star – not just in Emily Kaldwin, the put-upon princess promoted to protagonist alongside Corvo – but in the meticulous Southern metropolis the studio have put together. Their appetite for vertiginous, detailed level design seems only amplified in this ambitious sequel, and any one of Dishonored 2’s missions can claim hours through secrets and side attractions alone.
There are less than a handful of stealth games that don’t have you reaching for the quickload key once you’re spotted, and this is one of them – an immersive sim that’s thrilling and inventive whether you’re shortcutting past enemies or cutting their throats.
It would be folly to suggest that the biggest, most famous, and most talked-about games are automatically the best. But when you look at the place Overwatch has claimed for itself in PC gaming culture – in YouTube plays, on Twitch streams, in Twitter jokes – it’s clear that curious Heroes of the Storm fans aren’t the only bunch backing Blizzard’s latest.
What players have latched onto are the vibrant personalities driving Overwatch (you'll see what we mean with our guide to the best Overwatch characters). Blizzard loosely divide their roster into Offence, Defence, Tank, and Support, but in reality that structure is so freeform that – like in Heroes of the Storm – each hero is essentially a game unto themselves. Soldier: 76 and Genji are both technically Offense characters but couldn’t be farther apart in playstyle: a COD-style mid-ranged grenade slinger and a ninja-star throwing wall-vaulter with dramatically different strengths and weaknesses. That's to say nothing of Mercy, the flying heal-beam factory capable of mass resurrection.
A match rarely tops ten minutes, but it’ll take hundreds of hours to know the ins and outs of every Overwatch character. Winning is about rhythm and momentum, and the resulting beat is one you’ll play on repeat.
There’s only one reason the Souls series didn’t already feature on this list. Dark Souls: Prepare to Die was a sloppy PC port – difficult to recommend without a slew of suggested mods as accompaniment. FromSoftware’s first flawed attempt, made at the behest of their fans, didn’t deter them from returning – better for their mistakes, tighter, and more familiar each time. Remind you of anything?
Dark Souls III is the most confident outing yet from director Hidetaka Miyazaki, pieced together in the knowledge that an industry is in awe of his team’s twisted level design – not to mention their paradigm of frustration and triumph. Lothric is a Germanic fantasy world of long shadows and a longer learning curve, in which you’ll cut your teeth on strange diversions and side-bosses. You’ll build a sense of shared suffering with perfect strangers who scrawl messages in the stone and, once you emerge on the other side, enjoy an unequaled celebration of muscle memory and persistence. It’ll be a victory won alongside countless, mostly unseen others, but one you’ve won for yourself.
XCOM 2 is all about the squeeze. No longer a state-sanctioned effort but a guerrilla force, your anti-alien league rarely has time to sweep the map for its last remaining sectoids. Instead, you’re often subject to an unforgiving turn timer, a distant evac spot, and the threat of reinforcements from the incumbent ADVENT administration. This brave sequel encourages a callousness from its commanders, demanding utilitarian maths that’ll have you weighing up the value of a squad of rookies against an incendiary grenade.
Both distinct from and outright harder than Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2 and its mods nonetheless return that sense of unfamiliarity that frightened so effectively in the first game. Some monstrosity will appear in your peripheral vision, indulge in a little introductory dance, and then a couple of turns later do something awful and unpredictable to your favourite grenadier. You can do all the research you like back at base, but until you've experienced all the horrors for yourself, there'll be nasty surprises galore.
This is the most accomplished and robust turn-based tactics game you can play right now, set against the most convincing backdrop Meier and his studio have assembled since Alpha Centauri. The joy of Firaxis' campaign is in peeking behind the facade ADVENT's wizards have constructed – and the horror in deciding to leave someone in the cold-blooded embrace of the snakepeople so that your crack sniper can get to evac. You probably won't like the version of you that XCOM 2 fosters.
On top of all of this, The War of the Chosen expansion is brilliant, stuffing the campaign with characters and voiceover from former Star Trek: TNG actors. It feels warmer, friendlier in that way, but it’s a ploy: all the better to break you by ripping new squad relationships apart. It’s also a bit busy. You’ll want to see the sights of vanilla XCOM 2 before delving into the particular pleasures of its unusually meaty add-on.
We often judge how far our medium has come by seeing how closely games can replicate the reality we live in, and Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V delivers by the stolen truckful. Walking around Los Santos is like a trip to one of America’s great cities, and not just because iconic LA locations are almost perfectly cloned. Despite the obvious parody in every character and event, the world of Los Santos feels the most genuine place in all of videogames.
And it’s home to something special: a crime epic that involves three unique characters and a series of missions with incredible, endless variety. From stealing WMDs with a submarine to replicating the plot of The Italian Job, there’s an astonishingly broad collection of activities to get involved in. Furthermore, side missions will have you hunting through celebrities’ bins, jumping out of a plane on the back of an ATV, and… erm... gunning down aliens.
All of that is to say nothing of GTA Online, which replaces the narrative of the campaign with a variety of online modes, crime jobs, and events. Thundering through the streets in your own pimped-out supercar, your buddies in tow Fast-and-Furious-style, is the ultimate GTA fantasy. But the crowning achievement is Heists, which takes the idea of the campaign’s iconic set-pieces and turns them into huge, ambitious, cooperative missions.
There’s one key thing you need to know about The Witcher 3: it has the best quests in all of modern role-playing games. While its biggest triple-A competitor, Dragon Age: Inquisition, took a lot from the MMO-style quest structure, Wild Hunt is all about story. Almost every quest is an excuse for CD Projekt Red to reveal more about its open world and Geralt himself. Even a simple monster contract can transform into an epic, multi-hour adventure full of emotionally-resonant encounters, betrayal, twists, and challenging battles.
Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine, the game's two major expansions, add even more without dropping quality – elaborate, morally challenging adventures that, despite their epic nature, remain surprisingly intimate. The core game and its expansion are lessons in how to design quests, elevated by superb writing and complex, believable characters. The Witcher modding scene is healthy, too.
“Here’s the galaxy. Now go out there and do what you want.”
Elite: Dangerous is a mind-bogglingly huge space sandbox, where you can shoot off to Earth or go all the way to the galactic centre, making your way there however you want. Fancy selling slaves and contraband? You’re a bad person but so be it. Maybe, instead, you can hunt down those bad people as a bounty hunter? Or just embark on legal trade deals?
It’s gorgeous, too. From the exceptionally detailed, varied space stations and ships, to the terrifying suns that you’ll drop out of hyperspace near – everything is huge and striking and it seems crazy that it’s all inside a single game.
Patches have made things more cooperative and story-driven, with various factions vying for power. Plus a season of Elite updates, Horizons, has changed everything with the addition of countless planets that you can land on and explore. The mind only continues to boggle harder.
One of the most friendly free-to-play games out there, it’s more than possible to play Hearthstone without paying a pennycent, and still have a lot of fun. As the bomb that blew digital card games wide open, it’s already got quite the legacy, but it’s also an impressive game in its own right.
Combining that signature Blizzard polish, their endless archive of art, and a little bit of Magic: The Gathering, the small Team 5 crafted a nigh-addictive game of chance, skill, and strategy. Perhaps the best thing about Hearthstone is how much it relies purely on your brain – it’s all deck-building, knowledge of what your opponents could be playing, planning ahead, reacting properly and knowing the odds. Little manual dexterity is required and that's a rarity in popular esports.
There’s an obscene number of resources available for getting better at Hearthstone, as a massive playerbase funds streamers, YouTubers, and fanbases. It will take a lot of regular play to gather a decent collection of Hearthstone cards, but as your skill improves it becomes easier to ‘go infinite’.
When it comes to shooters, we don’t really do ‘casual’ on PC. Sure, you can go play your console shooters on Steam, but the real scene for competitive FPS is the glorious Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. You will buy it, you will play it, and you will be terrible. But it doesn’t matter. Mastering its unique flavour of fast, twitchy, precise gunplay is a true pilgrimage for many PC gamers, and climbing the leaderboards of CS:GO is a genuine achievement.
Global Offensive is also the best and most esports friendly Counter-Strike has ever been. Not only is it now part of the Steam ecosystem where there’s weapon skin drops all over the place and various cool meta stuff going on, but at a fundamental level it’s beautifully balanced and perfectly designed. Beyond the classic small-scale single-life shootouts, there’s a great variety of modes that make CS:GO the most diverse Counter-Strike game. Check out Arms Race, where players must score kills to win a new weapon – the first player to use every weapon and score a final kill with the knife wins.
The very best film tie-in game ever made, Alien: Isolation should be on your hard drive for the environment alone. If you ever wanted to visit the set of the classic 1979 sci-fi horror film, this is your chance: you’ll be able to explore a ship of the same class of the Nostromo, with all its clicking computer terminals, humming fluorescent lights, and scraping iris vents. From there, you’ll be dumped in a massive sprawling space station that evokes the terror of greats like System Shock 2, but with one important difference: at nearly all times you’re being stalked by a single, powerful, unkillable xenomorph.
As a true survival horror game you can’t fight your enemy in Alien: Isolation. It’s all about outwitting and avoiding it as you attempt to complete the puzzle-like game objectives – and doing so is an exercise in freezing terror. Developers Creative Assembly have produced some of the best artificial intelligence in all of gaming: a creature that actually learns and adapts to how you behave. If it discovers you hiding in lockers, it knows to hunt through every locker. If it sees you jump out an air vent, it will begin to crawl through the ductwork in search of you.
The xenomorph is out of sight for the most part, meaning you’ll spend much of your time listening out for the game’s excellent audio cues, and looking at your motion scanner in perpetual fear of a little dot. Alien: Isolation is tension at its finest.
Recent years have seen Telltale resurrect the adventure game format for the popular market once more. But rather than illogical puzzles and pixel-hunting gameplay, Telltale have been creating interactive dramas with the emphasis on choice and consequence. The Walking Dead has been their strongest tale so far, forcing players to consider what’s best for the wellbeing of their band of survivors as they attempt to fend off zombies, bandits, and starvation.
Beyond the consequences of every action, decision, and sentence you utter, The Walking Dead is an emotional machine that skews your judgement by introducing Clementine, a young girl who begins to see main character Lee as a father figure. As time goes by you’ll likely find your decisions influenced by what you feel is best for your surrogate daughter, rather than yourself or the rest of your team. At times it may feel like there’s no real decision at all: instinct takes over, and you’ll murder and maim to protect her without realising there was a far more peaceful resolution available. It may be a point-and-click adventure by definition but The Walking Dead feels more like a parenting simulator than anything else.
The second season of The Walking Dead explores life for a slightly older Clementine, and while not evoking quite the same strong protective feelings as season one, it's a great tale of being forced to grow up fast as the world goes to hell around you.
The only subscription MMO that ever managed to get it right, World of Warcraft is now legendary in terms of its lasting effect on the industry, and its huge number of dedicated players. Legion proved there was plenty of additions still to be made to the formula, and it’s pulling the game through a renaissance of quality and global interest.
It’s easier than ever to get involved too. You can start a character at a high level to be playing quickly with veterans. The ten levels of adventuring that you do go through are easy to recommend as a co-op RPG in a massive open world. At endgame there are dozens of things to do, each with their own progression paths and focuses.
If you ever run out of time, money, or patience with it, there’s usually not much of a break before the next World of Warcraft expansion comes out and shakes everything up again, along with another ten levels of story, zones, monsters, heroes and villains. Rather than just one game it has become a decade-long lifestyle choice, providing for story-lovers, hardcore raiders, and puzzle finders along with every other niche imaginable.
System Shock 2 advocates will tell you that BioShock’s atmosphere isn’t as potent, nor its corridors as complex. But Irrational’s smash hit is elevated by Rapture: an impossible underwater city held together only by strength of concept, introduced with hypnotic finesse. Once it’s hooked you in with the expertly-choreographed intro, BioShock goes on introducing instant icons – Andrew Ryan, splicers, the Little Sisters – with the flair of Valve or Kubrick. Irrational paint with both horror and wonder, and often mix the paints in surprising, memorable moments.
The Big Daddy is the most important fish in the tank. You and him are the two catalysts crashing through Irrational’s neatly arranged systems, setting off alarms, forcing factions to collide. Your toolkit of traps and tricks encourages ambushes, and those chaotic encounters are one big reason Rapture feels like an all-too-real place.
As far as the BioShock series goes we shold give props, too, to Infinite. Its world is less engaging but every bit as beautiful and conceptually rich, and its narrative payoff is one of the biggest gutpunches in all of gaming.
Obviously a MOBA has to make our list, but the correct one to be playing is the one your mates are into. Be it League of Legends, Dota 2, or Heroes of the Storm, the best MOBA to go for is the one you have friends to play with on the reg, and who can show you the ropes. (If you do fancy getting involved, check out our League of Legends beginners guide.)
We’ve picked League of Legends for a few reasons. It’s arguably the most popular game in the world – there are upwards of 20 million players sitting down to play it every day. It has a massive community that dwarfs any other, and a development studio that has been purely focused on it for many years.
It’s also a total triumph, taking what was a fairly cynical free-to-play title and turning it into a powerhouse of esports, design, balance, and skill-based gameplay. It’s paved the way for a thousand poor imitators who don’t have a hope of catching up due to the pure amount of money Riot Games pour into the game every single day. From music videos to short animated productions, to some of the best player interaction in the industry today, Riot know how to spend their millions (probably billions) of dollars.
Everybody knows now that the cake was a lie. By now, much of Portal has been meme-ified beyond all meaning. Going back to it, though, is like hearing Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy in context for the first time. Portal remains the minimalist distillation of everything Valve knew about single-player games.
It's almost as if Half-Life has been stripped back to its naked frame: a series of self-contained environments with a problem to solve. The idea of a physics gun, with the entry portal attached to one button and the exit portal tied to the other, was both immediate and cerebral. On top of that, writers Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek give us GLaDOS: an AI with a character arc to rival any other developer’s flesh-and-bone creations. Over only a few hours she shifts from polite, to malevolent, to pleading – and voice actress Ellen McLain delivers belly laughs the whole way.
Appearances can be deceptive. For example, Braid is a puzzler, not a platformer. Still, designer Jonathan Blow took more than a moveset from Mario. As with Nintendo’s best work, nothing is repeated throughout Braid, and the rules of its time-rewind key are turned on their head with each new level.
Soon enough you’ll be meddling with the rhythm of enemy patrols, applying knowledge gained from previous puzzles in strange ways, and marvelling at your own ingenuity. Braid encourages you to be clever and to do so in your own time – leaving you to retrieve most of its jigsaw pieces in an order that suits you. You’re given too much room to move to ever feel properly stuck… unless you embark on the journey of retrieving every last one.
Pretentious poems bookend the challenges, but they can be ignored for the most part as the real story is told through the puzzles – leading to one final reversal that flips the story of a princess rescue upside-down like an hourglass. Braid is smart, yes, but better than that, it’ll give you the space and support to be smart yourself.
Forget Minecraft the phenomenon for a minute. Remember Minecraft the game? Where a hundred survival sims on Steam now tell us to eke out an existence, Minecraft actually gave us reason to – pristine new oceans and our own skylines, all waiting for towers and lake houses (and the planting of endless Minecraft seeds) to fill them.
Developer Notch experimented with freeform creation before in Wurm Online, but here was something different and immediate. In Minecraft you could pop a rock out of place as quickly as you could think to do it. And there was no need for quantity surveyors in a world built from regular quadrilaterals; planning the foundations of a new building was a simple matter of, well, blocking it out.
There will always be an impressionistic beauty to those procedurally generated mountains. Minecraft, uniquely, is about frontiersmanship: pushing back the dark and finding home. And let's not forget the joys of redstone programming – Notch’s passion runs through the game like a randomly-placed ravine.
More than just a cure for the SimCity blues, Cities: Skylines is the most impressive city-builder of the last decade. Massive, detailed, and absent pf the awful limitations of Maxis’ last attempt, developers Colossal Order gave prospective city planners everything they could possibly want.
Its greatest strength, however, is undoubtedly how much it has embraced mods. Even before launch, modders were putting together their own buildings and tweaks, and now the Steam Workshop page is filled to the brim with everything from complex intersections and towering skyscrapers to entirely new maps.
Skylines expansions have introduced a day and night cycle, a whole new commercial sector for hotels, bars, and tourist attractions, and greater control over the city budget. Of course, modders have been busy making lots of new stuff for it as well. They might never stop.
Her Story is a mystery contained within hundreds of out-of-sequence clips from a series of police interviews. A man was murdered, and over the course of several months, his wife is interviewed. To solve the mystery, you watch the clips – it’s as simple as that.
The catch is that the database can only be searched using keywords, and then it will only display a few clips at a time, and some of them might not tell you anything helpful at all. So you have to listen and watch closely, remember important words or phrases, and then search for them later to build up a picture of the events. Oh, and at no point are you told if the theory you’ve come up with off the back of your investigation is right or wrong.
Holding it all together is actress Viva Seifert, the only voice you’ll hear and face you’ll see in any of the clips. Her tone, body language, and word choice are all clues, and you’ll learn to hang off every word she utters. Ultimately, the game is about interpreting the clips to build a story, not really solving a crime, and it's so full of twists and turns that you’ll keep questioning everything, long after you’ve finished.
RPGs are so diverse these days that distinct sub-genres have been carved within the larger genre. If you’re looking for astonishing story and quest design then see The Witcher 3. If you want great combat encounters then try Divinity: Original Sin. If it’s freedom of choice and exploration then Skyrim has you catered better than anything else.
Bethesda are masters of open-world design and the snowy lands of Skyrim are proof. From its variety of unique towns and villages, to its cave networks and abandoned fortresses, not one single section of Skyrim feels lazy. That's at least one compelling reason to explore but you'll find many more as you wander around the lands. There are quests in every nook and cranny, be that simply helping someone find a sword, or solving the case of a haunted house. You can choose to get involved in the most complex stories (the main story or the civil war raging in Skyrim), or ignore that in favour of more grassroots heroism. Without a character and reputation to live up to, your actions in Skyrim feel truly your own.
Beyond what Bethesda created, this remains a true PC great thanks to the Skyrim modding community. There are thousands of mods – from graphics improvements to whole new quest campaigns – available from Steam Workshop and the extensive Skyrim Nexus website. Bethesda promised the randomly-generated side-quests would make Skyrim endless. Instead, it’s the community’s dedication.
Rocket-powered cars playing football – isn’t the future a wonderful thing? Rocket League pits players and AI against each other in teams with a single aim: get an oversized ball into an oversized goal.
To do that, you’ll boost along the pitch, smash into other cars, perform flips and kicks, drive on the ceiling and, most of the time, end up in a grotesque orgy of spheres and steel as every car collides in an attempt to knock the ball away from or into the goal. It’s messy and chaotic but rewards precision and teamwork.
The more you play the more rewards you get. Want to put a sombrero on a car? Go for it. Want to drive something that looks like Kit from Knight Rider spewing rainbows out of its exhaust? You can do that. It’s all aesthetic, however, as Rocket League always remains a game of skill no matter how silly your car looks.
In Total War: Attila the series is once again on form and in a setting ripe for epic conflicts. You take up the mantle of either the leader of a tribe or an empire during the final days of antiquity, with the once mighty Roman Empire split into two struggling factions, and the threat of the Huns bearing down on everyone.
It’s all very apocalyptic. Nobody is safe and no borders are impenetrable. Everywhere there are wandering tribes, displaced and willing to fight to find a new home, or nomadic aggressors burning everything around them. And this means one very important thing: there’s always someone to fight. It really does feel like total war.
Attila is the most aggressive game in the series and for that it avoids the stagnation that plagued the original Rome II's Grand Campaign. There’s always a threat needing to be dealt with, or a new mission egging you on, seducing you into invading yet another province. It’s the end of the world and everyone is going down fighting.
Kerbal Space Program is a game about building rockets and flinging them into space. But perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it’s a game about fighting physics. Is your rocket too heavy? Do you not have enough thrust? What have you done wrong, because it’s guaranteed to be something, at least in those early experiments.
And that’s what makes a successful mission so wonderful – you’ve flipped the bird at physics, breaking free of the planet. All the work, all the failures, all the engineering: it’s worth it when you finally succeed. Even if you experience another failure, all it means is you’ve learned something new, and from there been given an opportunity to improve your design with countless rocket parts.
This has all been bolstered by an inventive community of Kerbal modders that have, since the days of Early Access, been busy making more tools and parts for you to use. And during a time when we’r planning actual trips to Mars, here's a game that mimics and celebrates the incredible ingenuity that’s involved in spaceflight, helping us to appreciate it.
And that's the lot, our heart and soul poured out for the world to read. What do you think? A solid list, or a collective losing of the plot? Let us know in the comments.