Deciding on the very best indie games on PC is a task that involves some painful exclusion. The great indie boom triggered by digital distribution a decade ago turned out to be more of a Big Bang, firing small-team development into a plethora of directions that now defy simple categorisation. The sheer volume is intimidating, so we have plenty to choose from when compiling our list of the best indie games. Perhaps too much.
But we should take stock, from time to time, to appreciate everything publisher-less development has given us. Some of the games listed below were built in a weekend by first-time coders, while others were crafted by former triple-A creators who’ve instilled their independent work with the same technical standards. They barely have anything in common but a healthy dose of idiosyncrasy and ideas that make Steam worth spelunking and make our list of the best PC games.
The best indie games 2023 are:
This indie horror fishing game (you heard that right) made quite the splash earlier this year with its unique art style, compelling narrative, and fishing mechanics, making it equally parts terrifying and relaxing. Unravel a heart-breaking mystery by upgrading your fishing boat to explore new islands and chat to the residents, trawl for rare jewels and artifacts, and research new equipment. Dredge is a great Steam deck game, too!
This adventure game takes place in the real town of Norco, Louisiana as a search for your missing brother quickly spirals into a mystery that spans generations. Akin to games like Kentucky Route Zero and Beneath a Steel Sky, Norco’s stand out pixel art and powerful themes of capitalism, climate change, and the impact of our choices in the future make this one of best story games on PC.
As with most point and click games, the gameplay isn’t challenging, and the real adventure is experiencing the story through narration that appears on a side bar where you can determine your next move and find out more about your surroundings, whether that’s interacting with objects or talking to the characters you meet along the way.
This sandbox game hasn’t slowed in popularity since it arrived as the ‘2D Minecraft’ back in 2011. Mainly as you’re never short of something to do is this spellbinding indie game that you can make your own through setting objectives, such as building Terraria houses, fighting one of the many Terraria bosses, or even exploring the depths of the deadly dungeons.
Completing goals unlocks NPCs and you essentially build your own village to house them, with each NPC providing different benefits, such as a Wizard for potions or a Nurse for healing. If you reach the end, no problem, there’s an expert level that adds even more bosses, enemies, biomes, and items. Though Terraria certainly isn’t as relaxing as its blocky comparison, you can always try a spot of Terraria fishing to ease you in.
The Binding of Isaac Rebirth
A randomly generated action RPG with roguelike elements, The Binding of Isaac Rebirth is the sequel to the first game, which has the same premise. The game follows Isaac through an unknown world, as he makes a quick escape into a trap door hidden in his bedroom to flee his devout Christian mother hellbent on sacrificing him.
As Isaac, you acquire superhuman abilities and find hidden treasure as you fight off droves of enemies, discover secrets, and hopefully escape to safety. The maze of rooms and variations to creatures make this a tough game, but it’s worth scrappily making your way to the multiple endings the game has to offer.
If you’ve ever wanted to play through a tabletop roleplaying campaign with friends without needing a dungeon master to craft your story, Wildermyth is the perfect solution. As your unique cohort of heroes set out into the world, they encounter all sorts of adventures that shape their identity and personal narrative – and as each story is procedurally generated, you end up playing through a tale that’s totally unique.
Your characters age, fall in love, and eventually die, but you can keep their legacies alive in subsequent playthroughs. It’s a storytelling marvel, with beautiful papercraft art and endless replayability.
Inscryption is a card game at first glance, but there’s much more hiding under the surface. The initial gameplay is a mix between Slay The Spire and lane-based card games, though it tends towards the macabre as you need to sacrifice smaller animals to play bigger and better beasts to wipe out your opponent.
This unsettling atmosphere escalates as you begin to examine the creepy log cabin you’re playing in; Inscryption is also partially an escape room game where you must decipher cryptic clues to find your way out. Before long, it’s apparent that nothing is as it seems, and unravelling the mystery takes you on an unexpected journey.
The best thing about Inscryption is that once you’ve played through the campaign, you can keep playing. Opting into the beta for the free DLC, Kaycee’s Mod, turns the card game into a roguelike, adding new cards and events to keep the game feeling fresh – and handicaps to make each run more challenging to complete. If you like stories with conspiracies and dark secrets, Inscryption is well worth investigating.
Disco Elysium was arguably the best indie game of 2019. Dumping you into the soiled shoes of a detective after an amnesia-inducing night of drinking and immediately charging you with investigating a grizzly murder. With no traditional combat to speak of, Disco Elysium is all about wrestling with your own psyche in order to form the kind of detective you want to be, and then employing this fractured personality to get answers from suspects.
This wouldn’t work if it weren’t for some phenomenal writing, and in this respect Disco Elysium is a peerless RPG. With countless conversational threads to pick at in any given encounter, the fact that every single one of them is brimming with personality is what makes this detective game so special.
Valheim’s enchanting visual style and dreamlike Norse setting set it apart from the pack of co-op survival games. The survival mechanics are comparatively forgiving, so you can raise mead halls and roundhouses in relative tranquillity, watching the sunset wash across the sky as the mist rolls in.
Vikings in search of a challenge, though, can set sail across the procedurally generated wilderness, trudging through swamps and scrambling over freezing mountains to defeat a series of Valheim bosses in order to bring home hordes of trophies and gold. Just don’t forget that boar loves you.
Death’s Door is an action-adventure game inspired by classics like The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls. You play as a crow in charge of reaping the souls of monsters for the Reaping Commission Headquarters, a mysterious yet surprisingly bureaucratic organisation.
These monsters aren’t ready to give up their lives, and they’re ready to put up a fight in order to keep them. Make your way through dungeons, cemeteries, and overgrown ruins as you solve puzzles and defeat smaller enemies along the way.
Death’s Door’s beautiful visual style in combination with strong combat mechanics truly sets it apart. Enemies are tough to take down, but the difficulty is perfectly balanced; the combat feels fantastic as every slash of your sword has weight behind it.
Developer Supergiant’s latest is an impossibly moreish roguelike and one of 2020’s finest story games to boot. As Zagreus, the prince of the underworld, you’ll attempt a daring escape from your father’s domain – after each failed run you’ll grow stronger and more skilled at utilising your burgeoning arsenal.
The vicious, hard-as-nails combat is an absolute joy to experiment with, but it’s Hades’ cast of bickering gods that makes its cyclical nature sing. You’ll relish any chance to chat with your Olympian relatives, especially as doing so offers gameplay benefits and grants you a greater understanding of Supergiant’s refreshing take on Greek mythology.
There’s a lot of love for Harvest Moon among the PC community despite the series being exclusive to Nintendo consoles. That’s why Stardew Valley captured the hearts and minds of so many. A cute role-playing management game, it plays to the farming strengths of the popular Harvest Moon games, while simultaneously being its own brand of charming.
You’ll begin life in Stardew Valley with an inherited farm in dire need of repair. As you plant new crops and inject life into your land your focus will shift to exploration of the world around you. The valley is in similar need of loving attention, and it makes for the perfect project to unwind with night after night. While Stardew Valley is one of the best single player games, it’s also home to a marvellous co-op mode – in case you’re after some co-op games – and a place to experiment with the plethora of Stardew Valley mods.
Bursting with personality, Stardew Valley is an unmissable adventure for anyone craving the village life.
In a traditional RPG, you’d make a start by exploring the outskirts of a troubled town before you begin to bolster the arsenal of your chosen character. It’s a safe assumption that you’ll be solving any problems you encounter with fists, swords, or magical abilities. In Undertale, however, murder can be treated as a last resort – as we sincerely hope applies to you in real life.
This 16-bit indie is one of the best RPGs around, you can subdue, pacify, and even flirt with enemies that stand in your way. How you approach everything that stands in your way throughout the game actually impacts the story and how characters treat you in the future. Leave enemies alive and they’ll show up later and probably make friends with you. But, if you’d rather go with the usual bloody murder then that’s just as valid.
Speaking of the story, you play a kid who falls into the world of monsters, and then has to find a way to escape. What ensues is an endearing adventure that’s consistently well-written, full of memorable characters and one-liners you’ll trade with friends, and a wonderful soundtrack to boot.
The mountaineer that pulled at everyone’s heartstrings, Celeste wasn’t just one of the best indie games in recent years, it was our pick for the best PC game of 2018. Its pinpoint, simple controls make it an excellent and challenging platformer, while its narrative takes the genre to a whole new level.
You play as Madeline who has decided to conquer the icy mountain Celeste by reaching its summit. You’ll fail countless times to Celeste’s tricky levels, but thanks to a quick respawn time and some thoughtful messages of encouragement, Celeste spurs you on even when it gets tough. If the challenging gameplay of Celeste puts you off playing, then there’s no need to worry as there are a variety of assists you can turn on so you’re free to enjoy the story regardless of your skill level.
Thus ends our roundup of the best indie games on PC. Be sure to seek out our list of old PC games if you want to take that indie vibe one step further and go full hipster. With that list of cultural highlights done and dusted you’re free to go and play outside, or return to your favourite triple-A multiplayer games – whichever you prefer.