Eurogamer’s best games lists aim to guide you to the highest quality, most original, most exciting games around today. Each regularly updated list presents between 10 and 20 varied games that we think would make a fine foundation for any game collection.
With a history as long as video games themselves and a breadth and depth in its software catalogue that will never be rivalled by any console, there is no other gaming platform like the PC. Its demise at the hands of its more consumer-friendly – or at least, marketing-friendly – console rivals has been predicted many times, always falsely. In 2015, revitalised by digital distribution, immense global multiplayer communities and a booming indie scene, and with the industry’s worries about software piracy receding fast, it is arguably the most exciting and inarguably the most popular gaming platform in the planet. PC is where Minecraft and the MOBA revolution happened, and it encompasses everything from cutting-edge new technologies like virtual reality to retro-styled creative experiments that will run on any old laptop.
How can you possibly distil all this into a list of just 20 great games? It wasn’t easy, and while compiling this list we cursed our self-imposed limit many times. Even if you limit yourself to games that are easy to acquire and compatible with modern versions of Windows (we do), the list of cast-iron classics stretches all the way back to early-90s titles like Doom and beyond. The key was to focus on the most fun games to play today, rather than a more academic list of the greatest PC games in history. This is why the list is angled heavily towards the last decade or so of PC gaming. As much as we revere the likes of the original Deus Ex, we’d be lying if we said we’d wouldn’t rather boot up Skyrim in the here and now.
And though the list does include a few great multi-platform games like Far Cry 3 and Fez, our focus was primarily on the kind of experiences that are unique to, or most at home on, the PC: emergent online worlds, deep strategy games, intense simulations and ferociously competitive eSports. It’s true of all video games that they take on a life of their own after release, but it’s truer of PC games than most. This is gaming’s wild frontier; if you explore it, don’t expect to ever come back.
DayZ, which began life as a mod for the military sim Arma 2, is a phenomenon that launched its own genre – the open-world, massively multiplayer zombie survival game – and in turn spawned countless pale imitators. None have come close to matching the terrifying bleakness of DayZ’s ground-breaking, emergent gameplay though, where zombies are a constant menace but it’s the other players who represent the real danger. For an unfinished game with its fair share of bugs, the standalone version of DayZ has sold incredibly well, shifting over 3 million units in 13 months and propelling its creator Dean Hall to the heights of video game fame. We wouldn’t normally include a game still in early access in a list like this, but DayZ is electrifying to play, and a perfect example of the cutting-edge online gaming experiences you’ll only find on PC.
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls
Blizzard’s Diablo series has come to define the modern incarnation of the action-RPG genre, with its hallmark of heroes smashing their way through an endless array of enemies in pursuit of a equally generous supply of delicious loot. The intensity of its combat frenzy and the bottomless number-crunching appeal of its item game are without rival. Three years after its launch, and thanks largely to the release of the Reaper of Souls expansion which did so much to liberate the game from an unrewardingly grindy structure, Diablo 3 is a better game in every regard – and the patched-in improvements just keep on coming. With each change the dials are cranked up yet further and the mayhem gets magnified even more. This game goes up to 11.
Dota 2 isn’t a game, it’s an all-consuming hobby. With over 100 playable characters, countless item builds to think about and a metagame so vast you’ll struggle to keep up with it, your early days in Dota 2 are going to feel all kinds of overwhelming. But as you do start to learn new things with each match – and then discover that this process never really stops – you’ll understand what all the fuss is about. You’re going to enjoy Dota 2 because it’s a fantastic competitive experience, but you’ll also fall in love with the game because you’re constantly improving as you play it. That’s why you’ll stick around, and that’s what’ll keep you chasing perfection. It’s brilliant. (When it comes this particular strain of competitive team games, the choice between Dota 2 and the even more popular League of Legends is somewhat horses for courses – they’re both excellent, both rather intimidating, and the differences between them are both profound and subtle – but Dota 2 is the more played game among Eurogamer staff, contributors and friends, so it gets our vote.)
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
Only relatively recent incarnations of Grand Theft Auto can come close to touching the kind of ambition Bethesda Game Studios channels for its Elder Scrolls fantasy worlds. The snowbound setting of Skyrim remains a truly breathtaking role-playing environment – one that’s ready to burst with quests, content, exploration and intrigue. This is an expansive, engrossing and truly epic adventure that will take every hour you’re prepared to invest into it and ask for more – and you can even get away with stealing things from people by putting a basket over their head first. Essential. (It’s also supported by a very lively modding scene on PC, which is one of the reasons why this resolutely offline adventure is still one of the most-played PC games in the world, over three years on from its release.)
Buy Eve Online from Steam (also requires a subscription)
Eve Online – an online game of space war on a gargantuan scale – is the one game everyone loves to read about, even if they’ve never gingerly set a foot inside this notoriously intimidating universe themselves. Player-driven politics, power and greed combine to tell an endless tale of treachery that’s quite unlike anything else in gaming. Launched in 2003, it has aged magnificently over the years too, with a series of updates that have ensured this dark dystopia continues to shine on modern hardware, while frequent expansions add ever more opportunities for mischief. It’s a delight to simply exist within CCP’s bleak science-fiction vision – even with the knowledge that your best friend today could be your worst enemy tomorrow.
Far Cry 3
An island populated by madmen is the perfect setting for an open-world video game, of course – and an ideal means of side-stepping any difficult questions about the violence that bubbles up from the simplest of situations. Far Cry 3 took this premise and really ran with it, taking this nebulous and uneven series of first-person shooters and turning it into a sort of ball-pool for grown-ups. The guns are great, the plot is monolithically witless, and you unlock new areas of the map by scaling towers. Nowadays, of course, this is how all Ubisoft games unfold, but when Far Cry 3 came out it felt fresh – and in many ways this knockabout joy is still fresher than its cannier, less charming follow-up.
Football Manager 2015
Sports Interactive’s long-running Football Manager series has been reassuringly great for years now, and just like Lionel Messi it shows no sign of slowing down. There’s so much to the game these days that the old “glorified spreadsheet” quip feels as outdated as the 4-4-2 formation. In FM15 you have to deal with everything from prima donna players mouthing off in the press to cynical journalists fishing for headlines from post-match interviews – and who likes journalists, anyway? For the faithful, Football Manager is as engrossing an experience as you can get on PC.
Grand Theft Auto 5
Grand Theft Auto 5’s release on the PC represents the end of a very long journey for this most ambitious of open world adventures. If it’s fair to say that Rockstar hasn’t always triumphed when it comes to optimising its games for the platform, it can be accused of no such crime this time around. Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC looks and plays like a dream on even moderately powerful hardware and is one of gaming grandest achievements, now realised to an unprecedented degree of visual fidelity.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Before Hearthstone, few game types seemed as unapproachable to outsiders as collectable card games. They’re fighting games, in essence, made tartly tactical by the brightly illustrated cards that your spells, heroes and attacks live on. Developer Blizzard’s genius, though, was to take the hunched-over world of Magic: The Gathering, and – as ever – simplify things until they seem like child’s play. Villains are given a pantomime theatricality, while resources are reduced to mana crystals, which build up automatically as games develop, giving every match a real sense of pace and progress. Beneath all that surface simplicity, though, lurks maddening complexity, as you choose between placing minions or attacking your enemy head on. The great Hearthstone player is thinking many, many moves ahead, gaining tempo, and putting you on the backfoot from the very beginning. The great thing about Hearthstone, however, is the way it convinces even its least talented players that such mastery is just within reach.
Homeworld Remastered Collection
Homeworld’s trick has always been to focus on the things that other games miss. Not the third dimension – although it’s definitely correct that this was the first real-time strategy game to see you marshalling forces and sending them into battle in true 3D. Rather, it’s the unifying jolt of sadness that runs through this tale of deep space vagabonds, scouring the cosmos for a place to fit in. With an ingenious mechanic that sees you carrying your surviving forces from one battle into the next, this is a game that really makes you think about resources and about the very real possibility that you may win a battle but lose the war. The Remastered edition, meanwhile, chucks in the sequel and updates the whole thing with glorious wraparound backdrops, perfect for the age of HD space exploration.
There’s no shortage of racing games on the PC and there are some very, very fine ones too. Assetto Corsa, for example, is the definitive driving simulator, and the best way to scare yourself silly driving around the Nordschleife on any platform. Race Room Experience is an excellent compendium of real-world GT racing and Project Cars looks to scratch an itch we’ve all had since the heyday of the TOCA series. They’re all wonderful games, doing different things very well – but if it’s the thrill of wheel-to-wheel racing you’re after, then iRacing still stands proud. Participation requires a serious investment of both time and money, but the rewards to be found in its online racing are substantial, unique to the PC platform, and unlike anything else in this genre. It’s not cheap, but then motor racing never is, and this comes about as close to the real thing as you could hope for without putting your life on the line.
A genuine entertainment phenomenon and with good cause, Minecraft has become the gaming experience that brings the whole house together, delighting kids and grown-up kids alike. Endless worlds are waiting to be mined, hacked, broken up and then rebuilt as you see fit. Charming, creative and peaceful, it’s also the perfect antidote to a hobby so dominated by competition and aggression. It’s the game you don’t mind your children playing. It’s the game you want to play yourself. It’s digitised Lego, and an endearing delight.
The Orange Box
OK, we cheated. Whittling this list down to just 20 games was painful, and space was so tight we found ourselves actually considering dropping such greats as Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2 and Portal – until we remembered that they were all released in this single pack back in 2007, and discovered that it was still available for sale on Steam. Three classics for the price of one! This compilation remains a staggering record one of the world’s greatest game studios in its absolute pomp. Team Fortress 2 (now free-to-play, but still included here) might be the most welcoming, assiduously updated and just plain fun competitive shooter of all time; Half-Life 2 (with its two subsequent episodes also included) is a towering classic of dystopian sci-fi and directed design; Portal is a jewel, devious in its faceted perfection, blending mind-warping puzzles with a wicked strain of self-referential humour that turns the psychology of video games inside out. Blending populism with high intellect, first-person gaming doesn’t get any better than this.
It’s not just the delicate inclusion of a comma in the title that tells you you’re in for something a little different here. Papers, Please is a simple puzzle game about spotting errors and acting upon them, and one that elevates itself above its basic mechanics by virtue of its setting. You’re working the border between two nations here, and – more tellingly – you’re both an emblem of totalitarian oppression and a victim of it. From the drab colour scheme to the podgy, grotty portraits of the unfortunates you deal with every day, this is a prolonged study of how cruelty can bleed over from the social sphere to the private. It’s also an examination of the way that bureaucracy alone can often make people do the unthinkable. Fun? Not exactly. Even so, Papers, Please is unmissable.
Sid Meier’s Civilization 5
Civilization’s always been the most grandiose of propositions: a strategic scramble through the entire course of human history that takes players from humble settlers to architects of the space race over an afternoon or two. Civ 5 mixed things up in subtle but far-reaching ways, swapping squares for hexes on the game’s world map, and forcing aggressive players to take a more tactical approach to battles by removing the ability to build up huge armies on a single tile. It was in the expansions that the design truly found its voice, however, with Brave New World in particular introducing the most satisfying non-violent way to approach the endgame yet devised, through an intricate and pacey rethinking of culture victories. Civ isn’t finished, because civilisation isn’t finished, but Civ 5 is still a wonderfully rich and reactive sandbox to mess around in.
Move over Mario; those three words most be one of the most-used and most consistently incorrect clichs in video game journalism (alongside “the PC is dead”). But for once they might be half-true, because for the first time in 30 years the best 2D platform game in the world isn’t made by Nintendo. It’s Spelunky. Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison – Spelunky is a trendy indie experiment, with levels that are different every time you play and a tough-as-nails structure that sets you back to the very start after every game over. But perhaps it’s not, because Spelunky’s deceptively simple design is harmonious and perfectly tuned in every detail, and uses simple rules of physics and behaviour to create endless variations of challenge, incident and slapstick delight – exactly like the best work of Shigeru Miyamoto and his master craftsmen. It never gets old, but just to be sure, this version added standardised daily challenges which bring the Spelunky community together every morning to compete and swear through another desperate misadventure.
Total War: Shogun 2
There’s no other series that comes close to matching the scale of a Total War battle. Watching an entire battlefield play out from up on high, you often find yourself commanding hundreds upon hundreds of soldiers at a time – and while we’ve been doing this since the release of the original Shogun: Total War all the way back in 2000, it remains an impressively thrilling spectacle to watch. As the general of such a gigantic fighting force, you’ll find yourself thinking in terms of numbers lost and unit strength most of the time – rather than the plights of individual soldiers – yet the strength of Total War lies in that rapid scroll of the mouse wheel which sends you straight into the action to watch those soldiers follow your orders and live or die as a result. If you’ve got an interest in strategy games, as well as a PC that’s up to the task, Shogun 2 is our pick of the series and one of the finest games of its type around.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
Relic Entertainment’s original Dawn of War lost its looks long before it turned 10 years old in 2014, but it’s still the greatest video game realisation of Games Workshop’s brutal science fiction world that’s ever been created. Dawn of War nails the gritty atmosphere of its tabletop source with aplomb, with satisfyingly meaty units and a soundtrack that’s brilliantly bombastic. With complex base-building and huge armies, Dawn of War offers a more fitting virtual Warhammer 40K battlefield than its prettier but less expansive sequel. And – whisper it – we still prefer it to StarCraft. Just make sure you pack enough Dreadnoughts before storming the Ork base. For the Emperor!
World of Warcraft
You have to look back decades and to the likes of Pac-Man and Space Invaders to find a game that permeated popular culture quite like World of Warcraft at is height. Before Facebook gave everyone a virtual sense of themselves, Blizzard’s masterful MMO presented a world of such scale and scope that it became a second, more meaningful life for millions of traditional gamers and newcomers alike. South Park parodied it. Mr T advertised it. It dominated office chit-chat for years. WOW’s subscription peak may lie in its past, but players in their millions continue to call one of gaming’s grandest creations their home – and for our money, after 10 years, it’s still the best game of its kind.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM’s a strange kind of strategy game, because although it deals with standard ideas – turn-based battles, small squads of super soldiers, and an alien invasion that wants to wipe out the entirety of humanity – it’s not so much a game about winning as it is a game about trying not to lose. Firaxis’ Enemy Unknown updated the formula beautifully for the modern age, introducing a greater reliance on cover, while streamlining the tactical battles and ramping-up the more strategic elements as you build and equip a base. It was its expansion Enemy Within that really nailed the concept, however, with new options for upgrading your soldiers via genetic tampering, or the use of huge, stomping mechs. Despite the Action Man chunkiness to the characters you’re controlling, this is a game about managing weaknesses – and that’s what makes it so wonderful.
Compiled by the Eurogamer editorial team and written by Christian Donlan, John Bedford, Oli Welsh, Wesley Yin-Poole, Chris Bratt, Robert Purchese, Martin Robinson and Ian Higton. For more on our best games lists and how they are curated, read our editor’s blog.
If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out our list of recommended PC games.
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