So how do you categorize a beast like gaming on the PC? With decades of titles to pluck from (and the first port of call for most indie titles, too), there’s so much to choose from. Gaming on your PC adds the benefits of (nearly always flawless) backward compatibility and console-beating graphical performance — if you’ve got the coin for it. The whole idea of what a PC is and where you can play it is shifting, too, with the rise of handheld “consolized” PCs like the Steam Deck. We’ve tried to be broad with our recommendations here on purpose – there are so many great games out there for your PC, consider these some starting points.
Beat Saber is a euphoric gaming sensation that makes the most of virtual reality. You’ll swing your unofficial lightsabers at incoming boxes, slicing and slamming them to the beat of the soundtrack. Similar to iconic rhythm-rail-shooter, Rez, which has its own VR iteration, Beat Saber often makes you feel like you’re creating the music as you hit your cues. We might have had initial reservations on the soundtrack at launch but new tracks and customizations continue to add to the challenge. There’s even a level creator for PC players, making this the definitive version.
Buy Beat Saber at Steam – $30 Control
Take the weird Twin Peaks narrative of Alan Wake, smash it together with Quantum Break’s frenetic powers and gunplay, and you’ve got Control. Playing as a woman searching for her missing brother, you quickly learn there’s a thin line between reality and the fantastical. It’s catnip for anyone who grew up loving The X-Files and the supernatural. It’s also a prime example of a studio working at their creative heights, both refining and evolving the open-world formula that’s dominated games for the past decade.
Buy Control at GOG.com – $40 Disco Elysium Final Cut
Disco Elysium is a special game. The first release from Estonian studio ZA/UM, it’s a sprawling science-fiction RPG that takes more inspiration from D&D and Baldur’s Gate than modern combat-focused games. In fact, there is no combat to speak of, instead, you’ll be creating your character, choosing what their strengths and weaknesses are, and then passing D&D-style skill checks to make your way through the story. You’ll, of course, be leveling up your abilities and boosting stats with items, but really the game’s systems fall away in place of a truly engaging story, featuring some of the finest writing to ever grace a video game.
With the Final Cut, released 18 months after the original, this extremely dialogue-heavy game now has full voice acting, which brings the unique world more to life than ever before. After debuting on PC, PS5 and Stadia, Final Cut is now available for all extant home consoles – including Nintendo’s Switch.
Buy Disco Elysium Final Cut at GOG.com – $40 Halo Infinite
Master Chief’s latest adventure may not make much sense narratively, but it sure is fun to play. After the middle efforts from 343 Industries over the last decade, Halo Infinite manages to breathe new life into Microsoft’s flagship franchise, while also staying true to elements fans love. The main campaign is more open than ever, while also giving you a new freedom of movement with the trusty grappling hook. And the multiplayer mode is wonderfully addictive (though 343 still needs to speed up experience progression), with a bevy of maps and game modes to keep things from getting too stale. The only thing keeping it from greatness is its baffling and disjointed story.
Buy Halo Infinite at Steam – $60 FTL: Faster Than Light
Who hasn’t wanted to captain their own spaceship? Well, after a few hours of FTL: Faster Than Light, you might be rethinking your life goals. FTL is a roguelike, which means every game starts from the same spot. All you have to do is travel through a number of star systems, recruiting crew members and collecting scrap as you make your way towards a final showdown against a stupidly overpowered ship. Gameplay is roughly divided between a map view, where you can take as much time as you like to chart the most efficient route to your goal, and combat events which play out in real-time (although you can and will be using a pause button to slow things down).
Where the real fun comes in is in the narrative, which plays out in two ways. There’s the structured side, where every so often you’ll be asked to make decisions that may improve or hinder your chances of survival. And then there’s the natural story you create for yourselves, as you’re forced to decide, for example, whether it’s worth sacrificing a crew member for the greater good.
Hades is the first early access title to ever make our best PC game list. It’s an action-RPG developed by the team behind Bastion, Transistor and Pyre. You play Zagreus, son of Hades, who’s having a little spat with his dad, and wants to escape from the underworld. To do so, Zagreus has to fight his way through the various levels of the underworld and up to the surface. Along the way, you’ll pick up “boons” from a wide range of ancient deities like Zeus, Ares and Aphrodite, which stack additional effects on your various attacks. Each level is divided into rooms full of demons, items and the occasional miniboss.
As Hades is a “roguelike” game, you start at the same place every time. With that said the items you collect can be used to access and upgrade new weapons and abilities that stick between sessions. Hades is on this list not for any reason other than it’s super accessible and very, very fun. You can jump in for 30 minutes and have a blast, or find yourself playing for hours. It’s been in early access for well over a year at this point, and is tremendously polished, with a full release expected in the latter half of 2020.
Buy Hades at Steam – $25 Half-Life: Alyx
Half-Life: Alyx feels like a miracle. After 13 years away from the franchise, Valve delivered a genuinely thrilling prequel to Half-Life 2 while also charting new territory for VR gameplay. The gravity gloves, its key new feature, is the closest I’ve ever felt to having telekinetic powers. It gives you multiple movement options so you don’t get sick trotting around the expansive environments. Oh yeah, and it’s also absolutely terrifying, banking on the claustrophobic nature of VR. There’s no looking away when a facehugger leaps at you from the dark, or when a horrifically deformed zombie gets in your face. It might sound a bit hyperbolic, but Alyx might end up being one of the most important titles of this generation. Building a big-budget game for a niche VR market doesn’t make much sense for most companies, but for Valve, it’s Tuesday.
Buy Half-Life: Alyx at Steam – $60 Nier Automata
Nier Automata takes the razor-sharp combat of a Platinum Games title and puts it in a world crafted by everyone’s favorite weirdo, Yoko Taro. Don’t worry, you can mostly just run, gun and slash your way through the game, but as you finish, and finish and finish this one, you’ll find yourself pulled into a truly special narrative, that’s never been done before and will probably never be done again. It’s fair to say that the PC release, as is unfortunately often the case, wasn’t exactly the best and is still remarkably lacking in options, but it’s at least stable now, and trust us when we say this one is unmissable.
Buy Nier Automata at Steam – $40 Microsoft Flight Simulator
Microsoft Flight Simulator came out at the perfect time, when the world was on lockdown and airline travel was an impossibility for most people. Not only does Flight Sim let players pilot a vast array of aircrafts, but it presents the world on a platter in stunning, ridiculous detail. It’s an escape, it’s educational and it’s entertaining – is that what they mean by E3? – and there’s really nothing else on its level when it comes to realistic physics simulations. Pandemic or no, Microsoft Flight Simulator is an incredible achievement with a long tail both inside and outside of the video game industry.
Buy Microsoft Flight Simulator at Steam – $60 Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Many were ready to write off the Resident Evil series after the disaster that was Resident Evil 6. What started as the horror game on the original PlayStation had become a bloated mess of an action game. Instead of throwing the whole franchise in the trash and forgetting about it, Capcom took a hard look at what wasn’t working, which — surprise! — was basically everything, and thoroughly rebooted the formula. Borrowing from Kojima’s PT and, in some ways, Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is horror through powerlessness. For the majority of the game, you’re basically unable to do anything but run from or delay your foes. And that’s what makes it so good.
Buy Resident Evil 7: Biohazard at Steam – $20 Return of the Obra Dinn
This is an unforgettable ghost-story-slash-murder-mystery with a distinctive old-school graphical style. It’s unlike any game we’ve played in a while, with a low-key musical score and a style of puzzle solving that’s like one satisfying, grisly riddle. In Return of the Obra Dinn, you’re put aboard a ship, alone. There is, however, a corpse near the captain’s cabin. As you track the deceased’s final footsteps, leading to yet more grisly ends, you need to figure out what happened. Who killed who? And who is still alive? Special mention to the sound effect that kicks in every time you solve the fates of three of the crew. Goosebumps.
Buy Return of the Obra Dinn at GOG.com – $20 The Witcher 3
It might be the best open-world RPG out there. Despite now being several years old, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a dense action game that acknowledges the maturity of the player with multiple — occasionally harrowing — storylines, choices that have consequences and almost too much game to wrestle with. It’s not perfect; the combat system is rough, frustrating death comes in the form of falling from just a few feet and there’s a lot of quest filler alongside many incredibly well thought out distractions. The scope and ambition on display will have you hooked, and once you’re done, there are some excellent expansions to check out.
Buy The Witcher 3 at GOG.com – $50 Forza Horizon 5
Forza Horizon 5 deftly walks a fine line by being an extremely deep and complex racing game that almost anyone can just pick up and play. The game has hundreds of cars that you can tweak endlessly to fit your driving style, and dozens of courses spread all over a gorgeous fictional corner of Mexico. If you crank up the difficulty, one mistake will sink your entire race, and the competition online can be just as fierce.
But if you’re new to racing games, Forza Horizon 5 does an excellent job at getting you up and running. The introduction to the game quickly gives you a taste at the four main race types you’ll come across (street racing, cross-country, etc.), and features like the rewind button mean that you can quickly erase mistakes if you try and take a turn too fast without having to restart your run. Quite simply, Forza Horizon 5 is a beautiful and fun game that works for just about any skill level. It’s easy to pick up and play a few races and move on with your day, or you can sink hours into it trying to become the best driver you can possibly be.