Best PC games of the past decade
Decades of greatness
Next-gen? Last-gen? PC gamers don't need to worry about such artificial barriers. Those who rally behind a mouse and keyboard have decades of games at their fingertips--there are tens of thousands of games to play on Steam and Good Old Games to play, most of which will run perfectly find on literally any computer. And those games that won't? Well, they'll make it work anyway. From absurdly niche strategy games to massive MOBAs, PC gamers have the most impressively unwieldy backlog of anyone. It's insane.
And that's why we've created this list--one that focuses on, specifically, the best of the recent batch of games. "Recent" being an extremely loose term, obviously, as we're including a decade's worth of games, but we think this will help you decide what modern PC titles are worth your time. If you're looking for older, timeless experiences that revolutionized the industry you should head over to our list of the most important games of all time, but if you want something to play right now, you know what to do.
25. Dota 2
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the new-and-improved progenitor of the modern MOBA genre. Dota 2 is everything that hardcore, borderline-rabid gamers love about the original, without the restrictions of Warcraft 3's aging engine or chunky graphics. In their place, Valve infused every hero with a uniquely gorgeous aesthetic, and implemented quality-of-life improvements to the online infrastructure that cater to veterans and newcomers alike.
The upgrades turned one of the most demanding games on the planet into something that anyone can get into; it's no less competitive, but Dota 2 isn't as cutthroat as its predecessor. Few games can teach you the importance of teamwork, situational awareness, and hotkey dexterity like Dota 2, where every gank becomes an invaluable learning experience.
24. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
To play XCOM: Enemy Unknown is to participate in a battle of inches. As the commander of the XCOM organization, created to stave off hostile alien invaders, you'll have to build up your base, research new equipment, and outfit your troops before sending them into battle. But know this: Nothing will ever go as planned.
For starters, you'll never have the resources you need to make overcoming the challenges ahead an easy task. Nations all over the world will beg for salvation from alien invaders, and most of the time you'll only be able to save a few of them. And when it comes to commanding your soldiers (or genetically modified soldiers, in the Enemy Within expansion) in combat, one wrong move means disaster for your whole squad. Once you start permanently losing soldiers you named after friends and family, overwhelming guilt will set in--and that's when you'll restart in hopes of doing a little bit better next time.
23. The Walking Dead
So many games place an emphasis on action over story--but in The Walking Dead, Telltale's excellent adventure series, the story is the game. As Lee, you encounter a young girl named Clementine, and the rest of the game is about the choices you'll make to keep the both of you alive, and how those choices affect those around you.
Often, you'll have only seconds to make an impossible decision. Who do you side with when two members of your group start fighting? Or is it better to keep your mouth shut? No matter your choice, it usually has far-reaching consequences that you couldn't have seen coming. It's a compelling story, one that you can't help but feel invested in. And once you finish a play-through, the experience will stick with you forever.
22. BioShock Infinite
BioShock Infinite is waiting for you. It knows you're coming, and it knows you're going to be keeping your eyes out for some sort of "Would you kindly?" twist. So it waits, and the moment you show up it drops all pretenses and blows your mind. Within minutes you'll be sucked into a well-crafted mystery, and wondering what in the hell is going on with that giant floating city.
You'll want to know, too, because you'll care about the characters and feel invested in their stories. Booker and Elizabeth are engaging, and when you get to the end of the lengthy campaign, you'll be met by one of the greatest conclusions in gaming's history.
21. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Like its renegade hero, The Witcher 2 keeps it real. There are no good or bad paths to choose from, just this choice or that choice. There are no fair, golden-haired elves, or proud dwarf clans--they're just non-humans destined to be racially segregated and downtrodden by the human majority. The Witcher series takes its fantasy world and fills it with racism, political quarrels, and power struggles to make one of the most down-to earth and engaging medieval fantasy stories you'll come across in gaming.
Aside from its fascinating take on a fantasy world, The Witcher 2 also won't hold your hand in terms of gameplay. Combat is strategic and intense, despite the fact fights play out like an action game. In order to survive an enemy engagement, whether it be with severe footsoldiers or a grotesque crab monster, you'll need to go in prepared. Not only can you find, craft, and purchase upgraded equipment to stand a better chance in a battle, you'll need to use the alchemy system to craft and consume stat-boosting potions. Once you step into The Witcher's world the complex game mechanics and enchanting atmosphere will have you hooked.
20. StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm
So many competitive multiplayer games split the responsibility between five or more players, ensuring that no one person takes all the glory or the blame. High-level StarCraft 2 says to hell with that. Whether you successfully rush a Skytoss army or get destroyed by a proxy Bunker, the thrill of victory or shame of defeat rests solely on your shoulders. That kind of unquestioned command over your own fate is intoxicating, and pushes beginners to reach levels of macro and micro they previously thought impossible.
Of course, when you're not taking your lumps online, you can always wreak havoc as the mesmerizing Sarah Kerrigan in the HotS campaign. Whether you want to experience a leading role in an epic space opera or tell your own zero-to-hero story on the Battle.net ladder, StarCraft 2 has exactly what you're looking for.
19. Sid Meier's Civilization 5
There's really nothing left on Earth to discover--you're not going to take a wrong turn and find a new continent, or trip over a rock and unearth a forgotten society. But when you're playing Sid Meier's Civilization 5 you get to experience those feelings over and over again. Finding ancient ruins and learning a new technology is remarkable, and building advanced boats and sailing into the deep ocean only to find that there's a new world out there is nothing short of exhilarating.
And then you get to take that new world over, which is pretty cool, too. The game contains hundreds of hours of gameplay, with over 40 interesting Civilizations to play as, all of which fundamentally change the way you play. Plus, if you pick up the two expansions, you're met with even more great content, and some changes that take the already-stellar strategy experience and make it all the better.
18. Dragon Age: Origins
Rarely does a fantasy RPG deliver in every aspect of the gameplay and storytelling, but here we are with Dragon Age: Origins--an adventure that's right up there with the best of BioWare's crowning achievements. You play as the Warden (your own customized hero) as he or she fights to stop the Darkspawn from eradicating every living thing in the world. But DA:O's story isn't just about the fight between the forces of good and evil; the world's political dealings, companion relationships, and player choices all come into play as you mold the narrative in the way you see fit.
All of the classic RPG elements are here. You'll collect loot to equip your party with powerful weapons and equipment, and level your characters according to multiple class skill trees. Then there's the incredibly challenging tactical combat system in which every single move you make can be the difference between victory and defeat. Dragon Age drops you into a living world ripe for exploration with an engaging, epic story that you don't want to miss.
Just like its procedurally generated, deathtrap-filled depths, Spelunky is a game about surprising randomness. You may think you have man-eating plants and exploding frogs all figured out--but what happens when the former devours the latter? Those kinds of unexpected moments happen in a regular basis in Spelunky, and nine times out of ten, they'll be the death of you.
But that's OK, because you'll immediately learn from your mistake and start up another run. And another, and another--until you feel yourself mastering your character's zippy physics and discover which items you like best. Spelunky is challenging as hell because you never quite know what's coming; no matter how much you think you know, the game will manage to kill you in astonishing new ways.
16. Tomb Raider
Lara Croft made an impressive comeback in this reboot of the classic Tomb Raider series. In Tomb Raider, she isn't the experienced, dual pistol-wielding heroine of the past. At least, not yet. This new Lara is green and eager to make the next big archeological breakthrough. But when things go bad, and she is shipwrecked on a mysterious island full of murderous psychopaths, Lara must learn to survive, or suffer a gruesome death (which is painfully graphic when it happens in-game).
Lara's journey takes her from an innocent survivor to a full-on killing machine. You'll do all of the series’ classic platforming as you scale cliffs, rapidly escape burning temples, and discover hidden paths in the nooks and crannies of the environments. Even with all of the exploration, TR doesn't skimp on the action. You'll have to defend yourself against your enemies often, upgrade weapons to level the playing field, and pull off some brutal stealth kills. The new Lara provides everything you want from the series yet is still able to surprise you at almost every turn.
15. Half-Life 2
"Rise and shine, Mister Freeman. Rise and... shine. Not that I... wish to imply you have been sleeping on the job. No one is more deserving of a rest, and all the effort in the world would have gone to waste until... well, let's just say your hour has... come again." Half-Life 2 is basically the BioShock of 2004. Opening with a haunting speech from the mysterious G-Man, this shooter is one of the smartest ever made thanks to absolutely remarkable level design.
But while the gameplay is what pulled us in, it's the story--and the world--that really keeps us going back to Half-Life 2. City 17 is a dystopian dream come true for gamers, full of faceless enemies to shoot toilets at (yay, Gravity Gun!) and destroyed buildings to explore. Oh, and [obligatory complaint about vaporware Half-Life 2: Episode 3].
14. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Before Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, we were all living in blissful ignorance of what we were missing. CS 1.6 and Source had been going strong for years, so why would PC gamers want another iteration of CS' team-based gunplay when it already seemed so perfect? Flash-forward to present day, and CS: GO has overtaken its predecessors as one of the most beloved games on Steam.
That's because this is the perfect blend of old and new, managing to retain all the tricky bullet accuracy and immaculately designed maps that made the originals such timeless multiplayer games. Familiar hero moments--like scoring a kill while blinded by a flashbang or getting knife-tacular revenge on the guy who AWPed you--are as thrilling as ever in CS: GO, with graphics that actually look respectable by modern standards.
Tim, Tim, Tim... you couldn't just leave well enough alone, could you? After Braid's highly successful run on Xbox Live, Jonathan Blow and his Thekla Inc. studio brought the award-winning puzzler to the PC. And even in that vastly larger pond, Braid still remains a massive fish.
Yes, it's beautiful--the watercolor-infused visual design adds a dream-like flair to the game's mystery. Yes, it's clever--Braid's puzzle design and time-manipulation mechanic will leave you feeling equal parts frustrated and triumphant. But it's Braid's thought-provoking story--where the love-stung Tim pursues his lady love to a, shall we say, zealous degree--that truly distinguishes this game from its peers.
12. Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag
Assassin's Creed stumbled hard in 2012, leading many to wonder if the franchise's best days were behind it. Thankfully, it appears as though Connor's trip to Revolutionary-era America was a fluke, as Black Flag proved there's still plenty of life in the brand, and much more history to explore.
Assassin's Creed 4 was a pretty big departure from previous games, ditching many of the series' staples in favor of a much fresher experience. The move toward piracy wasn't something anyone predicted, but it was exactly what was needed--and ended up resulting in not only being the best Assassin's Creed game ever made, but the best pirate game as well. The naval battles were absolutely entrancing, and you're going to have a hard time finding anyone who didn't leave the game with at least two or three sea shanties stuck in their heads.
11. Left 4 Dead 2
You know a game must be good when thousands of supposed boycotters buy and play it on release day anyway. Even though Left 4 Dead 2 defies the Valve time sequel schedule that we all know and love, its existence is totally justified by one simple fact: L4D2 does everything that its stellar predecessor does, only better.
Whether you're playing purely cooperatively or taking part in the addictive asymmetrical multiplayer, L4D2 makes fighting zombies fun again, where even the best-laid plans are bound to devolve into undead-filled chaos. Which its new modes, refreshingly varied environment themes, and the equivalent of Fresh Prince of Bel Air's Uncle Phil as a playable character (RIP), L4D2 can keep you entertained for endless nights of the living dead.
10. Battlefield 4
When you enter a game of Battlefield 4 you're stepping into a clash of modern military killing machines. Like most multiplayer shooters out there, you can take the fight to your enemies on foot with an array of guns, rocket launchers, and advanced military gadgets and hardware. But it doesn't stop there. Anyone can hop into any heavily armored vehicle. Tanks, choppers, and jets are all at your disposal and when you get 64 players in a match with all of these options, every online game is a complete warzone.
Battlefield 4's six-hour single-player campaign and by-the-numbers plot are nothing to write home about if you are looking for that sort of thing. But what will keep you playing the game for hundreds of hours are those naturally occurring moments of epic badassery. You can be gunning down infantry from a chopper only to jump out seconds before it explodes, then start dropping C4 charges on enemy tanks below as you parachute to safety (like seriously, we really did that one time). The game just oozes awesome in-game moments, and if you haven't dropped into a battle, you're missing out on one of the best shooters in recent memory.
9. Team Fortress 2
Class-based FPS warfare simply doesn't get any better than Team Fortress 2. As is Valve's way, TF2 takes rock-solid gameplay foundations--incredibly fine-tuned balance, ingeniously designed maps, and satisfyingly lethal weapons--and coats them in a pristine, imaginative finish of Pixar-esque paint. Even after thousands of hours, the battle between RED and BLU nevers grows stale (yes, that includes 2Fort). And oh yeah, it's totally free to enjoy.
But above all, TF2 is a game that simply oozes personality from every last pore. Who can forget the Heavy's hearty laugh, or the Spy's wily grin as he plunges his knife into a Medic's tender back? The classes feel like so much more than just a set of weapons and unique abilities--they feel like full-blown characters, ones that players can truly connect with.
8. The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
When people talk about why PC gaming is better than console gaming, Skyrim is one of the first games they point to. This is the pinnacle of open-world fantasy games, packed with an incredible amount of content that will keep you playing for months. And if you've got a decent gaming rig, it all looks absolutely gorgeous--not to mention you have access to thousands of free player-made mods to extend the game's life for however long you'd like.
As you set off exploring, any number of distractions will pull you away from the main quest, and any one of them could lead to a whole new adventure. Damp caverns might be home to a secret cult or serve as a hideout for bandits; ancient ruins could house a new “dragon shout” or end up being an obstacle course full of deadly traps. You could hunt dragons, punch the local wildlife to death, set people on fire--that's the beauty of Skyrim. You can pretty much do whatever you want.
7. Batman: Arkham City
How do you improve on the greatest superhero game of all time? Throw in more heroes, more villains, more gadgets, and a more epic setting. Then, just as it looks like there's simply too much, miraculously manage to connect all those pieces with writing that’s as good as--or better than--most comic books, movies, and TV shows based on the same character. Arkham City is the Batman game. If you’re a fan of the Dark Knight, this is a dream come true. If you’re not, you’re about to be.
Arkham Asylum set the standard for licensed games, and City raised the bar tremendously. It's a reinvention of the action game, and it it performs just as good on the PC as it does on consoles--if not better. And in terms of visuals, expect Gotham’s city prison to look better than it does on other platforms with support for fancy fog and paper effects.
Gotham has never, ever been as alive as it looks in Arkham City.
6. League of Legends
Ah, yes, League of Legends--you know, only the most-played game in the entire universe. Only the most-watched game on Twitch. Only the most rage-inducing experience you'll ever have because people are complete idio--WHY ARE YOU FEEDING AGAIN? But as soon as the wins start rolling in, and you make a few YouTube-worthy plays, and your team actually praises you, you're hooked.
League and the MOBA genre are as close as video games get to sports. Its map is always the same, pitting two teams of five against one another in a slow but steady race to take map objectives and ultimately destroy the enemy's base. Its beauty is in its infinite layers of strategy, and the thrill that comes with outsmarting and destroying your opponents is a high like none other. League of Legends is by no means an easy game to get into once you first pick it up, but give it time and you may decide to never play anything else again.
5. Mass Effect 2
You want cutting-edge visuals? Cover-based shooting? Jedi-like powers that toss enemies across the room? Meaningful character development and dialog? It’s all here in Mass Effect 2. The journey is so well executed we couldn’t wait to play through it a second or third time, just to witness the different outcomes that stem from key decisions. No small feat considering each trip through can last a good 30 hours.
On top of these gameplay achievements, the Mass Effect universe itself is worthy of celebration. There’s so much meat to the peripheral content, let alone the primary story, that you could launch a TV series tomorrow and have enough ideas to sustain it for years. Several franchises today rely on tie-ins to fill in the backstory; Mass Effect gets everything done in-game (though books do exist for diehards) plus provides a cornucopia of varied, polished gameplay that has helped make “western RPG” a respectable phrase. And as good as Mass Effect 3 is, it didn’t top this one.
4. World of Warcraft
MMORPGs are some of the most rewarding time-sinks ever conceived, and World of Warcraft remains the best of the best. Why? For many reasons. First, it's incredibly accessible thanks to the fact that Blizzard streamlined many of the elements that prevented casual players from picking up MMOs in the past. There's no overly harsh death penalty, and leveling was best done not simply by grinding, but by completing quests that had interesting stories and did a great job of leading you from one hub to the next.
And with each new expansion, WoW continually gets better. With a world far larger than that of most MMOs, tons of memorable raid dungeons, great PvP arenas, Pokémon-esque pet battles, and now player housing, there's not much else we could ask be added to an already phenomenal game. Sure, the combat is traditional by MMO standards, but there's a reason this decade-old game still has far more monthly subscribers than any other: It's the best around.
Would Minecraft have been just as successful if it weren't for the millions of users uploading YouTube videos 24 hours a day? Who knows, but with more than 100 million registered users on the PC version alone, that's a lot of people stacking blocks and slaying Ender dragons. Part of the appeal is that you can play it any way you choose, whether that's rebuilding the world of Game of Thrones or building your own personal, cozy shack. But watching someone else play the game can be just as entertaining, because the possibilities are endless when a game hands over the control to a creative player.
Minecraft has come a long way since its alpha days (not so much visually), and with the freedom to use mods, it opens up even more ways to tailor the game to your liking. The intricate crafting system has an expansive recipe list which just keeps growing, and it's incredibly addictive. So, whether you decide to spend your days baking pies or playing custom maps, Minecraft can easily make the hours tick by. And like most things in life, it's always better to play with a friend.
Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy makes for as terrifying a game as it does a political platform. Released for the Xbox 360 in 2007, Irrational Games’ BioShock explored the consequences of unchecked human ambition to pitch-perfect effect. Set within Rapture--a suboceanic Galt’s Gulch, where the bright and beautiful fled to be free of society’s undesirables--you experience first-hand the horrifying outcome of a hubris-driven society, in self-imposed exile, without a moral compass to guide them.
BioShock does not lack for innovation and creativity. The game pioneered new methods of interactive storytelling, be it through now-trite cassette playback sequences or clues painted (usually in blood) on the walls. The game also riffed on the FPS genre by introducing the magic-like plasmid powers, which not only spiced up gunplay but also provided new avenues for defeating the iconic Big Daddy patrollers as well as overcoming environmental puzzles. Rarely does a game come along that takes as many risks as BioShock, and rarer still does that game come out anywhere near as good.
You shoot a glowing, orange hole in one wall and a glowing, blue hole in the other. Defying physics, they connect--and you can walk in one hole and out the other. That, in essence, is the basic jist of Portal. It drops you into the silent, orange jumpsuit of test-subject Chell as she's pulled through dozens of mind-bending experiments by her malicious captor. While the premise might not sound all that revolutionary, it's what Valve does with the concept that makes it so remarkable.
The puzzles themselves are perfectly crafted, walking the line between "obviously impossible, my game is broken" and "I just figured this insane puzzle out and I'm the smartest person alive." And the further you get in--and the more you find out about the Aperture Science research facility--the more invested you'll become. It's all brought to life by the AI GLaDOS, who walks/taunts you through the process with constant narration and beratement (earning her a high spot on our 100 best villains of all time list). It all works together amazingly, creating one of the most memorable gaming experiences of all time.
And many more
So, there you have it--out pick of the 25 best PC games to play right now. If your favorite game wasn't on there we're sorry, but don't be alarmed! We'll be keeping this list up to date, and checking back every year to cut off the oldest games and add on some new, fresh, fantastic experiences.
And if you're looking for more, check out the 50 most important games of all time and the 100 best games ever.
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