It’s the best time in history to be a PC gamer. Not only are we benefiting from industry-wide trends like the indie revolution and an explosion in the diversity of experiences games provide, but PCs are increasingly getting more of the titles long thought of as landmark console exclusives. With the popularity and usability of platforms like Steam reaching ever more dizzying heights, and even long-time console developers converting to the growing PC bandwagon, the incentives to drop a few thousand dollars on a brand new, powerful rig have never been more tantalizing. But what are the best PC games to play right now? Here are 30 of the most incredible experiences you can have with a mouse and keyboard from the last decade or so.
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30. Tomb Raider (2013)
Lara Croft made an impressive comeback in this new reboot of the classic Tomb Raider series. Here 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’s shipwrecked on a mysterious island full of murderous mercs, 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. Rise of the Tomb Raider may be newer, but this game is much more tightly designed.
29. Dishonored 2
Like a lot of people, I fell off the original Dishonoured after only a few hours. While I saw the makings of a great game trapped somewhere in that convoluted formula, for me the original failed to execute in the ways I wanted, and made me feel more like a stumbling neonate than a master assassin. Dishonored 2 distills some of those killer ideas from the original down into a much purer, more interesting format, and wraps them in a sprawling story that keeps you engaged to the very end. Each level is like a bloody puzzle for you to solve, either by stealthy assassin skills or powerful brute force. Loads of games claim to let you play your own way - Dishonored 2 truly delivers that through the strength of its gameplay and the smart design of its worlds.
28. Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag (2013)
Coming on the heels of the sub-par Assassin’s Creed 3, and preceding the technical trainwreck represented by Unity, Assassin’s Creed 4 stands out as one of the best in the series. It's more varied than 2, and more epic than Syndicate - two of the best Assassin's Creed games. Assassin's Creed 4 is a pretty big departure from previous games - it doubles down on naval combat, one of the best (and only salvageable) aspects of Assassin’s Creed 3, and really pushes its pirate story ahead of the usual po-faced Assassins vs Templars stuff. The result is a hugely likeable game with a great cast of characters, a beautiful open world, and plenty in that environment to do.
27. Kerbal Space Programme (2015)
Kerbal Space Programme is an excellent example of how a bizarre premise (in this case, Minecraft but for spacecraft) executed with care by passionate people can pay huge dividends. With its startlingly realistic simulation of physics, down to very specific elements like thrust and velocity, and it’s huge arsenal of components and open ended design framework, Kerbal is any amateur astronauts dream come true. Even for those of us who don’t find the prospect of designing a realistic space vehicle particularly enticing, Kerbal offers a fun workshop and a massive catalogue of tools and equipment to toy around with. While the vast majority of my creations ended up exploding on the launch pad, I still had a great deal of fun strapping a ridiculous number of rockets and fuel pods onto my misshapen monstrosities and watching the horrified expressions on my Kerbal’s faces as I attempted to launch them heavenward.
26. EVE Online (2003 onwards)
EVE Online was a pretty bold experiment when it launched, and the fact that it’s succeeded to the extent that it has is rather surprising, but also testament to the incredible amount of care and attention that went into its development and the power of the core ideas it presents. Building a subscription based MMO at time when only World of Warcraft seemed able to successfully exploit that model, and a complex space simulation at a time when the popularity of that genre had waned to an almost historic low, was an incredibly bold move and one that has yielded some of the best stories in video game history. While I personally find EVE Online nearly impenetrable, with its well deserved reputation as a ‘spreadsheets in space’ simulator, there are few things I enjoy reading more than the stories of betrayal, epic conflict, and incredible intrigue that EVE has generated over the years. From corporate espionage to the employment of real world spycraft by actual intelligence agents, to the loss of thousands of real world dollars worth of vessels and goods, EVE is unquestionably a font of better narratives than have ever been purposefully written by even the best of video game storytellers.
25. DOTA 2 (2013)
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the new-and-improved progenitor of the modern MOBA genre. Dota 2 is everything that hardcore 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. League of Legends (2009)
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 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.
23. XCOM 2 (2016)
When XCOM: Enemy Unknown dropped in 2012, the child in me celebrated. One of my favorite franchises from the dark ages of PC gaming was getting a proper, modern reboot, in the capable hands of Firaxis, one of the best and most well-established purveyors of strategy game titles in the modern world. And it didn’t disappoint, delivering all the thrilling tension of the original game in a fresh, candy-sweet shell, complete with upgrade mechanics, an expandable base, and that walking-the-razor’s-edge sensation of balancing several complicated systems at once all while trying to save the world. The follow-up builds on the success of the first game and preserves all of its best bits, from characters you get attached to as they succeed and grow, to the teeth-gritting way time passes, knowing the next game-shattering event may be only seconds away. But it also adds more of what we loved about the original, more devious foes to combat, more incredible gear to research and manufacture, and a storyline that puts the alien invaders in the driver’s seat of a planet spiraling towards hopelessness. Perfectly timed to release just when appetites for more turn-based action was reaching another keening high, XCOM 2 delivered another dose of some of the best turn-based strategy around just when gamers craved it most. And it’s still great today.
22. Telltale's The Walking Dead (2012)
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 for so long afterwards.
21. Total War Shogun 2 (2011)
One of the strengths of PC as a gaming platform has historically been its ability to showcase high level strategy games, the sorts of games that have their roots in tabletop wargaming that preceded the digital era. And that competence continues to be one of the PCs greatest strengths even today, as evidenced by the Total War series and the current king of that particular hill, Shogun 2. Shogun 2, and the Total War series as a whole, is such a wildly compelling experience because of its essential chocolate-and-peanut-butter construction. It takes all the best parts of high level strategy - managing cities, building upgrades, outfitting your armies, and conquering your neighbors - and combines them with an exceptional, ground-level simulation of large scale combat, thousands of troops clashing in epic fashion in bloody, brutal, real-time combat. That formula, and the way it demands both strategic and tactical decision making, is one of the most interesting in gaming, and it makes Shogun 2 one of the most addictive, ‘just one more turn’ games available on PC today. Despite newer versions of TW, this remains the best.
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