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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.