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How to get into PC gaming

Okay, so what games are best on PC?

RTS

I'm an obsessive fan of RTS games because no other genre has provided pulse-revving excitement like a close RTS match. I actually physically get a massive adrenaline rush from playing RTS, and I don't mean this figuratively, like some hyperbolic review quote. After a tough win I have to get up and walk around to calm down, but at the same time it's a feeling of victory no other genre has matched yet. I know it sounds crazy to want such an intense experience when normally you want to relax when you game, but I highly suggest it to anyone who enjoys any form of competitive gaming. I actually have a huge guide I wrote just for getting into RTS games in case you don't know where to begin. Here are some of the best RTS games out there:

StarCraft II

This one's obvious, but even if you find multiplayer daunting, the single-player campaign is the best there's ever been, with wonderful RPG elements. If you like sci-fi and aliens, you can't go wrong here.

Warcraft III
This game is as old as dirt now, but it's still beautiful, and its hero system sets it apart. The armies are smaller, but the heroes, spells, items, and crazy trick maneuvers you can pull make it my personal favorite RTS ever.

Total War (various incarnations)
If fantasy and sci-fi don't float your boat, a bit of realistic, historical battles might just be the ticket.

Command & Conquer (various incarnations)
These games have a goofier side to them, so if you don't want to take your wars too seriously, they have a huge following.

Supreme Commander
The scale of these games is ridiculous, and its shining stars are the experimental units – think giant robot dinosaurs and humungous UFOs.

MMOs

MMOs are almost unique to the PC. Most console MMOs fail because a controller just doesn't cut it when you need eight hundred hotkeys and text chat. MMOs are certainly dangerous – they can eat your life if you're the addictive type, but they're also the best place for social gaming. Real friendships are fostered amongst guild members, and if you like kicking back and shooting the shit with people you get to know over time while you game, MMOs can't be beat. Forget the foul-mouthed kids on Xbox Live – PC gamers tend toward more maturity (no I'm not saying they're better people, they just tend to be older and more dedicated to the hobby). Notable MMOs:

World of Warcraft
It’s the juggernaut. If I need to explain it, you haven’t been playing games. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but many others love it to death.

Rift
The new kid on the block. Its main differences are custom classes and the rifts – random events where monsters invade the world for a bit of dynamism.

Eve Online

A giant spaceship/economy/corporate double-dealing whatchamacallit. Eve is unique, ruthless, and worth a look if you like the idea of amassing obscene wealth and piloting a giant battleship.

City of Heroes/DC Universe Online/Champions Online
You like superheroes and all things comic book? Any one of these could please your infantile power fantasies (we all have them).

PlanetSide/PlanetSide 2

In a way this is a shameless plug for me because PlanetSide is my favorite game of all time. It’s still a fantastic game – it’s an MMOFPS, which means it’s different from all the above MMORPGs. Its playerbase is small right now, but it’s still playable, but more importantly its successor is on the horizon.

FPS

First-person shooters may not be unique to PC, but they were born and refined on PC. They were built with a mouse and keyboard in mind. I used to hate the idea of playing an FPS with a controller, but I got over that. Yet, if you haven't really sat down and played with a mouse and keyboard, you don't know what you're missing. The experience is vastly superior. Anyone who tells you a controller is as good as a mouse is either a) ignorant/in denial, or b) a console fanboy. Put a team of PC players against a team of console players and the PC players will smoke the controller users every time, all other factors being equal. This doesn't mean you have to play multiplayer to experience the benefits - it makes single-player more fun as well.

Crysis
The king of bringing PCs to their knees, Crysis is still arguably the best-looking game ever made. It's also really, really fun and can't be played on consoles - and no, Crysis 2 is not a substitute - the original is superior.

STALKER (various incarnations)
This bizarre FPS/RPG hybrid takes place around Chernobyl and features huge environments, creepy mutants, and freaking radiation. You won't find anything like it on console.

Far Cry 2
Dear lord is this game beautiful and a pleasure just to explore. Sweeping savannahs, dense jungles, and rocky cliffs all paint a stupendously realistic portrait of Africa, and it looks so much better on PC.


Above: I wanted to make these screens into a clever comparison, but the differences aren't as obvious in the images. 360 is above, PC is below. Trust me, the PC version looks much better. Although you can easily see how the grass is better

Other games

RTS, MMO, and FPS may be the PC's specialty, but there are other areas it does best or has exclucives. If you want turn-based strategy you can lose your life to Civilization (currently on Civ V, but Civ IV is still good). The upcoming Diablo III will be PC exclusive. The Witcher 1 and 2 are incredible RPGs that as of now are still PC exclusive. If you like realism, various simulators are out there for flying, driving, whatever. The beauty of PC games is that they aren't beholden to always appealing to a mass audience, which means you can find some really weird stuff - and all of us have some kind of niche that appeals to us.

Digital downloads

Once you discover SteamImpulse, and Good Old Games, buying games at retail starts to feel silly. Now, you may wonder what's the big deal since XBLA, PSN, and WiiWare have downloadable games. The console services do offer some full-retail games, but mostly they specialize in small arcade games. Steam and its ilk have gigantic libraries of full, AAA games with amazing sales that let you get incredible games for super, super cheap. It's also a great way to discover old games you always meant to play but never got around to. Once you get into buying slightly older, way-discounted games, you'll find that PC gaming can actually save you money in the long run.


Above: Deals!

Mods, indie games, and other weird stuff

What are mods? Well, PC gamers are resourceful people with way too much time on their hands (which is strange, because they're supposed to be constantly dealing with all the problems PC gaming creates). Mods can be add-ons to your favorite games, often improving the graphics and interface or allowing you to do really weird and fun things. Mods can also be their own games - CounterStrike began as a mod for Half-life. So much of this stuff is free and can really stretch your gaming budget by breathing new life into your old games (check out this hi-res texture mod for the original Deus Ex, the astounding mods for Grand Theft Auto) or giving you entire new games to play. All you really have to do is some internet searches for mods of games you own.

You can also find bonkers games like Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden or Dong Dong Never Die and you may ask yourself "What the hell am I playing?" but you'll be laughing all the way. There is so much creativity in the PC gaming scene that you can find endless ways to be entertained and never spend a dime.


Encountering problems

Here's where the big complaint rears its head: sometimes you will encounter hurdles to simply playing games on your PC. Most of the time the solution isn't difficult - just don't freak out when something doesn't work and you get some weird message. Just the other day I tried installing a several-year-old game on my PC, and when I ran the game, I got an error message with some gobbledegook in it. The game wouldn't even run. This sounds horrifying, but all I did was do a search for some of the wording in the error message, which led me to a forum discussing this exact problem. Someone found the solution: change your PC's clock to before the year 2008. Wha-huh? Yeah, that's freaking bizarre, and yeah you can complain you souldn't have to deal with that bullshit, but it took me less than five minutes to solve the problem, and I now have access to the best version of that game anywhere (it has additional levels the console version didn't have). Most issues you encounter with PC gaming will take about that long to solve. Also, most games won't actually cause you any problems at all. Sure, if you have a low frustration tolerance, PC gaming probably isn't for you, but then again, are you also afraid to try new food? To travel abroad?

That's my pitch. Be adventurous. Take a risk. You WILL discover gaming joys you can't find anywhere else. Just don't become a PC snob and forget you also own consoles.

Note: I am not a super-duper mega PC expert. I've researched a lot of this stuff over the years and shared what I could. Please call me out if I get something wrong, or add your own suggestions in the comments. I'll also answer any questions I can, so don't be afraid to ask anything, no matter how basic.

Jul 15, 2011

Change the way you think to get better at games 
Break your psychological chains and rule the virtual world

 

 

How to play RTS games competitively – for newbies 
Get good at any RTS and crush your enemies

112 comments

  • xidax121 - January 1, 2014 3:23 a.m.

    It’s good news if they lower the prices on built retail ones, and made their specs a THOUSAND times better… But that is probably not going to happen lol.. http://www.xidax.com/desktops
  • michael-last - March 8, 2013 9:48 p.m.

    The biggest mistake people make is trying to game on a laptop. Companies will label them "gaming Laptops" and the salesman will swear up and down that they are powerful. Every laptop I've seen is either underpowered (and not terribly upgradeable) or gets as hot as a thousand suns and melts hard drives and other important things. You can start with a cheap desktop, which will at least play games on medium-low settings, then slowly upgrade it as you have the money; and you are not going to have the heat issues. If you build your own and pick your sockets/features wisely you can keep your desktop cutting edge, or at least competitive for many years. A desktop is just a better gaming experience as well, since you can get a quality keyboard and mouse as well as a large monitor (or just use your tv).
  • Green_Shade - January 11, 2013 11:04 a.m.

    The worst problem I've had with installing an old game on a new computer was with the Infinity Engine games (Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale), they would BSOD every time at the end of the install, it turns out Safe Mode is the only way to get them running on Win7. And as far as it goes, modding is sometimes a superior experience to the original game, such as in Oblivion, with total conversions like Nehrim or extra content like the companion Vilja or the entire province of Elsweyr or Valenwood.
  • majormoses117 - August 15, 2011 11:22 p.m.

    why is this article under PS Vita?
  • VagueRaconteur - July 20, 2011 11:27 p.m.

    For anyone on the edge - my graphics card costs £30 to this date, and I was able to play Mass Effect 2 at the highest settings. No word of a lie. The only thing that won't work well with a graphics card that bad - games with a lot of layers. They just won't run fluently on anything higher than medium settings. But, this guy's right. If you don't have Shogun 2 Total War, you've missed out. I've played the total war series since the beginning, and they're the only games I can play over and over again.
  • Hubadaeus - July 20, 2011 3:05 p.m.

    I just wish I had the money for a computer that doesn't only play Minecraft
  • jmcgrotty - July 19, 2011 8:33 a.m.

    "I own all three consoles" There are only 2 consoles, and some worthless Nintendo crap.
  • firepainter - July 19, 2011 7:45 a.m.

    So uh, I jumped in and I sorta regret it. I suppose I just didn't do my homework right. Thing is, I spent about 1300 dollars on an xps 15 laptop this past summer. Thought the specs--6 gigs of ram, 500 gigs memory, and a geforce 525 card--would be capable of running the Witcher on low settings. So I thought. After experiencing game crippling lag in the opening scenes, I downloaded the latest drivers, defraggled my laptop, did a variety of things the internet thought would help. My guess is that it's my graphic card, which being in a laptop, I can't replace even if I wanted to. So, is there something I could do, or did I just waste 50 bucks on something I could have waited for on the 360? Any help is greatly appreciated. Also, I bought it off steam, if that helps anything.
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - July 18, 2011 9:52 p.m.

    Blackviper's tweaks vary depending on your OS. Win 7: http://www.blackviper.com/2010/12/17/black-vipers-windows-7-service-pack-1-service-configurations/ XP: http://www.blackviper.com/2008/05/19/black-vipers-windows-xp-x86-32-bit-service-pack-3-service-configurations/ Various instructions are at the top and the services grid is farther down the page.
  • lovinmyps3 - July 18, 2011 9:13 p.m.

    I just want to play The Witcher 2.
  • HOOfan_1 - July 18, 2011 4:09 p.m.

    Obsolete within a month? Talk about hyperbole on a grand scale. I could have bought a computer in 2005 when the Xbox 360 came out that would still play most games available today. THe Xbox360 launched at $400, you could have bought 8 or 9 games for your original Xbox instead of buying a 360...
  • HankVenture - July 18, 2011 12:45 p.m.

    All I play on my PC is MineCraft and I LOVE IT because of it being on a PC and able to get mods, So HOPEFULLY with this guide I will be able to get a PC that is able to play these games and enjoy a whole new part of gaming that I have wanted to experience. Thank you Matt Keast
  • CitizenWolfie - July 18, 2011 9:04 a.m.

    Truly great article! I'm not a PC gamer purely for the fact that I DO have a crappy PC but even if I don't bother using it for games I will definitely check out those links to speed up my PC. I always worry about stuff like defrag programs and cleanup applications so it's nice to have some recommended
  • Kameltoemunch - July 18, 2011 7:27 a.m.

    @copedude: Sorry, but everything you said is pure ignorance. Computer hardware doesn't become obsolete in a month. It does require upgrading every year or two, but PC games and their graphics are at least a full generation ahead of consoles. Seriously, the difference is like night and day. Secondly, PC games are significantly cheaper than console games because of sales. Steam, with its' sales, is the holy grail of gaming. Generally you don't get deals on brand new games, but I would gladly wait and pay 20% of the price than blow $65 (w/ tax) on an inferior product. To put this in perspective, I sunk 200+ hours into BF:BC2 on Xbox. During the Steam Summer Sale I bought the PC version for $5 and haven't looked back. It is smoother, larger, more intense and the graphics are far better. I have a 360 and love it, but gain some real knowledge before you just let things fall out of your mouth. Better yet, come to the better side. Also, if you really want to know: your console has been obsolete for 4 years, by your definition. 360/PS3 are nearly two generations old. Time for new hardware.
  • mike.brrrr - July 18, 2011 5:07 a.m.

    I like how people in the comments keep talking about how much money they save on PC games as though used games/bargain bins/online stores don't also exist to sell titles for consoles at super cheap prices. Steam didn't invent the concept of savings, guys.
  • Yeager1122 - July 18, 2011 4:11 a.m.

    I like playing games on my pc but overall i prefer console gaming especially since none of my friends are pc gamers which is a major factor.
  • zubb1 - July 18, 2011 3:12 a.m.

    hahahhahha! got my pc for 800 hundred an plays toal war2 fine is my favorite pc game and i didnt know witcher was for 360 thanks.
  • ThatGuyFromTV - July 18, 2011 1:14 a.m.

    If anyone needs a gateway PC game, go for Team Fortress 2. YOu don't need anything near a top-end system, it is top=notch, and it just became free. Start playing it now if you want to see what he's saying about FPS's being made for a mouse. And go for the sniper class, a controller-controlled sniper is meh, but a trained mouse-controlled sniper is nothing short of incredible.
  • Bobishungry - July 17, 2011 10:15 p.m.

    I just made a steam account a week ago and i bought terraria and fallout: New Vegas. I had never played an FPS on the pc before and at first it was confusing to get used to using a keyboard and mouse but now i see that it is way easier to kill stuff with a pc. My only problem is that when i play New Vegas i get some lag. I'm not even sure if it is my computer or just the bugs in the game. anyone wanna help?
  • wolfboy20 - July 17, 2011 9:54 p.m.

    Hey GR do you know where that list is on blackviper is?? because i cannot find it and i need more performance!

Showing 1-20 of 112 comments

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