20. Dark Souls 3
The Dark Souls franchise is one of the best recent examples of a game series that spawned an entire genre. It’s the sort of concept that’s increasingly rare in a time when it feels like so many ideas have been so thoroughly mined, but Dark Souls proves that there are still new experiences to be had, and the third game represents the most polished take on the Souls formula yet. With its massive world, full of diverse, gorgeous, and deadly environments, and its black fantasy atmosphere and hideous creatures, Dark Souls 3 gives us the most engaging setting in the series’ history. And while it doesn’t stray too wildly from the established Souls formula, it does add just enough tweaks and improvements to please even jaded veterans like myself, things like weapon arts and improved bow mechanics, or multi-stage bosses. Dark Souls 3 is unquestionably the best starting point for newcomers to the series, but also, incredibly, manages to offer enough fresh angles to seduce even players who have exhausted all three (including Demon Souls) of the previous games into committing another 70 or so hours of their time.
19. Stardew Valley (2016)
A satisfying Harvest Moon experience on PC has long been a fantasy of many, but until recently every attempt at replicating the cartoony farming simulator has fallen well short of the mark. But Stardew Valley not only delivers a comparable sim, it actually leverages a number of new systems that expand on the core Harvest Moon formula in some refreshing ways. While the core of Stardew Valley remains the management and expansion of your farmstead, the game adds a huge number of other elements to juggle, from battling your way through the dangerous, monster-ridden depths of the local mine to romancing various members of the local citizenry. Stardew Valley ensures that you’re never short of people to meet and things to do, and practically every system is enriched with interesting rewards or standout mechanics.
18. Sid Meier's Civilization 6 (2016)
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 6 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. Civ 6 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does allow you to, and it takes the best parts of the old games and tweaks them in interesting new ways, like it’s novel districts system and new spin on cross-civilization diplomacy. The game contains hundreds of hours of gameplay, with over 20 unique leaders to control, all of which fundamentally change the way you play. And the continued support means a strong slate of expansions and new content, as well as some changes that take the already-stellar strategy experience and make it all the better.
17. Fallout 4 (2015)
If there’s one thing Bethesda has proven it can do exceptionally well, it’s build a huge world and then fill it with compelling characters, interesting sidequests, and enough detritus to keep the most obsessive of us busy (and deeply uncomfortable) for decades. Fallout 4 is Bethesda at the height of its powers. Yes, it’s a glitchy, deeply flawed game in a number of ways, but that makes how wonderful it is to play and explore even more impressive. It’s the most beautiful world Bethesda has ever created, even despite it’s decaying, ruined aesthetic, and in the tradition of Fallout 3 its robust DLC offerings give us brand new and varied dimensions of the shattered Commonwealth to unearth and comb for rusted treasures and fresh stories. And as for the settlement building in Fallout 4? Magic.
16. Grand Theft Auto 5 (2015 - PC version)
For a series that’s so well established, GTA 5 brings a surprising number of innovations and risks to the open world genre it defined. From its diverse cast (three playable characters who are, in large part, unlikeable and unsympathetic, at least on the surface) to its extremely ambitious and seemingly endless multiplayer online component, GTA 5 brought so many fresh elements to a series that could have ruled the world by changing very little. The PC version arrived much later than the first console releases, bringing with it significantly upgraded visuals and a first-person mode, for anyone who wants to see Los Santos from a different perspective. Often imitated, never bettered, GTA 5 remains a colorful, satirical slice of open world madness, and one of the best games you can buy for your PC.
15. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (2014)
It should come as no surprise that a huge number of the games on this list are Blizzard products. Not only has Blizzard shown an admirable commitment to PC-first development, but it has also mastered the art of lifting some of the best ideas in a genre and dropping them into a highly polished game that, inevitably, proves to be compulsively playable and addictive. With Hearthstone it has done it again, peeling some of the most fun mechanics from CCGs like Magic the Gathering and presenting them in a flashy, streamlined package with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a Blizzard product. The crisp visuals, including gorgeous renderings of some of Blizzard’s more iconic characters, are flourishes from a game that’s firmly grounded in solid card battling mechanics and a steady trickle of rewards that make every match feel meaningful.
14. Mass Effect 2 (2010)
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 I 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 doesn't top this one, and... let's not talk about Andromeda.
13. Half-Life 2 (2004)
"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. 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. It remains a brilliant shooter 13 years later. Oh, and [obligatory complaint about the fact we’ll never see Half-Life 2: Episode 3].
12. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (2012)
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.
11. Diablo 3 (2012)
Diablo 3 is not only an incredible game that builds on the best features of its predecessors and adds new depth, features, and gameplay, but one of the best investments you can make if you’re the sort of player looking for something to invest months (or years) of your life in. Not only is the game endlessly replayable, with a staggering amount of loot to find, rifts to plumb, difficulty levels to master, and experience levels to gain, but it’s continually being updated even five years after its release. Like with Diablo 2 before it, Blizzard has shown an incredible capacity to support Diablo 3 post-release, not only through paid expansion packs but via a staggering amount of free content. Hundreds of hours of gameplay and constant revisions have been bolted on in the past few years, including surprising gems like the ability to play through the whole of the original game inside Diablo 3, and the content train shows no signs of slowing down. Best of all for PC gamers, our favorite platform gets all of the fresh content first, often months ahead of the console versions.
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