How to get into PC gaming

Okay, so what games are best on PC?


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 ahuge guide I wrotejust 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 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.

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 importantlyits successor is on the horizon.


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.

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 discoverSteam,Impulse, andGood 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 thishi-res texture modfor 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 orDong Dong Never Dieand 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

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