Gaming PCs, particularly powerful ones, may be more expensive than consoles, but offer flexibility, modifiability, and unrivaled performance. As a result, PC gaming is able to quickly move on and out of trends to offer its players unique and amazing experiences.
One warning ahead: Unlike our other essentials lists, this list covers a catalog spanning several decades and focuses on the 22 games on the platform that we believe everyone should play to get the most out of PC -Get out games.
But why 22 games? Less makes it difficult to narrow things down, and more can be overwhelming. 22 games are a solid number of titles that are spread across multiple genres and offer a selection for almost every age group.
In this guide, we wanted to focus on the best of the best in order to learn about the most important publications on the PC. And if possible, we’ve added a link to our guide for each game in case you need a little help to get started.
If the list of 22 games above isn’t enough, read the additional recommendations below for additional suggestions.
Let’s go inside!
Image: Firaxis Games / 2K Games
Meier’s civilization 6
There are few series in the world of PC games that cast as long a shadow as Civilization. It was first released in 1991 and is a historical strategy game that is played over longer rounds against the computer or other human players.
The players take on the role of a famous historical figure that guides an ancient people into and out of space racing. Each entry in the series felt different, but they all have the same smooth learning curve and impressively complex endgame.
But for my money, you can’t go wrong with the latest version of the series, Civilization 6. The latest expansion, Rise and Fall, has also received rave reviews and is helping to turn an already successful game into a final civilization experience.
Get it here: 2K | Steam | Amazon | GameStop | Fanatic | Green Man Gaming
Image: Remedy entertainment / 505 games via polygon
Critics and gamers rave about Remedy Entertainment Control, a third-party action game that is second to none. Here at Polygon we called it an artistic as well as a technical achievement. Though available on modern consoles, the game looks and runs best on a high-end PC, especially if you have an Nvidia RTX graphics card to enable ray tracing.
As Jesse Faden, the players enter a brutalist skyscraper in New York City to uncover a puzzle that would make The X-Files authors blush. The Gunplay is exceptional, coupled with sound design and animation flourishes, which brought in six nominations and a trophy at The Game Awards in 2019. But what holds everything together is a wild sense of humor and a relentless story that reward exploration and mastery alike.
The game can be a little intimidating, especially the skill trees and the somewhat awkward map. Check out our detailed instructions to get started.
Get it here: Epic Games Store
Picture: Larian Studios / Bandai Namco Entertainment
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Before there were “modern” role-playing games that were distributed on every platform, RPGs based on the existing rules for pen and paper had become popular on the PC. These games, which are also known as classic or computer RPGs (CRPGs), have their roots in the tabletop area and delighted a large number of fans and competitors.
And for my money, you can’t go wrong with Divinity: Original Sin 2 as one of the best modern examples of shape.
Original Sin 2 presents a world that fans of high fantasy will immediately be familiar with and completely unfamiliar with. The latest version has been incredibly refined with first-class speech, and the campaign itself has remarkable depth and repeatability. You can even avoid the traditional challenge entirely and trigger the story mode experience if you just want to focus on the narrative.
Get it here: Steam | GOG
Image: id Software / Bethesda Softworks
For years after Doom was originally released in 1993, other first person shooter titles were simply referred to as “doom clones”. So it fits that one of the best first-person shooters of the past decade is the restart of the franchise in 2016, simply called Doom.
Indeed, the restart was so good that it was 2016 Polygon Game of the Year. We said the following at the time:
Fate is quick. When I first played it, I thought it actually seemed too fast. This is partly an illusion, as the game releases you in a small chamber before introducing you to the game’s vast outdoor environment. But it’s also a statement: the game lets you know that things will change. (…)
Doom had the audacity to reject years of shared wisdom, decades of rising expectations, and generations of ego hostility to return to the beginning and reintroduce the shooter who started it all.
Doom could be the epitome of modern FPS, with a focus on action and aggression.
Get it here: Walmart | Steam | Amazon | Fanatic | Green Man Gaming
Image: Tarn Adams / Bay 12 games
Slaves to Armok: God of Blood Chapter 2: Dwarf Fortress, better known as Dwarf Fortress, is a remarkable game. The result of decades of collaboration between the two brothers Zach Adam and Tarn Adams is one of the most complex and esoteric simulations ever conceived and rendered in ASCII.
In the game’s most popular mode, players take control of a group of dwarfs who want to build a community from scratch in an enemy world. “Control” is really the wrong word because the dwarves in the game have their own thoughts and feelings. The players simply suggest that they dig into the mountain and plant a mushroom field, while the dwarves decide for themselves whether they are ready at that point in time.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ym17z8p2NV4 (/ embed)
Regardless of whether you choose to play or not, creating a world in the Dwarven Fortress is an experience not to be missed if you own a gaming PC. In the opening seconds of each new round, the game uses ridiculously complex systems to generate a plot of land 250 miles thick on an area of 25,000 square kilometers.
Keep in mind that there is another mode in the game besides colony simulation: a villainous single player adventure that allows players to explore the game’s procedural history from the ground up.
The dwarf fortress is completely free. Donations are of course very welcome. As a reward, you may receive a handmade drawing.
Get it here: Bay 12 Games | steam
A dragon in Skyrim.Image: Bethesda Game Studios / Bethesda Softworks
The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
One of the many advantages of PC games is the ability to experiment with the games you already own. There’s no better series than The Elder Scrolls to quench the craze of the hobbyist. The franchise has been a member of the modding community for almost two decades, and the creative team behind it says the decision has a lot to do with the longevity and popularity of the series over the years.
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim offers an excellent introduction to game modding thanks to its integration into the Steam Workshop. Just buy the game and download it. You can choose from over 28,000 community-created mods that offer everything from new skins, items, and quest lines to great battles.
Of course, Skyrim is also available as a virtual reality title that is fully compatible with Oculus Rift and HTC Vive or PlayStation VR for console fans.
For those who want to dig a little deeper, The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind offers a much more practical modding experience. You’ll have to make the actual game files yourself or download third-party tools to get the job done. However, the results can be extremely satisfactory. A mod that has been under development for 17 years has even added an entire landmass with high-quality quests, additional voice-over work, and full integration with the game’s fast travel system.
Get Morrowind here: Walmart | Steam | GOG | Amazon | GameStop | Fanatic | Green Man Gaming
Get Skyrim here: Steam | Amazon | GameStop | Fanatic | Green Man Gaming
Image: border developments
The sequel to the original Elite, a PC game from 1984, Elite: Dangerous and its broadening of horizons are a spiritual limit experience for space travel.
The focus of this game is a realistic simulation of all 400 billion star systems in the Milky Way. No, this is not a typo. The secret is the so-called Stellar Forge, a procedural system with which developer Frontier Developments realistically simulates the formation of our galaxy. Using the best astronomical data available, the studio threw the entire creation into a digital rock tumbler and then proceeded to polish what fell out as an MMO.
The players begin as an almost penniless mercenary who happens somewhere in the inhabited bubble of human civilization around 3300. While the game’s plot is currently moving at a terribly slow pace for some fans, it is the community that makes this game a joy to play.
Whether you’re a member of the Fuel Rats, you want to take the risk of rescuing your teammates, fighting a battle between players in community-sponsored storytelling battles, or just taking a week-long jaunt to the edge of our understated western spiral arm, here’s to something for everyone.
In addition, the game is fully compatible with the TrackIR head tracking peripheral as well as with all types of joysticks, pedals and HOTAS sets. For an even more intense experience, I recommend playing in VR.
Get it here: Frontier | steam
Image: Epic games
Listen: When the original version of Fortnite came out, I hated it.
And I wasn’t alone. At the time, it was a $ 40 early access title, an endless, cooperative, multiplayer hybrid building. There were zombies in there. You have collected characters in the form of trading cards and unlocked skills from a skill tree. In the original version there was so much thoughtless clicking that my wrist hurt after every session.
This original mode called Save the World is still in play. It even has a small but dedicated fan base. But their numbers are completely overshadowed by fans of the Battle Royale mode, which is usually referred to as “Fortnite” today.
Fortnite is probably the largest game in the world thanks to Battle Royale. It’s more than just a quick successor to PlayerUnknown’s battlefields. It’s a dynamic world with elements from Minecraft’s sophisticated building systems, but in addition to massive seasonal content losses, Epic Games is also constantly adding little puzzles that keep fans educated about upcoming developments.
Get it here: Epic Games Store
Image: crowbar collective
The original half-life tells the story of MIT-educated theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman and a transdimensional divide that could one day kill us all. For PC shooters, Half-Life represents a turning point for the entire genre and threads an almost uninterrupted narrative through a seamless and carefully coordinated action spectacle.
While the gameplay itself can more than keep up, the appearance of the original leaves something to be desired. Fortunately, the Crowbar Collective team – themselves a bunch of modders – created Black Mesa. It’s not just a remaster of the original game, it’s also an attempt to redesign Half-Life’s final, troubled levels with jumping puzzles on the alien planet Xen.
Whether you want to play the classic version or the updated Black Mesa is up to you, but every PC enthusiast should try one or the other at least once.
Get Half-Life here: Steam
Get Black Mesa here: Steam
Image: cardboard computer
Kentucky Route Zero
Kentucky Route Zero is one of the most fascinating narrative experiments in all video games. As the idea of the small team of artists from Cardboard Computer, it tells a bizarre story from rural America with magical realism.
The game, which started as a Kickstarter campaign, has been episodically released in the past six years. The final segment is expected shortly. Cardboard Computer has also published a number of experiences that it calls interludes that are freely available online.
Get it here: Steam | GOG | Modest
Image: riot games
League of legends
League of Legends can be extremely intimidating. It is a mixture of RTS genre and action RPGs, in which physical skills and high-level strategies mix into intense online battles. With over 140 champions that players can learn and master, there are many different ways to break in and play multiple roles in each round.
LoL only fascinates as a spectator sport. Fans are flocking to see multinational tournaments around the world. Many sports organizations rely on the quality of the LoL teams that they can deploy. Given this popularity, it’s no wonder that this game is one of the most watched titles on Twitch.
Get it here: riot
Image: Games 4A
The 4A Games team’s Metro series can be a tough nut to crack.
The first person shooter gameplay requires patience and a high level of skill. The latest entry in the series, Metro Exodus, was a bit rocky. But once you’ve gotten acquainted with the brutal survival and crafting elements, there’s simply nothing like it.
Best of all, Exodus, who focuses on a train journey to post-apocalyptic Russia, tells a remarkable story, in which a hint of hope spreads in desolation.
Get it here: Epic Games Store
Picture: Mojang / Microsoft Studios
Before Minecraft was the cultural force it is today, it was a survival game.
Minecraft places players on a procedurally generated map that is eight times larger than the surface of the earth. They must find, hunt, or grow enough food to survive while evading the ever-present threat of explosive creepers and deadly zombies on their way to an endgame battle against a powerful extra-dimensional dragon.
Of course, it’s Minecraft’s creative no-stakes mode that has gotten the game to tens of millions of clicks on Twitch and YouTube, two entire industries that appear to have been created for the new generation of gaming personalities that brought it closer to the world.
You can get it here: Microsoft | Mojang | Amazon
Image: Mobius Digital / Annapurna Interactive
Outer Wilds, Polygon’s Game of the Year 2019, started as a student project before launching a successful crowdfunding campaign on the Fig platform.
Outer Wilds is about exploring the unknown, but there is a catch. The game’s pocket-sized solar system runs on a tight 22-minute loop. Each cycle ends when the player wakes up, with everything seemingly reset, except for the knowledge gained through exploring space and the planets therein. Why this happens and what the player needs to do to fix things up is one of the most intriguing secrets of the entire game.
Get it here: Epic Games Store
Image: Lucas Pope / 3909
Return of the Obra Dinn
Like an old-fashioned murder story, Return of the Obra Dinn poses a complex secret that is full of personalities, motives, secrets and lies. But it charges all conventions by transferring the deception into every corner of its complicated, gorgeous murder scenes.
The story takes place on a merchant ship from the early 19th century that appeared in port five years after it was reported missing and is believed to have been lost at sea. The ship is robbed of human life. My job is to get on board the ship and find out what happened. I will soon be confronted with evidence of a failed trip. Skeletons, exploded cannons and destroyed rigging add up … what?
Obra Dinn is characterized by a monochrome art style, which was inspired by the early Macintosh game, but is also completely three-dimensional in movement and optics. As a player, you live with an insurance provider from the sailing age who has limited control over time and space. The game demands a lot of attention to detail and cleverness from the players to get to the bottom of the events of the individual characters and to delight them at every turn with a story and a design that gradually turns into surprising bursts of sound and violence demonstrate.
In his glowing review, our Colin Campbell concluded that Obra Dinn “is not just a great game, but the work of an intense and creative intelligence.”
Get it here: Steam | GOG | Modest
Image: Blizzard entertainment
StarCraft may not be the first real-time strategy game, but fans of the genre generally agree that it’s one of the best RTS games ever made. The fast-paced strategy game is widely referred to as the engine of the modern competitive sports scene.
Thanks to StarCraft Remastered, which was released in 2017, access to modern PCs is still unlimited.
For $ 14.99, you can download the original game and its major expansion, Brood War, and play it in full 4K resolution. You can’t say that about a lot of games that are over two decades old.
Get it here: Battle.net
Image: Digital extremes
This science fiction fantasy shooter combines third-person action and Vanquish-style acrobatics with proven MMO systems to create a vibrant community of players. It’s also more accessible than ever.
“Tenno” is the noun for the player character who wakes up from cryosleep and immediately comes into conflict with the grineer. Fortunately, my warframe overcomes me through the conflict and I am supported by the benevolent Lotus. Ever confused the proper names? It takes a while to understand the size and scope of the Warframe storyline, but on the whole that doesn’t matter. Most of it is pretty normal science fiction stuff – an ancient empire has crumbled, that empire’s factions are at war now, and I am a powerful card that comes into play. But there is a twist that you shouldn’t spoil if you want to play.
This effectively means that I unlock a variety of missions with variable goals and jump around and am a ninja. Warframe’s fight is a real joy. Movement is fast, fluid, and beautifully deadly. Single hits can have a huge impact – I enjoy pulling an arrow back and shooting it straight through an enemy’s head, where it bounces back and is pinned to a wall. Melee attacks are accompanied by a satisfying sound effect and bright flash, along with a snappy animation.
Get it here: Digital Extreme | steam
Image: CD Projekt Red / Warner Bros. Interactive entertainment
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Years after its release, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is still considered an outstanding achievement in modern video game design.
Much has been written about the game’s long drawn-out main purpose and how the series uses player decisions to change the world of the game thoughtfully over time. In this regard, it is the gold standard for digital role-playing games. But where The Witcher 3 really shines on the PC is a wonderful spectacle for the eyes. From the game’s rich and atmospheric skyboxes to the environment and character art itself, The Witcher 3 looks best on PC, with longer scrolling paths and higher resolutions than anywhere else.
In this regard, the age of the four-year title is actually an advantage. You’ll spend a lot less today on a high-quality graphics card than when you first released the game.
Get it here: Walmart | Steam | GOG | Amazon | GameStop
World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft is an imaginative massive multiplayer online game that stands on the shoulders of giants like Ultima and EverQuest. World of Warcraft has been reinventing itself for more than 15 years and has gone back in time to pique player interest. You may have left the game.
And WoW still has a thriving community, even though the total number of players sometimes goes up and down over time. Whether you land alone or with a close group of friends in Azeroth, you should never have to experience adventure alone.
Get it here: Walmart | blizzard
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dujS8L7qWAU (/ embed)
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
Turn-based tactical strategy games are another example of an entire genre that was born on the PC. I can’t think of a better example than War of the Chosen, the outstanding expansion for 2017 for XCOM 2.
The style of play is simple, even if the strategy isn’t, take a small group of heavily armed commands and laboriously move in and out of the way, alternately move or attack with an enemy trying to stop, sort of to achieve objective.
However, where the war of the elect is distinguished lies in its world production and storytelling. It is not only based on the exceptionally well done restart of Firaxis Games, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but also contains an endearing cast of characters. To make it even more fun, all speakers come from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In my review, I called it “the ultimate XCOM experience,” and that’s as true today as it was when I started.
Get it here: Walmart | 2K | Steam | Amazon | GameStop | Fanatic | Green Man Gaming
Get it here: Paradox | Steam | Fanatic | Green Man Gaming | GOG
Total War: Three Kingdoms
Get it here: Walmart | Steam | Fanatical
Get it here: Steam | Amazon | Fanatic | Green Man Gaming
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
Get it here: Steam | GOG
Get here: Bohemia | steam
Get it here: Gaijin | steam
Crusader kings 2
Get it here: Paradox | Steam | Amazon | Fanatic | Green Man Gaming
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