Late last week, a guest reader put forth a question. They've just joined the world of PC gaming, and they were quite looking forward to the upcoming Steam sale. Question is: what games should they buy?
And that can be a difficult question to broach. There are so many different genres. First-person shooters. Third-person shooters. Survival horror. Survival roguelike. Turn-based strategy. Real-time action strategy. MOBAs. Tower defence. Sports. Co-operative multiplayer. Competitive multiplayer. Simulations. Adventure puzzlers. Point-and-click puzzlers. The list goes on and on.
But we're here to help. New to PC gaming? Look no further.
The real trick to answering this question, of course, lies in knowing precisely what you like. Not every game is for everyone. But what follows is a broad guideline for most of the genres in PC gaming, from modern titles to retro classics. If you're new to PC games, and want to know what all the fuss is about, you'll find something you like.
For People Who Just Want To Shoot Stuff
Part of the argument for playing a shooter on PC is the added precision you get out of a mouse and keyboard. But the real joy isn't just the added precision, but the easier movement. Games like Quake simply aren't as good on consoles, and in most cases — like the new Unreal Tournament — they're just not available.
If you'd like to school yourself in some classic PC gaming, but don't want to deal with the drama of playing a repackaged game from the 1990's, firing up id's reboot of DOOM is a great place to start. I wouldn't buy it through Steam, especially given all the Brexit-induced volatility. But you can pick up the game for a pretty reasonable price through brick-and-mortar retailers.
You can, of course, grab the original DOOM and have a grand old time. But if you want something a little retro that's off the beaten path, the Blood series is awfully good fun. Hexen offers a brand of level design you simply don't see in this day and age.
I'd also recommend exploring the world of arena shooters. Unreal Tournament 2004 is going for a song right now, and there are hundreds of thousands of people playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive for a reason. But if you're just after something to give you a really quick adrenaline hit with a low barrier to entry, Devil Daggers is loads of fun.
But I Don't Just Want To Shoot, I Want To Survive
Something the PC market has in spades over consoles is the survival genre. A lot of those come in the form of first-person survival, like H1Z1, ARK: Survival Evolved, Rust and DayZ. These games have been in the Steam's top 20 for the last year for good reason, and any one of them is well worth checking out. You'll also get the best experience on PC: most are still in Early Access, and as a result they're either unreleased on consoles or have a larger player base on PC.
You'll often find a lot of survival elements in some of the biggest roguelike games as well. Faster Than Light (FTL) is still a fantastic, accessible experience that deserves to be remembered as one of the best uses of crowdfunding in video games. Sunless Sea is a well-written adventure that blends the high seas with H.P. Lovecraft.
If you want something you simply can't get on consoles, it's hard to go past System Shock 2. And because part of the fun of PC is making old games better with mods, refer to the links here for everything you need.
What If I Want To Command An Army?
Strategy games are perhaps the quintessential PC experience. A few games have crossed the divide over the years — Halo Wars and The Banner Saga immediately come to mind — but this is the one area where first-timers will find games they simply never would have discovered otherwise.
Let's start with real-time strategy. Relic's Dawn of War 2 is an excellent starting point for a few reasons: it's an action-RTS rather than a full blown, base building, resource managing affair. The goal is to manage a small squad of units and their abilities and the whole campaign, along with the expansions, can be played in co-op with a friend.
If you'd like to continue exploring the glory days of PC strategy, it's worth checking out the original Warcraft 3. It's not as modern as, say, StarCraft 2, but the plot is one of the best you'll find.
For things with a more realistic bent, the Total War series is a pretty good place to start. Empire: Total War, Total War: Shogun 2 and the recently-released Total War: Warhammer are all good picks, and most of them are pretty cheap on Steam right now due to the recent sales.
Like the concept of military tactics? Panzer Corps is an excellent place to start, providing a modern take on the hex-based strategy games that were more prolific in the 1980's and 1990's. For something with more of a geopolitical take on war, Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis 4 are an absolute must.
We can't talk about turn-based strategy without mentioning Civilization. The complete edition of Civ 4 is a great place to start without paying a great deal of money. If you like the fantasy setting, but prefer something a bit faster and less complicated, the ancient Heroes of Might and Magic 3 is still a cracking game.
But what if fantasy isn't your cup of tea? Then you might want to consider space alternatives, such as the recently released Stellaris. Endless Space is also a touch easier to digest, and if you want something even simpler you might want to consider Wargaming's Master of Orion reboot.
What About Those RPGs?
Almost everything feels like an RPG these days, but there are still plenty of gems on PC that you won't find anywhere else. Take last year's indie darling, Undertale. I won't say anything to spoil it, but there's a reason why it's very, very highly rated.
There are so many gems to play. Knights of the Old Republic might be backwards compatible, but it's best played on PC. (You can even transfer the save to your iPad or Android device, and vice versa, if you want to take the game on the go.)
Want to play a better version of Harvest Moon? Join the millions who jumped on the Stardew Valley train. If you want to hack and slash a world while you explore, the Elder Scrolls series is best played on PC. And if you just want to hack and slash, the free-to-play Path of Exile has oodles of content. (And it's made in New Zealand!)
It's difficult to touch on RPGs without crossing genres. But if you want as traditional an experience as you can possibly get, head over to Good Old Games and pick up a copy of Planescape: Torment. Dragon Age: Origins also plays much better on PC, if you want a slightly more modern (but accessible) take on cRPGs. And once you've gotten your feet wet, Divinity: Original Sin is waiting for you.
I Like Puzzles. Give Me Puzzles.
Plenty of traditional adventures are starting to find themselves on all platforms, but there are plenty of classics you can't find anywhere else. Zork Nemesis is a good taste of what the back-end of the FMV point-and-click adventure was like: a lot of puzzles, with just a dabbling of video.
But there's so much more to discover! Every PC gamer should be forced to play Portal. There's a reason Valve offered the developers a job on the spot, you know. Like your puzzles to have more of a stealth flavour? Gunpoint costs about the same amount as a cup of coffee, and it's an excellent place to start. If you want to keep exploring that rabbit hole, then go find out why the original Thief is one of the best games of the 1990's.
Want a puzzle dressed up as a pretty platformer? The first two Trine games can be bought for a song, and they're excellent to play in co-op. Antichmaber is a superb mind-bending indie made in Australia, if you like to have your train of thought completely subverted. And for a retro, completely traditional point-and-click experience, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition and Double Fine's remaster of Day of the Tentacle are excellent places to start. (I'm also a big fan of the original Sam and Max Hit The Road, which you can get from Good Old Games.)
But I Like To Tinker With Stuff.
The world of simulations is pretty damn vast, and if you're an engineer or someone who just likes to build and manage a world there is an almost literally never-ending supply of games to whet your appetite.
Screenshot above is from the automated factory builder Factorio, which is best described as a game for people who like solving their own problems. Because that's literally what you do: try and optimise an entire production chain, only to find knock-on effects from the dependencies that you created. Which then have to be solved.
If you'd like a little more catharsis from your simulation, however, you might want to check out Euro Truck Simulator 2 and its superb, free-to-download multiplayer mod. The initial prospect of driving a virtual truck across Europe seems, well, boring. But it's a genuinely rewarding and pleasant experience that can't be truly appreciated until you've given it a go. Not really the kind of game to play if you need an adrenaline hit, but it's a top way to relax after work.
Want to build a rocket to explore outer space? Try the mania of Kerbal Space Program. Mini Metro is a beautiful strategy simulation about designing a transport network. Besiege is all about the creation of medieval siege engines. Football Manager is a gargantuan franchise for a reason — provided you like sports and football of course — and Cities: Skylines is the city builder SimCity fans never had.
I Don't Want To Spend A Lot Of Money. Recommend Cheap Stuff.
League of Legends is one of the world's biggest games for a reason, and it's free so you really don't have any excuse to not try it at least once. If you'd like something that hits the same notes, but in a different style, DOTA 2 is also free-to-play on Steam. There's SMITE as well if you like the principle of a MOBA but you want it dressed up more like a standard action game.
Want something a little action-oriented? Warframe is basically a third-person Destiny that PC fans never got — except you'll find plenty of diehard fans arguing that it's better than Bungie's big budget shooter. If you want a big MMO with a story that you spend plenty of hours exploring, Bioware's Star Wars: The Old Republic has enough content you can enjoy before you you have to fork out any cash.
Team Fortress 2 and Path of Exile offer oodles of content and don't ask for a dime in return. Blizzard's Hearthstone is basically the template for all good free-to-play card games in this day and age. Planetside 2 offers large-scale combat with massive amounts of players. And if you want something completely different, SNOW is a free-to-play open world game about, you guessed it, skiing and snowboarding. But if you want to see what else is available out there, here's a good place to start.
I could go on and on — and on — but this isn't a bad place to start if you're just exploring PC gaming for the first time. And don't forget that plenty of multi-platform titles are often best experienced on the PC, whether it's through better performance, or the wonderful world of mods.
What games would you recommend to a first-time PC gamer?