The Games To Get For A First Time PC Gamer

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?


    Replace Dawn of War 2 with its (far better) predecessor: Dawn of War: Dark Crusade and there's no bad advice in here! Just things missing. So much.

    SO MUCH. PC history - thanks to GoG and co - its so much more easily and revisited now. And so much of it is worthwhile. Anything that was acclaimed for its gameplay at the time (think, Populous) rather than its graphics (not providing any examples) will hold up great.

      "Replace Dawn of War 2 with its (far better) predecessor: Dawn of War: Dark Crusade and there's no bad advice in here!"

      Hmmm, I don't know about recommending DotA 2 or LoL to people who've only just picked up PC gaming haha. That sounds like something of a trial by fire to me.

        People who want cheap games will certainly get cheap games, though! :D

          Just started playing Dark Crusade and Soulstorm with the big fan patch as well.

          Agreed that they're better games, but they will make *zero* sense if you haven't played the series before. For someone who is literally just getting into strategy, DoW 2 is a much better starting point -- and then they can graduate onto the non-linear campaign.

          Small thought: how amazing would SC2 be if it had a non-linear campaign like Dark Crusade? Oh my god.

            With persistent tech upgrades, territory to defend, basic resources/logistics/territory expansion concerns and evolving hero units? Oh. My. God.

        Yeah i was gonna say that DoTA in general should never be attempted by someone completely new to PC. The game is like quick sand constantly knocking you down and you struggling to get to grips on mechanics that are always changing.

        This is from someone that's been playing for 7 years :S

      I own about 15 or so games on PC thanks to gog just handing them out free. So good.

        Should always try to log in to Origin once a month, too. They usually have some pretty decent quality stuff up for free, owing to their absorption of some really great studios from back in the day. Over the next few years they'll probably have released the entire Bullfrog, Westwood, and Origin (studios) back-catalogues.

          Oh Damn, I probably already have an account from Dragon Age too :-/

    If RTS games made a proper resurgence with a new cnc, red alert, age of empires, warcraft i would seriously consider getting back into pc gaming

      Have you tried the Wargame series? Or if you wanted a more traditional RTS, Act of Aggression?

        nah i havnt, i havnt gamed on pc for probably 10 years lol i just console game now due to ease and laziness but would come back if enough great rts games came out. act of aggression does look cool

    Sunless Sea...I must check this one out!

      Very enjoyable played in combination with the Fallen London browser game. Soooooo muuuuuch loooooore.

    If I had to suggest a list of games for people to play on PC, it would be:

    Stardew Valley
    Pillars of Eternity
    Skyrim (with the caveat of looking deep into modding)
    Portal 1 & 2
    The Stanley Parable
    To the Moon
    Age of Empires (everyone likes 2, but 1 is my fave)
    The Witness
    Fallout New Vegas
    Papers, Please
    Civ 5
    The Age of Decadence

    From the top of my head anyway. There's so much there to explore though, so many years of experiences that only occur or are better on a PC.

      There is so bloody much to explore. And that's kind of the problem doing something like this, you're always going to miss tons of really, really good games.

      I don't think you can actually play AoE 1 again today, or at least purchase it via standard means. Does GOG have it?

        No idea actually, mine comes from a CD I got from a cornflakes box. Might have to check on that..

          Huh. As it turns out, you can't get it any more. Wow.

          I can't believe it came out in 97! My god. So old. 20 years next year!

          If only Microsoft was looking into getting serious about the PC again... ;)

    SimCity 2000, especially if they've never used a mouse in their entire life.

    I played the original Half-Life for the first time a few years back and I'd say it holds up spectacularly. If your computer says 'Windows' somewhere when it starts you'll be able to play it, and there's also an auto-aim option for novice WASD users. Definitely recommended.

    A short list for my taste:
    Team Fortress 2 (still having fun after 1500 hours, oodles of content is a huge understatement, the ammount of updates the game has had makes it an entirely new experience since the console versions were last updated)
    Any of the Valve single player games, particularly Half-Life (Yes, they have been available on consoles, but HL1 in particular needs to be played on a PC)
    The Music Machine: bizarre and surreal, an experience you'd never find on any other platform while still being easy to understand for newcomers.

    The biggest omissions on the list from my perspective are Baldur's Gate, The Witcher (1,2 &3), Assassin's Creed II and the Mass Effect series.

    Perhaps Minecraft for it's accessibility.

    Good to see Blood getting some love :)

    Civ IV over V as a recommendation for first timers? Can't say I necessarily agree with that one, considering how much more accessible from a systems point of view Civ V is (hell, the game copped a fair bit of flak initially for being supposedly being "dumbed down")

    Alex, as someone who has just built a PC for the first time your list is pretty spot on for what I grabbed from Steam. I found Snow on a hunt through the sports games; it's a wonderful open space providing the best 'real' snowboarding experience I've had in videogames.

    to be fair Age of Empires 3 was a brilliant game also.
    something from the command and conquer series, perhaps Red Alert
    also, Monkey Island 1, 2 and 3
    Day of the Tentacle is a must too.
    some MMORPG also, LOTRO for Lord of the Rings fans, has a really friendly community and you can get some decent play for free even just for a taste.
    Duke Nukem 3d
    Mass Effect 1, 2 or 3
    Just Cause 1, 2 or 3
    Max Payne 1 and 2
    dare i say, one of the Postal games.
    and maybe a game like Torchlight or Diablo.

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