The 24 Best Classic PC Games

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

There's never been a better time to play games on PC. Not only does the PC get the lion's share of the best new games, PC gamers can choose from a back catalogue that makes even the most stocked console library look paltry.

For a couple of years now, we've been maintaining a list of the 12 best PC games. (Among our staff, it is the trickiest and most hotly debated of all of our "bests" lists.) That list includes the 12 best modern PC games; they're the games we would recommend if you just got a new PC and wanted to see what it could do. The list has never been complete, however, because it doesn't include any of the multitude of incredible classic games that PC gamers can and still do enjoy.

Our readers have shared all of their favourite classic PC games, but while the resulting list is a beautiful thing, it's also massive and unwieldy. Surely there must be a sweet spot between the modern focus of our current PC bests list and the overwhelming sprawl of our crowdsourced list of classics?

That brings us to the list you're about to read. Given the PC's years of rich history, we've doubled our usual cap of 12 games and cut things off at 24. Even that number isn't high enough -- we had to make some excruciating cuts to get this done. As you head into the comments to creatively ream us for leaving off whatever seminal game, rest assured of a few things: 1) The current list has been reached after vigorous debate among our staff and 2) We had to stop somewhere -- had we extended the list to 30, or 40 games, it still wouldn't have been enough. There were more than 300 entries on our reader-curated list, yet people regularly complain about games that were left off. And for that matter, 3) we reserve the right to return to this list at any time and swap games in and out, should we change our minds as to which games deserve the honour of appearing here.

The following 24 games represent the best of classic PC gaming. These games were important in their time and remain fun to play even today. Here they are, in alphabetical order.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

Still in many ways the gold standard to which all modern PC RPGs are held, Baldur's Gate II revolutionised the whole notion of assembling a party, heading out into the wilderness, and flirting with them enough that they'd kiss you.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

Deus Ex was one of a few turn-of-the-century PC games to fuse first-person shooting with RPG stats and dialogue options, becoming an "action" game that was much about careful simulation as it was about quickfire shooting. A decade and a half later, we're still getting Deus Ex games... and they're good Deus Ex games for one simple reason: They have stayed true to the original. Deus Ex was so far ahead of its time that it still feels relevant -- and fun -- today.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

Click, click, clickty-click / check out this new light crossbow! / click, click, click.

This is the song of Diablo. Long may it echo in the chambers of the damned.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

It's Doom. You know. Doom. What else is there to say?

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

Bullfrog's Dungeon Keeper was one of several popular 90s games -- several games on this list, even -- that had the temerity to wonder... maybe it might be more fun to play as the bad guy? As ably demonstrated by the tactical trap-fest that followed, yes, yes it was.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

It's hard to beat an original. Fallout introduced a role-playing universe that is still alive and thriving today. It gave us the Vault Boy, Nuka-Cola, super mutants, the Bloody Mess perk and the Brotherhood of Steel. The original Fallout has a straightforward tone that feels refreshing compared with its goofier sequel, and offered a level of freedom for real role-playing that feels liberating even now.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

Indiana Jones games are depressingly few and far between. Good Indiana Jones games are even fewer and farther between, which helps a gem like Lucasarts' Fate of Atlantis shine all the brighter. Atlantis had all the necessary Indy ingredients: A globe-trotting narrative, a memorable cast of characters, puzzles with multiple solutions, and an ancient mystery to uncover. It managed all that while teaching us the phrase "Darwinian Nightmare," and why that might be considered an insult.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

While Half-Life 2 is technically old enough to be considered a "classic," we're going to be edgy iconoclasts (not really) and suggest that the original is more deserving. Not only is it a well-designed action game, it's much weirder than you probably remember. Forget waiting around for Half-Life 3, go back and replay this cooker and marvel at what PC gaming used to be.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

Heroes of Might and Magic III is best described as a cross between an RTS and RPG, which for the non-acronym-inclined means it's like no other genre out there. It's impossible to sum up its gameplay in a sentence, other than to say you have to simultaneously manage heroes, build castles, collect resources, explore the world, and train an army to take out into the world against opponents both big and small. Well, OK, that was one sentence. HOMM3 is exceptionally tough to master, but once you've learned how to tell the difference between an Iron Golem and a Dendroid -- and once you've discovered the power of ranged armies -- it's even tougher to stop playing.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

Adventure games are about story, and there's a doozy of a story at the heart of Funcom's The Longest Journey. That's a good thing, considering that this marvellous game has a puzzle so bad it still gets written about from time to time. The Longest Journey is set in a fantastical universe so rich it seems to exist outside of the game. The worlds of Stark and Arcadia have yet to relax their grip on our collective imagination.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

Many of us have fond memories of the first Monkey Island, but it was the sequel that perfected the formula and remains one of the finest point-and-click adventure games ever made. Even if a woodchuck could chuck wood and even if a woodchuck would chuck wood, should a woodchuck chuck wood? Yes, it should.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

Oh, Cate. Your games may be depressingly hard to buy these days, but we will never forget you. While No One Lives Forever 2 is the more polished, more modern game in the series, its overt goofiness and less memorable story haven't aged it as well as its predecessor. The original No One Lives Forever still feels like an improbable game; a hard-boiled spy story with a wry sense of humour, outsized action setpieces, subtle social commentary, a terrific series of narrative twists and turns, and a healthy sprinkling of actual espionage work. And of course, on top of all that, it gave us Cate Archer, one of the greatest video game characters of all time.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

There's a reason so many people call Planescape Torment the greatest RPG of all time. Because… well, it kind of is. Full of action, drama, humour, and unexpected heartbreak, Torment remains as moving now as it ever was. Plus, it features the most charming floating skull in all of video games. (Sorry, Bubbles.)

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

The first Quest For Glory's subtitle -- "So you want to be a hero" -- is more of a challenge than a question. Do you really want to be a hero? Even if you're kind of a hapless goof, and most people spend their time making fun of you? That cheekiness carried through the rest of the game, a semi-serious hybrid adventure/RPG that would eventually give birth to a beloved series.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

More than just Civilization in Space, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri is a bona-fide sci-fi epic in its own right, still played and beloved by tons of PC gamers even today. Alpha Centauri is so good that we used its inclusion to justify leaving a Civilization game off of this list. Yep. It's THAT good.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

The game isn't called Pirates -- it's called Pirates!, and the exclamation mark is key. If you ever wanted a game to make you cry out -- Pirates! -- this was the one. The swordfights may not have been as exciting as you were hoping they'd be, but the simulation was deep enough that it didn't matter. Pirates! was one of the first simulation games a lot of us ever played, and what an introduction it was.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

That weird, plonky music; the "zzt" of the power lines; and of course, all those splines that needed reticulation. There's a reason so many of us were obsessed with SimCity 2000 -- it's a fantastic game and it blew the whole city management thing wide open. Many years and sequels later, it's still hard to say that any of the more graphically impressive, expansive, or ambitious SimCity games outdoes SimCity 2000.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

People still play competitive StarCraft all these years later, and it's not out of nostalgia. StarCraft was an unusually balanced, challenging game that won hardcore fans with its at-the-time peerless competitive multiplayer modes, while giving rise to eSports as we know them. For those of us who preferred singleplayer, StarCraft told us the story of Raynor, Kerrigan, the Protoss and the Zerg -- a saga that is still unfolding to this day.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

Sometimes "bad guy" is a relative term. If your enemies are willing to use mind-control drugs or level a city block with a Gauss gun, shouldn't you consider doing the same? Would doing so make you a bad guy? Few games have captured the stylish amorality of the original Syndicate, and it remains one of the best cyberpunk games of all time. That there aren't actually all that many great cyberpunk video games to begin with (what's that about?) does little to diminish how good Syndicate is on its own merits.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

Another of the progenitors of the Immersive Sim, System Shock 2 is as creepy and stressful today as it was when it came out in 1999. It may be unwieldy by today's standards, but once SHODAN gets her claws into you, there's no escape. Honestly, there's been so much ink spilled on this game that we're having a hard time coming up with something new to say. Remember Citadel, etc.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

Slicker and more carefully put-together than its groundbreaking predecessor, Thief II perfected the formula laid out in Thief: The Dark Project. It remains a standard for this type of stealthy sneak-fest, and even its subsequent follow-ups have been unable to match it. Just play it, ya taffer.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

TIE Fighter isn't just one of the best space combat games of all time; it's one of the best Star Wars games, full-stop. It accomplished that by doing something very simple: It let us play as the bad guys, and it let us fly their super cool -- if impractically shield-free -- starfighters. If you ever wanted to go really, really fast while blowing up friendly X-Wing pilots, this was your game. When we reviewed it last fall, it still managed to get a resounding YES.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

While other RPGs were doing the Infinity engine thing, Origin's Ultima games forged their own path. They created simulated worlds more in line with early Elder Scrolls games than their more rigid Dungeons & Dragons competitors, and they introduced us to the world of Brittania, Lord British, and the Avatar. Ultima VII: The Black Gate and its sorta-sequel Serpent Isle still stand as the pinnacle of the series, worth revisiting if only to spend more time with Iolo, Shamino, and Dupre.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

There was a time when Warcraft was not synonymous with the words "World Of," when orcs and men did battle in a more top-down, strategic format. While Warcraft II is the game many remember as the crowning moment of the Warcraft RTS era, Warcraft III improved on the formula in a bunch of small and large ways. It may have paved the way for the MOBA genre, signalling popular gaming culture's shift away from the RTS genre as a whole, but Reign of Chaos remains one of the finest of its kind. We may never get another Warcraft RTS, but Warcraft III is so good we may not really need one.

The 24 Best Classic PC Games

Want more of the best games on each system? Check out our complete directory:

The Best PC GamesThe Best PS4 GamesThe Best Xbox One GamesThe Best Wii U GamesThe Best 3DS GamesThe Best PS Vita GamesThe Best Xbox 360 GamesThe Best PS3 GamesThe Best Wii GamesThe Best iPhone GamesThe Best iPad GamesThe Best Android GamesThe Best PSP GamesThe Best Facebook GamesThe Best DS GamesThe Best Mac GamesThe Best Browser GamesThe Best PC Mods


Comments

    YOUR LIST IS WRONG!

    I’m joking, but there are some very surprising additions to that list.
    You seem to have ticked off one major title from each major genre of gaming but then added some really random ones too.

    I mean No One Lives Forever but nothing from the Quake series?

    I’ve never heard of The Longest Journey either, and I’m a 30 year old who spent thousands and thousands of hours playing PC games from the late 80’s through to about 2005. That’s really strange.

      Yeah I agree with No One Lives Forever. I even recall it reviewing well, but not amazingly, upon its release. How has it made the top PC games of all time list? I'd replace it with Quake 2 that's for sure.

      The Longest Journey however - as a dedicated PC gamer I'm very surprised you missed that one. Arguably one of the finest adventure games made. Consider yourself unlucky in that regard.

        I'd nearly go so far as to refine that even further: Q2DM1 - The Edge

        According to Wikipedia The Longest Journey is a point and click adventure that came out in 2000 and sold less than 500,000 copies.
        It did review well and I am surprised I never heard of it, but it’s certainly not a heavy hitter in the same away as some of those other games are. It had sequels that both reviewed “meh” and I haven’t heard of them either.

        Look, at the end of the day it’s a personal opinion, but if I met someone who was interested in playing a historic section of the best classic PC games I wouldn’t have it on the list.

        PC gaming from 1997-2005 was DEFINED by the competitive multiplayer FPS IMO. Hell it may well still be, and there are no games at all on that list that fall into that category with Doom predating mainstream multiplayer and HL1 being best known as a single player experience.

        Everyone’s going to have their own opinion, but to have THREE point and click adventures on the list, one of which came out well after the genre was at its peak and no Quake/ Counter Strike/ Unreal Tournament is nuts.

        Last edited 07/08/15 12:00 pm

          Oh I agree, I don't think it should've made the list either, despite it being great. Just mentioned that it because you missed out on a great title, sales or not.

          The list is pretty heavy on RPGs - even many of the non-RPG games (like HOMM 3) have an RPG slant to them. And quite short on RTSes and shooters. IMO Total Annihilation deserves a mention.

          I don't play shooters much, but I have to agree the genre slant in the list is pretty pronounced.

          I did play TLJ - it is excellent, I bought it on release AND on Steam AND on GOG...

      No One Lives Forever is an amazing game and a worthy contender for this list.
      I might hazard a guess that one of the reasons the list doesn't contain the quake/cs/UT games is the These games were important in their time and remain fun to play even today. With no online community to speak of, I would say that NOLF is a much more enjoyable game than UT3 and Quake

        Think again, these STILL get busted out at LANs all the time by lots and lots of my mates.

          Quake 3 is still the pinnacle of competitive PC gaming IMO.
          It’s just the perfect balance of strategy and reflex with brilliant level design, weapon balance and fast, fluid movement.

          There’s nothing realistic about it, it doesn’t reward standing still, it doesn’t reward crouching or artificially distort your aim, there's no group spawn points, custom weapon selection or loadouts…. It’s just pure skill and strategy.

          It hasn’t aged at all really either. The flow and smoothness of the game means that as long as it’s running at 60fps the game is still beautiful to watch and play. I’m happy to spend hours just flowing around the maps hitting trick jumps and flick-shotting rockets down hallways.

          Ok, I’m getting a bit emotional now. I LOVE YOU Q3A!

          Last edited 07/08/15 4:01 pm

      I'm a 40 year old who plays countless house of PC games. I've heard of The Longest Journey. One of the best adventure games out there.

      Why did you stop in 2005?... That's a whole 11 years of gaming missed! Did you lose your arms? Did something irreversible happen to you?? Did... Did you lose interest in PC gaming??!!??

        A most terrible fate befell me!

        My parents PC got old when I was about 18. I moved out on my own soon after. Got a mortgage. Couldn’t even afford cable internet for a few years.
        Had to get by playing Xbox 360 for years (I was always a console gamer too).
        Truly awful times!

        By the time I got my expenses under control I was too busy to play even the games I want on a console so I never bought a gaming PC.

        It’s been a traumatic fall from grace. I still can’t bring myself to play a “proper” competitive FPS online unless it’s got a cool gimmick (Titanfall) and even then I don’t care because it just doesn’t count playing a FPS with a sh*tty controller, autoaim and other such nonsense.

        My crappy laptop does run Quake 3 still through.

          Lol! Oh, I see. Life caught up with you! It happens to the best of us...

    Solid list. Not going to go the mandatory 'BUT WHAT ABOUT GAME X YOUR LIST IS SHIT.'

    Great list - and some great titles. Only one I'd add just from the pure mayhem memories is Carmageddon

    LOL, as if you'd use a crossbow in Diablo II... Bowzon's where it's at!

    The best PC games were made in the 80s and early nineties. I am going to have to bring up Darklands though!

    Last edited 07/08/15 11:38 am

    I never got into Alpha Centauri the same way I got into Civilization games.

    props to putting together a list that will no doubt make the comments section full of "what a terrible list, I can't believe you didn't even include ___________!!!"

    Last edited 07/08/15 11:39 am

    Awesome list. X-com or Wing Commander Privateer. I must of pumped weeks into thoes games in the 90's

    Edit - what about Command and Conquer: Red Alert!! OK LIST IS FUCKED NOW KILL IT WITH FIRE!

    Last edited 07/08/15 11:46 am

      Yep. I was fulling expecting at least one command and conquer game, be it from the red alert series, or the tiberium series. Not really sure

      Yup this list can't be right without Command and Conquer on it!!!

      Goddamn I spent SO much time with Red Alert as a kid. What a cracker of a game :D

    Saw the title and instantly thought I bet you they've left off HOMM 3 and I was ready to call you out on that and burn this article to the ground. Then as I read it suddenly HOMM 3. I was happily surprised. My favourite game of all time.

      Oh yes. I'm slowly playing through the Heroes Chronicles games now, bought off GOG.com. Slowly because I don't want to get too addicted - taking big breaks between chapters.

    UFO Enemy Unknown / X-COM UFO Defense would be on the top of my classic PC games.

    Lemmings, Mystic Towers, MechWarrior 2, Lords Of The Realm 2, and pretty much everything from Apogee Software and Epic MegaGames.

    Oh, and Age Of Wonders and Command & Conquer, can't forget those.

    Last edited 07/08/15 11:49 am

    I would fit squarely in the demographic of a gamer during the period that most of these games were released, and I think that 30% of them I either never played or had never heard of. I can't help but complain about how disappointed I am that Descent is not there, we used to break in to the computer lab every lunch and beg to be allowed to stay behind after school to play that game. Hell, a few of us reminisce about that game still. Don't get me started on Quake, Rise of the Triad or Unreal...

    Last edited 07/08/15 11:53 am

      I have heard of most of them, and was a huge PC gamer over this period, but only have played 4 of the games on the list. I played Syndicate so many hours that it could be hy I missed the others :)

      I did however play a lot of Carmageddon, Command & Conquer, Original Tomb Raider, Alley Cat, Original Leisure Suit Larry, Infocom Adventures, Starship Titanic, Tribes, Wolfenstein, Warcraft I & II (hated III), Starglider, Carrier Command, and whatever new games came out that could utilise my 3DFX Voodoo card.

      Have you tried playing Descent recently? I can't believe how i didn't throw up the first time playing through that game when it came out.
      Unfortunately it doesn't have that 'It's Still fun today' aspect to it. I got through the first level, my nostalgia itch tickled, and then removed it again. :(

    The only games left off this list that I think should be there are Quake, Unreal and Unreal Tournament. Other than that it's pretty solid.

    Bit disappointed there are no Commander Keen games on the list but eh, I'll live :P

      I don’t know about Unreal. That title is more of a graphical benchmark than a classic game, the actual experience of playing it single player wasn’t memorable in the Deus Ex/ Half Life way and the multiplayer never really took off until Tournament came out.

      There definitely needs to be at least 1 pure multiplayer shooter on the list though. I’d personally have Quake (you can justify it being any of the 3) but I wouldn’t argue too much if you went with UT.

        I dunno, the original Unreal I thought was incredibly immersive as a single player experience.

    Homm3, D2 and baldurs gate 2 are responsible for ruining my teenage years lol, then it was freespace 2 :( ahh back when PC games weren't just terrible console ports.

    I really, really hated Warcraft III, and I loved Warcraft I & II.
    It just seemed to lose the humour, and forcing me to play *both* sides on a single campaign, oh man I hate it when games do that.

      Yeah Warcraft III was a real letdown for me. The idea of levelling up heroes by attacking creeps in multiplayer particularly was a big no-no.

    It need to have either Dune 2, C&C or WC2. And Homeworld should of made it

    Pretty good list but no Command and Conquer or XCom... so yeah it's wrong ;)

    One word - ZORK
    Loved "Eye of the Beholder" as well as "Prince of Persia"

    I love gaming.
    I love PC gaming.
    I have never played any of these games before.
    Man, I really love gaming.

    I'm glad to see the Ultima series get a guernsey. They are STILL my favourite game series in many ways. While technically not as as amazing as Ultima VII, Ultima IV is still ground breaking in that the way to, win wasn't tied to killing and looting. You had to aspire to "the Virtues". That would be a hard thing to pull off in today's gaming environment.

    Solid list. Yeah, there could be some additions here and there, but then you're getting into a goddamn Top 100 list.
    Can't say I played all of these games, but certainly heard about them, it wasn't as if they released with no fanfare.

    Personal additions would be:
    Carmageddon
    Jagged Alliance series
    Delta Force - possibly the first game to make mil-sim a popular genre.
    Descent
    Counter Strike
    Tribes

    Unreal?
    Counter Strike?
    Quake?
    Descent?
    COD?

      Eh they've got HL on the list, CS was just a spinoff of that. Much in the same way that DOTA isn't on the list since it was just a spinoff of WC3

    I agree that I would have loved to see Descent (actually, probably Descent 2 because AARRRGH THAT DAMN THIEF BOT! I love to hate it!!!) on the list, but it was a remarkably solid list and probably one of the best ones I've seen of this kind.

    I agree that The Longest Journey is kind of a weird outside choice - while it is still an interesting game, I'd probably replace it with Descent 2.

    Though in general, this list pretty much hits all of the right notes. Bravo!

    My personal list goes along the lines of:

    - Total Annihilation: Kingdoms
    - Age of Empires I & II
    - GTA II
    - Morrowind
    - Diablo I
    - Metal Fatigue (Unique RTS worth the lookup)
    - Emulators - SNES/GBC/GBA/PSX (This is many games that I enjoyed throughout childhood)
    - Halo
    - CounterStrike 1.6
    - Heroes of Might and Magic V (Sacrilege? I think its the Best HoMM Ever made and now a true classic... sorry, not sorry)
    - Trackmania
    - Majesty
    - WC3: Frozen Throne
    - StarCraft

    Edit for 'Educational' PC Classics:
    - Gizmos and Gadgets
    - Zoombinis
    - The incredible Machine

    Last edited 07/08/15 2:58 pm

      Yeah, I think Age of Empires II would be a solid addition to the list.
      HOMMV? I played the demo, and a bit more, but no, the slow pace of everything, the complicated skill system, the squares that make it so much harder to protect archers... not my game. I would take everything about H3 and add the skill system from H4 and say that was perfect.

      I agree! Morrwind has to be up there for me on all time favourite game!

      I never got into Kingdoms in the same way I got into the original TA...

      ... god that game was good.

      Lemmings...
      Stunts
      Worms

      Last edited 09/08/16 10:32 pm

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