The 12 Best Games On PC

The 12 Best Games On PC

Illustration by Sam Woolley

PC gamers have got a pretty great thing going. Interesting, experimental indie games? Yup. Complex strategy simulations? Totally. The shiniest, prettiest versions of big-budget console games? They get a lot of those, too.

This article has been updated since its original publication.

Let’s say you’ve recently joined the ranks of the PC elite. Which games should you install?

Image: EA

Cities: Skylines

Cities: Skylines first launched in 2015 as a terrific if slightly wonky city-builder. Sure, the traffic mechanic might’ve been busted, but it captured the minutiae of urban planning—zoning districts, plotting plumbing, building bike lanes, fine-tuning tax policy—unlike anything else. In the years since, Skylines has become the best city-building game around. Patches ironed out many of the kinks. Expansions introduced winter weather, night-and-day transitions (complete with glorious sunsets), and enough public transit options to make any progressive urbanist weep in joy. But the real evolution came from the mod community. Enterprising modders built on and improved nearly every facet of Skylines. You can download graphical update mods, custom buildings, expanded maps, and tweaked and streamlined game systems. There’s even one that automatically bulldozes abandoned buildings, effectively removing the most tedious part of the game. The result is a city-building game that also gives you a taste of playing god.

A Good Match For: NUMTOTS, urbanists, city planners, and fans of SimCity (not the 2013 debacle).

Not A Good Match For: Minimalists—this is one complex, intricate game.

Read our review, and our retrospective.

Watch it in action.

Study our list of essential mods.

Purchase from: [Steam] | [The Humble Store] | [Green Man Gaming] | [Amazon]

Image: EA

The Sims 4

What more is there to say? It’s The Sims! The fourth installment of Maxis’s long-running life simulator came out in 2014 and, through a seemingly nonstop string of updates and patches, has only improved with every passing year. Last year’s collegiate expansion, in particular, captures how and why this entry continually resonates: This is life. It’s messy and unpredictable, and you have no idea how your Sims might react in various situations. But in that too-real approximation of life exists limitless potential. In all of video games, few character creators are more in-depth. You can direct your characters how you want (mostly), and shape their surrounding environment how you please (mostly). And in a marked improvement over previous entries—one that further captures the whims of real life—your Sims can both multitask and feel emotion.

A Good Match For: Wannabe gods.

Not A Good Match For: Impatient players: The Sims 4 is slow-moving, but once you get in the groove, it’s near-impossible to put down.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: [EA] | [Amazon] | [EB Games]

There’s no shortage of ambition in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Geralt of Rivia’s latest adventure is massive, a world you can get lost in for hours and still have plenty to do. There’s a ton for die-hard Witcher fans to enjoy, but you don’t need to have played a Witcher game to enjoy the heck out of this one.

While many games these days have sprawling landscapes, The Witcher 3 is utterly dense. Every nook and cranny is filled with memorable characters, clever writing, and rewards for curious players. The main story is as thrilling as it is emotionally draining, and the side quests are actually worth doing.

Since its release in 2015, The Witcher 3 has gotten a ton of free updates and improvements along with two terrific paid expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. The full experience is now even bigger, richer, and better than ever.

A Good Match For: Open-world fans, especially those who enjoyed Skyrim but were disappointed by the combat. In The Witcher 3, fighting is nearly as enjoyable as exploration.

Not a Good Match For: People who value their time and social life, anyone who wants a game they can finish in a handful of hours.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game, and catch up on The Witcher lore.

Purchase From: [Steam] [GOG] [Amazon]

In the six years since Civilization V came out, we managed to review it not once but twice. That’s how much these games lend themselves to playing and replaying, and Civ VI is no different. The latest entry adds a lot of new ideas to the Firaxis’s tried-and-true formula, and while some new ideas work better than others, the whole is as usual more than the sum of its parts. The mechanical tweaks and refinements are wrapped up in a subtle, board-game-like aesthetic that is as pleasing on your twentieth hour as it was on your tenth. We’ll be playing this game for years.

A Good Match For: Civ fans, people who have never played a Civ game, basically anyone who doesn’t actively hate Civ.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone who actively hates Civ.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase From: [Steam] [Amazon]

In 2010, Square Enix launched Final Fantasy XIV Online, and it was just the worst — buggy, over-complicated, unfinished; a mess. The developers spent three years rebuilding the game from the ground up, and the end result is one of the finest massively multiplayer online role-playing games ever made. It’s everything fans love about Final Fantasy — lush artwork, strong story, gorgeous music — only bigger, all wrapped around a traditional MMO framework. It’s that Square Enix polish that sets it apart from its competitors, earning it a spot in this list.

A Good Match For: Fans of fantasy role-playing video games looking to take the massively multiplayer plunge. The original Final Fantasy XIV was a tangled mess of conflicting ideas, when all players wanted was a standard MMO game with the familiar features of a Final Fantasy game. That’s exactly what A Realm Reborn is.

Not a Good Match For: Folks afraid of monthly subscriptions. Despite the MMORPG genere as a whole moving towards free-to-play payment models, Final Fantasy XIV stands firm by its monthly subscription plan.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: [Amazon] [Steam]

Hitman 2 takes everything that was great about 2016’s Hitman and improves and expands on all of it. Really, the new game functions like a second “season” for its episodic predecessor, just with all the missions delivered at once. All the things that worked so well about the 2016 game are here: the meticulous planning, the memorization and mastery, the pitch-perfect dark humor. Not only that, but if you own the earlier game, you can play through all of the levels without leaving the sequel. That makes Hitman 2 live up to its billing as “the ultimate Hitman experience,” as well as one of the smartest and most richly entertaining games you can play.

A Good Match For: Fans of classic spy movies, people who like playing dress-up, anyone who liked 2016’s Hitman.

Not A Good Match For: People hoping for a straight-up action or stealth game, those who didn’t care for 2016’s Hitman.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: [Steam]

Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a supremely entertaining and consistently surprising role-playing game, one that expands and improves upon almost everything about its already fantastic predecessor. It may appear to be just another rote fantasy world at first blush, but the more you explore, the more interesting it becomes. Between the complex and rewarding turn-based combat and the branching, open-ended quests and side-stories, Original Sin 2 gives players an uncommon level of freedom to tell their own stories.

And that’s not to mention the elaborate Game Master mode, which lets you write and build campaigns for your friends to work through together. Time and again you’ll find yourself trying outlandish things just to see if they will work. Most of the time, they will.

A Good Match For: Anyone who liked the first game, fans of the Ultima series and other similar CRPGs from which Divinity draws inspiration.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone hoping for a more action-packed RPG, those who don’t like complicated or challenging games.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: [Steam] [GOG]

Just a man and a dog, looking to make a delivery. That’s how it all begins, anyway. But Kentucky Route Zero quickly becomes a mystical adventure through a land left behind by time, an odyssey in magical realism that feels grand and mysterious in a way that very, very few modern video games can muster. It’s not like anything you’ve ever played, and for that alone, you should play it.

A Good Match For: Anyone looking for something different. Those who still believe there’s magic hidden somewhere off the interstate.

Not A Good Match For: Those looking for a bunch of complex game mechanics — Kentucky Route Zero is a point-and-click adventure game, and a fairly simple one at that. Also, not for those who want closure – the five-act series is only on act three, and there tends to be a long wait between chapters.

Watch a video about why the game is great.

Purchase From: [Steam] [Humble]

The first Total War: Warhammer was a very good strategy game. The sequel is even better, with so many improvements it feels like an all-new game. The map is one of the best maps we’ve seen in a Total War game, with a focus on winning using interesting non-human races. It’s less about the tried-and-true Total War steamroller approach of conquering as much of the map as possible, and more about performing smart, surgical strikes to proceed. A thinking person’s RTS, and an unexpectedly grand introduction to the Warhammer universe.

A Good Match For: Total War fans, Warhammer fans, people who aren’t into Warhammer but think they could be.

Not A Good Match For: Those who’ve tried Total War games in the past and just can’t get into them.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: [Amazon] [Steam ]

Crusader Kings II began, in 2012, as a very good game. It has become, following a seemingly endless run of expansions and updates, each one adding new challenges, scope and dimensions to an already exhaustive package, one of the most comprehensive and unique strategic experiences in all of video games.

A Good Match For: History buffs, anyone who knows that kingdoms rise and fall on much more than the strength of their armies.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a simple game; Crusader Kings 2 is notoriously opaque and it will take you a while to wrap your head around it.

Watch it in action.

Read our review.

Purchase From: [Paradox] [Steam] [GOG]

Undertale might look like a retro-style JRPG, but it’s unusually forward-thinking. As a human stuck in a world of monsters, you decide whether you want to win encounters with wanton violence or clever context-based interactions (talking, joking, petting, etc). Undertale keeps track of everything you do; it’s paying very close attention, and will often express that attention in surprising ways. Every life you take ultimately has consequences. Despite those grim trappings, Undertale can be an incredibly warm, fuzzy, and funny game. Whether you slaughter or befriend everyone (or walk a middle path), the writing in this game is top-tier, the soundtrack is second-to-none, and the plot hides a treasure trove of secrets that players still haven’t fully uncovered.

A Good Match For: Lovers of smart video game stories, fans of games that subvert expectations, people who’ve ever felt even a single pang of loneliness.

Not A Good Match For: People who hate shoot-’em-ups and tough boss battles (Undertale’s combat system has elements of both), those who aren’t fond of reading dialogue, haters of lo-fi pixel art.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Steam.

“Be curious on your journey!” proclaims one of the characters in The Outer Wilds. No line could sum it up better. At the onset, your silent alien hero is given a rickety spaceship and sent off to explore the universe with a single goal: Go on an adventure. Roughly 20 minutes later, the universe explodes, and you wake up on your home planet as if nothing ever happened. Soon you’ll find yourself ticking off goals and jotting down questions: Why is the universe exploding? How did that ancient alien race go extinct? What’s up with that planet that keeps disappearing when you try to land on it? And is it possible to save the universe? Outer Wilds mixes the exploration of Metroid with the time loop of Majora’s Mask to brilliant effect, and it culminates in one of the most satisfying endings we’ve ever seen in a video game.

A Good Match For: Curious gamers, anyone who loves the idea of getting into a space ship and exploring the cosmos.

Not A Good Match For: Impatient people, people who need combat in their games, people who hate finicky controls.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for playing the game.

Purchase From: Epic Games Store.

The games on this list are all great PC games. But of all the platforms in our collection of The Bests, the PC has been around the longest and therefore has the largest back catalogue. There are decades of fantastic PC games to choose from, and if you own a PC you’d be remiss if you didn’t go through the classics and play the best ones. Thankfully, we’ve got two lists to help you out. In 2013 our readers helped us make an exhaustive megalist of the best classic PC games of all time. Then in 2015, we made our own list of the 24 best classic PC games.

How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:

Update 6/10/2020: We’ve given Overwatch and Return of the Obra Dinn the boot to make room for two modern classics: The Sims 4 and Cities: Skylines.

Update 12/2/2019: We’ve added The Outer Wilds and removed XCOM 2.

Update 11/10/2017: Another update our trickiest list: we’ve added Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Total War: Warhammer II while removing Doom and Inside. 

Update 12/2/2016: Big changes come to the PC list! We’ve added DOOM, Inside, Hitman, and Civilization VI while removing MGSV, StarCraft 2, Divinity: Original Sin and Civilization V.

Update 6/24/2016: Crusader Kings II and Overwatch make it onto the list, while Total War: Shogun 2 and Portal 2 exit. Rest easy, Wheatley. You had a good run.

Update 2/22/2016: We’ve added XCOM 2 and The Witness and removed Heroes of the Storm and XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Update 10/29/2015: The list gets another shake-up. We’ve added Metal Gear Solid V, Undertale, and Divinity: Original Sin: Enhanced Edition in the place of Counter-Strike GO, Minecraft, and Pillars of Eternity.

Update 7/22/2015: We’ve shaken the list up with three new entries: Pillars of Eternity, The Witcher 3 and Heroes of the Storm take the place of Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and DOTA 2.

Update 11/25/2014: Fall 2014 brings with it a single swap: Dragon Age: Inquisition knocks off its predecessor Dragon Age: Origins. (Though you should still probably play Origins if you haven’t, because it’s really good.)

Update 8/6/2014: The list gets a shake-up: say goodbye to Half Life 2, Titanfall and Gone Home and hello to Dota 2, Counter-Strike: GO and Kentucky Route Zero. We’ve also reset the comments to allow for new debate and discussion.

Update 4/10/14: We’ve called in an orbital drop and replaced Battlefield 3 with Titanfall.

Update 12/9/13: At the end of the year comes a sizable update to the PC bests list. Gone are FTL, The Witcher 2, Team Fortress 2 and Far Cry 3 and in their place are Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Dragon Age: Origins, Gone Home and Portal 2.

Update 07/24/13: It’s a long overdue update for the PC platform, with four games leaving and four coming onto the list. Skyrim — which was out when this list debuted — jumps onto the Bests because of the post-release addition of Steam Workshop, which lets you seamlessly access and install hundreds of the awesome mods available for the game. It’s joined by XCOM: Enemy Unknown, FTL and Far Cry 3. Wave good-bye to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Dirt 2, Mass Effect 2 and Bejeweled 3.

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 Nintendo Switch 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


  • Civ 6? Unless I’m mistaken it’s still got either a mixed or negative rating on steam and many people are not enjoying it and refer you back to Civ 5.

    • Civ 6 has mostly positive reviews. The recent mixed rating is a review bomb because they released a $9 DLC last month alongside a bunch of updates and people thought the whole update was DLC-only and complained. It wasn’t, the update itself was free, just the new civs/scenarios were DLC.

      Granted it’s expensive for a pair of new civs, but I don’t think it justified the bombing.

      • Wasn’t there an issue with A.I being too passive etc?

        Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got the game and have the extra Civ’s already pre purchased but the few times I did play it, the game didn’t feel as good as Gods and Kings. I was thinking maybe this would go the same route as Civ 5 and not be good until the Xpacs.

        • I haven’t played as much of it as Civ 5 just because of other games taking priority, but I didn’t notice any issues with AI in the games I played. The AI seemed to go to war with my neighbouring city states pretty easily but never went to war with me directly because I maintained a decent military.

          I assume it will go the same route as Civ 5 in that respect.

        • I recently tried to go back to Civ V with all the expansions and couldn’t keep playing it, just too simplistic in areas that should be complicated (city planning and civ expansion, army composition) and overly complicated in areas that should be relatively simple (ordering spying and civ relations).

          The AI was a bit too passive on lower levels and way too aggressive on harder levels, the recent patch has levelled this out somewhat.

          • Yeah fair enough (even though this is a necro comment).

            I eventually learned to love Civ 6.. but I do think its still missing something. Hopefully Civ 7 nails it just right.

  • Came here thinking they were going to list out only flavour of the month shooters.

    Suprised me Kotaku, keep it up (Y)

  • Do you have one of these lists for Xbox?

    At least a lot of these games are on console as well. I do wish we had a really good 4x strategy game though, like Civ & Crusader Kings

    • Have you seen the Tropico series? I’ve been curious to see if it’s actually good considering they still command a pretty high price

        • If only it was like the good ol days when you could get a demo disk 😛 Although, might be able to download a demo on XBL for it…

    • Agreed. The puzzles were interesting but repetitive, and the story was …meh. I don’t get why people lost their shit over it. It was okay, it didn’t deserve the hype it got.

          • I also felt this as well. Everyone said how amazing this game was but then it was just a bunch of repetitive line puzzles.

            But then again I hated Blade Runner 2048 and everyone said that was the second coming of Jesus.

          • Huh. Completely missed that, even though I beat the Hall of the Mountain King puzzle.

            The philosophy stuff wasn’t so prominent that it affected my opinion of the game one way or the other. I just loved the shit out of it.

  • Start with the ones in the video above, which we’ve listed below. No video?

    Also, these header images have transparent background with black text. I’m running with the dark theme, so this isn’t ideal. Perhaps you want to fix these image or just update the style to make the background of img tags white, if that’s the assumption from the Americans.

    • Arma 3 is not as popular as it used to be.

      The Life RP sector has pretty much died out. Most of the RP community has moved to GTA V.

        • Its whats the most popular thing to stream/ Youtube. Wether you like it or not, Those life mods are what drove a sizeable chunk of the owner base to actually purchase the game.

          The people who play Arma for the milsim are a minority.

  • I feel like I’m the only one that’s ambivalent toward Civ. I played Civ 5 for a day, enjoyed it, but then never felt the slightest desire to ever play it again.

  • Still listing Civ VI even now that the dust has settled? Civ IV was the peak, and an argument could be made for V with all its expansions, but definitely not VI IMO.

    • I just take it to mean the Civ series as a whole, with the latest version just being the figurehead for them all. I plyed Civ 2 the most myself, though donated plenty of hours into every other versions as well, as well as variations like Colonization and Alpha Centauri.

      Main point being, while individually we might see one or the other being The Best, they’re all great in their own way. And different enough we can still decide which is the version for our self.

        • I flip between 2 and 3 myself. I’ve played each subsequent version less than the previous one, but that’s more a reflection of a) my changing life, and b) the number of other games contending for my time. 6 is no different. Its there, I play it every few weeks, but that’s about it.

          The beauty of the series though is that when you call one weak, its only when comparing to the rest of the series. There are plenty of other 4X games out there, and I don’t think any of them are better than Civ 6 to be honest, which I think we’re both seeing as arguably the weakest of the series.

          I include SMAC as a Civ game by the way, ditto Colonization.

          • I play Civ 6 periodically because that itch needs to be scratched, and I forget that I really don’t like Civ 6. It’s a deeply flawed game IMO, primarily because of annoying AI, the utterly stupid diplomacy system that can result in Civs with mutually exclusive goals, and the city states which IMO were the worst addition to Civ 5 which the doubled down on.

            Thing is, it’s still Civ, so I’ll end up spending like 8 hours and play all night and finish a game and then when I’m done I’ll be like “that whole experience was crap and wasn’t worth it”. But still can’t peel myself off it once I get into it. It’s like a black hole, once you are trapped in its orbit you can’t escape. 🙁

          • Yeah, not a real fan of the city states myself. You nail it though, Civ 6 can be like that, but at the end of the day its a Civ game, so we accept those flaws for the greater experience.

            Its still better than the alternatives. And there are some that like those parts of the game as well, so each to their own. For me, I don’t, but accept that adding them was worth the risk. I didn’t like culture when it came in either, but got used to it.

            And because most of it just works as intended, and the balance is so good, we still go back for one more turn, even while grumbling that we don’t like that version of the game. We do, even if its just because we can nuke the world as Ghandi.

  • I’d say path of exile is something to consider on this list but it’s very daunting for first time players and basically needs third party sites and apps for end game to function

  • Good choices, but I feel like GTA V should be in this list somewhere. The GTA series started on PC, and 5 was redesigned for the PC (not just a console port). That game is endless fun.

  • Psst. Editor. Some of the links are buggered up. Undertale has the Outer Wilds’ links, and Outer Wilds has XCOM’s old links.

    • Overwatch is tight and performs brilliantly. It demands teamwork while still allowing for the odd bit of individual heroics. I’ve moved on from it since, but it scratched that old TF2 itch for a long time.

  • This shows me how out of touch with real gaming I’ve become. I read a recent list on polygon as well and I hadn’t even heard of a lot of their additions.

    For me Metro Exodus was the game I enjoyed most in the last year. For all it’s flaws, the first 3 levels are just brilliant gaming.

    Then I got to go back to Deus Ex HR which was over 5 years ago. I’m still a gamer… right?

    GOW was great. TLOU is still the high water mark for me. I’ve never loved a game so much. Of course Witcher 3 was brilliant but once only I think. I’ve tried to replay it but it wasn’t possible. The world is actually pretty dead once you’ve been around it.

    I play the new COD everyday though. I was NEVER a multiplayer person before but it IS gaming to me now. Quick. Fun. Progression. Skill. Doesn’t require a 3hr commitment everytime.

    I love StarCraft 1 & 2 and Homeworld Remastered but only for their atmosphere and nostalgia. I’m not a competitive strategy game person. You have to put hours and hours in and that’s incompatible with actually living a great life. Exercise, work, family, hobbies. All need to have their place and I just can’t fit strategy games into that equation. Wish I could.

    • I’m with you here. Between kids and work it’s hard to fit games in. I finally got and played Ori and the Will of the Wisps and yet I still have The Witcher 3, and Divinity Original Sin 2 installed but not played.
      I keep worrying that I’ll start, stop for too long and forget what I need to do next.

      • Hahaha. I’m still working on my replay of Witcher 3, still current since that comment 7 months ago. I just play for fun and then move on.

        Divinity I tried but after a few hrs, had to shelve it. I’m sure it’s great, they can’t all be wrong, but I need something that gives me fun per minute. Time’s just too tight with the kids and work thing.

  • Looking through the updates from previous years, Inside is kind of surprising as a best PC game contender. Wondering whether I should go back and dig out a copy of it now.

  • I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I’ve never liked The Witcher series at all. Tried lots of times to get into them but just find them so clunky and the world just isn’t that interesting for me.

  • This article was originally published December 2019 and has been updated since its original publication. If you’re currently stuck in isolation, check out a few of these games to pass the time.

    Unlikely, since the first comment is from November 2017.

  • I’d probably leave overwatch and outer wilds off this list, OW being incredibly dull storyline and world wise, tiny maps with little-no sideplots and rubbish writing.

    Overwatch hasn’t actually interested me enough to actually play it.

    Also the sims is for casual gamers, please stop trying to make it more than it is, a virtual dollhouse.

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