So how do you categorize a beast like gaming on the PC? With decades of titles to pluck from (and the first port of call for most indie titles, too), there's so much to choose from. Gaming on your PC adds the benefits of (nearly always flawless) backward compatibility and console-beating graphical performance — if you've got the coin for it. We've tried to be broad with our recommendations here on purpose. There are so many great games out there for your PC, consider these some starting points. For our winter update, we've added Control which replaces League of Legends.
Beat Saber is a euphoric gaming sensation that makes the most of virtual reality. You'll swing your unofficial lightsabers at incoming boxes, slicing and slamming them to the beat of the soundtrack. Similar to iconic rhythm-rail-shooter, Rez, which has its own VR iteration, Beat Saber often makes you feel like you're creating the music as you hit your cues. We might have had initial reservations on the soundtrack at launch but new tracks and customizations continue to add to the challenge. There's even a level creator for PC players, making this the definitive version. MS
It's fair to say that not a lot of people were excited about Doom. id Software's much-loved series had essentially been absent for over a decade, and a pre-release beta, which only showed off the game's multiplayer, was judged harshly by critics and players alike. Within minutes of booting up the single-player campaign, though, essentially everyone realized they needn't have worried. id successfully updated an antiquated formula for modern gamers, and in doing so, created a truly unique first-person shooter.
Doom is so great because it makes gamers play the game as the developers intended. The Glory Kill system, which initially was written off as violence for the sake of violence, turned out to be a vital part of the gameplay. While other games have you backing away and cowering behind cover, Doom forces you to get in the enemy's face or, more accurately, punch their face off. Doing so rewards you with items which let you dispatch the dozens of enemies you'll inevitably be surrounded by. It's an adrenaline rush dressed up by a game, and it's a must-play for anyone that loves (or can stomach) egregious violence. AS
FTL: Faster Than Light
Who hasn't wanted to captain their own spaceship? Well, after a few hours of FTL: Faster Than Light, you might be rethinking your life goals. FTL is a roguelike, which means every game starts from the same spot. All you have to do is travel through a number of star systems, recruiting crew members and collecting scrap as you make your way towards a final showdown against a stupidly overpowered ship. Gameplay is roughly divided between a map view, where you can take as much time as you like to chart the most efficient route to your goal, and combat events which play out in real-time (although you can and will be using a pause button to slow things down).
Where the real fun comes in is in the narrative, which plays out in two ways. There's the structured side, where every so often you'll be asked to make decisions that may improve or hinder your chances of survival. And then there's the natural story you create for yourselves, as you're forced to decide, for example, whether it's worth sacrificing a crew member for the greater good. AS
Take the weird Twin Peaks narrative of Alan Wake, smash it together with Quantum Break's frenetic powers and gunplay, and you've got Control. Playing as a woman searching for her missing brother, you quickly learn there's a thin line between reality and the fantastical. It's catnip for anyone who grew up loving The X-Files and the supernatural. It's also a prime example of a studio working at their creative heights, both refining and evolving the open-world formula that's dominated games for the past decade. DH
Nier Automata takes the razor-sharp combat of a Platinum Games title and puts it in a world crafted by everyone's favorite weirdo, Yoko Taro. Don't worry, you can mostly just run, gun and slash your way through the game, but as you finish, and finish and finish this one, you'll find yourself pulled into a truly special narrative, that's never been done before and will probably never be done again. It's fair to say that the PC release, as is unfortunately often the case, wasn't exactly the best and is still remarkably lacking in options, but it's at least stable now, and trust us when we say this one is unmissable. AS
The Outer Wilds
While most games have a "gameplay loop," developer Mobius Digital took this concept quite literally with the sci-fi adventure The Outer Wilds. The game is built around a time loop, meaning you'll be exploring and discovering the world (or worlds) in 20-or-so minute runs. It doesn't hold your hand, and some of its puzzles can be truly confusing at times, but the sense of satisfaction upon solving mysteries and learning a little more is tangible. It's lowkey one of our favorite games of the year. AS
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Many were ready to write off the Resident Evil series after the disaster that was Resident Evil 6. What started as the horror game on the original PlayStation had become a bloated mess of an action game. Instead of throwing the whole franchise in the trash and forgetting about it, Capcom took a hard look at what wasn't working, which — surprise! — was basically everything, and thoroughly rebooted the formula. Borrowing from Kojima's PT and, in some ways, Creative Assembly's Alien: Isolation, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is horror through powerlessness. For the majority of the game, you're basically unable to do anything but run from or delay your foes. And that's what makes it so good.
Return of the Obra Dinn
This is an unforgettable ghost-story-slash-murder-mystery with a distinctive old-school graphical style. It's unlike any game we've played in a while, with a low-key musical score and a style of puzzle solving that's like one satisfying, grisly riddle. In Return of the Obra Dinn, you're put aboard a ship, alone. There is, however, a corpse near the captain's cabin. As you track the deceased's final footsteps, leading to yet more grisly ends, you need to figure out what happened. Who killed who? And who is still alive? Special mention to the sound effect that kicks in every time you solve the fates of three of the crew. Goosebumps. MS
The Witcher 3
It might be the best open-world RPG out there. Despite now being several years old, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a dense action game that acknowledges the maturity of the player with multiple — occasionally harrowing — storylines, choices that have consequences and almost too much game to wrestle with. It's not perfect; the combat system is rough, frustrating death comes in the form of falling from just a few feet and there's a lot of quest filler alongside many incredibly well thought out distractions. The scope and ambition on display will have you hooked, and once you're done, there are some excellent expansions to check out. MS
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
There was some spirited discussion about which XCOM game we would include in this list, but in the end, War of the Chosen won out. The 2017 expansion to XCOM 2 is the latest and greatest entrant to the XCOM series. All the staples of a classic XCOM game are here. You're a commander of a rag-tag group of elite military units. You command those units in short missions against an impossibly large alien force, carefully moving them around a grid map to take out the enemy one by one. Completing missions advances the story and also gives you the opportunity to upgrade your units — which is where XCOM's party trick comes in.
XCOM has permadeath. That means that once a character dies, it's dead. This keeps the stakes high and inevitably leads to some truly painful moments. One wrong move can send your high-level, ultra-customized, definitely-not-named-after-your-co-workers soldier to its death, to be replaced by a rookie that's even more vulnerable. Honestly, you should absolutely buy 2013's XCOM: Enemy Within as well, but War of the Chosen remains of the finest examples of a turn-based tactics game ever to grace the PC. AS
Contributors: Jessica Conditt (JC), Devindra Hardawar (DS), Mat Smith (MS), Aaron Souppouris (AS).
July 2019: 'Fortnite' replaced by 'Beat Saber'
September 2019: 'Dragon Ball FighterZ' replaced by ''The Outer Wilds'
December 2019: 'League of Legends' replaced by 'Control'