The PC gaming landscape has shifted in recent years, both in terms of technological advancements in graphics cards and gaming monitors and in the makeup of IGN’s PC gaming staff and contributors. As a result, outside of some real stalwarts, our list of the platform’s best games is substantially different compared to years past.
To be clear, this list does not attempt to pick out the “best” or “most influential” PC games ever made. It’s also not a list of the most popular games out there, or a list that seeks to represent the top games of every genre (sorry Total War: Three Kingdoms – you came close!). No, this is a list of 25 games that we, the Gaming Ability editors and contributors, collectively recommend the most, based on our own tastes, and all from within the past 10 years.
25. Horizon Zero Dawn (Complete Edition)
Have you played Half-Life: Alyx?YESNO
One of the best PS4 games finally made its way to PC this summer, Horizon Zero Dawn and its icy expansion The Frozen Wilds provide dozens of hours of action and exploration making it one of the best single-player PC games. Boasting a satisfying crafting and RPG-inspired progression system, its massive post-post-apocalyptic world is full to bursting, with plenty of “ancient” secrets to uncover and monstrous machines to hunt or hone your combat skills against, all wrapped up in a compelling story that not only sets the stage for the upcoming sequel, Forbidden West, but provides an intriguing new take on life after the collapse of modern society.
A sequel is coming to PS5 and PS4 on February 22, 2022.
Control, in many ways, feels like the culmination of Remedy’s design ideas from its past several games distilled down to their best versions and melded together for one trippy, enthralling adventure. Jesse Faden’s story of infiltrating the Federal Bureau of Control’s offices comes complete with a stellar set of abilities befitting any good telepath, a propulsive, strange story with a memorable cast and unexpected twists, and a fascinating location that feels rooted in a sense of history.
Remedy has filled Control’s world with little details that make its stranger ideas really land, giving unexpected life to every corner of its office building veneer. Just like its main location, the Oldest House, much more lies beneath the surface of Control, and its mysteries are worth fully exploring. Also, the PC is currently the only place to play with ray tracing enabled, giving the world a more realistic and yet more otherworldly appearance.
With an amazing lineup of memorable characters and meticulously balanced abilities, Overwatch is a shooter that bobs and weaves almost perfectly between being the quick-fix adrenaline hit you might want after a long day of work, and the thoughtful, strategic multiplayer experience that becomes the center of evening-long binges with friends. It might not have the most exhaustive list of maps and modes, but the offerings grow with every new seasonal event, and what’s already there provides nearly endless opportunities for exhilarating, coordinated play.
Overwatch won our 2016 Game of the Year Award, and Blizzard’s trademark polish and commitment to community should keep it as something that we’ll all revisit regularly for years to come.
Overwatch 2 is now in development, though Blizzard has not yet announced a release window. The developer recently revealed character reworks for Bastion and Sombra that have been made for the upcoming sequel.
22. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an awe-inspiring journey where the fantasy world is your plaything. What its main story quest lacks in nuance it more than makes up for with its invitation to go anywhere and do anything. Set out in any direction to explore a vast kingdom filled with people going about their daily lives, warring factions, and dangerous wildlife that ranges from wild dogs to imposing giants and full-fledged dragons.
Out there you’ll find stellar sidequests that allow you to become a vampire or werewolf, join the legendary Dark Brotherhood, and countless other unexpected opportunities as you level up and unlock satisfyingly powerful spells and Dragon Shouts. And of course, with this being the PC version, you have access to a nearly unrivaled collection of transformative mods at your fingertips.
21. Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
You can’t go too far wrong with any of the main games from Sid Meier’s seminal Civilization series, but with the Gathering Storm expansion, Civilization VI has taken its seat as one of the finest. Like all five iterations before it, Civ VI lets you pave your people’s way from nomadic tribespeople to sprawling near-future empire in competition or cooperation with neighbors, this time guided by narration from the undying Sean Bean himself.
But here, a distinctive approach to city building in which major structures like specialized districts and Wonders are placed on their own tiles gives it a distinctive flavor, and the newly added climate change mechanics add new long-term environmental considerations throughout and hazards that manifest in the late game.
20. Diablo 3
Think of Diablo 3 not for its infamous launch, but for the incredible action-RPG it evolved into in the years afterward. While its early existence was plagued by plenty of problems (including a real-money auction house that was ultimately entirely removed and burned to the ground), Blizzard managed to reshape this revival of a classic series into an excellent and infinitely replayable co-op, demon-slaying party.
It’s a game where the piñatas are alive and the candy is shaped like swords, and it really hit its stride when its breakout Reaper of Souls expansion arrived in 2014. Diablo 3 is still lovely to look at, full of interesting choices and class synergies, and specially designed to keep you interested far, far past when the credits roll.
19. Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight is one of the best modern Metroidvania’s around. It’s beautiful, expansive, and full of delightful secrets to discover that will keep you playing for dozens of hours. The kingdom of Hallownest is a brutal one, and Hollow Knight doesn’t ease you into it, causing a lot of people to bounce off of it initially – but when it finally gets its hooks in you it’s irresistibly hard to put down.
Its sprawling caves open up and offer multiple paths to you at any given time, but no matter which way you go there are exciting bosses to fight and significant power-ups to make you stronger. And even though it was already a massive game, Hollow Knight has only gotten bigger since its launch in early 2017. Developer Team Cherry released multiple free updates with new areas and bosses, each harder than the last. But whether you just want to get to the credits, find the true ending, or push even farther than that, Hallownest is a world worth exploring.
18. Fallout: New Vegas
With its distinctive Old West-tinged approach to the post-nuclear wasteland, game-changing decisions, and flexible ways to complete its quests, Fallout: New Vegas carved out a spot as not just the best game of the Fallout series, but one of the best RPGs ever made. Obsidian took the openness and flexibility of Bethesda’s Fallout 3 to a new level with more dark humor, memorable characters, and interesting stat-dependent dialogue options that make each playthrough feel tailored to your character’s strengths and weaknesses.
17. Doom (2016)
Just a few years ago, the Doom series was, for all intents and purposes, dead. A legend in a grave. Twelve years passed between Doom 3 – which would prove to be the final Doom from the original id Software team – and the Doom reboot in 2016. But against the odds, the new generation of id developers did it: they reimagined Doom as a fast-action modern-day demon-slaying experience while still respecting the satisfying feel of the classic originals.
Glory kills, aggressive monster mobs, big weapon and ability upgrades, and speed, speed, speed define the new Doom. Play this game first and then run straight for Doom Eternal, which evolves the formula in very smart, very fun ways you won’t soon forget.
16. Into the Breach
Into the Breach is a puzzle game masquerading in turn-based tactics clothing. Each mission presents you with overwhelming odds and limited options – a seemingly impossible task. The twist that gives you and your team of giant robots the advantage you need to defeat the invading kaiju is that you can see every attack and other effect that will play out on your enemies’ next turn. Each turn becomes a puzzle for you to solve, using your limited actions for maximum effect. Sure, you could just attack head-on… but what if instead you use your attack to knock an enemy into another’s line of fire, blocking damage from the second and killing the first in one fell swoop.
15. Prey (2017)
Few games will make you fear for your life upon encountering the most mundane of inanimate objects the way Prey does – and fewer still will then give you the power to become those objects yourself. It may look like a standard first-person shooter/RPG set aboard a post-disaster space station on the surface, but this immersive sim is one of the strangest of the lot.
To combat the ever-present threat of enemies that can look like anything until it’s too late, Prey fills your toolbox with a wide range of weird, unique, and often exciting tools and then lets you figure out which ones you most want to use. All of that combined with a story that channels the best of both its clear BioShock and Dishonored inspirations makes Prey is a gem of a single-player PC game that shouldn’t be overlooked.
14. FTL: Faster Than Light
No game simulates the feeling of being in command of a starship flying by the seat of your pants like FTL: Faster Than Light. It’s a game you shouldn’t expect to survive – more likely, you’ll be blasted out of the sky by a vastly superior enemy ship or boarded by a death squad of giant killer insects who massacre your crew. Maybe your life-support system will be hacked and everyone will suffocate.
But FTL’s not about winning – it’s a story generator, where you get to talk about the time you got a killer beam-weapon combo that cuts enemy ships to ribbons while your ship remains cloaked, or vented a boarding party into space while your crew laughed behind reinforced bulkhead doors. Its tactical combat never gets old, tons of loot and random events keep every game feeling unpredictable, and unlockable ships force you to change up your strategies on subsequent runs.
13. DotA 2
MOBAs have earned a reputation for being dense and difficult to learn, but immensely strategic for those who put in the time. Spend some quality time with Dota 2 and you’ll understand why. Though all matches take place on one map, and there’s only one objective, its 100+ characters and thousands of item combinations make each round feel unique.
Because every second matters, matches are always exciting even when they seem slow. Are you farming gold? Are you scouting the enemy? Or crossing the map to help out a teammate? Or heading back to base to heal? Its complexity can scare players off, but those who stick through it will be rewarded with some of the most strategic gameplay around.
12. Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020)
Microsoft Flight Simulator is the closest thing we’ve had to a near-perfect recreation of the real world in the virtual space. Using real-time Bing data to allow you to fly to and from any place on the entire planet has raised the bar for simulations to heights never seen before. Accessible to anyone, or as realistic as you want, this is open-world at its most literal. Free-flying around the globe, participating in landing challenges at some of the world’s most famously difficult airports, or just sightseeing, Microsoft Flight Simulator is an unparalleled achievement. Don’t forget to grab one of the best PC joysticks to make this flight-sim experience that more immersive.
11. Red Dead Redemption 2
Arthur Morgan’s sprawling tale of loyalty, conviction, and the price of infamy is only the beginning of Red Dead Redemption 2. The marvelous PC port overhauled and further enhanced the gorgeous wild western atmosphere of Rockstar’s most recent open-world adventure and added even more activities, unlockables, and impossibly fine details to its expansive map. It’s possibly one of the biggest and best single-player PC games ever and it has an extensive multiplayer mode too.
The potential for hijinks within its enormous sandbox of towns, outlaws, and wildlife was already nearly limitless, but the PC version factors in new missions, treasures, gear, and more layered on top of the already 60+ hours of story content in the base game. That’s not even counting all the multiplayer bells and whistles included in Red Dead Online, to say nothing of the ability to expand and customize with mods. RDR2 on PC is handily a must-play for anyone with a rig beefy enough to run it.
10. Final Fantasy XIV Online
In short, Final Fantasy XIV is not just the best MMO you can play right now, it’s a fantastic Final Fantasy game in its own right. Through its relaunch and subsequent three expansions FFXIV has slowly morphed from a relatively generic good-versus-evil plot into a sprawling, political, and fantastical thriller. The latest expansion, Shadowbringers, serves both satisfying payoffs to some years-long character arcs, as well as a compelling self-contained story that rivals the Final Fantasy series’ best.
Don’t be scared away by the fact that it’s online. Despite being an MMO, Square-Enix has streamlined things so much that, if you don’t want to, you really don’t have to play with other people. Story missions are intended to be tackled solo, and even instanced dungeons now have an option for you to enter with computer-controlled party members instead of forcing you into a group with strangers. Of course, it’s also a fully-fleshed MMO with end-game raiding that ranges from totally accessible to maddeningly punishing.
9. Disco Elysium
Disco Elysium took age-old CRPG mechanics and created something entirely modern with them. As well as transplanting the dice-rolls and deep dialogue options from Dungeons and Dragons into a lesser-seen noir-detective setting, it offers entirely original ways to play, such as such as debating against 24 different sections of your own brain, each representative of a different skill or trait.
Your down-and-out detective is thrust into circumstances where you must solve a murder, but with all great stories its not the conclusion that is solely gratifying, but the journey you took to get there as its ludicrously detailed world and cast of characters drive it along, supported by some of the best writing seen in a game. Playing Disco Elysium feels entirely fresh and pretty much unlike anything else you’ll have experienced on PC in any era, let alone this one.
8. NieR: Automata
Nier: Automata is, by all accounts, a game that shouldn’t exist. Director Yoko Taro’s original Nier flopped back in 2010, but it nevertheless developed a ravenous fanbase – and for good reason. To put it simply: Nier: Automata does what the original sought to do, learning from its failures and building on its successes to create a blend of hardcore and fluid combat, bullet-hell shoot ’em up segments, and visual novel stylings. It all coalesces into something entirely new.
Despite a frustrating PC port that the fanbase had to fix themselves with the all-but-mandatory FAR mod, Nier: Automata’s staying power is etched somewhere within its philosophical musings of humanity, pain of existence, and ability to find the humor in between. Each of its big story moments is punctuated with a haunting soundtrack courtesy of composer Keiichi Okabe. All of that makes Nier: Automata a game that needs to be experienced from beginning to end – and not just ending A, but endings B, C, D, and E as well. Those multiple endings build to something no other game has ever dared to attempt (with apologies to the original Nier). But this one just hits a little different, you know?
7. XCOM 2
XCOM 2 builds on the brilliant, high-stakes tactical combat of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and its War of the Chosen expansion made it even better. It has the same tension of going from a technologically inferior underdog to powerful war machine, with the constant threat of the permanent death of your customized soldiers looming over every decision.
However, it turns the formula of defending Earth from alien invaders on its head by boldly recasting XCOM as a guerrilla force attempting to liberate the planet from alien occupation, making the situation feel even more desperate than ever. This bigger, deeper sequel adds not just complexity in the form of new and more powerful soldier classes, equipment, and aliens, but also a huge focus on replayability. Procedurally generated maps keep you from falling into a repeatable pattern in tactical missions, frequent random events on the strategic map shake up your build and research orders, and of course mods galore.
6. Grand Theft Auto 5 / GTA Online
Grand Theft Auto V’s sprawling, yet meticulously detailed map is still the high bar to which all other open-world games aspire. Not only is it huge, it’s incredibly dense with excellent content – not just the driving and shooting and three-protagonist story that make up its campaign, and not limited to the numerous side activities, but all the sights, sounds, and bustling activity you’d expect to find in a city teeming with humans, seedy underbelly included.
With so much to do, explore, and play with, both as a single-player PC game and Grand Theft Auto Online, plus great creative tools and mods, it’s truly amazing on multiple levels. Plus with the new Cayo Perico update adding a new solo heist and island to the map, not the mention the game coming to PS5 and Xbox Series X, there’s no sign of GTA V going to pasture anytime soon.
5. Divinity: Original Sin 2 – Definitive Edition
Divinity: Original Sin 2’s Definitive Edition has cemented it as one of the greatest RPGs of all time. It masterfully mixes pieces of classic cRPGs with more modern mechanics and designs, feeling old and new at the same time. The sequel has improved upon its predecessor’s already incredible combat by deepening its systems while simultaneously simplifying and smoothing out its clunkier bits – not to mention it introduced some brutally smart new AI.
There’s also an overwhelming amount of game here to play. With six different origin characters, custom tags to make your own, and over 74,000 lines of fully voiced dialogue, this massive RPG has more than enough to keep you coming back to it.
4. Slay the Spire
In a roguelike, variety is king: Slay The Spire’s constantly changing decks of ability cards, powerful relics, and the three drastically different playable characters keeps these turn-based battles fresh and engaging for far longer than they have any right to. Watching your character’s attacks, defenses, skills, and powers evolve across its three chapters is a journey, and throwing your hand in at the end of a run knowing you may never see its like again can be like saying goodbye to a friend you were only just getting to know.
Of course, the possibility of getting an even better combination the next time through makes it tough to resist hitting the New Game button, and the randomized Daily Climb runs give even veterans a new and interesting way to play every day.
3. Half-Life: Alyx
Valve’s first Half-Life game in 13 years reminded us of the innovation that’s made this series so special and why its return was so anticipated. Just as the first Half-Life proved you could tell a story in a first-person game without taking control of the camera away, and Half-Life 2 pioneered physics-based puzzles and combat, Half-Life: Alyx has set a new standard for polish in virtual reality shooters and is a truly unique experience for VR headset owners.
Its full-length campaign pulls out all the stops for an amazing and horrifying battle against alien soldiers, zombies, headcrabs, and three-dimensional puzzles, and it even turns the simple act of reloading your weapon into a desperate life-or-death struggle. It caps it all off with a fantastic ending that made the wait almost feel worth it.
2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Deep, lengthy RPGs are a staple of PC gaming, and very few have put a larger chunk of sophisticated content forward than The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has. Its massive sandbox open-world areas impress, both in terms of scope and density; they’re generously dotted with great monsters to slay, tantalizing mysteries to solve, and personal stories to unfurl.
It’s also one of the most impressive overall productions in gaming history, with reams of excellently written dialogue performed by a stellar voice cast, an incredible original soundtrack, and graphics that qualify as both a technical and artistic achievement.
1. Portal 2
Portal 2 claims the top spot because, in the past decade, nothing else has struck so many chords so perfectly. No game accomplishes so much so well. Its impeccable level design, charming personality, and exceptional and varied puzzle systems make us feel smarter just for getting through it. Plus, its co-op campaign requires a different sort of smarts that remains one of the best multiplayer experiences with pals around.
Valve is a developer that, presumably because of the time it takes to make its incredible games, creates a feeling of timelessness in its design. Portal 2 – which iterated on and added to the brilliant puzzle design and world-building of its predecessor – feels just as clever and unique as it did in 2011. Simply put, if you’ve never played Portal 2, your top gaming priority right now should be to do just that.
Upcoming PC Games
With Far Cry 6 and Back 4 Blood having already hit in October, let’s take a look ahead at the other big games coming to PC this month.
As expected during the lead-up to Halloween, October is a great month for new horror games. Mixing horror with deckbuilding-roguelike gameplay, Inscryption comes to PC on October 19. The turn-based, ’80s-inspired adventure Echo Generation, which may be of interest to Stranger Things fans, is out two days later on October 21. Those will be followed by the next horror game from Supermassive, Dark Pictures: House of Ashes, on October 22.Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes