There are thousands upon thousands of PC games out there, and hundreds of good ones. However, some have stood out over the years, and cemented themselves as absolute must-haves in their respective genres.
Whether that's due to unique and innovative gameplay mechanics, compelling stories, or even a combination of both, these games represent the absolute best of what the PC gaming industry has to offer. While we couldn't possibly cover every single one of these must-have games in a single article, and the list itself is subjective by nature, we've done our best to narrow things down to the classics you don't want to miss.
With the help of feedback from our readers and staff members, we're bringing you our breakdown of the top 15-plus titles (new and old) that we feel every PC gamer should have in their digital library, in no particular order, here they are...
- Release Date: September 14, 2017
- Genre: Isometric party-based RPG
- Buy if you like: Divinity: Original Sin, isometric CRPGs, unique fantasy worlds
If you loved Skyrim for its strong emphasis on player freedom, Divinity: Original Sin 2 will probably be your dream game. In addition to featuring a surprisingly strong main story with wonderfully-written characters and tough moral choices, Divinity: Original Sin 2 acts as the ultimate way to live out some of your wildest D&D fantasies in digital form.
With very few exceptions, you can kill, loot, and trade with almost everyone you see. Of course, if you do choose to go the murderous psychopath route, you'd better be sure you have the gear and tactical skills to support such a playstyle. Even on Normal difficulty ("Explorer Mode"), this is an incredibly challenging turn-based RPG, and you'll need to make the most of each of your character's abilities (all of which are determined by you) to survive.
If you aren't confident in your ability to go it alone, fear not. Divinity Original Sin 2 has a full co-op system, letting you bring up to 3 friends with you during your journeys. As long as each player picks one of the game's pre-determined "Origin" characters, everybody will have their own agendas to pursue and backstories to uncover. Sometimes, these agendas will even be at odds with each other, which can create some exciting (but hopefully friendly) rivalries.
- Release Date: November 16, 2004
- Genre: FPS
- Buy if you like: Half-Life, Valve games, story-driven shooters
While games like Doom, Wolfenstein, and Halo shaped the FPS genre in significant ways, the influence of Half-Life cannot be overstated.
True, its shooting mechanics didn't deviate too far from the rest of the FPS pack, but it did mix in strong storytelling elements -- arguably some of the best in the genre -- and unique physics-based exploration and puzzle-solving features. Half-Life 2 doesn't necessarily do anything completely fresh or innovative, but it takes features, ideas, and concepts from existing games and polishes them, making them fit together in a beautiful new package. There's a reason so many gamers are still eagerly awaiting the launch of Half-Life 3 (or Half-Life: Episode 3), and if you want to find out what it is, we highly recommend giving both of Half-Life 2's existing episodes a shot.
- Release Date: November 11, 2011
- Genre: Open-world RPG
- Buy if you like: The Elder Scrolls franchise, fantasy adventures
You could ask just about any gamer if they've heard of Skyrim, and the answer will almost certainly be yes. Though the game caught some flak on release for its many bugs and streamlined RPG mechanics, Skyrim is still one of the most popular games of all time.
Skyrim lets you carve out your own path in a massive, nordic fantasy world. Want to be a stealth archer? Go for it. What about a vampire mage or a werewolf warrior? Sure! This level of player freedom, combined with Skyrim's serviceable combat system, free-form quests, and excellent mod support, have helped the game remain relevant and infinitely replayable to this day.
- Release Date: September 11, 2006
- Genre: Real-time strategy
Buy if you like: Age of Empires, Starcraft, Warhammer 40,000 series
The real time war strategy game against which all others are judged, Company of Heroes usually tops the favourite list of most RTS gamers even when there's plenty of remarkable competition.
Company of Heroes is set during World War II and contains two playable factions. Not unlike other RTS games you aim to capture strategic resources located around the map, build base structures, produce new units, and defeat your enemy. However what it makes Company of Heroes unique is the above and below perspective, where the general sees all his decisions (good or bad) played out in real-time. Level design and the destructible maps are amazing, the robust physics and damage system combined with spot on sound design give CoH a unique atmosphere. It's quite often that you see the parallel being made that Company of Heroes is 'Band of Brothers' meets 'Saving Private Ryan': the game.
Company of Heroes received widespread acclaim when it was released, but perhaps most importantly, to this day it remains a popular title that has plenty of mods available and two highly regarded expansion packs. It also recently saw a "faithful" recreation of the original game ported to iPads.
- Release Date: October 10, 2007
- Genre: Puzzle platformer
- Buy if you like: Valve games, mind-bending puzzles
Not all puzzle games have to resemble Candy Crush or Tetris, as Valve demonstrated back in 2007 with the launch of Portal. This first-person puzzle platformer tasks players with making their way through a series of confusing, institutional puzzle rooms using nothing but their wits, and, well, portals.
Instead of guns, swords, or knives, the game equips players with a portal launcher that can deploy entry and exit portals just about anywhere you can think of (with a few exceptions). Depending on how you position these portals, you can use them to move objects, generate momentum for yourself, bypass various physical obstacles, or, in some circumstances, simply avoid certain death (the cake is always a lie).
Portal doesn't have many traditional enemies or antagonists (aside from a few sentry turrets) to speak of, but players will be harassed throughout their journey by the legendarily-unpredictable, hostile, and, at times, hilarious laboratory AI known as "GLaDOS."
- Release Date: November 15, 2001
- Genre: FPS
- Buy if you like: Halo franchise, Doom franchise, science fiction
Few video game franchises are as beloved among gamers as Halo, and Combat Evolved is the title that started it all. It drops players straight into the role of Master Chief, an augmented super-soldier on a quest to save the galaxy from an impending alien threat, with the help of an AI advisor named Cortana.
Though later games explored the dynamic between humanity and other alien races with a bit more nuance, Halo: Combat Evolved's core gameplay loop is pretty straightforward: you move from level to level and slaughter as many aliens as humanly possible. Since Combat Evolved's shooting mechanics and weapon variety are simply fantastic (even now), that's far from a bad thing, however.
- Release Date: October 10, 1994
- Genre: First person shooter
- Buy if you like: Quake, Heretic, Serious Sam, Blood, Doom (2016)
Speaking of great shooting mechanics, we'd be remiss if we didn't toss a mention to at least one Doom game here. While the earlier games in this series wouldn't necessarily be considered top-tier shooters when stacked up against the likes of Doom Eternal, Doom 2016, or Apex Legends, they're still worth a play if you want to see how this genre has evolved over time.
Doom 2, in particular, is widely considered one of the best games in the franchise. It builds upon the already-strong foundation of the original game with new maps, new features, and improved enemy variety (a critical component of any Doom game). If all you're looking for is some straightforward, old-school run-and-gun action, we don't think you can go wrong with Doom 2.
- Release Date: October 15, 2019
- Genre: Isometric RPG
- Buy if you like: Weird games, Planescape Torment
Easily one of the most bizarre CRPGs we've ever seen, the winner of multiple Game of the Year awards, Disco Elysium puts you in the role of an amnesiac detective who must use his wits, strength, and dexterity to solve a cryptic murder mystery. Throughout this investigation, players will be forced to contend not just with the game's various NPCs (some helpful, some less so), but even their character's own mind.
Instead of a traditional skill system, Disco Elysium allows players to put points into different parts of their character's personality, such as Empathy, Logic, Visual Calculus, or Composure. During the game, these "skills" will either assist or hinder you. One might help you persuade a stubborn witness to give up the goods, whereas another might give you misleading or outright false information. Sometimes, the skills will simply bicker amongst themselves and leave you to pick up the pieces.
- Release Date: November 24, 2004
- Genre: MMORPG
- Buy if you like: Warcraft 1, 2, & 3, Everquest, rich fantasy lore
MMOs are a dime a dozen, and few have managed to stand the test of time. World of Warcraft, though, happens to be one of them. Though the game's player base has dwindled over the years, it still commands a strong position in the MMO market, and it generates significant hype with every new expansion and significant update announcement.
There are plenty of reasons for World of Warcraft's success, but its timeless, cartoonish art style, rich lore, varied races and classes, and its famous Guild and social systems are some of its key selling points. If you've never tried World of Warcraft and you're in the mood for a slightly slower and more relaxed MMO experience, we feel the game will more than justify its $15/month subscription -- even if you only play for a month or two.
- Release Date: September 21, 2000
- Genre: Isometric party-based RPG
- Buy if you like: Pillars of Eternity, Baldur's Gate, Dungeons & Dragons
With the Early Access launch of Larian's excellent-looking Baldur's Gate 3 around the corner, there's no better time to sink your teeth into one of greatest CRPGs ever made.
Baldur's Gate 2 combines a dark, well-written story with interesting companion characters, tactical real-time-with-pause combat, and tough in-game moral decisions. Though its graphics are a bit dated, Baldur's Gate 2's core gameplay loop which consists of exploration, chatting with NPCs, and strategically fighting off enemies of all types, is just as compelling today as it was 20 years ago.
- Release Date: May 19, 2015
- Genre: Open-world RPG
- Buy if you like: Skyrim, The Witcher 1 & 2, Game of Thrones, Polish folklore
The Witcher 3 is one game that likely needs no introduction. Ever since its launch in 2015, gamers of all stripes have lavished praise upon this medieval fantasy RPG, and for the most part, it's earned those accolades.
In many ways, The Witcher 3 reinvented what a modern open-world RPG should be. Instead of annoying players with mind-numbing fetch quests, The Witcher 3 shoots for the stars: every single side quest has received the same level of care and attention to detail as the main missions. Whether you're hunting down a low-level pack of drowners, or involving yourself in high-stakes royal assassination plots, every single task will hook you and give you a reason to care about its outcome.
Best of all, with a lengthy main campaign, two affordable expansion packs, and over a dozen free DLCs, The Witcher 3 offers hundreds of hours of content. If you're looking for something to play while you wait for some of 2020's hottest upcoming releases, The Witcher 3 is a must-buy.
- Release Date: February 26, 2016
- Genre: Farming sim
Buy if you like: Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, relaxing games
Sometimes, you just need to kick back and take a break from all the shooting, sneaking, and stabbing that comes with most modern games. When that mood strikes you, Stardew Valley should be one of your top choices.
It's a relaxing, pixel-based farming sim with hundreds of hours of content. Think of it like the PC platform's own Harvest Moon, and you wouldn't be too far off. There are NPCs to befriend (or even marry), crops to plant, animals to raise, and strange mysteries to solve.
Unlike Harvest Moon, however, Stardew Valley features a simple combat system, which will come in handy if you ever decide to explore the game's seemingly-endless cave systems filled with both monsters and epic loot.
- Release Date: March 23, 2000
- Genre: Stealth, Immersive sim
- Buy if you like: Deus Ex, Splinter Cell, Immersive sims
Just as Doom might be considered the grandfather of the modern first-person shooter genre, the Thief series helped to shape the world of stealth games and immersive sims. These aging classics were some of the first games to introduce truly complex, non-linear levels and sophisticated enemy AI into the first-person, 3D stealth genre.
While the original Thief is well worth playing, Thief 2 is arguably the more polished of the two. It features the same core gameplay as its predecessor, but with improved level design and a wider variety of non-combat thief tools for players to toy with. There are rope arrows to help you bypass obstacles and water arrows to help you extinguish fires and creep past enemies unseen.
All in all, if you don't mind dated graphics and somewhat clunky (by modern standards) controls, Thief 2 is a real gem that every stealth or immersive sim fan should try at some point.
- Release Date: October 27, 2009
- Genre: MOBA
- Buy if you like: DOTA 2, Heroes of the Storm, eSports titles
These days, MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena) are the bread and butter of the PC gaming industry. Whether you love them or hate them, there's no denying that these games have helped push the popularity of the platform to entirely new heights.
Within this highly-competitive, esports-focused genre, League of Legends stands tall. The free-to-play MOBA has seen many changes and updates over the years, but at its core lies an entertaining PvP experience that will rarely ever become boring, so long as you can deal with a few less-than-pleasant players.
There are over 140 heroes for you to test out in League of Legends' intense lane-based matches, and each of them has their own unique backstory and set of passive and active abilities. The real fun of League of Legends comes from mastering these characters, discovering your playstyle, and coordinating your skills with your fellow players to outwit the opposing team.
- Release Date: September 21, 2010
- Genre: 4X Strategy
- Buy if you like: Conquering your enemies, Civilization series, Endless Legend
Most of our readers have probably heard of (or played) at least one title in the 30-year-old Civilization franchise. With six main entries, and a host of expansion packs for each, this "4X" turn-based strategy series lets players stretch their tactical muscles in a way few other games do.
Though every Civilization fan has their own favorite title, Civilization V is often considered the peak of the franchise's greatness. It features improved graphics, smarter campaign AI, more unit variety, and -- for the first time in the series -- Civilization-specific "abilities" that allow each faction to stand out and excel in one area or another.
If the idea of conquering a fictional world (through the pen or the sword) while playing as real-life heroes and generals from Earth's history appeals to you, Civilization V is a no-brainer.
- Release Date: August 23, 2016
- Genre: Stealth, Immersive sim
- Buy if you like: Thief series, Deus Ex series, cyberpunk games
With Cyberpunk 2077's launch still a ways away, now might be the time to satisfy your hype with a different cyberpunk adventure: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Though we'd certainly recommend giving the original Deus Ex games a shot someday, they are starting to show their age now.
By contrast, Mankind Divided is a modern immersive sim in every sense of the word. It serves up beautiful graphics, a densely-packed (but hub-based) city to explore, high-quality voice acting, and surprisingly open-ended environments. No matter which mission you happen to be embarking on, Mankind Divided will often let you approach it from multiple angles -- literally and figuratively.
You can go the non-lethal route, sneaking in through a side vent and relying on a tranq rifle to take down your enemies, or you can blow your way through the front door with your assault rifle blazing. No matter how you choose to play, Mankind Divided rewards exploration, so be sure to hack or sneak your way into the game's various nooks and crannies to learn more about its lore and earn a few special rewards along the way.