Counter-Strike

Image by DoctorRed2000 on DeviantArt

For the last few days, Valve has been teasing the release of a revamped version of venerated Counter-Strike map Dust 2, and yesterday they spilled the full beans on the new facelift. Valve's been refreshing old Counter-Strike maps for a while now, in an attempt to keep CS:GO looking as modern as possible, but messing with Dust 2 is a bit more of a risky proposition than modifying less-played maps like Train.

The more beloved a map is, the larger the potential backlash will be. Dust 2 has been a staple of competitive play for over 15 years, and was far and away the most played map in the game until its removal from the active map pool back in February. 

It's not surprising, then, that Valve's rework is so conservative. While all the assets have been replaced with higher-res, higher-poly ones, achieving the goal of bringing the map in line with modern graphical expectations, changes to the way the map plays are modest. 

The biggest change is to the visual clarity, which has been improved across the map. Most of the dark or busy looking areas that allowed players to blend in with their surroundings have been illuminated: the tunnels leading to B are much brighter thanks to a new open ceiling, and a lot of the crates throughout the map have been draped in white cloth to better contrast with player models. Bombsite A benefits from the deletion of the busy-looking doors at the back of A long, and some cleanup of the wall decoration along catwalk. These are bound to be uncontroversial changes, and are in line with what Valve has been doing with the other map facelifts.

There’s also been some common sense cleanup work that probably should’ve happened years ago. Stuff like widening the window from CT spawn into B site, and simplifying the scaffolding near CT-side mid doors, feels like pretty basic quality-of-life improvements that will prevent newer players from getting stuck on weird geometry or having their shots glance off of random pipes.

What impact will these changes have?

In the coming weeks we’ll get a better idea of the full ramifications of this update. A couple things to keep an eye on will be whether the new single car on A long (which replaces a pair of cars that were at odd angles in the map’s previous version) will actually be useful as cover now, and whether the increase in room to maneuver behind B site’s car will increase its viability as a hold point for CTs.

It s a healthy overhaul that makes some modest but interesting changes without reinventing the wheel.

There are also some subtle changes that may not even be intentional, and may or may not have a substantial impact on gameplay. Foremost among these is a problem we’ve seen already on some of the other modernized maps, but doesn’t seem to have caused enough of a ruckus to attract Valve’s notice: almost every previously-flat surface is now slightly bumpy (presumably for visual fidelity reasons), which affects the way grenades bounce off of floors and walls. Given how big of a deal smoke and flash placement is in CS, this may prove to be problematic in the long term, as it’s going to reduce the accuracy with which banked grenades can be placed.

Also on the topic of small, maybe-unintentional changes, the spawn locations have shifted slightly. A helpful redditor has pointed out after exploring the map that counter-terrorists can now get to their side of A long a full two seconds before terrorists can get to theirs, which may impact which corners CT players choose to hold, and which angles T players choose to peek from. Again, these are the kind of changes that will require some time to shake out, and we won’t know the full effect of this stuff until the competitive meta has fully adapted, which may take even longer than usual given there's a decade-plus of habits to unlearn.

But Valve seems to have struck a good balance with this update. It’s a healthy overhaul that makes some modest but interesting changes without reinventing the wheel. From a purely visual perspective, the new Dust 2 is beautiful, and undeniably an upgrade from the previous iteration. The terrorists have also gotten new higher-fidelity player models as part of the deal, and they’re a big improvement over the dated look of the existing models. (Puzzlingly, the CT models have not gotten the same treatment thus far.)

There are of course a host of bugs related to the new geometry, allowing for all manner of unintentional boost spots and weird clipping, but this has always been the case with these big map refreshes, and generally they get fixed in a fairly timely manner. Once these issues are addressed, we should expect to see Dust 2 re-added to the Active Duty map pool (possibly at the expense of Cobblestone) and the tournament circuit will quickly demonstrate what effect, if any, the update will have on the way Counter-Strike’s most iconic map is played.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

On Monday Valve announced that it was overhauling Dust2, Counter-Strike's most iconic map, and now it has detailed all the changes, released images and opened the arena up for beta testing in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

Most of the changes are visual—Valve has quadrupled the texture resolution and changed the art style, opting for a lighter colour palate and a more obvious North African feel, with signs for a Kasbah (basically a fortress), a bazaar and a hotel. Overall the map manages to feel a lot brighter but more decrepit, with weathered walls and crumbling pillars. I'm a big fan.

There's no major changes to the structure of the map, which I supposed is to be expected, but there are some important tweaks. The most noticeable one is at the B bomb site, where the raised area to the back corner has been lowered so it's level with the rest of the area, as you can see in the image below (old on the left, new on the right). The slider won't work here, but you can use it on Valve's blog post unveiling the changes to compare the two versions.

The broken down car on the site has been moved to make it easier to get behind, the famous 'window' looking down on the middle of the map has been widened, while the section of tunnels that approaches the bomb site has had parts of the roof smashed away so that more light floods in.

Bomb site A has changed less: Valve has removed some of the dark doorways and generally de-cluttered the area so there's less objects to get stuck on. Take a look:

At Mid, Valve has added a new shallow staircase, removed some alcoves and improved the lighting. The last change is to the T-side character models, which Valve hopes make them look like "hardened veterans" of CS.

You can test the map out in the game's beta branch—here's some instructions on how to opt in. Do you like what you see?

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

If you've wondered where legendary Counter-Strike map Dust2 has been since it left competitive matchmaking in February, here's the answer: Valve has been rejigging it. Following similar revamps, an "updated and refined version" of Dust2 will be available for testing in the next CS:GO beta depot.

Valve has yet to publish anything elaborating on the updates and refinements, though they did tweet out the picture you can see above.

...and that's about all we know at the moment, but if you want an idea of how significant Dust2 has been in the history of CS:GO, Evan spoke to some key CS:GO mapmakers in 2015 about its import. You can see the tweet embedded below.

Team Fortress 2

Don't look now, but right now might be the best time ever for multiplayer FPSes. I'm old enough to have experienced the [to the tune of Bryan Adams] 'FPSummer of Ninety-Nine' that gave us, egad, Quake III, Unreal Tournament, Team Fortress Classic, and the beginning of Counter-Strike. I think 2017 surpasses that.

In terms of depth, frequency of support, and contrasting kinds of multiplayer FPSes I can dig into, I don't think there's been a better moment for the PC gamer. The appropriate way to make this argument is with bullet points:

  • An Arma mod on steroids is the most popular FPS on Steam. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is a story generator that balances intense firefights with goofing around. It's a 100-person free-for-all on a massive map that also respects your time. This week PUBG is running its first major tournament at Gamescom, with a $350,000 prize pool.  
  • Even with PUBG alongside it, Arma 3—an intricate and often demanding sim—averages about 22,000 concurrent players daily. That's five times the playerbase it had at launch in 2013. 
  • Blizzard's first FPS is colorful, competitive, and inclusive. But maybe most noteworthy is the tenacity and transparency with which Blizzard has iterated on Overwatch over time: it's been patched more than 120 times since launch, with seven seasonal events so far. 
  • Investment money is pouring into Blizzard's Overwatch League, which will hopefully lay the groundwork for stable team rosters and great tournaments.
  • Tribes isn't dead, it was just sleeping.
  • Valve's support for CS:GO has been inconsistent, but the shooter has nevertheless cemented itself as an insanely deep competitive game. You could spend months working on your grenade technique alone. With its massive tournaments and a little help from online gambling, CS:GO has paved the way for all other FPS' esports scenes.
  • Quake is back. Even with a free-to-play business model, rentable characters, and 'ultimate' abilities attached to each champion, Quake Champions bunnyhops and talks like a pure Quake game.
  • One of the biggest game publishers in the world made a multiplayer-only, PC-first, tactical FPS and has supported it well for two years. Rainbow Six Siege has 2.3M daily players on all platforms.
  • One decade after Halo 2, Destiny 2 is coming to PC. 
  • Tripwire and Antimatter Games are quietly making some of the best FPSes on this list. Killing Floor 2, which just ran a great summer event, deserves some sort of blood-soaked Emmy for its gore system and gun animations. Rising Storm 2: Vietnam represents one of the best midpoints between authenticity and accessibility, continuing the series' ambitious focus on asymmetry.
  • Battlefield 1, with easily the best infantry combat in the series, chugs along with paid expansions.
  • March's Day of Infamy is a worthy successor to Day of Defeat, with great co-op to boot.
  • Unreal Tournament is being remade as a unique collaboration between modders and Epic.
  • Expect a major update to Team Fortress 2 when it turns 10 on October 10.
  • Call of Duty: WWII is getting a beta on PC.
  • 20 years after GoldenEye came out on Nintendo 64, the best version of it exists on PC and is maintained by a team of passionate fans. It's free.
  • LawBreakers is rather good.
  • Most of these games are funded by cosmetic microtransactions that don't affect gameplay, rather than expansions or map packs that would fragment the player base.
  • The 144hz monitors you should play these games on are getting cheaper

I'm accepting counter-arguments in the comments. 

Team Fortress 2

Every year, the team compiles a list of the 100 best PC games you can play today. Our process is deliberately subjective: each participant picks their personal top 15 games, and then the team gathers to narrow that list. We only allow one entry per series, with a couple of notable exceptions. You’ll also find some of our personal picks thrown in—games that we individually love, but which didn't get enough votes to make the list. 

For a celebration of those vital historical games that pushed PC gaming forward, read our list of the 50 most important PC games of all time.

100. Dwarf Fortress

RELEASED 2006 | LAST POSITION New entry

Wes Fenlon: In Dwarf Fortress I’ve seen the circle of death and rebirth. It’s less of a game, more of an ambitious simulation, representing the complexities of existence in ASCII. Eventually you’ll feel like Neo, seeing the truth behind the symbols. Just remember: losing is fun.

Shaun Prescott: You don’t even need to play Dwarf Fortress to marvel at its achievement. Hell, the patch notes are a marvel of their own.

99. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION New entry

Fraser Brown: In Shadow Tactics, every infiltration of an enemy palace or compound is a puzzle overflowing with obstacles. Being sneaky is fun. Being murderous is better. Planning the demise of the game’s guards is a singular delight. I’m a fan of the ol’ tanuki distraction method—the little critter distracts a guard by being adorable while one of my ninjas pounces on him from a roof.

98. Shadowrun: Dragonfall

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION New entry

Jody Macgregor: It’s funny that one of the few games to get cyberpunk right is also one with elves in it, but Shadowrun reduces fantasy and cyberpunk to their essentials while emphasising what’s best about both. Dragonfall is basically Baldur’s Gate 2 with turn-based combat set in near-future Berlin, where hackers and samurai raid corporations and watch a talk show hosted by a dragon. It’s as great as it sounds.

97. FEAR

RELEASED 2005 | LAST POSITION New entry

Andy Chalk: Combat in FEAR is magnificent chaos. Glass shatters, dust billows, and sparks, paper, and body parts fly in loud, explosive gunfights against some of the finest, most believably ‘real’ AI ever created for an FPS. Enemies flank, they take cover, they chatter and they toss grenades with infuriatingly good timing and accuracy. But what I love most about it is the way it weaves a genuinely horrific tale through all that action, breaking up the manic combat with intensely disturbing stretches of creepiness and a few moments worthy of any pure horror game.

Andy Kelly: I reinstall FEAR at least once a year just to experience that amazing shotgun again. Every shooter has its own unique shotgun, but there’s something immensely satisfying about the one in FEAR. How it violently kicks back when you fire it, and the exaggerated way enemies tumble when you shoot them in slow motion. I’m not usually one for fetishising weapons, but I’ll make an exception here.

Steven Messner: Speaking of fetishising guns, how can we not talk about the 10mm HV Penetrator, the gun that fires giant steel stakes and crucifies enemies against walls? I get that FEAR’s shotgun deserves a lot of praise, but to me the Penetrator is one of the greatest guns of all time. It’s the perfect weapon to use against FEAR’s ragdoll enemies. I used the gun so damn much that I feel like whoever had to go through after me and clean up all the dead bodies probably suffered some pretty severe trauma from seeing hundreds of people nailed to cubicle walls.

96. Grim Fandango Remastered

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION New entry

Tom Senior: Manny Calavera is one of the coolest heroes in PC gaming, and he happens to live in one of the coolest worlds in PC gaming. It’s a vibrant take on the afterlife, and a great place to set an epic noir love story. Even after all these years Grim Fandango is funny and is still worth everyone’s time. Play it and enjoy the jokes.

Andy K: I love it when you explore Rubacava in year two. Reading beat poetry at the Blue Casket, listening to Glottis play the piano in Manny’s casino. It’s like stepping into a classic film noir, albeit one populated by skeletons and giant bees.

95. Metro: Last Light

RELEASED 2013 | LAST POSITION New entry

Shaun: It seems wrong to describe a FPS set in a decrepit metro network as ‘beautiful’, but Last Light manages it. Between the often-unforgiving combat and the light-but-rewarding survival elements, this sequel manages to tell an engrossing tale which isn’t at odds with the relentless violence involved.

Samuel Roberts: Probably my favourite apocalypse in games—it’s realistically dour, yet still gorgeous and unsettling. 

94. Spider & Web

RELEASED 1998 | LAST POSITION New entry

Jody: This is a free text adventure that begins as a story about a guileless tourist, then frames that as a cover invented by a spy under interrogation, then continues switching between the game you play and the interrogator interrupting to say, “That’s not what happened!” Each flashback gets closer to a truth you the player wants to learn, but you the protagonist want to hide. It’s clever, twisty, and explosive.

93. Nuclear Throne

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION 74

Wes: Perhaps the greatest use of Early Access as a model for development, Nuclear Throne is a punchy top-down roguelike shooter honed over nearly 100 weekly updates. Like the best games of its type, what seems like a simple setup – collect powerful guns, survive randomly generated levels as you progress to a final boss fight – belies hidden stages and characters and secrets to give you the upper hand. The roster of heroes gives you so many different ways to play. I’m partial to the samurai Chicken, who can briefly survive without his head, and the noob-friendly Crystal, who can reflect bullets. But the real reason to play this over other roguelikes is how great the action feels. It nails that rhythm of explosive action, bullets and enemies flying towards you, with brief moments of respite as you inch towards whatever’s around the corner. Action anxiety perfected.

92. Nidhogg

RELEASED 2014 | LAST POSITION New entry

Tyler Wilde: The best sickly-looking fencing game there is, Nidhogg speeds up the mind games and finesse of Street Fighter, chaining tiny, rapid duels between stabby pixel people into hilarious, constantly tense tug-of-war sessions.

Joe Donnelly: Don’t let appearances fool you: beneath the modest veneer lies a deep and engaging versus mode masterpiece. Be it tactful fencing, aerial karate kicking, sword javelin tossing, or turning tail and running—there’s a strategy for everyone as you push your stick-figured foe back one screen at a time, spawning at either side as you die and regenerate, regenerate and die. Nidhogg also comes with a less enjoyable singleplayer mode that can be wrapped up inside half an hour. Often hilarious, but equally known to bring out the competitive streak in any payer who enters the fray. Be prepared to lose friends over this one.  

91: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords

RELEASED 2004 | LAST POSITION New entry

Fraser: Everything ‘Star Wars’ about it is subverted. The result is one of the most interesting yarns in the franchise, peeling back a lot of the fantastical elements of Star Wars and exploring them.

Samuel Roberts: As I watch the new films I feel like they’re not showing us anything we haven’t seen before. Perhaps that’s because I’ve been spoiled by KOTOR II, where there’s more nuance in the portrayal of the force and memorable characters. 

Wes: The buggiest game I’ve ever completed, even with the essential fan patches. Still worth it for Kreia.

90. Team Fortress 2

RELEASED 2007 | LAST POSITION 20

Evan Lahti: What began as a class-based FPS was transformed into a free-to-play platform for mapmaking, hats, and machinima with a horde mode, events, and a number of bird heads that you can unlock. Valve’s learnings from TF2 helped transform PC gaming at large.

Phil Savage: This is the lowest TF2 has placed on our list by some margin, but that a decade-old multiplayer FPS appears at all is downright heroic. TF2 is eternal.

89. Euro Truck Simulator 2

RELEASED 2013 | LAST POSITION 82

Andy K: This makes it into our top 100 every year, with good reason. On paper it sounds boring, but there’s something hypnotic about hauling goods across its beautiful recreation of Europe.

Phil: I slightly prefer American Truck Simulator’s vast, desolate atmosphere, but ETS2 remains the brighter star, thanks mostly to the size and variety of its continental recreation. This is a huge, relaxing world to travel through.

88. Resident Evil 7

RELEASED 2017 | LAST POSITION New

Tim Clark: Few series live long enough to reinvent themselves successfully once, let alone a second time. But that’s exactly the dark miracle Resi has pulled off—first with Resi 4, which redefined its predecessors’ clunky third-person exploration into frantic crowd control, and now with this, which has breathed terrifying new life into the haunted house schtick. The switch to first-person, though obvious given the success of indie shockers like Outlast and Amnesia, still feels bold and thrilling. Much of that is down to the unhinged Baker family, each of whom must be faced in their own grand encounter, the best of which are frontloaded towards the start of the game. The generic baddies and a undercooked final act let things down, but the sense is still of a series which has, again, found its feet, even if it’s still waist deep in oily viscera.

87. Kentucky Route Zero

RELEASED 2013 | LAST POSITION 100

Joe: The fact that Kentucky Route Zero has only launched four of its five chapters speaks volumes for its placing on this list. Here’s a game that’s yet to be finished, but rubs shoulders with the best PC gaming has to offer. Alongside its cast of idiosyncratic characters, it weaves themes of self-reflection, discovery and the supernatural into its world. Relatable vignettes and playful metaphors stand before a stylish art style. Whereas a sense of dread underpins Acts 1 through 3, KRZ’s penultimate entry eschews its wider picture to focus on the minutiae of each scenario—and its Twain-esque jaunt down the river hones in on the imperfections of your dysfunctional crew. The as-yet unannounced Act 5 will mark the end of the road for Kentucky Route Zero, yet what’s come before it is nothing short of wonderful.

86. Guild Wars 2

RELEASED 2012 | LAST POSITION 45

Phil: Guild Wars 2 is what happens when you take over a decade’s worth of MMO wisdom and decide to do something better. What if instead of looking for quest givers who ask you to kill ten boars, you collaborated with an entire map to complete objectives that build towards a big boss monster and a chest full of loot? What if instead of being inconvenienced by low-level friends, you were rewarded for partnering up and having a good time? What if instead of paying a subscription, the base game was free? This is one of the most generous MMOs around, and ArenaNet’s experimentation continues, even now. From rebuilding its central city from scratch, to releasing new story chapters, Guild Wars 2 is always building towards something new and exciting.

Tom S: Its dazzling world hosts some of the best combat in the genre. Attacks are template-based and dodging matters. I’ve had a blast taking on enormous bosses with my necromancer and dozens of other warriors. Its events are huge pile-ons that create amazing spectacles and a sense of community.

85. Rising Storm 

RELEASED 2013 | LAST POSITION 79

Evan: It blends fragility and power better than any FPS of its kind. As a Japanese soldier on Iwo Jima, I like to smuggle a MG behind my opponents, get prone and drop as many unaware attackers as I can. Real war is unfair, and Rising Storm manages to make a fun game out of its asymmetries.

Tyler: Life in Rising Storm is 90% war movie extra and 10% leading role.

84. Terraria

RELEASED 2011 | LAST POSITION 42

Tom Marks: Like the finest wine or the smelliest cheese, Terraria keeps on getting better with age. It’s staggering to look back at everything that’s been added since it launched—a stream of updates has introduced over 3,000 items, new biomes, bosses and countless other improvements. It’s dense with exciting things to do and discover, and there’s sure to be even more by this time next year.

83. Darkest Dungeon

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION 53

Evan: As you lose men to madness, syphilis, heart attacks, vampiric blood thirst or other maladies, you’ll come to the realisation that you shouldn’t treat your adventurers as precious assets to be cared for, but as batteries in the shape of men. That gives the game a different emotional texture: you’re not a faithful commander, you’re a brutal middle-manager. I love its artistic cohesion and the genius use of a single, ominous narrator (Wayne June) throughout the game to set the mood and speak for the characters, enemies, and the dungeon-as-character.

82. Cities: Skylines

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION 89

Fraser: Why is building roads so compelling? There’s a lot going on in Cities: Skylines, Colossal Order’s city builder, but getting the teeming masses to their destinations scratches an itch like nothing else. I’m diversifying into blimps now. Seeing my citizens politely queueing up in their thousands to take to the skies makes me a happy mayor. Sure, I had to bulldoze a school to make room for one of the stations, but now all the children are being educated by floating billboards.

Phil: Fraser’s populace is doing a lot better than the occupants of my last town, many of whom died after a sewage disaster. But when I’m not battling a tide of brown water, I love the degree of fine-tuning that Cities: Skylines supports. The zoning system is inspired—enabling experimentation by letting you earmark a part of your town for farming, nightlife or legal pot use.

81. Killing Floor 2

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION New

Evan: Flick an RPG into a crowd of zeds and watch intestines, bile, and whole torsos vomit out the blast radius. It’s zombie bowling made by gun nerds, with gaming’s best slow-motion inviting you to savour every frame.

Hannah Dwan: Is there a game that makes tearing apart monstrosities as fun as Killing Floor 2? It’s the best and most surprisingly diverse horde mode anyone’s ever made.

80. Minecraft

RELEASED 2009 | LAST POSITION 20

Chris Livingston: The ultimate game for popping in for a few minutes and then looking around blearily when you realise a dozen hours have passed. Its world can be whatever you want it to be: a singleplayer crafting and exploration game, or a multiplayer sandbox experience. Throw in thousands of mods, custom games and speciality servers, and the near-infinite world of Minecraft gets even bigger.

79. Warhammer: End Times—Vermintide

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION New

Matthew: This is more than Left 4 Dead with rat men—a characterful recreation of The Old World you’ll want to stop and explore (though the rats will devour you). Each character is a distillation of a Warhammer race, and watching them interact is a treat. The humour contrasts nicely with the hopelessness of it all. 

Evan: It’s a Warhammer B-movie in the best way possible.

78. Nethack

RELEASED 1987 | LAST POSITION New

Wes: Roguelike once literally meant ‘like the game Rogue’, the ASCII dungeon crawler made for ’80s mainframes. But most modern roguelikes owe more to its descendant NetHack, first released in 1987 (and still updated and actively played to this day). The simple graphics allow for a deep dungeon crawler compared to any other I’ve played. Why pick a lock when you can kick down a door? Why eat a pie when you can use it to blind an enemy? If you value mystery and discovery in games, nothing does them better than NetHack. Play online on nethack.alt.org to encounter the remains of other players who never made it out of the dungeon’s depths.

77. Overcooked

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION New

Evan: The best same-screen co-op game on PC. This would be higher if it worked well as a singleplayer game.

Phil: Shamefully, I have watched a lot of Hell’s Kitchen USA. Overcooked is like if Ramsey’s competition was more cartoony and collaborative, with less swearing—most of the time. Success requires coordination of resources and time—which almost always results in glorious culinary chaos.

76. Doom II

RELEASED 1994 | LAST POSITION 69

Chris L: Rather than trying to reinvent the original, Doom II just gave us a heavier dose of everything we wanted: more monsters and bigger levels. It’s still an utter blast to play.

Phil: Doom II boasts incredible mod support. You can warp the campaign with over-the-top effects, or you can enjoy the many total conversions, from the The Adventures of Square, to the incredible WolfenDoom.

75. Sunless Sea

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION New

Fraser: In Sunless Sea, you get a vulnerable ship and a sinister ocean to explore. There’s action, trading and permadeath, but what really defines Failbetter’s nautical romp is the exceptional writing. It jumps between whimsy and menace. One moment you’re solving a dispute between rats and guinea pigs, the next your crew are eating each other. It’s a game about crafting weird, tragic stories. The captain-turned-spy who made one too many enemies in the east. The explorer who risked everything to climb out of the Unterzee and back to the surface. There are countless paths, all leading to strange places.

Andy K: The mystery of what lies on each island is what keeps me pushing through the many hardships. A gruelling game, but worth enduring for the wonderful stories you’re told whenever you dock somewhere.

74. VVVVV

RELEASED 2010 | LAST POSITION New

James Davenport: You flip gravity (by pressing the V key) to bounce up and down between the floor and ceiling avoiding spikes (they look like this: VVVVVV) while exploring a psychedelic 8-bit open world in pursuit of your friends, Violent, Vermillion, Victoria, Verdigris, and Vitellary. Developer Terry Cavanagh created VVVVVV as an experiment in level design – abilities never change, but how surfaces behave and the conditions of the world change constantly. In one stretch, thin lines throw you about like gravity-defying trampolines, and in another the level scrolls on its own, forcing you to think quickly. In one lonely corner of the map, a massive elephant cries. All you can do there is frown. But it’s hard to stay down with such a buoyant soundtrack. It’s one earworm after another, an assembly of upbeat, catchy chiptunes that still haunt me today. 

73. Ladykiller In A Bind

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION New

Hannah: When I say Ladykiller in a Bind is a NSFW visual novel about horny teenagers, there’s probably a certain image people generally imagine: crude, poorly written, and often embarrassing, the gaming equivalent of that time you found an adult magazine in the local park. Ladykiller In A Bind goes against that with smart writing, enjoyable characters, and lifelike depictions of intimacy (or, the chaos of it). It’s aware of the stereotype, and so does its best to dismantle it by portraying those teenage years with the maturity of a game designed for those a little older.

72. Fallout 2

RELEASED 1998 | LAST POSITION New

Jody: The original Fallout nailed an atmosphere of black comedy, combining post-apocalyptic grit with goofy retrofuturism. It also nailed the RPG standard of having three solutions to a problem, but where other games went with ‘violent’, ‘sneaky’, and ‘magical’ solutions, Fallout replaced the third option with ‘diplomatic’. It’s as good a game about talking your way out of trouble as has ever been made.

71. Valkyria Chronicles

RELEASED 2014 | LAST POSITION 49

Tom M: Even though it arrived on PC late, Valkyria Chronicles is still one the freshest takes on a strategy game I’ve seen. It’s a mix of turn-based strategy, third-person shooter and JRPG that, against all odds, comes together to form an cohesive whole. The art style and melodramatic story don’t scream ‘hardcore strategy’, but underneath all that is a one-of-a-kind tactics game that shouldn’t be overlooked. 

70. Bastion 

RELEASED 2011 | LAST POSITION New

Jody: Bastion is an action RPG with trimmings so wonderful we sometimes overlook the strong combat at its centre. You carry two weapons, and each is balanced for multiple situations. Control schemes can be tweaked, and the challenge shrines are a neat way of tweaking difficulty. Those trimmings are wonderful, though: the city that rebuilds itself, the narrator who responds to your actions, the perfect soundtrack and the story that reaches a genuinely affecting conclusion.

Phil: The worldbuilding is exceptional—and not just in the immediate sense, as levels tend to literally build themselves around you. The songs the characters sing are pulled from the history of the world Supergiant has created, and imbued with a deeper meaning that feeds back into the more immediate story. It really helps sell the emotions behind the drama that unfolds.

69. N++

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION New

Shaun: Ah, the primal gaming pleasure of running and jumping to the end of a level. That’s essentially all you do in N++, but it’s incredible just how varied this platformer feels despite having over 1,500 levels and an artstyle as barebones as they come. The star attraction of the N series—which started off as a Flash game—has always been the floaty movement of its stick-figured ninja, who feels so good to direct that it barely matters how many thousands of times you’ll die. And while it’s true that ‘running’ and ‘jumping’ is basically all you do in N++, it’s the subtlety in the way these actions are executed that matters—momentum and timing is important, but crucially, luck never is. Add to all this a cooperative mode and a level editor, and it feels like N++ is just about the last twitch platformer we’ll ever need. Or, at least, it seems a tough task to top it.

68. System Shock 2

RELEASED 1999 | LAST POSITION New

Andy C: This has everything: guns, hacking, frightening enemies, a tale of betrayal, a pumping soundtrack, ambiance and a villain who makes the greatest videogame entrance ever. Throw on one of the updated texture packs and you’ve got a game that’s as brilliant now as it was in 1999.

Tom S: The enemy models aren’t chilling now, but the sense of struggle is intact. The Von Braun is still an interesting place to master, and the splicing of shooter/RPG systems just works. Games like Dishonored have since taken the formula to new heights, but even that game can’t match the tension of this ingenious original.

Phil: Part of what makes that so effective is the soundtrack is one of the great ’90s videogame scores. Sparse and creepy, it’s instrumental in defining System Shock 2’s style.

67. Fez

RELEASED 2013 | LAST POSITION 55

Phil: A relaxing platformer that’s filled with fiendish secrets. On the surface, Fez is a charming game about rotating a 2D world to complete puzzles and create new routes. But scratch beneath its surface, and Fez reveals its heart. You’ll translate languages, decode runes and break through the fourth wall. It’s meticulously constructed, and all set to a soundtrack that builds a lasting, memorable sense of place.

66. Plants Vs Zombies

RELEASED 2009 | LAST POSITION New

Chris L: Charming, challenging and endearing, defend your home from zombies with an army of deadly plants – like corn cannons, exploding cherries, and hypnotic mushrooms. It’s masterfully balanced, introducing new threats and defences at the perfect pace that brings what at times feels like a casual and colourful war to a nail-biting conclusion. PvZ is tower defence at its finest and funniest. 

65. Burnout Paradise 

RELEASED 2009 | LAST POSITION 66

Hannah: Which Burnout game is the best is a tricky topic, but I’m adamant it’s Burnout Paradise. A great variety of streets to race down, loads of cars to unlock and, oh baby, the destruction when a car gets wrecked. Wheels bend into the wrong directions, metal shards ping off, all in glorious slow motion. The regular obliteration of cars is the icing on the cake to the most well designed arcade driving game ever.

64. Pillars of Eternity

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION 59

Joe: With a wonderful story that’s bolstered by an intuitive battle system, Pillars of Eternity echoes roleplaying stalwarts such as Icewind Dale, Baldur’s Gate and Fallout. A classic. 

Andy K: As someone who grew up with Infinity Engine RPGs, playing something that captures their distinctive magic, but with a modern sheen, was a delight. Deep, rich, and compelling, roleplaying on PC doesn’t get much better.

63. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne

RELEASED 2003 | LAST POSITION New

Samuel: There’s not a single cover shooter around that’s more fun than Remedy’s bullet time sequel, in my opinion (there’s perhaps an argument for Vanquish). Diving into every enemy-filled room with two pistols blazing is like a puzzle to solve, and the sound design and feedback of the guns is terrific. Its noir styling is at once ironic and sincere, and I still love it. You can pop Gears of War in the bin, thanks. 

62. Ori and the Blind Forest

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION New

Katharine Byrne: The cute critters in Moon Studio’s platformer will make you go d’aww almost as often as the nails hard platforming makes you go arghhh. Its Studio Ghibli-esque animation and soaring soundtrack are both top of their class, and the ability to slingshot Ori off enemy attacks brings something genuinely new to the platforming table, making me very excited for its upcoming sequel. 

61. Undertale

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION 92

Matthew: There’s something about Undertale’s subversive, retro take on the top-down RPG that sweeps you up and takes you back to a place that’s half nightmare, half adventure. It recalls the best and worst of fairy tales – a mix of excitement and understated menace – and it’s brought to life by a smart sense of humour that makes the whole thing strangely relatable. It’s particularly essential for anyone who’s skipped classic games for fear of standardised JRPG tropes – turn-based combat is tweaked with bullet hell minigames and you can bond with the monsters you face in battle instead of straight-up slaughtering them in cold blood. The sacred foundation stones of an entire genre are smashed and rebuilt into something genuinely unique, and the result is a game that anyone can engage with. It’s a strange, wonderful and curiously nostalgic experience: however old you are, playing Undertale will make you feel like a plucky youngster trying EarthBound for the first time.

Steven: I absolutely adore Undertale’s combat system. It’s often overshadowed by the story and characters but as someone who knows the pain of sitting through yet another turn-based fight with the same enemies, Undertale’s combat never feels like a slog. It’s a system on par with Super Mario RPG for the SNES, where every attack and block can double its efficacy by carefully timed button presses. But in Undertale, you move a little heart around bullet hell minigames, transforming the combat from a passive experience into an active one. Turn-based combat systems are historically all about rolling dice and thinking one step ahead, but again Undertale subverts expectations while still feeling true to the source material.

Tyler: It’s about fandom and death of the author, self-interested themes that could’ve made for an indulgent misery. But love for games flows through Undertale, and it instantly endeared itself to me. Run from almost every game that parodies games except for this one.

60. Planescape: Torment

RELEASED 1999 | LAST POSITION 34

Tyler: This should be higher. Maybe it will be, next year, after I launch a campaign to force everyone affiliated with PC Gamer to play the remastered version—which, thankfully, doesn’t tamper with a single line of dialogue. Torment is a witty, weird RPG that emphasises story and dialogue, and is filled with surprising events that feel like they could’ve been made up by a clever DM on the spot. I remember, early on, how you can let an embalmer who thinks you’re a zombie fill you with stitches—increasing your max HP. Every little thing matters, nothing is filler, no sidequest is boring.

59. World of Warcraft

RELEASED 2004 | LAST POSITION 68

Leif Johnson: WoW has some fantastic competition these days, but it remains the MMORPG in the mind of the public at large. And rightly so. Blizzard’s behemoth is a world not just in terms of space, but also in how successfully it’s evolved after weathering more than a decade of shifting tastes and audiences. Be it in dungeons, PVP, or thrashing Alliance in the Temple of Kotmogu, it’s still easy to find the fun.

58. Civilization VI

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION New

Evan: Through its Districts system, Civ VI made city planning matter. I like having to think long-term about each tile placement. Hopefully religion and espionage will get deeper.

Tyler: When Civ V came out, everyone, including me, said that Civ IV is better. The same is happening with Civ VI and Civ V, but with full mod support and the city planning Evan mentioned, which I love, Civ VI is the one to play now.

57. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

RELEASED 2002 | LAST POSITION 44

Leif: It may be a fantasy RPG, but it shoves bearded wizards and stodgy castles aside in favour of an alien wonderland resembling fever dream during a mind meld of Frank Herbert and Frank Frazetta. But looks alone don’t secure its legacy, as funky as its mushroom towers and racist elves may be. Its greatness lies in how thoroughly it wrapped us in its weird world, forcing us to remember details from tomes and chats to see the saga to its end. 

Matthew: I’m still sad I can’t experience it all over again. For me, no other Elder Scrolls game has come close to delivering a story with the scale and nuance of Morrowind, and the setting is the most vivid. A dense, generous, deliriously compelling RPG (with the best giant mushrooms in gaming).

56. Company of Heroes

RELEASED 2006 | LAST POSITION 84

Tom S: A World War II RTS that distills the noise and fury of Saving Private Ryan into a clinical game of take and hold. The first Company of Heroes is still a design peak for Relic. The asymmetrical power curves of the Axis and Allied forces create an absorbing tug-of-war. In a long-fought game infantry armies give way to tank warfare, and the destructible maps are gradually levelled. There’s a sense of escalation to every fight, and the campaign features some of the best levels Relic has ever made. I keep coming back to it every year to see if it has faded yet, and it still hasn’t happened. It looks great for an 11-year-old game, and sounds incredible, too. The unit barks are baked into my mind, but the chatter still gives the battlefield a sense of life, and the ker-chunk discharge of a tank’s main weapon is as impactful today as ever.

55. ARMA 3

RELEASED 2013 | LAST POSITION 43

Evan: When I think of Arma, I think of the photos of soldiers goofing off inside their FOB, posing and pranking one another. They do it, I’d guess, to alleviate the tension that comes with fighting. Arma is authentic because it recreates that need for silliness to balance its seriousness. Its need for tactics and fidelity demand some amount of military lingo, compasses, maps and an eye for spotting enemies far away. But, inevitably, someone will do something stupid: barrel rolling their Little Bird, firing a Javelin at a sedan, shooting a heli with a sidearm. Somewhere within that balance of sim and silly is the cloth from which breakouts like Battlegrounds are cut. 

54. Dota 2

RELEASED 2013 | LAST POSITION 12

Chris Thursten: There are a lot of games that are superficially like Dota 2, but there’s only one game that actually is Dota 2. This is competitive Calvinball, macroeconomics with wizards, a game of high-stakes five-a-side with more rules than one person can ever know. What this complexity amounts to is a vibrant language shared by everybody who loves this mad game. Shame about all the angry internet men.

53. Tales from the Borderlands

RELEASED 2014 | LAST POSITION New

Fraser: One of the rare spinoffs that’s better than its progenitor. It gives us a broader look at the anarchy of Pandora and its demented inhabitants, but more importantly it’s blessed with a trick that a lot of otherwise funny games don’t have: comedic timing. 

Phil: By avoiding the more wacky elements, Tales from the Borderlands is both funny and heartfelt. I’d argue it’s Telltale’s best work.

52. Crusader Kings II

RELEASED 2012 | LAST POSITION 31

Chris L: It’s unusual for a grand strategy game to be so personal. Rather than playing as a faceless leader, you’re an actual person with flaws and desires, and the people surrounding you are unique individuals with their own goals and needs. It makes for an engrossing blend of managing the big picture of world events, while dealing with the domestic soap opera of relationships and betrayals. There’s more character building and storytelling in Crusader Kings II than in most RPGs. Your character also has a realistic lifespan: even if you survive assassination attempts, battles, illnesses and other threats, you’re still going to die of old age, at which point you resume the game as an heir. The impermanence of your characters and the passing of the torch from generation to generation gives your dynasty a real history, and your choices and actions real meaning.

51. Left 4 Dead 2

RELEASED 2009 | LAST POSITION 25

Tom S: Left 4 Dead 2 has supplied me with the best co-op experiences of my life. It’s a fascinating experiment in automatic pacing, but the AI director that controls the zombie army would be useless without the beautifully designed levels. 

Evan: A guaranteed fun Friday night: download a bunch of dumb character and gun mods and play GoldenEye 4 Dead with your friends,—its a surprisingly inspired, zombie-filled recreation of the N64 classic shooter.

Wes: Left 4 Dead 2 is still the perfect co-op experience on PC. Moments of mindless zombie blasting give you time to chat, horde rushes and special infected send you yelping for help, and you can’t help but laugh at the chaos around you. Showdowns demand real teamwork if you want to make it out alive. And the Community maps can keep you going forever.

50. Invisible, Inc

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION New

Chris T: Klei’s inability to make a bad game allowed it to flit from Mark of the Ninja to this: XCOM with cyberpunk secret agents. Invisible, Inc’s genius lies in its transparency—you always understand what the outcome of your decisions will be, and are left with the gratifying challenge of unpicking each turn-based stealth challenge as you encounter it. It gives the sense of being both punishing and fair, something that XCOM has traditionally struggled with.

Katharine: Klei’s developers are clever. The way this mixes Don’t Starve’s survival themes with Mark of the Ninja’s acrobatics gives us the ultimate heist sim: a world where you’re a cool badass until a single turn of fate triggers a desperate, but thrilling, scramble for life.

49. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

RELEASED 2012 | LAST POSITION 38

Evan: CS:GO doesn’t get enough credit for its asymmetry. In the most popular competitive FPS in the world, one team carries a gun that can kill with one shot (the AK-47), and the other doesn’t.

Andy K: The tense rhythm of a match is thrilling, stressful and exhilarating. It’s a game that demands careful tactical play, where every stupid mistake can mean defeat, which gives you no choice but to work at being a better player.

48. Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn

RELEASED 2000 | LAST POSITION 41

Andy K: The feeling of adventure when you emerge from Irenicus’s grim dungeon to find the city of Athkatla sprawling out before you is hard to beat, and the sheer freedom you have to shape your character is exhilarating.

Phil: The first Baldur’s Gate offered a slow journey to its titular city, but this gives up the goods immediately. It imbues Baldur’s Gate II with a welcome sense of sprawling adventure.

47. Titanfall 2

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION New

James: Both the most acrobatic modern FPS of the decade and the best big robot friend sim at once. Call of Duty meets Quake with mechs makes for a continually surprising campaign where every level is an experiment in something singular, whether it’s first-person parkour, mech combat, or time travel. Time travel? Time travel. Accompanied by a multiplayer suite growing fatter with regular free updates, Titanfall 2 is an easy recommendation.

Samuel: I enjoyed the campaign, but it’s no The New Order or Doom 2016, so it’s in the right place on this list.

46. Hollow Knight

RELEASED 2017 | LAST POSITION New

James: It’s time to put the dull term ‘Metroidvania’ to bed and start calling all 2D action exploration games ‘Hollow-likes’. Hollow Knight deserves the new useless crown. As a blank-faced bug armed with only a nail, you delve underground and tour a fallen kingdom while piecing together its story and your true purpose. Huge chunks of the map, entire levels with unique enemies and music, are hidden behind breakable walls and locked doors. 

With something like 20 bosses, a significant number of which are optional, it’s possible to breeze by hours of exploration and combat without a clue. But chances are you’ll find most of it, because Hollow Knight inspires curiosity. Environments are brimming with mystery, depicting fallen cities, abyssal nightmares and stinky dung piles. Animated in an adorable hand-drawn style and accompanied by a lovely soundtrack, Hollow Knight is an adventure that will play as well as it does today, forever. 

45. Hearthstone

RELEASED 2014 | LAST POSITION 47

Tim: For all the memes about random cards generated by random cards and four-Mana 7/7s, the fact remains that Hearthstone is a helluva game. Whisper it, but right now Hearthstone is at its rudest health for a long time. A lot of that is down to the diversity ushered in by the brilliant Journey to Un’Goro expansion, but also the communication and leadership shown by Ben Brode, the game’s avuncular director.

44. EVE Online

RELEASED 2003 | LAST POSITION 14

Steven: As a sandbox where players can either vie for power by wielding the might of thousand-person armies or spend an evening drunk, shooting rocks for minerals, EVE Online is unparalleled in scope. At 14 years old you might think the stories of betrayals and epic battles would all have been told by now, but EVE always finds a new way to shock me—both via the ingenuity of its players and their relentless cruelty.

43. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2

RELEASED 2000 | LAST POSITION New

Phil: The Command & Conquer series has never boasted the balance of, say, StarCraft: Brood War, but that’s not the point. Red Alert 2 is my favourite RTS because it combines a great campaign, varied units, and a silly sensibility, most evident during its amazing FMV cutscenes.

Samuel: It’s the peak of the series, I think—the unit types are daft but cool, and the campaign is probably the best one Westwood ever did. You can send Allied dolphins in to mess up Soviet squids. Which genius thought shutting Westwood was a good idea, again?

42. Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines

RELEASED 2004 | LAST POSITION 65

Andy C: This is a perfect recreation of undead life in the glittering, grimy streets of late-night LA. It’s smart, frightening and layered with memorable characters, all of it filtered through the unique perspectives of the game’s seven playable clans. 

Phil: It’s the sidequests that I love. Can you kill a vampire hunter who’s working at a stripclub? Should you trick a reporter into returning to the den of a flesh-eating vampire? It’s a delightful mix of ancient vampire politics and petty LA powerplays.

41. Stalker: Call of Pripyat

RELEASED 2009 | LAST POSITION 35

Chris L: I’ve never experienced more tension and dread in a game than in Stalker. Each excursion into the Zone leaves me exhausted, jumpy, and shaken, and each return to one of Pripyat’s few safe zones is accompanied by a exhalation of breath and a slow unknotting of my neck and shoulder muscles. Bleak, grim and unrelenting, Call of Pripyat remains unmatched in atmosphere and horror.

40. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

RELEASED 2013 | LAST POSITION 54

Steven: This does something I’ve never experienced before in an MMO: it makes me care about the characters. Weaving MMO grinding with a story that rivals Final Fantasy’s best, XIV is one of the most vibrant and engrossing MMOs I’ve played. What’s better, the latest expansion, Stormblood, is the series’ best achievement. It tells a captivating story of war and rebellion that no Final Fantasy fan should miss.

39. Kerbal Space Program

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION 11

Chris T: It marries the time-absorbing pull of construction with the challenge of a good puzzle while simulating just enough of real rocketry to make you feel like you’re learning something. Getting a rocket and its crew safely into orbit is a substantial challenge, something you’ll feel rightly proud of when you crack it—and the game only broadens from there, with each new goal stretching out organically ahead of you. If that doesn’t appeal to you, KSP is flexible: if you want to focus on building a giant rocket-powered robot, go for it.

Tyler: I shot a Kerbal into orbit and accidentally left him there. I’m afraid to reopen the game because he’s still floating there in orbit, and I feel like as long as KSP isn’t running he’s at least in stasis. I’d like to apologise to all of Kerbalkind for what I’ve done. Anyway, 10/10 for sure. Brilliant game.

38. Heroes of the Storm

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION New

Steven: By stripping away so much of the complexity of MOBAs, Heroes of the Storm manages to be both accessible and still incredibly strategic. Similar to what Hearthstone did for Magic: The Gathering, Heroes of the Storm distills the drama of a MOBA into something that anyone can enjoy. It also has some of the zaniest hero designs I’ve ever seen. Two players each playing a separate head of a single ogre? Fantastic. If Heroes of the Storm has always been looked down upon as ‘baby’s first MOBA’ then to hell with it, being a kid is way more fun anyway. 

Hannah: I’m confident in saying it’s the most well-designed game of its genre. Perhaps the most impressive feature is its diverse strategy—with each map being unique, every niche strategy is catered to in some way, no character or playstyle ends up dying at the feet of a metagame.

37. 80 Days

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION 76

Andy K: A colourful alternate history elevated by exquisite writing, and it’s endlessly replayable thanks to the multitude of routes you can take across the globe and the many choices you can make in its unpredictable story. Moving, funny, intelligent and surprisingly challenging, 80 Days is, and I don’t say this lightly, a masterpiece of interactive fiction. 

Samuel: Fantastic writing and scene-setting art bring this steampunky adventure to life. 

Katharine: Phileas Fogg may be a bossy asshat, but balancing the ticking clock of his wager against soaking up every last diversion is tremendous fun.

36. Zero Escape: The Nonary Games

RELEASED 2017 | LAST POSITION New

Katharine: Bundling together two of the best visual novels around, The Nonary Games drums up tension from the simple act of left-clicking text boxes. Both stories lock you in deadly games of trust, with story paths that shine new light on one another and allow for audacious twists. Add some fiendish ‘escape room’ puzzles to break up the (excellent) reams of text, and this feels like serious nourishment for the brain.

35. Total War: Warhammer

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION New

Matthew: Everything you need to know is in the name, and Creative Assembly delivers brilliantly on the promise of vivid battles in the Warhammer world. If you’ve ever consumed army books or drybrushed a Beastman, there’s a joy in seeing it come to life in a game that rewrites the lore every time you play. Every race plays like a different game, but I’ll always be happy spending days rebuilding the Dwarf empire.

34. Thumper

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION New

James: Five minutes into the scarab’s journey down Thumper’s hell road, my hands lose color and a pool of sweat drips down into my lap. Tapping buttons and turning sharp corners to a beat with a bizarre time signature while lights strobe and impossible geometry blurs by isn’t easy. Thumper is, after all, a punishing rhythm game designed to make you feel uncomfortable. Through punishment and a drip feed of new rules, Thumper teaches as it tortures. Most will never master it, but that’s the point. The joy comes from stemming a hellish tide, from survival and syncopation with a daunting, dangerous force.

Phil: What if Audiosurf didn’t like you? That’s Thumper, a game that weaponises time signatures to create intense rhythm action.

Evan: Thumper is actually a documentary about the path you take to heaven or hell when you die.

33. Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION 23

Tom M: Playing an 80-plus-hour RPG entirely co-op was a strangely intimate experience. A flurry of quick saves for the first 20 hours gave way to a rhythm of wordless and efficient combat. But as the game reached those last 20 hours, Divinity ramped the difficulty back up and the dialogue restarted—we moved methodically through each fight, formed fine-tuned strategies to safely take on Death Knights, and at one point even built an obstacle course out of chairs and boxes to slow down a hasted demon. Divinity: Original Sin rewards you for creative thinking, and isn’t afraid to beat you down until you understand that. And working through those challenges with the right partner is an RPG experience I haven’t found anywhere else. 

32. Bayonetta

RELEASED 2017 | LAST POSITION New

Samuel: I’m so glad this glorious hack-and-slash game finally came to PC, and that it’s the best version. Unlocking the extra weapons and perfecting the combat system means you can play Bayonetta for about 100 hours if you want to.

Katharine: PlatinumGames is a studio that cut its teeth at the arcade and made its living on console, but on a technical level PC feels like a more natural home for its action delights. Chief among them is Bayonetta, a take-no-prisoners workout for the fingers that has you slipping through cracks in attacks to slow time and unleash combos built from your own hair. Which other hero delivers damage by the megaton, can materialise a guillotine for a finisher or simply give an angel a good spanking? This. Is. Videogames.

Chris T: It’s a treat to have Bayonetta on PC at long last. This exuberant, outlandishly camp brawler from the creators of Devil May Cry is imaginative and deeply, deeply silly. It’s gaming’s own hyperviolent Rocky Horror Picture Show starring a fourth-wall-disregarding, leather-clad nun-witch with guns strapped to her stilettos who kills angels by turning her hair, which is also her clothes, into dragons and bondage devices. Games are rarely this free, fun or surprising.

Phil: It’s fun and campy, but don’t let that fool you: Bayonetta boasts the best combat around. The rhythm feels great, as you chain kicks and punches before topping it all off with a hair-based finisher that acts as the exclamation mark to a combo. But Bayonetta goes deeper still, with slow-mo evades and dodge offsets. You can get by with the basics, but take the time to master its high-level combat systems and Bayonetta feels unlike anything else.

31. Thief Gold

RELEASED 1998 | LAST POSITION New

Jody: ‘The first Thief game is the best’ is a hill I’ll die on. Thief has as much level variety as three other games, from wealthy mansions to tombs with zombies and deathtraps to straight-up horror. Where it’s arguably weak is the AI, but even that becomes a strength when guards go haywire and the story acknowledges it with running jokes about their drunkenness—notes of comedy to alleviate the tension.

30. Diablo III

RELEASED 2012 | LAST POSITION 32

Tom S: Help, I can’t stop playing this game. Every time I charge through a level in adventure mode with a new character, I like it even more. I just love blowing up hundreds of monsters with satisfying abilities. After years of updates, Diablo III is a beautifully fast and generous game that showers you with experience, legendary weapons and new ways to kill monsters. The best action RPG ever, for my money.

29. Forza Horizon 3

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION New

Phil: A pitch-perfect sandbox that combines lighthearted race events with a fetishistic appreciation of cars. Horizon 3 is big, bombastic and beautiful—set in one of the most vibrant environments I’ve ever explored. The events are fun, but the real masterstroke is found in the skill system, which creates a thrilling tug-of-war between risk and reward. It makes time spent in its world a joy.

28. Fallout: New Vegas

RELEASED 2010 | LAST POSITION 87

Joe: Contrary to popular opinion: the Mojave wasteland is the most interesting settings of all the Fallout games. Learning each survivor’s tale and how to play them against one another makes for some interesting morally grey decision making. 

Samuel: I really like New Vegas’s reactivity to your decisions in the story, but it’s the least exciting of the 3D Fallout games for exploration, for me, and that's what the 3D Fallout games are best at. 

27. What Remains of Edith Finch

RELEASED 2017 | LAST POSITION New entry

Andy K: Exploring the Finch residence and uncovering the lives of its residents is one of the most emotionally stirring experiences I’ve had in a videogame.

Evan: I was not expecting tentacles.

James: It has one bizarre scene after another made devastating by a bittersweet story about family and loss.

Phil: This is what you’d get if WarioWare was a cohesive tale about life, death and family.

26. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

RELEASED 2011 | LAST POSITION 10

Chris L: What it lacks in polish and looks it makes up for tenfold in the freedom it provides. Skyrim has a story, but more importantly it’s a place for players to create their own story, to build characters from the ground up and play the way they want. It’s also flexible, which has enabled modders to create hundreds of extra hours of content, meaning we’ll be playing Skyrim long after its sequel arrives.

25. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds

RELEASED 2017 | LAST POSITION New

Evan: One: it compresses the time and space that survival games like DayZ give you, forcing you into contact with other players and out of your comfort zone. And two: it oscillates between serious and silly—you’re shouting compass bearings, then you’re backflipping a motorbike over your friends. 

Andy K: And for the solo player, Battlegrounds is just as thrilling. Playing it as a stealth game, with humans instead of AI guards, and ducking between cover is wonderfully tense. 

Steven: Solo is awesome, but co-op is where it really takes off. Having a buddy you can rely on really expands your strategic options. There’s rarely a decision made during a duo match that doesn’t feel meaningful.

Chris T: The magic of Battlegrounds is the way it makes every encounter feel meaningful. When only one can win and death comes quickly, every choice you make matters: getting the drop on an foe and stealing their stuff is great, but there’s catharsis to getting caught, too

24. Nier: Automata

RELEASED 2017 | LAST POSITION New

Leif: You could be forgiven for dismissing Nier: Automata as a generic Japanese RPG based on looks alone—in some ways it embraces those expectations in order to subvert them. But this is a science fiction masterwork; a richly imagined tale with a meaning that grows more bizarre with each playthrough as we see events through the eyes of different characters. Its also a blast to play, swapping between third-person action, shoot-’em-up and platformer genres effortlessly.

Phil: I prefer Bayonetta’s combat, but the world of Nier is a tragically beautiful space. Automata also offers what is sure to be 2017’s best soundtrack.

23. Deus Ex

RELEASED 2000 | LAST POSITION 13

Andy K: The visuals have aged horribly, to the point where it’s almost offensive to modern eyes, but get over that hump and Deus Ex is still one of the best, richest, most expansive immersive sims on PC. Vast levels filled with NPCs, alternate paths, and optional missions, a twisting, conspiracy-laden plot and a bleak, dystopian atmosphere make it an essential PC game, despite being almost 20 years old.

22. Stardew Valley

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION 97

Phil: A farming RPG created by one person. It’s a heartwarming success story and a legitimately great version of a genre that was underrepresented on PC. The valley is packed with activities, from fishing to dungeon crawling, in addition to the day-to-day task of growing crops, milking cows, baking and refining your raw produce into more desirable materials. Gentrification has never been so entertaining.

21. FTL: Faster Than Light

RELEASED 2012 | LAST POSITION 78

Samuel: At the last NYE party I went to, we played FTL as a group, and I found myself shouting tips for how to deal with slaver ships, mysterious signals and that crazy guy on the planet’s surface, who can either join your crew or do damage to your ship. I’d recommend it to sci-fi fans and strategy devotees equally—but it’s also a great introduction to strategy generally. 

Matthew: Failure, panic, and the quiet acceptance of death: these are the hallmarks of FTL, a space exploration game with roguelike elements which is far more fun than I’ve made it sound. It’s like experiencing your most beloved sci-fi reveries with a dose of relentless realism. Things will burn. People will suffocate. You probably won’t survive that heroic rescue. But when you do, it honestly feels amazing. Just don’t rename your crewmates after your friends.

20. Battlefield 1

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION New

Evan: Who expected Battlefield to find its stride in WWI? The technological constraints of the nineteenteens inspired the series’ most interesting infantry gunplay. The Madsen MG is powerful, but its vertical magazine blocks your vision. The absence of plentiful armoured transport makes the 70-ton Char 2C supertank feel like a baby Godzilla when it hits the map. Gorgeous art and sound design don’t hurt.

Andy K: The shift from high-precision modern weapons provided the shot in the arm Battlefield needed. It’s a delight to return to the mud and rust of an older war. And enough licence is taken with the history to ensure it doesn’t feel like a cartoon depiction of WWI. The St Quentin Scar map is a highlight: a stretch of farmland dotted with interesting architecture to capture. Every minute feels chaotic and urgent.

19. Her Story

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION 39

Samuel: I recently found myself in a position of recommending PC games to someone who normally plays on consoles, and the first thing I did was bring up Her Story. A fantastic, one-of-a-kind mystery game. 

Tim: I think at some point in the future we’re going to look back on this game as the herald of non-shit FMV games, but few of the flood that have followed so far have borne any comparison to Her Story. And that’s because Sam Barlow’s elegant concept, strong writing, and the standout performance by Viva Seifert all feel like bottled lightning levels of brilliant. A rare treat.

Hannah: Her Story is the bar for detective games. With the uniqueness of searching through a poorly-sorted database to piece together a mystery, you put together the threads of its story yourself. The FMV nature only adds to how unsettling it can become.

18. Wolfenstein: The New Order

RELEASED 2014 | LAST POSITION New

Tom S: It’s a simple formula: put some Nazis in a level, give a player some massive guns and you’ve got a decent FPS. The New Order goes above and beyond regular shooters with great characters and a sense of humour, and stealth that works. It’s an intelligent update of a classic series that reflects on the inherent silliness of its setup, even as it invites you to indulge, ideally with a machine gun in each hand.

17. BioShock

RELEASED 2007 | LAST POSITION No change

Samuel: Still fantastic, and it’s aged beautifully. Before audiotapes were overdone as a narrative device, this perfected them—a brilliantly written and acted way to discover the story of this fallen city. 

Andy K: I still get goosebumps when screen drops to reveal the majesty of Rapture, and it only gets better as you delve deeper into Andrew Ryan’s fucked up metropolis.

16. Rocket League

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION 8

Steven: Other multiplayer games, like shooters, rarely stop to let both you and your opponents soak in a critical moment of the match, but Rocket League forces you to relive every one. After each goal, you sit down and watch that amazing pass and aerial shot, basking in the glory of it. Or maybe you sit in shame and stew the horror of choking and missing the game-winning save. Either way, the spectrum of emotions of a match in Rocket League, like any real sport, is engrossing.

Samuel: I didn’t vote for Rocket League this year, that’s why it’s dropped a bit down the list. I had to stop playing it for my sanity, after seeing rocket cars in my dreams.

Joe: I love football and hate racing but, despite there being cars, balls and goals here, Psyonix’s ball-cage-car-’em-up is a different beast. It’s bloody good too and, as Samuel suggests, is pretty moreish. 

15. Rainbow Six Siege

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION 27

Shaun: This tense tactical shooter has delivered some of the most stressful and memorable moments I’ve ever had in games. The destructible maps, coupled with the unique abilities of each operator, makes every match feel minty fresh. Many hands were wrung when Ubisoft announced this would be multiplayer only, but it has since become the most enduring PVP game in my library, and Ubisoft is giving it the care it deserves.

Evan: Honestly, Shaun, I think it’s a miracle that Siege’s devs were able to convince one of the biggest game makers in the world to make a multiplayer-only FPS in 2015. It’s Ubisoft’s Counter-Strike.

Steven: I love the way it teaches through example. You get shot and die but can’t understand how until you watch the replay and realise it was through a tiny murder-hole punched into a destructible wall. It then becomes your go-to tactic.

14. Hitman

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION New

Andy K: After stumbling with Absolution, Io returned with its best Hitman yet. Every level is packed with fun, often-absurd ways to experiment with the game’s systems and kill your target. And the variety of gorgeously realised locations, from the streets of a sleepy Italian coastal town to an exclusive Japanese hospital in the mountains, keep things interesting.

Phil: Whatever the reason for the episodic release model, it worked. Over the course of its six episodes, IO displayed a mastery of level design, creating exceptional sandboxes full of fun and surprising ways to take out each target. Thematically, I don’t think it quite lives up to Blood Money, but in terms of entertaining sandbox play spaces, this is the biggest and best Hitman to date.

13. Overwatch

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION 24

Phil: While Samuel will tell you that Overwatch is silly because it has a hyperintelligent gorilla, I will tell you that it’s good because his abilities, a) make sense for a hyperintelligent gorilla, and b) allow you to fill a necessary role. Hero shooters are insanely popular today, and Overwatch is the best of them. Its characters are fun, clever and cute as all hell, and its design supports a variety of playstyles. 

12. Grand Theft Auto V

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION 9

Andy K: One of the finest playgrounds on PC. Production values don’t get higher, and the story is 30 hours of colourful fun, with few dips in quality. I’ve finished it three times now, and I rarely replay games all the way through.

Samuel: I wish I had the time to give GTA Online, but GTA V is still all about enjoying that world. It’s all I ever wanted: GTA IV’s detail with San Andreas’s scale.

11. Half-Life 2

RELEASED 2004 | LAST POSITION 3

Chris L: We waited for years for a game that could top 1998’s seminal FPS Half-Life, and it’s fitting that Valve would be the only ones who could deliver. Half-Life 2 shared the original’s creative level design and memorable scripted sequences that left us feeling like we were finding our own way through the world, despite it being a linear shooter. Gordon Freeman remains a beloved and enduring figure, despite never uttering a word or appearing as more than a pair of gloved hands, and his gravity gun is still the best tool/toy/weapon ever to grace a game.

10. Spelunky

RELEASED 2013 | LAST POSITION 15

Shaun: This is the roguelike every other roguelike aspires to topple. But they rarely achieve the intricacy of Spelunky, because even though most players know the secrets this game hides within, it still feels important to see them for yourself. I’ve never finished a hell run, but I’m still trying to do one. Every week.

Phil: My favourite moments in Spelunky are when I hear a distant explosion. It usually means I’ll be dead soon, but also that I get to reverse engineer the chaotic comedy of errors that is a Spelunky chain reaction. 

9. Doom

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION New

Samuel: Between this and Wolfenstein, Bethesda has brought us the best shooters in years. Doom has the edge for me because its guns, and their overpowering mods, are terrific fun. The knockback/melee counter element gives it a unique rhythm, which is a hard thing to find in a genre as overcrowded as the FPS.

Phil: Between the chunky gunfeel, the multistorey arenas and the one-two punch of gun blast and melee finisher, Doom’s combat feels unlike anything else. I love its pace, and the contrast between the frenetic gunplay, and the methodical exploration of its arenas.

Evan: The soundtrack is a miracle sent from hell. Mick Gordon managed to show complete reverence for Bobby Prince’s MIDI tracks while adding his own style of throbbing, swirling metal.

8. Alien: Isolation

RELEASED 2014 | LAST POSITION 16

Samuel: The best horror game ever. I would even argue its best moment involves no alien at all, as an eerie showroom filled with androids comes to life. A masterpiece.

Tom S: Isolation’s commitment to the source material is inspiring and horribly convincing. It is also a fascinating AI experiment. For years I’ve wanted more interesting, dynamic enemies, and few are better than Isolation’s Xenomorph.

7. Mass Effect 2

RELEASED 2010 | LAST POSITION 4

Samuel: This is still the king of BioWare’s sci-fi RPG series. The best companions, the most exciting scenario and a real sense of being a cool bunch of outsiders in this galaxy.

Andy K: I’ve never cared about a cast as much as the ragtag crew of the Normandy SR-2. As much as I enjoyed exploring an exciting, vividly realised galaxy, I just looked forward to returning to my ship and checking in with all my weird space pals.

Phil: Truly there has never been a better game about sexing up a badass lizard assassin. Mass Effect 2 cut a lot of its predecessor’s chaff. What remained was a competent shooter that underpinned a memorably characterful sci-fi adventure.

6. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION No change

Samuel: MGSV is pretty much a perfect systems-driven stealth-action game. Its upgrade tree constantly offers new and better ways to improve your tactics well after the game is finished. It took me about 90 hours to get the Fulton upgrade that can yank any object through a wormhole. Worth it. 

Tom S: Are there any other open world sandbox stealth games like this? If not, why not? Because this one is brilliant. You have to forgive it for the batty plotting and terrible boss enemies because the rest of the game is so huge and rich with possibility. That’s thanks to its mad gadgets, like the one Sam described, but I love the companions too. Do you go with the knife-wielding dog, the photosynthetic sniper or the miniature mech suit? These are the choices I want to be making in games.

Andy K: This has ruined stealth games for me. The sheer variety of entertaining ways to tackle a mission in MGSV makes almost everything else feel disappointingly shallow and unambitious in comparison. And the more daft gadgets and weapons you unlock, the more fun it gets, whether it’s a rocket fist or a wormhole generator. As a longtime MGS fan, the story is disappointing, but the richness of the sandbox makes up for it.

Phil: I told a horse to poop in the road, and my target drove over it and crashed. Metal Gear Solid V is the best game.

5. Portal 2

RELEASED 2011 | LAST POSITION 28

Andy K: A game so good you wonder how Valve pulled it off. Everything in Portal 2 is pitch perfect, from the design of the puzzles, to the voice acting, to the journey through the various periods of Aperture Science’s history. Stephen Merchant is superb as twitchy robot Wheatley, but it’s JK Simmons as Aperture founder Cave Johnson who gets the biggest laughs. However, as funny as it is, there’s also a dark streak, particularly the sinister backstory of how GLaDOS came to be. Portal 2 excels as a puzzle game, a comedy, and a piece of evocative science fiction, and represents Valve at the absolute peak of its craft.

Tom S: Funny games are so novel now, and Portal 2’s sense of humour has not grown old. I enjoyed the magic paint puzzles and flying through the air in Portal 2’s large testing chambers, but the puzzles never felt as new and exciting as the original. Those moments instead appeared in Portal 2’s superb co-op mode. GLaDOS’ taunts you and your partner and plays you off against each other in a hilarious struggle of power and wit.

Phil: The main story isn’t as pure a puzzle game as the original Portal, but it makes up for it with its comedy craft. I can’t say for sure, but I’m convinced that the achievement notification for ‘The Part Where He Kills You’ was fine-tuned to pop at the funniest possible moment. But even away from Valve’s mastery, Portal 2 is significant for its community contributions, and the thousands of new puzzles and campaigns available through the Steam Workshop.

4. XCOM 2

 RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION 19

Tom S: Turn-based strategy games are rarely capable of generating the drama of an XCOM 2 campaign. In fact, few games of any genre are. XCOM 2 recasts the XCOM project as a plucky resistance outfit, raising the stakes and bringing even more tension to the campaign. When you’re securing funds and personnel it feels like a survival game. When you’re ambushing aliens and clearing buildings in one violent turn, it feels like a power trip. Excellent soldier customisation and exciting upgrade trees mesh nicely with XCOM’s slightly cartoon presentation, but it’s the war stories that stand out – that time an alien murdered your star sniper or that time a ranger chopped their way to the extraction zone. XCOM 2’s soldiers really matter. That means the lows can be harrowing, but the highs are sensational.

Joe: I’ve sunk more hours into XCOM 2 than I care to admit, but let me tell you a secret: I’m not that good at it. Which speaks volumes for the game itself, as one which whips my backside yet has me continually coming back for more. 

3. Dishonored 2

RELEASED 2016 | LAST POSITION New

Andy K: I didn’t think Arkane could top the first game, but here we are. Dishonored 2 is one of the most beautifully designed stealth games on PC, with systems that allow for a huge amount of creative expression. Countless ways to combine your powers punctuate every moment of play with a feeling that you’re in control, making your own mark on the world, rather than playing how the developer wants you to. And Karnaca is a stunning setting, with an organic, hand-crafted feel that few games manage.

Joe: Mixing and matching melee skills, conventional weapons and supernatural abilities when offing enemies is where Dishonored 2 shines. Harder working players than me will tell you it’s best played in stealth mode, where you slide your way around its wonderful settings, but I prefer bloodshed. And little excites me more than having Emily match multiple foes with a four-link Domino blast, before taking her enemy troupe down simultaneously with one incendiary crossbolt bolt to the head. Nice.

Phil: As a sandbox of emergent systems, Dishonored 2 is without equal. That applies not just to the action, but also to how the world reacts in response to your choices within the story. Take, for instance, A Crack In The Slab. It’s a fantastic level with a clever time-skip gimmick, and it features a potential outcome that beautifully rewards your curiosity and initiative. Dishonored 2 is a frequent showcase of Arkane’s talent for anticipating a player’s actions.

2. Dark Souls

RELEASED 2012 | LAST POSITION No change

Joe: What can be said about FromSoftware’s infamous action roleplayer Dark Souls that hasn’t already been discussed? Probably nothing, which means you can add me to its loyal horde of sun-praising worshipers who get turned on by its difficulty, swear by its intricate and not-at-all ambiguous lore, and bend the ear of anyone who’ll still listen to us harping on about its really rather fantastic level design. I’ve genuinely lost count of the number of times I’ve returned to Lordran, and have steadily upped my trip tally to Dark Souls II’s Drangleic, and the series’ third (and supposedly final) entry’s Lothric since it landed last year. It’s been five years since the first Dark Souls debuted on PC, and you can bet your humanity it’ll be on this list five years from now.

James: Dark Souls is easier to recommend on PC than ever thanks to the tireless efforts of modders throughout the years. With DSfix you can play it at just about any resolution with high-res textures (or just Shrek on everything). Dark Souls Mouse Fix makes mouse-and-keyboard play a legitimate control method. Item location randomisers make it an infinitely replayable roguelike. And mods such as the Shovel Knight armour or the fidget spinner weapon skin show the game’s got a near infinite extended life after launch. Dark Souls’ reputation began as a difficult, punishing game. On the PC, it’s evolved to become whatever you want it to be.

Tom S: In terms of combat, weapons, enemies, Dark Souls III is a more consistent game. Yet I would still recommend the original Dark Souls over its sequels because the stories you tease out of the stonework and item descriptions are more powerful by far. A lot of games tell you that you’re a hero in a cursed worlds, but with every death and rebirth, Dark Souls does a fantastic job in making you feel it.

For all its brilliance Dark Souls is a thoroughly inaccessible game that is actively hostile to new players. For a long time I read the praise for Dark Souls with a degree of cynicism, assuming that membership of the exclusive Dark Souls lovers club was the main appeal. Now I am one of those members. It’s a gruelling and memorable combat roleplaying game that is has kept its singular identity, even as more and more games start to copy the formula. I could go on (and on), but perhaps the best praise I could give is to say that, all these years after release, Dark Souls is still worth wanking on about.

1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION No change

Andy K: No game makes me feel like I’m on an adventure as much as The Witcher 3. It’s when I’m riding my horse through the wilderness with no specific goal in mind, seeing what quests I stumble into, that I love it the most. Geralt as a wandering samurai, rather than someone trying to save the world. And it helps that almost every quest you find has something interesting about it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say every sidequest is meaningful, but it comes damn close. There’s always some nice little twist in the story, or a weird new monster to fight, and the writing is consistently excellent. I’ll never forget the first time I landed on Skellige and rode through those snowy mountains. It’s a breathtaking place, with its own rich history, culture, and politics, which you can choose to get involved in. Or you can just get on your horse and see where the freezing winds take you.

Phil: In some ways, The Witcher 3 is similar to those Ubisoft-style open worlds in which you clear a map of its hundreds and hundreds of icons. But while many open world games trade on emergent systems that support rote (albeit entertaining) interactions, The Witcher 3’s best icons lead to stories of interesting characters trying to make their way in a dark, gruelling world. Every main quest, every sidestory, every monster contract, every treasure hunt – they all help build up the richness and texture of this vast, fascinating world. It helps that you view all of this through the lens of Geralt, one of the most likeable protagonists around. He knows his place in this world, and guides you through it with a gruff, world-weary affability. Elsewhere on this list you’ll find games with better combat, or more intricate RPG systems, or even a more consistently gripping story. But there’s a reason The Witcher 3 has been named our best game for two years running. It works to create an unforgettable, unforgiving atmosphere, and casts you as a singularly capable problem solver – not good, not evil, just the right man for the job.

Tom S: When I started playing Baldur’s Gate and other RPGs I dreamed of the game that would let me live in the fantasy books I loved. The Witcher 3 comes closer than any other to delivering the scale and spectacle of a quality dark fantasy novel. It’s gritty and dark in places, like the swamp of Crookback Bog, but wide and open in others. It was a rush to take a little boat away from the mainland and see the mountains of Skellige grow on the horizon. Every island there has a story – a rogue giant here, a tormented werewolf there. It’s derivative in many ways, but in this case production values really matter, and The Witcher 3 is way ahead. Great characters, great stories and cool monsters.

Steven: One of the best aspects of The Witcher 3 has always been landscape. Velen, for example, is little more than rolling grasslands, forests, and swamps, and lesser RPGs would combine those biomes to make something functional but forgettable. But The Witcher 3 has an incredible grasp on how to design environments – the way a road winds through a copse of trees swaying in an evening breeze that you can almost feel. Books are brilliant because their worlds leap to life in our minds as we read them, but I don’t think I could ever imagine a world as vivid as the Northern Kingdoms.

Shaun: As a games enthusiast who vehemently mashes the skip button on cutscenes, The Witcher 3 stands as one of only a few games in which I play for the story. Even on a second and third playthrough, I’ve got an eye out for tiny nuances in the world’s characters that I might have missed previously. The Witcher 3 is remarkable for this reason, at least as far as I’m concerned: it’s able to transfix both a fantasy and videogame story naysayer. And I can’t even watchan episode of Game of Thrones without idly scrolling through the PC Gamer Discord channel.

Andy K: And we haven’t even mentioned the expansions! I think I love Blood and Wine even more than the main game, which thrusts Geralt into a world of pageantry, chivalry, and knightly pompousness. Placing the grizzled, weary Witcher into a colourful fairytale land is a great concept, and seeing evil creep into this idyllic setting makes for a fascinating contrast. It’s 20 hours of fantastic quests, more great writing, and an absolutely stunning setting. Toussaint is all golden fields, sleepy villages, and vineyards, with a gleaming white castle at the centre of it all, and it feels completely different to anywhere in the Northern Kingdoms. And while not as dramatic a change in tone, the other expansion, Hearts of Stone, is a superb chunk of new story with a strong villain and some memorable quests. So with the main game plus the expansions, you’re looking at hundreds of hours of the finest roleplaying on PC. CD Projekt Red has set a new benchmark for RPG design that other developers will have to work extremely hard to beat.

Personal Picks

These games didn't get enough votes to make the main list, but our writers love them nonetheless. 

Samuel Roberts: Jazzpunk

A funny and weird first-person game that I’ve recommended to people a lot over the years. It’s got loads in common with Naked Gun and Airplane, in replicating that rapid-fire, sketch-style humour, which is a hard thing to do successfully in a game. It’s a true original. I love it.

Evan Lahti: Papers, Please

Wielding a rubber stamp, the lowly government drone is cruel or martyrish. Taking bureaucratic paperwork and making it tough, fun, and intensely meaningful is a big achievement. It’s as relevant and valuable as ever, in this time of border walls, visa restrictions, and immigration bans.

Tom Senior: Empire: Total War

It has its issues, but of all the historical Total War games this is the one that captures the series’ aim: to deliver the ultimate grand strategy game. Whether you’re protecting trade routes or rushing cannons to your frontlines, the campaign has an unmatched sense of scale.

Chris Livingston: Garry's Mod

Part-sandbox and part-toybox, this is a goofy physics playground for building, destroying, inventing, and collaborating. There are a million things to do and, thanks to hundreds of thousands of custom creations from the community, you’ll never run out of entertainment.

Tim Clark: Don't Starve

I don’t play Klei’s Goth whimsy survive-’em-up nearly as much as I used to, but I’m not sure I’ll ever feel as attached to anything as I did to my 300-day-old dream camp. Before the Meat Effigy catastrophe ended it all. The expansions add plenty of value, too.

Jody Macgregor: The Walking Dead

I gave up on the comic, don’t watch the show, and I’m fussy about adventure games. But I love The Walking Dead because it replaces puzzles with choices and lets me make altruistic, hopeful ones in contrast to most zombie fiction’s cynicism. Also, I cried at the end.

Fraser Brown: Black Desert Online

This is an MMO, so I should be in a cave murdering things, but instead I’m spending my days bossing my workers about, taking jaunts across the world with my loaded cart and selling booze. Murdering monsters and helping NPCs are only side jobs. It’s wonderful.

Katharine Byrne: SteamWorld Heist

SteamWorld Heist is a true masterstroke. While its wily cast of robotic space pirates do much of the heavy lifting, the ability to aim and fire in real-time, pulling off trickshots, elevates this above the competition. Did we mention there were also collectible hats?

Hannah Dwan: TIS-100

Zachtronics designs the most impressive puzzle games around – TIS-100 is its greatest success. Design algorithms using logic and computing to fit a solution: it’s smart in a way that can only work with plain logic puzzles. It also pushed me towards learning about actual computing!

Andy Kelly: Hacknet

One of the best sims of ‘movie hacking’ on PC. An elegant command line interface and imaginative mission design makes cracking into these systems a joy. One minute you’re stealing a recipe from a restaurant chain, the next you’re battling a rival hacker for control of your system.

Chris Thursten: Prey

This love letter to the likes of System Shock deserves praise for the way it lets you chart your own course through a believably simulated space station. Not all of its ideas come off—the Nightmare creature is a bit of a dud—but Prey is a victory for player-respecting design nonetheless.

Tyler Wilde: Defcon

A simple game of mutually-assured destruction. Build your airfields, silos, and naval fleets and then pointlessly defend your state by exchanging nukes with the world—kill more than the enemy, lose fewer than the enemy. It’s more challenging than it sounds, even though no one actually wins. 

Phil Savage: Life Is Strange

A beautiful time travel adventure that builds upon and surpasses Telltale’s template. Whatever you might think about the hella dated dialogue, Dontnod should be commended for crafting a memorable tale that makes you care about what happens to its two main characters.

Tom Marks: Warframe

You can play Warframe for 100 hours and only scratch its surface. It’s a game that’s perfected grind, making the simple act of moving through its procedural levels and smashing into enemies a high-flying joy. Few games feel as empowering, and next to none are updated as often.

Steven Messner: Night in the Woods

Adventure games tend to bore me, but when they capture the emotions of being a cocksure teen trying to find their place in an adult world, it’s hard not to be engrossed. Night in the Woods is part-ghost story and part-coming of age story and it’s touching, evocative and hilarious.

Andy Chalk: Legend of Grimrock II

It expands on its predecessor in every way, with multiple multilevel dungeons, outdoor environments, new monsters and secrets galore. The genre is too niche to ever allow for major mainstream success, but for fans of that old-school style (like me!), this is as good as it gets. 

James Davenport: Little Nightmares

I’ve never been so deeply unnerved while running from left to right. A simple sidescroller with a disgusting aesthetic, filled with gruesome creatures that look like they’re moulded from pig grease. It’s short, but its images hit close to home and linger long after the credits roll. 

Leif Johnson: The Long Dark

The survival genre in its purest form. No zombies or rideable dinosaurs cross your path here; instead, it’s just you, your calories and some scattered junk against the cruel menace of the deep Canadian winter. Quiet, beautiful and contemplative, it reminds us there’s poetry in despair.

Matthew Elliott: Friday the 13th

Right now, Friday the 13th is the only thing I want to play. I’ll admit that it’s hilariously shabby, but with the right group of people it’s impossible to stop playing. Every failed escape attempt keeps me coming back, and every game is different. It’s an enthralling and violent game of hide-and-seek.

Joe Donnelly: Football Manager 2017

I’ve played Football Manager on and off for close to 20 years now and I enjoy it more with each iteration. FM is the quintessential football simulator that’s as much about multilayered micromanagement as it is about winning trophies and signing your boy or girlhood heroes. 

Did we miss your favourite game? Hopefully this sheet will cover it. 

Originally published on the back page of the UK and US magazine, we thought you might enjoy this in case we missed any obvious classics. 

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Deadly up close and accurate over distance, pistols have played a huge role in the recent meta of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. After months of outcry from several pro players about the balance of the game's most popular pistols, it is no surprise that Valve has begun to make changes to the game's arsenal.

At the moment pistol and eco rounds are unpredictable situations where either side can win, despite a gear disadvantage. Even though Valve has committed to addressing these problems, while encouraging more skilled plays, there is still a long way to go before the community—and the professionals—regard the arsenal as balanced.

With the Tec-9 reduced to a sharpshooting role, the popularity of the Dual Berettas has risen.

The recent changes, which will hopefully bring the average game back to more tactical methods rather than the typical run and gun, began with alterations to the Terrorist’s go-to pistol—the Tec-9. The 500RPM semi-automatic sidearm is a staple at all levels of play, and can kill a fully armoured player with a single shot to the head. It's mainly used in eco and anti-eco situations, at the start of the game or where the team’s money is running low.

The changes to the pistol meant the usual left-click spray as you rush onto a bombsite no longer worked. Initially referred to as a nerf but can be more accurately described as a rework to the way the pistol operates, the patch increased the Tec-9's first shot accuracy, meaning that tap firing is now the way forward. The magazine has also been reduced from 24 rounds to 18.

This has altered the identity of the Tec-9. Instead of using it as a crude, run-and-gun spam weapon, the gun now behaves a bit more like a Desert Eagle, except its one-taps can be hit while running or strafing.

With the Tec-9 now reduced to a sharpshooting role, the popularity of the Dual Berettas has risen. Costing the same amount as the Tec-9 at $500, the Berettas can take 86 hit points off the head of an armoured player, and some in CS:GO's community believe that they will be buffed to fill the gap left by the Tec-9.

To balance the changes on the Counter-Terrorists side, changes were eventually made to the Five-SeveN pistol on August 15 to reward “tactical positioning and defensive play.” The pistol, which costs $500, is the Counter-Terrorist counterpart to the Tec-9, so it's no surprise that the CT sidearm also received a major change. Now the pistol, which is renowned for its large clip and spray accuracy, has been made even more deadly. 

Players spraying with the Five-SeveN have seen slightly improved accuracy but the biggest difference can be felt on defense, when wielding the pistol against enemies who are pushing onto a bombsite. The difficulty for many Counter-Terrorists on eco or pistol rounds is shutting down a rush (where you're usually outnumbered) while the rest of your team rotates, and I think these changes will help. CTs should theoretically be able to hold the bomb sites easier, with improved spray accuracy, but pushes will be penalised—and rightly so.

Valve’s quick patches to the pistols indicate more changes to pistols are imminent and some are calling for the powerful but cheap P250, which can inflict more damage against armoured opponents than the Glock-18, the P2000 or the USP-S, to be examined.

Up close, the P250 can kill an armoured player with a single shot. Strangely, the $3,100 M4A4 rifle at the same range will not, a difference in firepower that epitomises the need for changes.

One thing's for sure—we won’t know exactly how much the structure of the game will be affected until all the changes roll out and CS:GO is run through the filter of a high-level tournament, which tend to reveal any advantages that exist in the game.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

CS:GO's Tec-9 is often the pistol of choice on the Terrorist side: it's cheap, deals decent damage and has a high rate of fire. But now Valve has announced a nerf to the gun that will kickstart wider changes to pistols in the game. It wants to "emphasise skillful use of the weapons", you see.

While the Tec-9's first shot will be slightly more accurate, spraying down an enemy will be more difficult because accuracy when firing rapidly will be reduced. The magazine and reserve ammo capacity will drop to 18 and 90, from 24 and 120 respectively. 

The changes will "emphasise aiming while retaining the weapon’s high mobility", Valve says—basically, you'll have to pick your shots rather than just spamming left click.

The changes, now in beta, were announced on the CS:GO blog. There's no details yet on what pistol is up next, or how other weapons will be changed, but expect similar tweaks soon. 

So, in preparation, why not read Fredrik's guide for improving your pistol play and Stefan's guide to choosing the right weapon?

Team Fortress 2

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Team Fortress 2, Portal 2 and other Source Engine games were all affected by a particularly nasty exploit until recently. Basically, by uploading custom assets into a custom map, hackers could use them to trigger a "buffer overflow vulnerability" which resulted in the victim PC being open to remote code execution.

In other words, merely shooting at an enemy could cause your machine to be remotely hijacked. The exploit was identified by One Up Security (via Motherboard) who notified Valve. 

"Valve's Source SDK contained a buffer overflow vulnerability which allowed remote code execution on clients and servers," OUP's statement reads. "The vulnerability was exploited by fragging a player, which caused a specially crafted ragdoll model to be loaded. 

Multiple Source games were updated during the month of June 2017 to fix the vulnerability. Titles included CS:GO, TF2, Hl2:DM, Portal 2, and L4D2. We thank Valve for being very responsive and taking care of vulnerabilites swiftly. Valve patched and released updates for their more popular titles within a day."

For a demonstration of how it worked, this very short video tells you all you need to know. Death has never been so scary.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Following an Esports Integrity Coalition survey on "community opinion on the appropriate sanctions for those caught cheating in esports," ESL has announced a decision to lift its lifetime ban on players, including those of the former iBUYPOWER team, who were caught throwing matches. 

The sorry tale stretches back to early 2015, when Daily Dot posted evidence of collusion between CS:GO teams iBUYPOWER and NetcodeGuides.com to fix matches and then place bets on their outcome. Following a deeper investigation, Valve issued an "indefinite" ban against the involved players, an injunction that both ESL and ESEA [Esports Entertainment Association] said they would uphold. Valve later clarified that the bans were in fact "permanent." 

But the ESIC survey found that, while match-fixing is cheating and cheating is bad, the CS:GO community doesn't really see it as an especially big deal. "It is clear from the hundreds of 'FreeIBP,' 'FreeSWAG,' and 'FreeBRAX' comments that a very significant number feel that the lifetime bans handed out in the IBP and other historic match-fixing cases were too harsh and, while a significant number of comments support lifetime bans for such activity overall, many more are critical of the publisher’s decision in these cases," it wrote in its Statement on Appropriate Sanction for Cheating in Esports

"ESIC is concerned that the community does not regard match-fixing as serious an offense as cheating to win. ESIC believes that match-fixing is as serious as cheating to win and is, consequently, committed to engaging with the community to try and persuade them that their current perception ought, perhaps, to change." 

The community's willingness to overlook the transgression is not "the only view that matters," but combined with a review of the "publicly available facts," it led ESIC to recommend that the lifetime bans be lifted on August 1 of this year.   

"Our reasoning here is that, whilst the players are clearly culpable and should have known better, the rules surrounding this sort of activity were not clear at the time, no education had been provided to the players, and the procedures used to sanction them were not transparent and did not comply with principles of natural justice," it wrote. 

ESL said in its own statement that it and the ESEA held their own meeting with CS:GO pros in June, as part of the ESIC process, to get their perspective on the matter. As a result, ESL said it will "align its official stance on the topic with ESIC’s guidance": Rules for all IEM, ESL One, ESL Pro League, and ESEA Leagues and amateur events will be updated to reflect the recommendations, and "all indefinite match-fixing bans placed on players before February 15, 2015, have been lifted," including those of former iBUYPOWER players. 

"We believe that integrity and fair play are of the utmost importance in esports, and our updated catalogue of sanctions reflects that commitment”, ESL senior vice president Ulrich Schulze said. The slate isn't being wiped completely clean, however: ”All of these adjustments do not apply to bans and punishments issued by Valve directly though, which will still be in place for all Valve sponsored tournaments run by ESL, such as Majors.” 

Addressing the issue of unclear rules, ESL also announced that it will adopt ESIC's recommended sanctions for future offenses. 

  • Cheating: Disqualification from the tournament, results voided, forfeiture of prize money, ban between 2 year and lifetime depending on age and level of player and nature/size of tournament and how the player cheated (this offence includes “smurfing” where both parties involved are liable to sanctions). Cheating at a competition played above an amateur level (i.e. where significant prize pool is involved or qualification for a professional event is at stake) should normally result in a 5 year ban, but, in aggravating circumstances, can result in a lifetime ban.
  • Match-Fixing/betting fraud: Results voided, 5 year ban unless significant mitigating factors in line with the ESIC Anti-Corruption Code or, in the presence of aggravating circumstances, a longer ban, forfeiture of prize money and monetary fine (if discovered before the end of a tournament, disqualification).
  • Doping: Results voided, ban of between 1 and 2 years, forfeiture of prize money (if discovered before the end of a tournament, disqualification).
  • Competition manipulation and bribery: Results voided, ban of between 1 and 2 years, forfeiture of prize money and monetary fine (if discovered before the end of a tournament, disqualification).

The above penalties will be applied for first offenses. For subsequent offenses, ESL and ESC warned that "participants should expect far harsher sanctions and, in the cases of (a) and (b) above, in all likelihood, a lifetime ban from esports." 

ESL said in February 2015 that it would abide by Valve's bans against the players in question, "until these cases are reviewed by Valve." That clearly happened last year, when the bans were declared permanent—and while this might be backing into it a bit, that presumably opened the door for ESL and ESEA to chart its own course, and ultimately lift the bans. I've emailed Valve to ask if it plans to grant a reprieve of its own, and will update if I receive a reply. 

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Counter-Strike's AI bots are universally terrible—that's what most players would have you believe, at least. But during a ranked match on the third-party Faceit community league, one bot rose to glory by single-handedly killing every player on the enemy team. BOT Connor is his name, and shaming seasoned Counter-Strike players is his game.

Scoring an ace is a rare thing for even pro Counter-Strike players, but having a bot go all John Wick on the enemy team is practically unheard of. That's exactly what happened this weekend and Czech player 'Kosta' was there to capture the incredible killing streak. Here's the video. 

I think that BOT Connor won this game for us. If you're losing and the bot wins this super important round, it's just insane.

Kosta

If you're unfamiliar with Global Offensive, bots will frequently fill open slots in teams when they are down a player. Aside from being a meat shield, they're not overly useful. They'll respond to preset commands and can sometimes get a kill, but as soon as a human player dies, they'll usually take command of the bot. But BOT Connor doesn't need a human puppet-master pulling his strings because he's a goddamn pro.

During the match on de_mirage, BOT Connor leads the charge to defend bombsite A. After tossing a flashbang towards the tunnel known as 't ramp,' he immediately rushes in. In the span of five seconds, he scores a kill against one of the terrorists, presses into the ramp, jumps in the air, and scores a second, mid-air kill. As the players on the counter-terrorist team lose their minds over what they just witnessed, BOT Connor scores a third kill. With that part of the map clear, he then turns around, climbs a ladder, and kills the remaining two players. All of this happens in the span of 45 seconds and it's absolutely savage to watch.

The counter-terrorists were down by one and the terrorists only needed another two wins, and this kill by BOT Connor tied the game up. I tracked down Kosta on Facebook and he informed me that BOT Connor inspired the team so much that they managed to come back and win the game. "I think that BOT Connor won this game for us," Kosta writes. "If you're losing and the bot wins this super important round, it's just insane."

"I thought it was hilarious," Richochetbang told me. He was another counter-terrorist player from the match. You can hear him laughing his ass off as BOT Connor begins his rampage. "Every time he shot a guy they were caught off guard."

While that appears to be true for a few of Connor's kills, most players aren't willing to cut the terrorist team much slack. This match took place on the third-party Faceit community league. Like ESEA, it's a place for more dedicated CS players to gather and features its own matchmaking, anti-cheat, and rankings. The terrorists' average ranking is 4.4, which is decent (Faceit ranks go up to 10). Considering these leagues attract a more serious audience, you wouldn't expect them to put up such a weak defense against a rogue AI.

But hey, we all have bad days. Some are just way worse than others.

...

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