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We've selected the best strategy games from the history of PC gaming in this list. Whether you favour real-time bouts or brainy turn-based simulations, great strategy games throw you into uniquely massive scenarios that let you rule empires, control spacefaring races, and marshal cavalry charges against armies of hundreds. We love them. But we love some of them a little more than the others. Will you agree with our picks? Are there any you'd add or like to recommend to fellow readers? Have your say in the comments.
As with our list of the best FPS games, we've focused on games that offer a strong variety of takes on the genre, and which still play brilliantly today. This list will be updated when new games make the grade.
Samuel Roberts: The first Total War: Warhammer showed that Games Workshop's fantasy universe was a perfect match for Creative Assembly's massive battles and impressively detailed units. The second game makes a whole host of improvements, in interface, tweaks to heroes, rogue armies that mix factions together and more. The game's four factions, Skaven, High Elves, Dark Elves and Lizardmen are all meaningfully different from one another, delving deeper into the odd corners of old Warhammer fantasy lore. If you're looking for a starting point with CA's Warhammer games, this is now the game to get—and if you already own the excellent original, too, the mortal empires campaign will unite both games into one giant map.
Tom Senior: The game cleverly uses scarcity of opportunity to force you into difficult dilemmas. At any one time you might have only six possible scan sites, while combat encounters are largely meted out by the game, but what you choose to do with this narrow range of options matters enormously. You need to recruit new rookies; you need an engineer to build a comms facility that will let you contact more territories; you need alien alloys to upgrade your weapons. You can’t have all of these. You can probably only have one. In 1989 Sid Meier described games as "a series of interesting decisions." XCOM 2 is the purest expression of that ethos that Firaxis has yet produced.
The War of the Chosen expansion brings even more welcome if frantic changes, like the endlessly chatty titular enemies, memorable nemeses who pop up at different intervals during the campaign with random strengths and weaknesses. There are also new Advent troopers to contend with, tons more cosmetic options, zombie-like enemies who populate lost human cities, the ability to create propaganda posters and lots more. War of the Chosen does make each campaign a little bloated, but the changes are so meaningful and extensive that XCOM 2 players need to check it out regardless.
Rob Zacny: Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak sounded almost sacrilegious at first. Over a decade since the last Homeworld game, it was going to take a game remembered for its spaceships and 3D movement and turn it into a ground-based RTS with tanks? And it was a prequel? Yet in spite of all the ways this could have gone horribly wrong, Deserts of Kharak succeeds on almost every count. It's not only a terrific RTS that sets itself apart from the rest of the genre's recent games, but it's also an excellent Homeworld game that reinvents the series while also recapturing its magic.
Samuel Roberts: The Civ game of choice right now for us, and it's packed with enough features that it feels like it's already been through a few expansions. Its Districts system lets you build sprawling cities, and challenge you to think several turns ahead more than ever. The game is gorgeously presented—while the more cartoon-y style takes some time to get used to, it's lovely to look at in its own right.
We're really curious to see how the inevitable expansions will build on what's already here, but taken as it is, this is the best Civ to play right now.
Samuel Roberts: "I hope upcoming patches and expansions can fill in the gaps," is what Phil's Stellaris review said at launch. There's still room to improve for Paradox's sci-fi game, but the updates have been coming fast. The Utopia expansion made major changes to the game's internal politics system, and various other changes could plausibly see you put another hundred hours into the game. Plus, it lets you build Dyson spheres around a sun, letting you drain all the energy from it and leave any nearby planets freezing, which is amazing in a cruel way.
Chris Thursten: A sleeper hit of recent years, Endless Legend is a 4X fantasy follow-up to Amplitude’s Endless Space—a pretty good game, but apparently not the full measure of the studio’s potential. Shadowed at the time of its release by the higher-profile launch of Civilization: Beyond Earth, Legend is easily the best game in the genre since Civ 4. It’s deep and diverse, with fascinating asymmetrical factions, sub-races, hero units, quests to discover, and more. It looks gorgeous, too.
Tom Senior: As much a social experiment as a strategy game, Neptune’s Pride pits friends against one another in a battle for control of a star system. The rules are simple: upgrade your stars and get them to build ships, then deploy them to poach more stars. The war unfolds slowly in realtime over the course of a week or so, and may slightly ruin your life during that period. The simple but elegant ruleset leaves lots of room to make and break alliances, and before you know it your friend’s getting up at 3am to launch sneak attacks while you sleep. A simple game that orchestrates amazing drama.
Samuel Roberts: I still love the first two Red Alerts, and most of Westwood's C&C entries are fantastic—but this one has the best campaigns, most interesting units, great maps and of course, superb FMV sequences. The different factions are so distinct, and have more personality than they did in the original game—hence Soviet squids and Allied dolphins. They found the right tonal balance between self-awareness and sincerity in the cutscenes, as well—they're played for laughs, but still entertain and engage.
Nothing's as OTT as this beautiful disaster from EA's Red Alert 3, basically.
Andy Kelly: If you’ve ever wanted to conquer space with an army of customisable doom-ships, this is the strategy game for you. It has smart, creative AI, and a full-size game can take weeks to complete. You have to balance economic, technological, diplomatic, cultural and military power to forge alliances, fight wars and dominate the galaxy. Reminiscent of the Civilization games, but on a much grander scale, and with a lot more depth in places.
Chris Thursten: Mechanically, Homeworld is a phenomenal three-dimensional strategy game, among the first to successfully detach the RTS from a single plane. It’s more than that, though: it’s a major victory for atmosphere and sound design, whether that’s Adagio for Strings playing over the haunting opening missions or the beat of drums as ships engage in a multiplayer battle. If you liked the Battlestar Galactica reboot, you should play this.
Tom Senior: Only Total War can compete with the scale of Supreme Commander's real-time battles. It’s still exhilarating to flick the mousewheel and fly from an individual engineer to a map of the entire battlefield, then flick it again to dive down to give orders to another unit kilometres away. When armies do clash—in sprawling hundred-strong columns of robots—you’re rewarded with the most glorious firefights a CPU can render. It’s one of the few real-time strategy games to combine air, ground and naval combat into single encounters, but SupCom goes even further, with artillery, long-range nuclear ordnance and megalithic experimental bots.
Chris Thursten: In addition to being the preeminent competitive strategy game of the last decade, StarCraft II deserves credit for rethinking how a traditional RTS campaign is structured. Heart of the Swarm is a good example of this, but the human-centric Wings of Liberty instalment is the place to start: an inventive adventure that mixes up the familiar formula at every stage. From zombie defence scenarios to planets that flood with lava every few minutes, you’re forced to learn and relearn StarCraft’s basic elements as you go.
Samuel Roberts: A somewhat leftfield choice for this list, Tooth and Tail charmed us with its simpler take on the RTS, which has clearly been built around using a controller—but it still has most of the things that make a great strategy game. It's more Pikmin than Halo Wars, with units rallying around your character and following simple orders, with unit creation automated according to your population limit and available resources. Battles only last for ten minutes, and with a background of political conflict between anthropomorphised animal factions, each trying to survive, it's thematically rich, too.
Chris Thursten: Most notable today for being the point of origin for the entire MOBA genre, Warcraft III is also an inventive, ambitious strategy game in its own right, which took the genre beyond anonymous little sprites and into the realm of cinematic fantasy. The pioneering inclusion of RPG elements in the form of heroes and neutral monsters adds a degree of unitspecific depth not present in its sci-fi stablemate, and the sprawling campaign delivers a fantasy story that—if not quite novel—is thorough and exciting in its execution. It also has the best ‘repeated unit click’ jokes in the business.
Chris Thursten: Total War’s transition to full 3D marks a point before the gradual escalation in complexity that would lead to Empire’s initial instability and the longstanding AI problems that have dogged the latter games in the series. The original Rome presents a simple, compelling image of ancient warfare and delivers on it phenomenally. It’s a great introduction to one of the most interesting eras in military history, and holds up to this day.
Tom Senior: It was tempting to put the excellent first Dawn of War on the list, but the box-select, right-click to kill formula is well represented. Instead let’s appreciate the experimental sequel, which replaced huge units with a handful of rock-hard space bastards, each with a cluster of killer abilities. In combat you micromanage these empowered special forces, timing the flying attack of your Assault Marines and the sniping power of your Scouts with efficient heavy machine gun cover to undo the Ork hordes. The co-operative Last Stand mode is also immense.
Chris Thursten: Sins captures some of the scope of a 4X strategy game but makes it work within an RTS framework. This is a game about star-spanning empires that rise, stabilise and fall in the space of an afternoon: and, particularly, about the moment when the vast capital ships of those empires emerge from hyperspace above half-burning worlds. Diplomacy is an option too, of course, but also: giant spaceships. Play the Rebellion expansion to enlarge said spaceships to ridiculous proportions.
Phil Savage: Crusader Kings II is a political strategy game. It’s as much about who your imbecilic niece is marrying as it is about leading armies into battle. Every landed character is simulated, and each one has goals and desires. It’s complex—you can blame the feudal system for that—but offers clear and immediate drama on a personal level. Its simulation corners you into desperate situations and encourages you to do terrible things to retain power. One time I executed a newborn baby so that his older and smarter sister could reign instead. Feudal times were messed up.
Tom Senior: DEFCON’s sinister blue world map is the perfect stage for this Cold War horror story about the outbreak of nuclear war. First, you manage stockpiles, and position missile sites, nuclear submarines and countermeasures in preparation for armageddon. This organisation phase is an interesting strategic challenge in itself, but DEFCON is at its most effective when the missiles fly. Blooming blast sites are matched with casualty numbers as city after city experiences obliteration. Once the dust has settled, victory is a mere technicality. It’s nightmarish, and quite brilliant in multiplayer.
Tom Senior: Some games would try to step away from the emotional aspect of a war that happened in living memory. Not Company of Heroes. It’s torrid and difficult and brutal. Sure, its methods are pure Hollywood—the muddy artillery plumes could have come straight from Saving Private Ryan—but the result is the most intense RTS ever made, brilliantly capturing the tactical standoff between WWII’s asymmetrical forces.
Andy Kelly: Its deep strategic systems and clean turnbased combat make Xenonauts a triumph of rebooted game design. If you’re an old fan of the X-COM series, forget about finding your old install disks or putting up with 20-year-old graphics: playing Xenonauts is the best way to relive those glory days with deeper systems. And if you’re new to X-COM, this game will let you explore the series’ classic roots with added depth and details.
Wes Fenlon: As Total War evolved after Rome it suffered bloat and other growing pains, but Shogun 2 was finally the one to get it right. A gorgeous setting and strong theme bolster the strategy side, where the honor of your clan leader and the struggle between Buddhism and Christianity play a key role. Battles offer distinct differences between clans (Chosokabe archers for life) and some especially fun special troops, like the bomb-throwing kisho ninja. Shogun 2 also introduced a 2-player co-op campaign to the series, which is an amazing (though slow) way to conquer the continent.
Andy Kelly: Strategy expert Tim Stone described this, in our 2012 review, as a “fresh and friendly” wargame, praising the convincing, challenging AI. You’ll need to use genuinely clever battlefield tactics to beat these computerised generals. The simple interface removes the usual barrier to entry that most wargames have, but there are hidden depths to uncover as you learn the intricacies of its systems.
Tom Senior: Age of Empires gave us the chance to encompass centuries of military progress in half-hour battles, but Rise of Nations does it better, and smartly introduces elements from turn-based strategy games like Civ. Instead of marshalling troops from a single base, you build cities all over the map to grow your nation’s borders. When borders collide civs race through the ages and try to out-tech each other in a hidden war for influence, all while trying to deliver a knockout military blow with javelins and jets. There aren’t enough games that let you crush longbowmen with amphibious tanks and stealth bombers.
Samuel Roberts: I had to put this in here, too, even if Rise of Nations built upon this foundation in a bunch of ways. Age of Empires II is still a big draw on PC thanks to its HD edition, which is supported by new expansions like Rise of the Rajas, released in late 2016. That's not bad for a game released almost two decades ago.
Build immense armies, upgrade them, farm like hell and enjoy a suite of entertaining campaigns in this RTS. Plus, if you get bored of the game's numerous campaigns and easily downloadable custom campaigns, enjoy making your own daft mash-ups in the scenario editor. We can't wait for the fourth game.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These games didn't get enough votes to make the main list, but our writers love them nonetheless.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You've played Civilization while seated at your computer desk, now it's time to play Civilization while seated around a large table with friends. Why? Because the series is getting a board game adaptation in the form of Sid Meier's Civilization: A New Dawn.
According to the product description over at Fantasy Flight Games, it's "a strategy board game in which two to four players act as the rulers of history’s most memorable empires.
"Over the course of the game, players will expand their domains, gain new technologies, and build many of humanity’s greatest wonders. In the end, one nation will rise above all others to leave its indelible mark upon history." Is it possible for more than one nation to rise above? Probably not!
The board game will release some time later this year (Q4 in business terms) and cost $49.95. The product page is unusually exhaustive, so if there's anything else you want to know about this physical, in real life, non-monitor bound game, then you know where to look.
Nubia joins Civilization 6's cast today, along with a scenario which pits the ancient Nile civilization against its neighbor to the north, Egypt. That DLC will set you back five bucks (or £4.50) if you don't have the Deluxe Edition, and will appeal to fans of slinging missiles: Nubia is graced with +50% Production toward ranged units, which also earn promotions at double the normal rate, and the Pitati Archer, a stronger, faster (harder and better) unit to replace the normal archer.
The complete civ description is available on the DLC's Steam page. For those uninterested in high-quality ancient arrows, there's more news: Nubia's release joins a patch that adds, finally, a restart button which regenerates the map, and a function that saves game configs so they can be reused. At least one mod can be unchecked now.
The update also brings a bunch of balance changes, such as a +10 price increase for archers (Nubia-related inflation?) and a 25 percent decrease to the cost for spies, as well as UI and AI tweaks. There might be another mod or two to untick, especially if the trade route chooser has actually improved. It now auto selects the last completed route, which is a start.
The Civilization series' endless modability is one of the reasons many of us are still playing it today. In a game all about replayability, being able to inject some user made variety into your world-dominating conquests can keep the game feeling fresh after hundreds of hours. From simple gameplay changes to total conversions, the best Civ mods around are truly things to behold.
And then there's the other guys. While some players mod in snubbed historical figures or their favorite videogame characters as new playable leaders and nations, other modders take a different route. We dove deep into the Steam Workshops for both Civ 5 and Civ 6—the latter of which only has one representative on this list as official modding tools and Workshop support just arrived at the end of February—and found the weirdest custom civs players have inexplicably decided need to be in the game.
The spikey-haired host of the television show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives gets to rule his very own country. Guy Fieri tops this list because it's a mod that goes all out in its unrelenting lunacy. It has custom graphics and text all throughout, and even has a synopsis and history at least five paragraphs long in the civilopedia. It also shouldn't be a surprise that all his unique abilities and buildings center around boosting both culture and food.
An Antarctica civ doesn't sound so crazy on the surface, but modder Methodialexis decided to take it in a very strange direction. A continent with essentially no human life, the leader is instead a "genetically enhanced Penguin named Pengu that is not only smarter than humans by a long shot, but has gained mastery over human mind control, and is seeking world domination." All of its Workers are replaced with human slaves, and the Granary is replaced with a 'Human Farm', because if you are going to make a civ of penguins why not really lean into the absurdity of it?
Not going to lie, half the reason this is on the list is because the name is just brilliant. The other half is because how on earth has Kanye West ended up as a civ mod? The civ also comes with Beyonce as a Great Musician, a Kim Kardashian unit, and a religion called Kanyeism. I also love that according to the Steam page, his first city is just 'Kanye', while the second is the also brilliant name of 'Westville'.
This may be my favorite of the entire list, and I have no idea why. Someone, for some utterly incomprehensible reason, has turned the Korean national railroad company into a playable civ. As you might expect, the entire mod is in Korean, but I'm not sure I'd really understand what was going on even if it was in English. Also as you might expect, KORAIL doesn't have to pay maintenance on Roads or Railroads and has improved Great Engineers.
Lead, of course, by Bill Gates, the Empire of Microsoft is pretty much a reskin of the American civ with some small differences. The biggest being they generate Great Scientists and Generals faster, for which the rationale on the Workshop page is "so that Microsoft can invade other companies and recreate their products with their scientists faster I guess…" Bombers become 'Flight Simulators' and Walls become 'Windows Vista Defenders', which is sure to scare opponents away.
Our only representative from Civ 6 on this list, Shia Labeouf is an alternate leader for the American civ. I was pretty disappointed to see how slim Civ 6's Workshop page still is, but I suppose Civ 5 is still the more-played game and has a longer lineage of weird mods to pull from. Shia's ability is 'Just Do It', which gives Builders more charges and improves your Theater Squares.
It was upon finding this civ that I knew my hunt was not in vain. John Madden's Moonbase Alpha is a custom civ built around the incredible videos spurred by free-to-play game Moonbase Alpha's text-to-speech feature—for those out of the loop, this is essential viewing. John Madden leads the lunar-themed civ, which is complete with its own 'Singing Astronauts' instead of Great Musicians, and the unique ability 'Aeiou'. This mod is a gift.
Why someone would want to play Civ 5 by controlling a nation themed after Lawbreakers developer Boss Key Productions wasn't entirely clear to me, but it was the story behind this mod that earned it a spot onto the list. Apparently modder Angeflo made it as part of their portfolio while applying for an Engineering Intern position at the studio back in 2015. The real kicker: four days after posting it Angeflo commented on the Workshop page saying he had been turned down, and the mod was never updated again. Pour one out for Angeflo, but at least now we can all play Civ as Cliffy B.
"We salute you with a finger pointed squarely at the two-o'clock position," the intro for the great nation of 'Pierce & Pierce Mergers and Acquisitions' begins. A civ based on Christian Bale's character in the movie American Psycho is hardly the strangest one here, but I'm left wondering all the same how someone was struck with the idea to do this. Still, their attention to detail is admirable, with lines from the movie scattered throughout trade deals and dialogue options.
The only civ on this list with a content warning on the Workshop page, saying "DO NOT install this mod if you are likely to be offended. This mod contains mild bad language, sexual references and toilet humour." Basically, it's bunch of poo jokes, with the poo emoji itself as the symbol of the civ. It also has bonuses built around cows and sheep, and a 'Sewage Plant' that increases food and culture. I'm not sure why anyone would want to spend the duration of a civ game playing as poo, but to each their own.
Right up there with KORAIL in terms of confusing theme choices, someone went ahead and made a civ based on the fighting game engine MUGEN. The leader of the civ is developer Elecbyte, and all of its unique units and abilities are fighting game themes with a focus on military bonuses. Modder nomercyjeffc has at least a dozen other custom civs ranging from Minecraft to Markiplier, so I guess they just threw topics at a wall to see what stuck.
This civ is essntially a bad montage of any and every movie Schwarzenegger has been in, pulling quotes and images from Conan, Mr. Freeze, Total Recall, and lots more. Arnold Schwarzenegger leads the land of Schwarzeneggeria, a predictably barbarous country that gets bonuses for pillaging and Great Generals. Similar to the Guy Fieri mod, just a little bit too much work has gone into making this civ, which may be why it still has nearly 10,000 subscribers three years after releasing.
The patch notes for the upcoming Civilization 6 Spring Update break down a wide range of changes coming to the game, which 2K games said will include "balance changes, AI adjustments, multiplayer changes, and bug fixes." Highlights include a Harbor buff that "will bring the strength of the various districts in line with each other," and a reduction in warmonger penalties, "so they only hit with their full strength if you are truly wresting valuable cities from your opponents."
The changed warmonger penalties will impact both your Diplomatic status and City Populations. With a few very specific exceptions, the hit to your Diplomatic status will be reduced by 20 percent if you declare war on, or capture a city from, a player you have previously denounced, or 40 percent if you take the city from someone you're already at war with. Captured cities will also suffer a reduced population loss if the city's population after it's been taken is lower than the average population of all the cities in the game.
The AI is also being tuned to improve to improve its performance on various fronts, and a handful of bugs (and a terribly awkward reference to Australian Prime Minister John Curtin as "President") have been fixed. A multiplayer issue that caused the online games list to fail to properly show all available games has been taken care of, and the list will also now show results from additional regions.
There's no hard date on the Civ 6 Spring Update yet, but 2K said it will hit the PC sometime this week, and don't forget that a couple of Great guys—Cyrus and Alexander—are on the way in an upcoming Civilization and Scenario pack, too. Full patch notes are available on Steam.
Yesterday, 2K announced that Persia, led by Cyrus the Great, would be one of two new civilizations added to Civilization 6 in upcoming DLC. Today, it unveiled Cyrus' partner in that expansion, and he's pretty great too. His name is Alexander, son of Philip, and he's the ruler of Macedon.
Macedon's unique Hypaspist units are elite, shield-bearing soldiers who carry a spear and short sword into battle, while the Hetairoi—better known as the Companions—are a fast, heavy cavalry unit that's "widely regarded as the world's first shock troops." For a unique building, Macedon gets the Basilikoi Paides, where noble sons and young boys taken as political hostages are raised to "serve, honor and protect the king, and to serve Macedon’s interests above all else," and the unique "Hellenistic Fusion" ability grants it a bonus every time a city is conquered.
As for Big Al himself, he's all about the fight. His ability, To the World's End, grants reduced war weariness, so that Macedon can stay at war with its neighbors for longer stretches without suffering unduly for it.
Ironically, in the same sense of the term as Tomyris' appearance in the Persia teaser, Alexander was ultimately unable to reach the world's end: His army refused to follow him into India, and he was forced to turn back at the Beas River. He died three years later, in Babylon, at the age of 32.
Macedon and Persia will be available together in an upcoming Civilization and Scenario Pack, scheduled to come out later this spring.
It seems a little odd to me that the Persians weren't in Civilization 6 right from the start, but better late than never, and today 2K announced that the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire, with Cyrus the Great at its head, will be added to the game in an upcoming Civilization and Scenario pack.
The Persian unique unit is the famed Immortal, a replacement for the Swordsman unit, which boasts a ranged attack and strong defense in combat, while its unique improvement, the Pairidaeza—Persian Gardens—provides culture, gold, and appeal, with bonuses for adjacent tiles. I won't even try to spell its unique ability (related to satraps, as best I can make out), but it gives Persia a free trade route, and bonuses to internal trade routes, when Political Philosophy is unlocked.
As for Cyrus, he brings the Fall of Babylon ability to the table, which provides bonus movement to Persian units following the declaration of a surprise war. He also suffers reduced diplomatic penalties for declaring surprise wars, a handy trait if you're the sort of ruler who gets along well with others but really can't be trusted.
2K said Persia "can be very successful with sneak attacks," but it also used an image of Tomyris of Scythia when talking about Cyrus' military acumen, and she, you may recall, reportedly cut the man's head off and dunked it in a bucket of blood when he messed with her. Kind of mixed signals on that point, then. On the other hand, Persia can also be grown into a wealthy and powerful nation through the more peaceful application of Wonders and the Pairidaeza, so maybe that's a better way to go.
A release date hasn't been announced, but 2K said Persia will be one of two nations included in an upcoming Civilization and Scenario Pack. Based on previous releases, you can expect it to set you back $5, and it will be free if you own the Civ 6 Digital Deluxe edition.
Whenever a developer decides to throw Australia into the pool of cultural insensitivity that videogames can sometimes be, I get a little scared. The trepidation is caused as much by patriotism as it is by the opposite of that: I don’t want my glorious nation to be represented by a slouch-hatted cattle drover whose key trait is ‘mateship’, but on the other hand, leave us alone we’re boring!The latest Premium DLC for Civilization 6 brings the great southern land into the fray for the first time in the series’ quarter-century history. At the helm is our 14th Prime Minister, John Curtin, who’s perhaps best known for leading the country in its defense against the Japanese during World War II, and having been the only PM to go to jail. He was no doubt chosen due to the former of these two facts, as Curtin’s unique ability triggers a production boom whenever war is declared on Australia, or when it liberates another civ’s city.
The Aussie portrayal in this game preys on both my fears: it is at once dripping with stereotypes, and grossly incongruent with the history books. There is something unnerving about sending your ‘Diggers’, fresh from bumming around an ‘Outback Station’, to storm the beaches of a distant land at the request of an overly-powerful ally. On the other hand, it’s even more peculiar to play as some Anglo-looking brutes romping around Canberra in the year 4000 BC, eventually researching mass production, signing off on extensive foreign trade agreements, and rising to the height of modernity well before Australia was even due to be colonised in 1788. However, this goofy dissonance is a cornerstone of the Civilization series and shouldn’t be taken personally. The joy of this game doesn’t have to come from some attempt at a realistic play-by-play of historical events—atomically-aggressive Gandhi should have made this clear by now. Instead, it can be found in the forging of your own civilization from a melting pot of randomised events and bad decisions, and the specialities that come with your chosen civ can just as easily be exploited as ignored. In fact, it’s fair to say that the region in which your first settler is randomly plopped is probably going to be a more significant factor in your complete annihilation at the hands of Montezuma (that leafy bastard) than your civ’s strengths and weaknesses will be.The perks and uniquities of any particular civ is more akin to the playable races found in Skyrim, where there are obvious advantages to choosing a sneaky Khajiit if you want to pickpocket your way across the province, but with a tiny bit more effort you can become a cat with a battleaxe. See what you miss out on when you play by the rules?
Now that we’ve dealt with historical purists who only play videogames to get off on the gritty realism, let’s talk details. Australia’s unique unit is the Digger, a burly alternative to the standard infantry of the modern era, who excels at fighting on foreign soil and coastal tiles. This makes for some supreme Gallipoli-style shore assaults (except more successful), as well as a pretty handy boon when defending your own coastal cities—which you will have a lot of due to the extra housing Australia’s unique ability provides.
While there are rich rewards for founding a city on the coast, especially if it happens to be surrounded by sheep, cattle, and horses, Australia is also able to make use of its vast sunburnt plains thanks to the Outback Station tile improvement. This dusty domicile is at its dinkum-est when within range of a cluster of pastures (which themselves set off a ‘culture bomb’ when improved—much better than it sounds) or more outback stations. So when you see some precious resource in the middle of the desert surrounded by shit-all else, it may still be a viable settling location. Alongside conquering the globe with your regime of mateship, there’s a new scenario to play that goes by the name ‘Outback Tycoon’ (okay guys, we get it). This is a purely peaceful scenario and is surprisingly fun in spite of this. It was a pleasant change to be forced to focus on economics and expansion and not even be given the option of conflict, considering my generally bloodthirsty approach to the game. You can choose to play as the premier of Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, or Western Australia, and each have their own leadership bonuses like any other civilization, although they are a little less powerful. You set off from New South Wales in the year 1814 AD and immediately begin the process of exploring and settling the vast continent—and it truly is massive, complete with aptly located natural wonders and resources. You then have 60 turns to blossom into a booming business state, with the dollars that you rake in every turn counting as your score.Generally I find that you’re either a scenario person or you’re not, and even though I’m in the latter camp, this was by far one of the better and more involved scenarios I’ve played in strategy games over the years. It felt genuinely specialised and non-tokenistic, with relevant civic policy, research, worker units, and even these adorable messages that would pop up and tell me that my explorer has permanently lost a movement point because he was “harassed by dingoes”.
The pleasure you get out of this DLC will boil down to how seriously you take it, and how seriously you already take the Civilization franchise. For some of us, it may be a little ‘too real’ having to decide if 2017-Australia should support and expand its mining industry in order to satisfy international trading partners, even if it means sacrificing some of the globe's last remaining national parks and all hope at conservationism—all while a fiddle and a didgeridoo slowly drone through a somber rendition of . But for others, they’ll just nuke France then go to bed.Oh, and the flag is a kangaroo.
Since its arrival last October, Firaxis and 2K's Civilization 6 has launched a host of updates, a catalogue of player-made mods, and its Australian Summer DLC—which sees the land Down Under enter the fold for the first time in the entire Civ series. If you're yet to experience any of that, it's also now launched a free demo.
Downloadable via Steam, players who do so will assume control of China's Qin Shi Huang and play out 60 turns in charge of The Red Dragon. World domination can be levied by way of the Crouching Tiger Cannon, a ranged gunpowder unit; and the Great Wall improvement, where early game defence and gold transitions to culture and tourism—however you should consult Civ expert T.J. Hafer's full rundown over here.
Here's how T.J. summed up Civilization 6 in his review last year: "Sight, sound, and systems harmonize to make Civilization 6 the liveliest, most engrossing, most rewarding, most challenging 4X in any corner of the earth."
Alongside the free demo, 2K is running a Publisher Weekend Sale which will net you discounts on Civ 6's full release, as well as the likes of XCOM 2 and Mafia 3. More information on that can be found this way.