1. Divinity: Original Sin 2
These kids today, with their fancy-schmancy 3D action-RPGs. Why, back in ourday, you took the isometric camera angle, combat dictated by virtual dice rolls, and brutal difficulty and you liked it! Divinity: Original Sin 2 is an homage to those bygone days, but doesn’t languish in rose-colored nostalgia; it also brings in some modern conventions like physics-based spells and free from mod support. Divinity succeeds because it strengthens the best parts of the classic RPG formula, ditches the worst, and modernizes the whole package, giving players a sandbox they feel encouraged to play around in and explore, even while they break all the rules.
2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher games, and the Polish novels on which they’re based, have always been strong narrative experiences, blending a low-fantasy setting with gritty characters and interesting scenarios drawing on a mixture of European mythology and dark fantasy tropes. But the first two games were much less ambitious experiences, inevitably hamstrung by smaller budgets and a more constrained development window. The Witcher 3, by comparison, continues the strong tradition of some of the industry’s best storytelling but also pairs that excellent writing with truly compelling gameplay. It takes some of the best features of the second game and hones them to a razor’s edge, and drops the entire experience into a vast open-world populated by fantastic creatures and compelling, multi-dimensional, deeply flawed characters, not least of which is the eponymous witcher and protagonist himself, Geralt of Rivia. The third game sets us loose in one of the best fantasy worlds in gaming history and gives us the tools to make that world feel like home if a slightly demented, slightly darker version of home than we might be accustomed to.
Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy makes for as terrifying a game as it does a political platform. Released for the PC in 2007, remastered in 2016, and now part of the BioShock Collection, this first game explores the consequences of unchecked human ambition to pitch-perfect effect. Set within Rapture – a suboceanic utopia where the bright and beautiful fled to be free of society’s undesirables – you experience first-hand the horrifying outcome of a hubris-driven society in self-imposed exile without a moral compass to guide them. BioShock does not lack for innovation and creativity. The game pioneers new methods of interactive storytelling, be it through now-trite cassette playback sequences or clues painted (usually in the blood) on the walls. The game also riffs on the FPS genre by introducing the magic-like plasmid powers, which not only spice up gunplay but also provide new avenues for defeating the iconic Big Daddy patrollers as well as overcoming environmental puzzles. Rarely does a game come along that takes as many risks as BioShock, and even more rarely does it succeed in being so wildly entertaining. Yes, this is one of the oldest games on our list, but it really does hold up that well.
Would Minecraft have been just as successful if it weren’t for the millions of users uploading YouTube videos 24 hours a day? Who knows, but with more than 100 million registered users on the PC version alone, that’s a lot of people stacking blocks and slaying Ender dragons. Part of the appeal is that you can play it any way you choose, whether that’s rebuilding the world of Game of Thrones or crafting your own personal, cozy shack. But watching someone else play can be just as entertaining because the possibilities are endless when a game hands over the control to a creative player. Minecraft has come a long way since its alpha days (not so much visually), and with the freedom to use mods, it opens up even more ways to tailor the game to your liking. The intricate crafting system has an expansive recipe list that just keeps growing, and it’s incredibly addictive. So, whether you decide to spend your days baking pies or playing custom maps, Minecraft can easily make the hours tick by. And like most things in life, it’s always better with a friend.
5. World of Warcraft
MMORPGs are some of the most rewarding time-sinks ever conceived, and World of Warcraft remains the best of the best. Why? First, it’s incredibly accessible thanks to the fact that Blizzard streamlined many of the elements that prevented casual players from picking up MMOs in the past. There’s no overly harsh death penalty, and leveling is best done not simply by grinding, but by completing quests that have interesting stories and adventuring from one massive, detailed hub to the next. And with each new expansion, WoW continually gets better. With a world far larger than that of most MMOs, tons of memorable raid dungeons, great PvP arenas, Pokemon-Esque pet battles, and more, there’s not much else we could ask be added to an already phenomenal game. Sure, the combat is traditional by MMO standards, but there’s a reason the World of Warcraft is still going strong 14 years on: it’s the best around.
Competitive shooters trace their lineage to the earliest days of multiplayer when dial-up modems provided the glitchy bridge between copies of Quake. Overwatch succeeds in large part because of the way it hearkens back to those old school shooters, putting aside almost everything that doesn’t directly serve the gameplay and offering just enough of a sense of progression to keep players hooked from match to match. Overwatch doesn’t present a huge number of new ideas, but what it does so well is take some of those old ideas and refine them to near perfection. It’s the Blizzard formula, and it works like a charm for Overwatch, with elements drawn from class-based and objective-based shooters and arena multiplayer games that have dominated online multiplayer and streaming platforms for over a decade. And Overwatch is bristling with that distinctive Blizzard look, just cartoony enough to be charming without ever feeling childish or overwrought.
7. The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
When people talk about why PC gaming is better than console, Skyrim is one of the first titles they point to. Yes, we might all be waiting for Elder Scrolls 6, but this remains the pinnacle of open-world fantasy games, packed with an incredible amount of content that will keep you playing for months. And if you’ve got a decent gaming rig, it all looks absolutely gorgeous – not to mention you have access to thousands of free player-made mods to extend the game’s life for however long you’d like. The release of the special edition last year makes this game an absolutely irresistible package for anyone that somehow missed it the first time around, and appealing even to players (like myself) who have sunk hundreds of hours into Bethesda’s frozen northern epic. As you set off exploring, any number of distractions will pull you away from the main quest, and any one of them could lead to a whole new adventure. Damp caverns might be home to a secret cult or serve as a hideout for bandits; ancient ruins could house a new dragon shout or end up being an obstacle course full of deadly traps. You can hunt dragons, punch the local wildlife to death, fill a man’s house with carrots – that’s the beauty of Skyrim. You can pretty much do whatever you want.
Undertale is not only one of the best games of the last decade, it’s also one of the most surprising. What appears on the surface to be an unassuming, weird little indie game slowly unravels over the course of several hours to be one of the most amusing and oddly compelling experiences to land on our monitors in recent history. Undertale combines masterful writing and deft manipulation of some of the RPG genre’s most tried and tested (and stale) tropes, as well as a healthy dose of fourth-wall-breaking humor, into a delightful cocktail of surreal narrative and fresh gameplay. Saying too much about it would only spoil its many layers of delightful, often absurd, surprises – if you haven’t played it yet, run, don’t walk, and grab a copy. You won’t regret it.
9. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Before Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, we were all living in blissful ignorance of what we were missing. Counter-Strike 1.6 and the Source Engine had been going strong for years, so why would PC gamers want another iteration of CS’ team-based gunplay when it already seemed so perfect? Flash-forward to the present day and CS: GO has overtaken its predecessors as one of the most beloved games on Steam. That’s because this is the perfect blend of old and new, managing to retain all the tricky bullet accuracy and immaculately designed maps that made the originals such timeless multiplayer games. Familiar hero moments – like scoring a kill while blinded by a flashbang or getting knife-tacular revenge on the guy who AWPed you – are as thrilling as ever in CS: GO, with graphics that still look respectable by modern standards.
10. Metro Exodus
In a gaming landscape full of open-world adventures that can often feel aimless, Metro Exodus is a return to the focused, constantly engaging style of FPS. You play as Artyom, a Spartan soldier journeying across post-apocalypse Russia in the Aurora locomotive. The series’ classic survival elements and ammo scarcity are all at play here, but you’ll be going up against its fiercest mutated enemy types to date, and contending with human factions that realistically react to your actions. Metro Exodus also makes great use of the changing seasons as you push further into wide-open areas covering the irradiated wastes, with each season bringing a new, completely distinct environment to explore. It’s equal part style and substance, and it’s easily one of the best shooters in years.
The PC has always been home to great strategy games and tabletop adaptations, and 2018 brought us one of the best yet. Battletech, the turn-based strategy counterpart to Mechwarrior, not only brings compelling combat between hulking mechs alive in brilliant fashion, it goes deep into the management side of running a company of hardened mercenaries.
Hire soldiers of fortune, train them up, build and customize your mechs, and then send them into combat at the behest of the highest bidders in the galaxy to earn cash and salvage to keep your company afloat. Thinking about your bottom line and capturing enemy mechs on the battlefield makes every engagement feel more tense and compelling, particularly when you’re already balancing heat levels, weapon groupings, and individual limb and weapon damage.