The 12 Best Games on PC

PC gamers have got a pretty great thing going. Interesting, experimental indie games? Yup. The shiniest, most visually impressive versions of big-budget games? Yeah, they get a lot of those, too.

Let's say you've recently joined the ranks of the PC elite. What games should you install? Start out with the games listed below.

The 12 Best Games on PC

The best way to explain Minecraft's success is to see it as tapping into humanity's need to build huge outlandish structures. Indie designer Markus Persson's hit title has let people recreate everything from the Death Star to retro video game levels, while also providing a survival adventure mechanic to keep things interesting.

A Good Match for: Frustrated urban planners. Aside from the dodging the game's monstrous green Creepers, all you need to build your Tower of Babel is patience and time.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want hi-res graphics. Part of Minecraft's charm is in its blown-out pixellated aesthetics so, if you prefer a steady diet of Unreal Engine-powered content, pass up Mojang's sandbox phenomenon.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: Mojang

The 12 Best Games on PC

An expansive world, hundreds of hours of content, the limitless potential of mods and nobody telling you how to enjoy it. Skyrim is almost the perfect example of a perfect PC game. It's testament to a game's pull that, years after its release, people are still talking about it and exploring it like it was brand new.

A Good Match For: Anyone who loves adventure. And freedom. Skyrim drops you in a world and lets you get on with it. You can walk around picking flowers, or you can fight giant dragons. Up to you.

Not a Good Match For: Those looking for a tight, linear experience. This isn't something that'll hold your hand and that you can be done with in a weekend. You don't buy Skyrim. You invest in the days/weeks/months you'll lose playing it.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: Steam | Amazon | Wal-Mart | Best Buy | GameStop

Image via Dead End Thrills.

The 12 Best Games on PC

Sure, there have been other shooters on this list. Shooters where you drive a tank, shooters where you fly a hang glider, shooters where you pilot a giant robot. But if one game about shooting other people belongs on a list of the best PC games, it's Counter-Strike. Global Offensive has had an interesting run on Steam, evolving from a first draft that left many longtime CS players disappointed to a robust, fine-tuned shooter that is constantly being tweaked, updated, and improved. It's a game that you can play for a few minutes a week or for several hours a day, and you'll always get something out of it. There will always be another match to play, always another team to take on, always another bomb to defuse or hostage to rescue.

A Good Match For: The competitive, the precise, those who like a challenge. Anyone who wants to feel like the time they invest in getting good at a game won't be undone by a new sequel next year.

Not A Good Match For: The timid, the shy, the uncoordinated. Counter-Strike is a famously punishing game, and you'll need to build up some solid skills to feel like you're not dragging your team down.

Watch it in action.

Read our feature on the game's ongoing development.

Purchase From: Steam

The 12 Best Games on PC

The legendary turn-based strategy series changed things up significantly with Civilization V to make would-be world domination tons more streamlined. Maps are easier to navigate, crucial information flows easier and it's the best-looking entry in the family tree. And now with two terrific expansions in Gods & Kings and Brave New World, Civ V is meatier, more complex, and easier to recommend than ever.

A Good Match for: Event planners. Like a wedding or a milestone birthday party, Civilization V's all about knowing your guests and what they need to have a good time. Of course, those "guests" are rival nations and "a good time" is submitting to the power of your empire.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want the older Civ games. Civilization V is no incremental sequel, and the difference could alienate die-hard fans of the historical franchise.

Read our review of the latest expansion.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: Steam | Amazon | Wal-Mart | Best Buy | GameStop

The 12 Best Games on PC

In 2010, Square Enix launched Final Fantasy XIV Online, and it was just the worst thing ever — buggy, over-complicated, unfinished — a mess. The developers spent three years rebuilding the game from the ground up, and the end result is one of the finest massively multiplayer online role-playing games ever made. It's everything fans love about Final Fantasy — lush artwork, strong story, gorgeous music — only bigger, all wrapped around a traditional MMO framework. It's that Square Enix polish that sets it apart from other games in the genre, earning it a spot in the Bests.

A Good Match For: Fans of fantasy role-playing video games looking to take the massively multiplayer plunge. The original Final Fantasy XIV was a tangled mess of conflicting ideas, when all players wanted was a standard MMO game with the familiar features of a Final Fantasy game. That's exactly what Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is.

Not a Good Match For: Folks afraid of monthly subscriptions. Despite the MMORPG genere as a whole moving towards free-to-play payment models, Final Fantasy XIV stands firm by its $14.95 monthly subscription plan.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Amazon | Steam

The 12 Best Games on PC

Just a man and a dog, looking to make a delivery. That's how it all begins, anyway. But Kentucky Route Zero quickly becomes a mystical adventure through a land left behind by time, an odyssey in magical realism that feels grand and mysterious in a way that very, very few modern video games can muster. It's not like anything you've ever played, and for that alone, you should play it.

A Good Match For: Anyone looking for something different. Those who still believe there's magic hidden somewhere off the interstate.

Not A Good Match For: Those looking for a bunch of complex game mechanics—Kentucky Route Zero is a point-and-click adventure game, and a fairly simple one at that. Also, not for those who want closure—the five-act series is only on act three, and there tends to be a long wait between chapters.

Watch a video about why the game is great.

Purchase From: Amazon | Steam | Humble

The 12 Best Games on PC

It's one of very few video games that can be called a national obsession. Elite players of Blizzard's real-time strategy sequel can out-earn corporate middlemen in China or Korea, but the sci-fi conflict simulator's most significant currency is the devotion from millions all over the world.

A Good Match for: Jugglers. Succeeding in StarCraft II means waging war on multiple fronts as you keep an eye on resources, deployment, defense and offense in skirmishes where you can be overrun in an instant.

Not a Good Match For: Those hoping for a gentle introduction. New participants to the Starcraft multiplayer experience will get chewed up as they learn the strengths and weaknesses of the Zerg, Protoss and Terran factions.

Read our review of the latest expansion.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: Blizzard | Amazon | Wal-Mart | Best Buy | GameStop

The 12 Best Games on PC

Twenty or so hours into Dragon Age: Inquisition it dawns on you: This game is really, really big. You're in the midst of a philosophical discussion with one of your party members when you remember there's a hidden dungeon way out in the forest that you want to explore, before heading to the desert to take on a dragon. You venture to your war room and dispatch troops to clear a path for you, then stop off to do a little flirting before you head into the field. All in a day's work for the Inquisitor, and all in an hour's play for one of the richest, grandest role-playing games in recent memory.

A Good Match For: Anyone looking for an RPG they can really (really) sink their teeth into. BioWare fans. Dragon Age fans. Fans of flirting with cute dwarfs.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a tight experience, or a game that can be completed in a few hours. Those who want something tactically difficult, or a battle system that rewards play on higher levels.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game, and our lore-primer for newcomers to the series.

Purchase From: Origin | Amazon | Wal-Mart | Best Buy | Gamestop

The 12 Best Games on PC

You can almost hear the battle cries and smell the gunpowder in what is arguably Creative Assembly's finest strategy game, which gives players the goal of ascending to supreme military domination against rival feudal lords. Improvements in AI behavior and the introduction of skills allocation let you be a more flexible commander than in previous Total War games.

A Good Match For: Akira Kurosawa fans. Some of the Japanese director's best dramas took place in Japan's feudal period, and this Total War game gives a big-picture view of the kinds of conflicts that daimyo and samurai soldiers experienced. Everything about Shogun 2—from the artwork to the soundtrack to the overarching gameplay goals—puts you inside a living history lesson.

Not a Good Match For: Fans of Creative Assembly's more ambitious projects. Unlike Empire or Rome, which let you build an empire spanning continents against vastly different foes, Shogun is fairly limited in its scale.

Read our review of the game's last expansion.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: Steam | Amazon | Wal-Mart | Best Buy | GameStop

The 12 Best Games on PC

Call it the Superman 2 or Empire Strikes Back of video games. Valve's follow-up to a classic improves on the humor, characterization and puzzle-solving of its predecessor to deliver a tight, focused experience full of poignancy and humor.

A Good Match for: Comedy lovers. The voicework alone—performed in stellar fashion by Stephen Merchant, J.K. Simmons and Ellen McLain—will make you laugh out loud, but the brain-teasing puzzles and embedded gags keep the chuckles coming even when everything else in the game goes quiet.

Not a Good Match For: Mediocrity fans. People who argue with Portal 2's greatness are like folks complaining that diamonds came from dirt. Their argument is invalid.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: Steam | Amazon | Wal-Mart | Best Buy | GameStop

The 12 Best Games on PC

A terrifying game that takes hundreds of hours to learn, Dota 2 is capable of both making unable to stop playing and leaving you wanting to quit games forever. Players compete in teams of five against each other, doing their best to march gremlin-like creeps to the enemy's base in order to destroy a large structure called an ancient. It sounds simple, but Dota 2 may be one of the most intense games you'll ever play.

A Good Match For: Competitive folks who don't mind putting in a couple hundred hours to learn the game. Dota is a tough game to learn, but the pay-off is super rewarding. Dota 2 can easily take up all your time, if you want it to.

Not A Good Match For: The faint of heart. Dota takes time and dedication, and the playerbase can be offputting for some—since matches take so long and the game is so difficult to learn, things easily get heated.

Watch a tournament match in action.

Read our impressions after 63 and 93 hours.

Download From: Steam

The 12 Best Games on PC

Our game of the year for 2012, XCOM: Enemy Unknown may be well known thanks to the rare success of a turn-based strategy game on consoles. But XCOM's true home is the PC, and Enemy Unknown honors its heritage with dramatic tension and decision-making that truly feels consequential. Tasked with repelling an alien invasion of earth, some of your most precipitous choices take place away from the battlefield, in choosing what weapons systems to fund, which country to rescue from an alien incursion, and which ally you simply cannot help. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is also a rarity in that it features both a compelling story and near endless replayability. In 2013, Firaxis added Enemy Within, a sizable expansion that adds a ton of new abilities, enemies, maps and challenges to an already substantial game, as well as the terrific Long War mod, a further bonus for PC players.

A Good Match for: Gamers who love a good challenge and have a good imagination, who can invest in the many small battlefield stories XCOM specializes in. The investment in individual soldiers becomes nearly emotional, and losing them in battle can be agonizing.

Not a Good Match For: Those looking for fast-paced action, or who expect to grind their way to overwhelming victory on the battlefield. You'll have to think long and hard about your decisions in XCOM, and games are often decided by long-term strategic planning, not battlefield acumen.

Read our review and our review of the latest expansion.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase from: Steam | Amazon | Wal-Mart | GameStop

The 12 Best Games on PC

The games on this list are all great PC games. But of all the platforms in our collection of The Bests, the PC has been around the longest and therefore has the largest back catalogue. There are decades of fantastic PC games to choose from, and if you own a PC you'd be remiss if you didn't go through the classics and play the best ones. Thankfully, in 2013 our readers helped us make an exhaustive megalist of the best classic PC games of all time.

The 12 Best Games on PC

How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:

Update 11/25/2014: Fall 2014 brings with it a single swap: Dragon Age: Inquisition knocks off its predecessor Dragon Age: Origins. (Though you should still probably play Origins if you haven't, because it's really good.)

Update 8/6/2014: The list gets a shake-up: say goodbye to Half Life 2, Titanfall and Gone Home and hello to Dota 2, Counter-Strike: GO and Kentucky Route Zero. We've also reset the comments to allow for new debate and discussion.

Update 4/10/14: We've called in an orbital drop and replaced Battlefield 3 with Titanfall.

Update 12/9/13: At the end of the year comes a sizable update to the PC bests list. Gone are FTL, The Witcher 2, Team Fortress 2 and Far Cry 3 and in their place are Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Dragon Age: Origins, Gone Home and Portal 2.

Update 07/24/13: It's a long overdue update for the PC platform, with four games leaving and four coming onto the list. Skyrim—which was out when this list debuted—jumps onto the Bests because of the post-release addition of Steam Workshop, which lets you seamlessly access and install hundreds of the awesome mods available for the game. It's joined by XCOM: Enemy Unknown, FTL and Far Cry 3. Wave good-bye to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Dirt 2, Mass Effect 2 and Bejeweled 3.

The 12 Best Games on PC

Want more of the best games on each system? Check out our complete directory:

The Best PC GamesThe Best PS4 GamesThe Best Xbox One GamesThe Best Wii U GamesThe Best 3DS GamesThe Best PS Vita GamesThe Best Xbox 360 GamesThe Best PS3 GamesThe Best Wii GamesThe Best iPhone GamesThe Best iPad GamesThe Best Android GamesThe Best PSP GamesThe Best Facebook GamesThe Best DS GamesThe Best Mac GamesThe Best Browser GamesThe Best PC Mods

Note: While all of these games are available through some digital service or other, if you buy any of them through the retail links in this post, our parent company may get a small share of the sale through the retailers' affiliates program.