In the world of gaming, PC games are still king. The best PC games out there have graphics that can make console gamers weep and incorporate a full range of genres and play styles. Suffice it to say that you can find any kind of game, for any type of gamer, on the PC.
We dug deep into the PC gaming market and ranked the very best PC games of 2021, including both older titles that hold up beautifully and ones just barely out of the beta release.
1. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the latest entry in one of the last few decades’ hottest gaming franchises. It takes the player to a new setting, the Viking era, and refines the gameplay that first drew players into the world of Assassin’s.
Why we like it: Valhalla follows the progression started in Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey of converting the franchise from an action/stealth game to open-world RPGs. There are still plenty of elements familiar to old-time fans, but the real focus is on Dark Ages Britain and Norway’s rich worldbuilding. You take the role of Eivor, a male or female Viking raider looking for wealth, power, and of course, revenge. Past games focused on the millennia-old struggle between the Order of Ancients and Assassins. Valhalla is much more about what you can do to affect the world around you and your place in it. The Viking element is refreshingly exciting, as it the ability to build up your settlement. The combat elements are just as compelling as in previous games, and the addition of the massive open-world makes it even more exciting.
Flaws: Despite being a AAA title, many additional elements such as armor and weapon sets are paid extras even in the single-player campaign. We expect this from freemium games but not from something you just paid $60+ for.
2. Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2 is an open-world Western RPG that allows players to explore a vast chunk of the Old West in ways never possible before. You can do anything you like, in any way you like, from robbing banks and hunting big game animals to building your own gang and raiding across the map.
Why we like it: We’ll say it: Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterpiece. Set in a vast open-world version of the American West that may never have existed, it puts the player in the role of Arthur Morgan. There’s no glamour of the lone gunslinger here. RDR2 is a quest for survival and redemption in a brutal near-frontier where one wrong move can mean death for the player and everyone they hold dear. The world itself is massive and allows you to tell your own story through the lens of a band of fading outlaws and the nostalgia for a time that probably wasn’t real. The gameplay, character stories, and everything else are top-notch, setting the standard for what an open-world RPG can accomplish.
Flaws: RDR2 takes a long time to take off. The prologue chapter gives you an excellent tutorial, but you’ll soon be wondering what the open-world looks like outside the snow or if it even exists.
Minecraft is one of the most played games of all time. It lets players do whatever they want, wherever they want to do it, in a way that few games can match. You can mine resources, build homes, vehicles, statues, or whatever else you desire, all while fighting off evolving threats and dealing with environmental dangers.
Why we like it: Minecraft firmly established the sandbox game as a serious genre and is still going strong over a decade later. Frequent updates and patches mean that even seasoned players can find something new and cool to do after coming back to it. For newbies, the thrill of exploring the vast procedurally generated worlds in search of resources to build your fortress or palace or floating chicken farm (hey, the sky’s the limit after all) makes for a rousing adventure. Minecraft is one of those games everyone should play at least once.
Flaws: Once you’ve punched your trees and built your cabin, possibilities can become almost overwhelming. You can create anything and do anything but the lack of story or objective can leave some gamers without the motivation to keep going.
4. Doom Eternal
Every serious gamer knows Doom. It’s one of the most famous game series in history, and its original entry effectively created the first-person shooter genre as we know it today. Doom Eternal is a worthy successor to this storied lineage, combining Doom’s best elements with the latest and most fascinating aspects of gaming mechanics and storytelling.
Why we like it: Eternal picks up where Doom (2016) left off, with the Doom Slayer returning to an Earth overrun by demonic forces to take the fight to the depths of Hell itself. Using nothing but your wit and a vast arsenal of ridiculously powerful weapons, it’s up to you to kill the demons and save Earth. It’s refreshing to find a game that perfectly accomplishes the goal of ‘kill everything in front of you, and kill it again if it tries to get back up’ without getting boring. Doom Eternal is a fast-paced shooter with action that never lets you down and a ton of different ways to explode, dismember, or eviscerate your enemies.
Flaws: Let’s face it, Doom Eternal doesn’t have much depth. It’s a rip-roaring thrill ride of brutal violence and classic shooter action, but the plot and story are elementary. If you’re looking for something with more of a compelling storyline, Doom Eternal might not be it.
5. Control Ultimate Edition
Control is a landmark entry in the supernatural action/adventure genre of gaming. It follows the newly appointed director of the Federal Bureau of Control, a mysterious agency charged with containing and studying mystical and dangerous objects of power. What quickly becomes apparent is that something has gone very wrong at the Bureau.
Why we like it: We went into this game not precisely sure what to expect, and even then, it managed to subvert our expectations. The setting is the Oldest House, itself one of the most exciting characters, with changing hallways and every aspect of reality malleable and dangerous. You face an enemy known as the Hiss. As its name suggests, it’s a constant low-level murmur of whispered menace, personified by floating bodies and deadly threats. It makes for a deeply unsettling yet intensely exciting setting. It’s not a horror game, though. The main character begins unarmed and effectively helpless but quickly develops powerful psychic and supernatural abilities and learns how to use the newly granted Service Weapon. Control touches on elements of the absurd at times but overall provided an engaging and enjoyable experience.
Flaws: Control is great, but it isn’t perfect. The enemy AI and difficulty became predictable towards the later stages of the game, with even powerful creatures easily defeated by a skilled player. You can adjust the difficulty to help with this, but it only goes so far.
6. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the third installment in the critically acclaimed Witcher series of games and novels. You play as Geralt, one of the last surviving in a line of magically-mutated witchers who hunts down monsters, phantoms, and of course, witches. Despite this seemingly simple role, you find yourself involved in dynastic plots, magical intrigue, and the fate of multiple kingdoms torn apart by war.
Why we like it: Few games have had as significant an impact on gaming as The Witcher 3. Widely hailed as one of the decade’s best games, it helped push the boundaries of story-driven role-playing in a rich and profoundly moving open world environment. You get to experience firsthand the emotions, joys, and heartrending sadness of the NPCs and your task’s realism. The combat is a true high point. No two players will fight in the same way, with tons of customizable weapons, armor sets, and all kinds of potions, oils, and combat signs available. It combines excellent game mechanics, satisfying challenges, and gorgeous graphics with some of the most engaging storytelling we’ve ever experienced in a game.
Flaws: As the third entry in a beloved franchise, it can be challenging to keep up with all the characters, places, and factions. The game is great as a standalone experience, but it becomes richer and more rewarding if you’re aware of other actions and characters’ significance.
7. Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020)
Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020) is the latest successor in one of the longest-running game franchises in history. It’s an immersive simulation game that allows you to take a pilot’s role in a range of historic and modern aircraft.
Why we like it: Microsoft Flight Simulator is one of the most authentic and well-thought-out simulator games out there. Instead of gamified ‘flight’ based on what the player might imagine flying to be, you get a highly realistic and physics-based simulation of flying airplanes. It relies on Microsoft’s expertise and resources in cloud computing and AI to develop real-world maps for you to fly over. They include everything from buildings and trees down to the cars and weather events in real-time. The gameplay itself closely holds to what the experience of piloting involves. You pick out a flight path and go through the entire experience of takeoff, cruising, and landing. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a pilot, this is the way to find out.
Flaws: You’re going to need top-of-the-line everything to get the most out of this game. The graphics themselves are demanding, but the physics engines and other processor-heavy tasks will gobble up any memory and processor power you have available.
8. Hitman 3
Hitman 3 once again places the player in the role of Hitman 47, a suave and extremely-lethal assassin with no qualms about eliminating his marks. You’re on the trail of shadowy figures with unfathomable power to shape world events, figures only you are capable of stopping.
Why we like it: Hitman 3 takes the things we loved about the first two and refine them down to their best and most distilled level. The gameplay, controls, and overall mechanics are virtually unchanged, but the vast scope of the new levels and the unconventional methods available help it stand out from the pack. Hitman 3 is the combat stealth game at its best, incorporating a range of incredible settings spanning half the world. You start with a daring infiltration of a Dubai skyscraper by parachute and travel to diverse places such as an Argentinian vineyard and German rave. Suffice it to say, Hitman 3 lets you truly immerse yourself in the mind and actions of a world-class hitman.
Flaws: As you reach the latter stages of the game fewer and fewer choices are available. It’s not quite rail shooter level, but you don’t have all the chances to make your mark on the progression through the levels in the same way you do in some early levels.
9. The Medium
The Medium is a psychological horror game set deep in the Polish hinterlands at an old hotel with a dark and secret past practically oozing from the windows. You take the role of an eponymous Medium who has to navigate this alarming setting to uncover the truth.
Why we like it: The Medium isn’t your average horror game. There are plenty of downright terrifying moments, but it’s the innovative gameplay that draws you in. At critical moments of exploration, the perspective of the main character and your screen itself literally split apart into dual views of reality and the spirit world. It creates a unique method of puzzle-solving that requires you to use information from both realms to learn more about the horrors that took place and progress through the game. It was a refreshing twist on the horror genre that allowed us to dig deep into the storyline’s events. Add in the eerie monster pursuing you throughout, and you feel the urgency in your character’s movements.
Flaws: As we progressed, we couldn’t help but feel that there should be more. The dual perspective was fascinating, but it didn’t feel like the studio behind the game utilized it to the fullest.
Factorio is unlike any other game we’ve played. You start as the survivor of a crash on an alien planet with the only way home rebuilding your ship. If this sounds like a lot of other space-adventure games you’ve heard of, prepare to be surprised. Instead of questing for components, your role is to build them from the raw material level up in a vast and interconnected web of automated factories.
Why we like it: Despite a premise that sounds somewhat dull (after all, who wants to be a factory manager in a video game) the actual gameplay of Factorio is seductively engaging. You start with next to nothing and have to build everything you need. Your initial factories are crude and inefficient, requiring a ton of manual input and control to function. As you progress through the complexities of the building process, you’ll realize that your factory is now more of an entire infrastructure and that your infrastructure begins to rival that of many countries. If you have any interest in management games, building games, or similar, you have to check out Factorio.
Flaws: Factorio does a good job introducing players to the game mechanics, but there’s still a definite learning curve. It isn’t a game you pick up and play for a weekend of fun. If you want to enjoy Factorio, it’s a commitment.
Who should buy PC Games?
There are plenty of reasons why you should consider PC games over consoles. The groups below can see the most immediate benefits.
Indie game fans – If you’re someone who wants to play weird, whacky, and downright ridiculous games PC is the way to go. There are vastly more indie games released for PC than for either of the two mainstream consoles.
Aspiring streamers – If you want to have the best tools available for streaming PC is your best bet. It offers a vast range of tools and addons that help new streamers optimize their content and allows you to focus your initial investments on a tool that can handle both content creation and editing.
Performance gamers – If you want to play the latest games at the highest-quality settings PC is the only option. It’s not going to be cheap, but you’ll be able to enjoy the most demanding modern AAA games with settings and graphic quality that borders on insane.
How we ranked
We used five key categories to rank the games on our list. These were gameplay, play and character development, genre, graphics and compatibility, user scores, and value.
Gameplay, plot, and character development – The way the game is played, the story behind it, and the depth of characters was by far the most essential aspect of our ranking. We focused on games with innovative or at least exceptionally well-executed gameplay, compelling stories, and characters that felt as though they could leap off your screen.
Genre – PC gamers are genuinely living in a golden age of availability. We tried to structure our list to reflect the vast array of genres, themes, and play styles out there to include the best PC games for the widest variety of players.
Graphics and compatibility- Modern gaming PCs offer graphics that gamers didn’t dare to dream about just a decade or so ago. We put some thought into selecting games that offered both stunning graphical realism at high frame rates and those that make good use of alternative stylistic touches to enhance their mechanics or plot.
User scores – We put a lot of our own thoughts and opinions into every review we write, but for something with as vast an audience as PC games we had to take user thoughts and opinions into account. Finding out what the player on the street thinks about a game helped us focus our own thoughts on our playthrough and experience.
Value – The overall price of PC games hasn’t changed much, so we looked at value for your money here. Games with robust coop communities are a great example. The purchase price of a game could net you hundreds of hours of fun.
Q: Are PC games cheaper than console?
A: It depends. AAA titles are uniformly priced across all consoles, but many indie titles and other smaller games can be had for greater discounts on PC than on consoles. You’ll have a lot more bargain-priced games available for PC than you will on console.
Q: Can I play PC games with a controller?
A: Yes. There are tons of controllers available for use with PCs, including both Xbox and PS4/PS5 controllers.
Q: Will PC games work on Mac?
A: Traditionally ‘PC gaming’ meant computers running Microsoft Windows but more and more major studios are releasing their games with support for Mac OS X. While you probably won’t have quite as many games to choose from the most in-demand titles will likely be available.
Q: Can PC games be played on a laptop?
A: Yes. One thing to keep in mind is those gaming laptops with high enough specs to play AAA games are generally more expensive than a comparable gaming tower. If you’re looking to play indie games or less demanding titles, a laptop can be a great way to do so.
Q: Do PC games look better than console games?
A: Absolutely. If you want to play the hottest games with the highest quality graphics PC is the way to go. It’s not hard to understand either, as even mid-range gaming PCs have vastly more processing power, memory, and graphics capability than a gaming console (1). On the flipside, gaming PCs are generally significantly more expensive than consoles.
There are more games available for PC than for any other console ecosystem. The very best PC games allow you to escape reality for a time and immerse yourself in a world of your choosing.
For Hastings #1 PC game recommendation, click here.