The PC has easily the biggest catalogue of exclusives on any platform. The lack of licensing fees mean it has an unrivalled indie roster, it’s the rightful home of MMOs and strategy games, and you can play the greatest games going back decades without worrying about backwards compatibility.
Of course, you don’t hear much about PC exclusives, because unlike the PS4 or XBox One it’s not a unified platform with a marketing machine behind it. So, this PC Gaming Week 2020, we’re going to do what the humble PC doesn’t, and show off all the best games you’ll only find on PC.
1. Half-Life: Alyx
Really, you could put all the Half-life games on this list, but the technical VR marvel that is Half-Life: Alyx feels like a worthy representative. It’s not enough to say there’s no game quite like it, there’s no experience quite like it.
It looks incredible for a start, glistening with detail in every surface, right down to the creepy suckers in the mouths of alien grubs that you crush to regenerate health. It amps up the horror elements of the series, balancing it with trademark humour and great writing. And it never gets old flicking far-away objects into your hands using the Gravity Gloves, which simultaneously feel great and solve that old VR bugbear of item procurement.
Half-Life 3? Who needs it!
2. Total War series
What flavor of grand-scale warfare and timesink campaigning are you after? Historically meticulous deep-dives into the politics and conflicts of ancient China, Japan or Rome?
More focused zooms into the conquests of Attila the Hun or kingdom scuffles in Anglo-Saxon Britannia? Or the dark-fantasy world of Warhammer where dwarves, elves, lizardmen, ratfolk and others collide?
Point being, the Total War series is the very best at battle simulation, framing its thousands-strong scuffles within huge story-rich campaigns. Each iteration is so distinct and adept on capturing its historical (or fantasy) theme that every player will have a different favourite. So do your research, take your pick, and write your own history.
3. Disco Elysium
It’s a bold move in today’s world of Witchers and Skyrims to make an RPG that involves almost no physical combat. This murky, masterfully written noir story takes place in a downtrodden city, pitting you as a mentally troubled hard-drinking detective trying to solve a murder.
The magic is in the dialogue, as you can develop the detective in any number of directions - from an over-sensitive maths genius to a blithe capitalist propagating the miracle of neoliberalism. It’s a dark and funny evolution on games like Planescape: Torment, and a great choice for those who appreciate the finer points of RPGs beyond swords and sorcery.
4. Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord
Mount & Blade is many things: feudal life simulator, medieval RPG, battle sim where you’re both an individual soldier and commander, and management game that tasks you with expanding a kingdom.
Bannerlord only recently entered beta, but despite its oftentimes janky state it’s already showing the potential to merge all its parts into a majestic and impressive whole. Its predecessor Warband set the standard, and Bannerlord looks set to be a worthy heir, ready to deliver an experience that encompasses all your fiefdom fantasies.
5. Dota 2/League of Legends
Look, we don’t want to cause any infighting here among the PC faithful. This is a celebration of all that is unique to PC, and when you have two MOBAs that have been so influential in expanding the reach of video-games and eSports, they deserve to share a spot on the list.
Which isn’t to say that these games are the same. Dota 2 is a little tougher on new players, League of Legends is more accessible and experimental with its game modes. But both are masterfully balanced games with diverse heroes to choose from, endless tactical approaches, and a fast flow to matches that’s as compelling to watch as it is to play.
6. Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition
Maybe it says something about the state of real-time strategy that one of the best games in the genre is still one of the oldest. On the other hand, it’s a credit to this game that the recent Definitive Edition, which packs many years of expansions into one beautifully remastered package, became an instant hit on Steam.
People still play Age of Empires 2 enmasse because its distinct factions are perfectly balanced, its campaigns are compelling, and its multiplayer remains one of the best ways to play online with or against friends. Thanks to polish and a thousands subtle improvements in all the right places, this Definitive Edition ensures that a classic game has become truly timeless.
A fine example of one of the thousands of great indie games that started life in the low-cost climes of PC. With a similar art style and premise to the great Prison Architect, Rimworld tasks you with starting and running a colony of people on a barren planet.
Each individual in your colony has a unique set of skills, personalities and needs, making the game a hotbed of emergent stories. The random generation of each world and variety of ways in which you can make the colony prosper or collapse makes it feel limitless in its possibilities; a fitting microcosm of the PC platform itself.
8. Crusader Kings 2
Speaking of story generation, unfathomable number-crunching and depth, few can do it quite like Crusader Kings 2. This grand-strategy medieval dynasty simulator tasks you with keeping a noble (or royal) family bloodline going across a few hundred years by conspiring, backstabbing, and inbreeding (relax, it was totally cool in the Dark Ages) your family to power.
What distinguishes it from its colonial counterpart Europa Universalis IV is that it’s more about character development rather than just expanding your empire across the map. It’s an RPG-grand-strategy hybrid, and with Crusader Kings 3 coming up it’ll be fascinating to see just how much deeper this grandest of saga-sims will go.
9. Guild Wars 2
MMOs can often feel like an anachronism - A dying genre whose games are rarely worthy of mainstream console release. But Guild Wars 2 was different when it came out, with a whole new approach to MMO storytelling, questing, and PvP that made it stand out from its peers.
Which is why this eight-year-old game still thrives today. At a time when many MMOs overly rely on microtransactions and Pay-to-Win skulduggery, Guild Wars 2 has remained player-friendly and pure, and on current form will continue to be a paragon of how great games in this oft-exploitative genre can be.
10. All the golden oldies
Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, Deus Ex, Monkey Island, Half-life, Company of Heroes, Dawn of War, SimCity, Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Thief, Starcraft, Vampire the Masquerade… Need we go on? Thanks to its endemic backwards-compatibility, the PC has its entire history of great games waiting on you like an aged but unrelentingly loyal butler.
You can find many of these games on GOG or Steam, sometimes in remastered form or with fan-made patches that make them run beautifully on modern machines. The archive of great PC games isn’t going anywhere. It’s a treasure trove just waiting to be plundered by those who rightly believe that the classics never die.
TechRadar’s PC Gaming Week 2020 is celebrating the most powerful gaming platform on Earth with articles, interviews and essential buying guides that showcase how diverse, imaginative, and remarkable PC games – and gamers – can be. Visit our PC Gaming Week 2020 page to see all our coverage in one place.
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Robert Zak is a freelance writer for Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer, TechRadar and more. He writes in print and digital publishing, specialising in video games. He has previous experience as editor and writer for tech sites/publications including AndroidPIT and ComputerActive! Magazine.