Wading into the PC games scene if you're a new PC gamer is like coming across one of those museum-sized history wall maps where every time period's displayed at once. Because the PC's been more or less a continuous platform, you have a daunting number of choices. This isn't a "best PC games of all time" list, therefore, so much as a best ones at the moment.
Divinity: Original Sin
Divinity: Original Sin's story about a mystery energy source and murder and you eventually getting really, really powerful is just the glaze on a nostalgic banquet of classic gaming bullet points: stat-riddled character forging, a massive multi-environmental fantasy world, open-ended storytelling, tactically intricate combat in rounds, a laundry list of spells and skills and enemies and loot, cooperative multiplayer and a do-it-yourself toolkit, all rolled into an old-school-meets-new-tech isometric roleplaying package.
Buy this game if... You have positive history with isometric party-based roleplaying games, you loved the decades-ago Ultima games, or you've always wanted to see what an older-school isometric RPG might look like skinned with contemporary design ideas.
Steer clear if... You're no fan of roleplaying games, or anything with lots of fiddly stats and systems and arcane terminology.
What critics said: "The most creative turn-based combat seen in an RPG, combined with a dash of humor, has resulted in a fine stew of gaming" (Quarter to Three); "A potent, frustrating, demanding, amusing, tedious, exhilarating world unto itself" (RPG Fan); "Complex yet approachable, nostalgic yet modern, cliché-ridden yet strange and singular in so many ways" (Polygon).
ESRB Rating: Mature
Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2 isn’t something that grabs you off the block, like, say, the series premiere of Breaking Bad. It takes awhile to get rolling. But once it does, it's hands down the best online multiplayer romp on the planet, obsessed with keeping you entertained in a way that's constantly diverting: have snowball fights, hunt for worm eggs in ice caverns, play a barrel-tossing game, gather scraps to build snowmen, protect towns from sweeping bear horde assaults and knock out enemy portals that spawn creatures like The Avengers' Chitauri. It's simply the pinball machine of MMOs.
Buy this game if... You're up for trying an MMO, you want an MMO you can actually dip into and out of, you don't want to pay a monthly fee but also want freemium content that's basically invisible, or you love games that relentlessly upend and exceed your expectations.
Steer clear if... Sprawling fantasy funhouses aren't your thing.
What critics said: "...one of those rare games that knocks your life off-kilter like a meteoroid banging into a satellite" (TIME); "...what happens when a group of talented, smart, dedicated, imaginative, bold, consumer-friendly creators get together and spend years solving problems and making something wonderful" (Quarter to Three); "...rewards skill and variety rather than mindless grinding" (Polygon).
ESRB Rating: Teen
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Part of the allure of Blizzard rolling its bejeweled carriage through the hoof-tramped mud of a played-out genre (collectible card games) is the Blizzard name. But that names signifies scrupulous playtesting and elaborate design values, all of which converge here to make Hearthstone the quickest, slickest, goofiest, most lavish online CCG around.
Buy this game if... You've always been curious about CCGs and want the fastest, friendliest introduction to the genre.
Steer clear if... You're not a competitive card gamer.
What critics said: "...overflowing with character and imagination, feeds off and fuels a vibrant community of players" (Eurogamer); "It has, through painstaking effort, upgraded the card duel into a thoroughly modern form" (Edge); "...successfully pulled me into a genre that I didn't care about in the least" (Polygon).
ESRB Rating: Teen
Legend of Grimrock II
Legend of Grimrock II harks back to PC gaming days when who cared that some crazy dude even more crazily turned an entire island into a flaming, monster-riddled, spike-suffused death trap--just go with it. This is a game about the game, not plot plausibility, though it tells a decent enough rip. It's a grid-based dungeon crawler nonpareil, and just about the best one yet made.
Buy this game if... You miss Wizardry, Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder, you want to play a modern exemplar of the whole "grid-based dungeon spelunking" thing.
Steer clear if... Fixed first-person perspective freaks you out.
What critics said: "...another glorious glimpse of the past, a window to a genre dead and buried and brought back to life with care and respect" (GameSpot); "...Almost Human may be looking to the past for inspiration, but it's created one of the best pure role-playing games of the year" (Eurogamer); "...a puzzle box within which are a hundred more such boxes within which are yet more" (RPG Fan).
ESRB Rating: Unrated
The best NES game you never played sporting glorious high-definition pixel-block levels and incredible chiptunes and superlative platform-bounding gameplay? Shovel Knight is something like a crowdfunded miracle, the new archetype in gaming (or any other creative medium) for what letting developers who know exactly what they're doing actually do it, unencumbered.
Buy this game if... You miss the 8-bit NES aesthetic, you want to play the apotheosis of the best side-scrolling, platforming games popularized by Nintendo's breakthrough 1980s system.
Steer clear if... You don't have (or care to own) a gamepad for your PC.
What critics said: "The graphics, gameplay, and soundtrack are all pitch-perfect for an NES game... all you're missing is the original cartridge" (USgamer); "...a game that is as bright, rich, and lovely as nostalgia would have us believe our favorite NES games always were" (Kill Screen); "...a game that handles like a brick that handles like a Maserati" (Wired).
ESRB Rating: Everyone