Even now, many gamers’ first foray into the wonderful world of pixelated adventure was not via the Xbox, the PlayStation or any number of Nintendo’s child-friendly consoles, but instead through the humble personal computer. Many formative gaming memories have been made while plugged into this magic box of fun, so much so that many full-grown adults will see the ‘W’ key not as a letter but as a symbol representing ‘forward’, or else think that the space bar’s primary function is simply to make your character jump. That’s the effect the best single-player PC games can have on a developing and impressionable brain.
The competitive mass online PC gaming market has exploded in the last ten or twenty years thanks to games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Apex Legends, Starcraft and dear old Fortnite, but there’s far more to PC gaming than having your butt handed to you at PUBG by a Korean 12-year-old.
Few things absorb you like the pleasure of a good single-player PC game. There’s nothing like settling down in front of your computer, mouse in hand, curtains drawn, beverage to one side and wallowing in some of the best single-player PC games you can get your sticky little hands on. Absolute bliss.
The Best Single-Player PC Games
Publisher(s): 505 Games
The great joy of the sandbox genre is being able to shape the world to your will, the ability to create, edit and master the environment tapping into that innate human desire for creativity and control. Terraria, American indie Re-Logic’s 2011 release, is built around the same crafting, mining and 2-bit capery that made a certain Mojang-developed sandbox the most popular game of its generation, with players shovelling ores and shaping the world to their will while fighting off threats thrown up by the procedurally generated worlds.
Comparisons with Minecraft have been inevitable, but as far as Minecraft clones go, Terraria is probably the finest you’re ever likely to come across, its outstanding critical reviews and quite astonishing sales record testifying to its quality.
44 million people can’t be wrong, right?
24. Loop Hero
Developer(s): Four Quarters
Publisher(s): Devolver Digital
Not the biggest name on this list by any stretch, Loop Hero hums along in the background doing solid business on Steam and generally keeping a low but critically acclaimed profile.
Set in a landscape corrupted by nefarious magic, players don’t actually take the role of the eponymous hero from Four Quarter’s charming endless RPG. Instead, you act as a benevolent sort of God-figure, affecting the landscape so that our little protagonist can continue on his journey to undo the dark magic rendering the world asunder. This is all done by placing down cards that can be used to give certain boosts and benefits to the questing hero.
The danger of Loop Hero is that it becomes repetitious, but Four Quarters’ design is so effective that things never feel like a chore. Figuring out the best card placements and combinations to defeat enemies and bosses is a challenge to which you’ll want to rise to again and again.
23. Neon White
Developer(s): Angel Matrix
Publisher(s): Annapurna Interactive
Neon White’s influences are plain to see, from its clear debt to the fantastic free-runner Mirror’s Edge to its Japanese-inflected animation and aesthetic style, Neon White is a relentlessly fast-paced concoction of a game that gives players a pulsating sense of kinetic energy.
Neon White touts itself as a game designed to be freerun. Players take on the role of a demon hunter in heaven charged with taking out a level’s demons as fast as they possibly can, the game’s focus on pace and timing giving what Hollywood writers call a “ticking clock” feel. None of this works without excellent movement mechanics and some conducive level design, but Neon White is utterly adept at making the most of its premise by ensuring that each stage operates just as it’s supposed to.
If you like the feeling of momentum and flow induced by Mirror’s Edge, Neon White will turn your knuckles a similar shade of white.
22. Hollow Knight
Developer(s): Team Cherry
Publisher(s): Team Cherry
All games should look as good as Hollow Knight, or at least aspire to the level of detail and aesthetic wonder that indie studio Team Cherry have achieved with their 2017 masterpiece. A relatively simple Metroidvania design belies a tricky, unforgiving game beneath as you guide your insectoid knight through the bug-infested kingdom of Hallownest.
Hollow Knight is a challenge but it keeps players engaged because it’s still a pleasure to play, Hallownest in particular one of the most admirably constructed worlds in recent memory. If you’re a fan of games like Undertale, Hades or the superb Ori adventures, you really have no reason not to be checking out Hollow Knight.
And if you already know just how great it is, what’s the harm in digging it out and enjoying it all over again? Once you’re done reading this list, of course.
21. Dead Cells
Developer(s): Motion Twin, Evil Empire
Publisher(s): Motion Twin, Playdigious
Dead Cells and Hollow Knight go together like cheese and more cheese. Both are recent Metroidvania indies, both boast their own unique aesthetic styles and crucially, both are absolutely fantastic single-player PC games, so much so that it’s hard to pick between the two. If you think Dead Cells deserves to be above Hollow Knight we’d be loath to try to change your mind.
Much like Hollow Knight, Dead Cells is a smooth, stylised side scroller that never loses its sense of the cinematic. The story of the unnamed Prisoner protagonist fighting their way through a plague-ridden island is a simple enough premise made great by Motion Twin’s stylistic flair and dedication to making something actively fun.
Having met with critical acclaim and selling 5 million copies thus far, it’s a good time to become part of the Dead Cells herd.
20. Slay the Spire
Publisher(s): Humble Bundle
One of the best things about single-player PC games is the staggering variety on offer. Let it never be said that the market only caters for AAA shooter enthusiasts and FIFA players who haven’t seen the sun in three months.
There’s always room for indie-developed charmers like Slay the Spire in the crowded market, a sort of roguelike deck-builder developed by MegaCrit and released on the PC in 2017. Players take control of one of four avatars and try to get up the spire via multiple procedurally generated floor levels, acquiring new cards and building a stronger deck as they go. Slay the Spire has earned rave reviews thanks to its depth, difficulty curve and addictively enthralling gameplay, not to mention its innovation in fusing two apparently distinct genres into one coherent package.
Roguelike deck-builders are an acquired taste, but Slay the Spire is an absolute must-play for the sort of people whose preferences lie a little left of centre.
19. Grim Fandango
It’s a cruel paradox that one of the best point and click games ever made also ended up being the title to kill the very genre of which it was a prime exponent.
It was the late nineties, and games were becoming more complicated, more diverse and more expansive, to the extent that the point-and-click format was now dying. Grim Fandango could have been the one to turn the tide, but it instead acted as a litmus test in proving to LucasArts that greater opportunities lay elsewhere.
None of this detracts from the fact that Tim Schafer’s brilliant 3D point-and-click noir adventure is a gaming classic, easily up there with Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle and horribly underappreciated in its day. Its story is fantastic, the sound and visual design are both wonderful, and it’s challenging enough to keep you busy over a long weekend.
A superb testament to a dying breed.
Developer(s): Ludeon Studios
Publisher(s): Ludeon Studios
If you can stop giggling at the name long enough to pick up and play it, 2013’s RimWorld is an absolutely superb top-down management simulation with a quirky and charming sense of humour that will absolutely dominate your life.
RimWorld charges its players with taking on the management of a futuristic colony somewhere in the reaches of outer space, growing a nascent civilization from its roots as nothing but a series of settlers (known rather demeaningly as pawns) into a thriving hub worthy to take its place at the interplanetary big boys’ table. Danger lurks around every corner, of course, and it becomes harder and harder to keep everything in perfect harmony as starvation, raids or even attacks by roving gangs of poultry threaten to tear your progress asunder.
17. Titanfall 2
Developer(s): Respawn Entertainment
It’s no secret that some of us have a bit of an obsession with Titanfall 2.
It still doesn’t make sense why Titanfall 2 failed to become the classic AAA shooter of the modern era that many feel it deserved to become. EA’s glossy and technically flawless release should have been up there with the DOOM Eternals of the world, but it just hasn’t quite gained the respect and mainstream acclaim it deserves. Maybe a mediocre launch campaign and some poor release scheduling left it buried and burdened, affecting gamers’ perceptions and leading to a chronic lack of, as the kids say, ‘hype’.
Boy does Titanfall 2 have a lot of strings to its bow, though. Usual expectations surrounding presentation and sound design aside, Titanfall 2 has so much more going for it than most AAA shooters. Massive exoskeleton robots, diverse weaponry, smooth, satisfying parkour and freerunning all in one package?
Titanfall 2 is “have your cake, eat it, then have even more, even tastier cake”.
16. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
The seventh proper instalment in Capcom’s iconic horror franchise hasn’t reached the levels of acclaim or commercial success of its overachieving siblings Resident Evil 4 or 5, something that’s understandable considering how high that bar has been set. Nonetheless, shipping more than 10 million copies isn’t black sheep territory, even for a property as colossal as Capcom’s premier horror.
Resident Evil 7 was arguably the game that made the franchise great again. With concerns growing that Capcom were straying away from their nerve-shredding roots, Biohazard dialled up the scares by placing protagonist Ethan Winters into the isolated of a rural plantation and tormenting him to breaking point. If DOOM Eternal makes you feel unstoppable, Resi 7 is all about inducing a sense of helplessness as Ethan struggles to survive the search for his missing wife.
In bringing the franchise back to what made it great, there’s a very strong case to be made for Biohazard taking the crown as the best Resident Evil game of them all.
Developer(s): Extremely OK Games
Publisher(s): Extremely OK Games
There are lots of games that people enjoy and a fair few that they truly end up loving, but there aren’t many that could be defined as genuinely ‘life-changing’. One candidate for such an accolade is Extremely OK Games’ superb acclaimed platformer Celeste, a game so good it’s already enjoying a comfy position in many a list of the decade’s best games.
Released fully in 2018, Maddy Thorson’s platformer tells the story of a young woman attempting to scale Mount Celeste but whose own personal struggles and internal demons threaten to hinder her ascent to the summit. An exceptionally designed, lovingly crafted piece of innovation, Celeste goes far beyond the remit of a mere platformer to something approaching a work of art.
The impact that Extremely OK Games’ seminal platformer has had on the gaming community as a whole will be felt for decades to come.
14. Fallout: New Vegas
Developer(s): Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher(s): Bethesda Softworks
Obsidian Entertainment’s Fallout: New Vegas blew every other Fallout game out of the irradiated, mirelurk-infested water back in 2010.
Spin-offs rarely outdo their mainline counterparts, yet New Vegas ended up making good on the promises of the post-apocalyptic franchise by giving fans the most definitive Fallout experience to date. Well-received at the time, New Vegas’ legend has grown so much that many now consider it to be one of the greatest RPGs of all time.
New Vegas builds its church not around the apocalypse itself but rather the idea of being a cohesive and satisfying RPG. Obsidian’s focus is on the story of the anonymous courier and the choices he must make when navigating the brutal badlands of the ruined American West. Nothing else in the franchise, sometimes criticised for its wonky writing and circuitous storytelling, comes close to how engaging and engrossing Obsidian’s tale of betrayal in a fractured post-nuclear society truly is.
13. Crusader Kings 3
Developer(s): Paradox Development Studio
Publisher(s): Paradox Interactive
Undoubtedly the grand master of grand strategy games right now. No one can touch Crusader Kings 3 when it comes to depth and scope, so much so that Paradox Interactive’s grand-strategy title is going to be at the top of the Feudal pyramid for years to come barring some sort of miracle. As far as the current market is concerned, CK 3 is easily one of the best single-player PC games of any type and from any genre.
Crusader Kings 3 is the sort of game that becomes a complete lifestyle, so much so that players might find themselves questioning their own identity and sanity as they pour hours and hours into micromanaging every facet of their expanding kingdom.
If you start trying to poison your cousins and legitimise bastards in your spare time, maybe take a break for a few days.
12. Deus Ex
Developer(s): Ion Storm
Publisher(s): Eidos Interactive
One of the most important PC games in history, Deus Ex commands as much respect as it does love and admiration. Set in the year 2052, Ion Storm’s highly influential RPG is a futuristic tale of conspiracy and corruption that follows protagonist JC Denton and his cybernetic enhancements as he seeks to stop a deadly virus from decimating everyone bar the chosen elite.
Some of Deus Ex has inevitable dated thanks to it being more than 20 years old (and no one giving us a gosh-darned remaster!), but Ion Storm’s focus on player choice and crisp, accessible gameplay means that Deus Ex is still a worthwhile play, especially if you choose to enhance if with one of the community’s various and eclectic series of mods.
In paving the way for games to become more mature and satisfying, every gamer must check out the enormous debt of gratitude owed to one of the most accomplished immersive sims ever made, even still all these years later.
11. Red Dead Redemption 2
Developer(s): Rockstar Games
Publisher(s): Rockstar Games
One of the most seismic and significant releases of modern times, Red Dead Redemption 2 was the final indication that video games were truly taking over.
As of May 2022, Rockstar’s acclaimed sequel has shipped nearly 45 million copies, making it not just a wildly popular game but one of the most influential pieces of media of the 21st century, debuting to, as some sources claimed, the biggest opening weekend of all time.
The outlaw tale of the Van der Linde gang isn’t perfect. Its quest design is sometimes basic and the game is so unfathomably long that mountains will have crumbled into the sea by the time you’ve reached the epilogue, but the overall effect is utterly remarkable.
RD2 evokes a melancholic feeling of decline and transition that gives it a weighty, sombre air, while the story’s maturity, coupled with a supreme attention to detail and some downright staggering ambition, make it practically unparalleled. Dutch and the gang may be ruthless killers, but it’s hard not to mourn the tragedy of their passing into legend.
10. DOOM Eternal
Developer(s): id Software
Publisher(s): Bethesda Softworks
Otherwise known as the best first-person shooter of the modern era.
There’s nothing like DOOM Eternal around today. Nothing comes close to giving you that intoxicating feeling of being the most unstoppable force in the universe, of being a deadly icon whose name the denizens of hell fear to utter, a one-man army capable of wiping out civilisations that displease you or stepped out of line.
DOOM Eternal is incomparably good fun, achieving its vision in a number of ways. Firstly, the combat is epic, so much so that it’s impossible to tire of ripping through hordes of demons like a silverback through wet tissue paper. Secondly, the worldbuilding is peerless, a gothic nightmare of sleek greys, burning reds and fiery oranges mixed with the occasional flash of neon or yellow as your shotgun ignites in the dark. Thirdly, DOOM sounds amazing thanks to its OTT metal soundtrack and amped-up effects.
Put this all together and you have one of the best single-player PC games money can buy.
9. God of War
Developer(s): Santa Monica Studio
Publisher(s): Sony Interactive Entertainment
God of War helped define the PS4 era in the same way that Ragnarök will help define that of the PS5. Along with Marvel’s Spider-Man, Bloodborne, Ghost of Tsushima and The Last of Us Part II, Cory Balrog’s astonishing tale of fatherhood, loss and generational trauma has helped push gaming into a new era of nuance and maturity, even amid the bone-crunching combat and spectacular set pieces.
So evolved is God of War that it can be hard to believe it belongs to the same franchise as the original mainline saga, games not exactly heavy on subtlety as you tested the might of the Olympians themselves by repeatedly hitting them in the face.
Just as Kratos’ beard has matured to its fully barbed grandeur, so has the (very) soft-reboot been completely reimagined with a new aesthetic, a new outlook and a new approach. It’s all the better for it.
8. XCOM 2
Developer(s): Firaxis Games
Publisher(s): 2K Games
XCOM 2 is like a gaming narcotic, in that once you’ve started playing it, resistance to its endless allure becomes futile. Crack cocaine is less moreish — they should have rehab centres dedicated to Firaxis’ strategy phenom.
Set 20 years after Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2 has its eponymous military organisation struggling to repel the totalitarian regime imposed by the game’s ruthless alien oppressors. For gamers looking for something to utterly captivate them over a long, empty weekend (and most weekends subsequently), XCOM 2 is the perfect time sponge, absorbing fans with its detail, intricacy and exceptional replay value thanks to Firaxis’ provision of endless procedurally generated maps.
XCOM 2 does feature a 1v1 mode in addition to its mainline campaign, but the vast majority of players come for the game’s exquisite single-player experience.
7. Total War: Shogun 2
Developer(s): Creative Assembly
Which Total War game you pick as the greatest very much depends on personal preference. If you’re looking for a simple game to relax to as swathes of your mighty forces bulldoze their way across the landscape of pre-Medieval Europe, Rome is the obvious choice. If you want winged horses facing off against giant eagles and roving bands of orcs clashing against an army of elven warriors, the excellent Warhammer saga is your best bet. If you want to throw your computer out of the window in frustration, play Atilla.
We’ve plumped for Shogun 2 simply because it remains the perhaps most cohesive and well-balanced Total War game ever made and one of the most beloved and esteemed entries among the franchise’s avid fanbase.
Earlier instalments now seem just a tad simplistic to modern eyes, while more contemporary games can feel cluttered and overwhelming, but Shogun 2 sits in the Goldilocks zone of getting everything just right. A definitive masterpiece of turn-based strategy.
6. Elden Ring
Publisher(s): Bandai Namco
It can sometimes feel as though we’ve been talking about Elden Ring since the beginning of time itself. FromSoftware’s definitive action-adventure RPG only debuted in early 2022, but that hasn’t stopped it from dominating the conversation ever since. The partly George R.R. Martin-penned tale of the Tarnished’s quest to fix the Elden Ring and become the Elden Lord was being spoken of as a classic months before anyone even got their hands on the game itself.
None of this is surprising considering the fact that a) FromSoftware’s record for challenging gothic adventure games is almost spotless and b) Elden Ring has turned out to be everything we all hoped it would be.
A truly gigantic achievement, FromSoftware’s crowning glory has blown every established open world game out of the water with its unbelievable scale, depth and quality. There are now two distinct eras of gaming: everything that came before Elden Ring, and everything that follows after.
5. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut
It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that Disco Elysium could be the greatest modern-day RPG of all time, easily winning a reputation as the finest text-based role-playing game we’ve seen in a very long while. It wasn’t a massive release when it first debuted, but the grimy noir tale of an alcoholic detective and his partner trying to solve a series of murders in a run-down city has continued to win acclaim, and fans, at a steady pace ever since.
In all honesty, Disco Elysium is pretty much the perfect RPG, its Final Cut’s stratospheric Metascore of 97 placing it among the very finest games ever made, period. From its unparalleled writing to its brilliant art style all the way through to its dry humour and some of the best choice-based gameplay around, Disco Elysium is one of this generation’s definitive gaming experiences.
If you have any interest in accomplished storytelling or any appreciation of what great game craft looks like, there is no excuse whatsoever for not playing Disco Elysium.
4. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition
Developer(s): Ensemble Studios, Forgotten Empires (Definitive Edition)
Publisher(s): Microsoft, Xbox Game Studios (Definitive Edition)
The greatest strategy game of all time? Maybe, maybe not, but what isn’t debatable is how utterly beloved Ensemble Studios’ definitive historical real-time strategy behemoth continues to remain more than twenty years since its release. It really says something about AoE II that it boasts more than twice the number of active players as the more recent Age of Empires IV.
HD and definitive editions, not to mention the boost of a fourth entry in 2021 have all helped keep AoE II in the zeitgeist, but the game’s popularity can be primarily accredited to the fact that it’s an inherently brilliant piece of work.
Stunning to look at, simple to play but in-depth enough to really enjoy, you can waste hours, even days collecting wood, creating villagers and growing your settlement before a roving band of enemy knights cuts you down in the Castle Age. Again, and again, and again.
3. Portal 2
Both Portal games are undisputed masterpieces that belong in a museum as much as in a Steam library. There’s no way you could play one of Valve’s physics-based puzzlers and not immediately want to check out the other. You have a portal gun. One portal is the entry point, one is the exit point, and you have to navigate your way out of a series of increasingly tricky levels. Simple as.
Portal 2 takes the cake as the finer of the wonderful games, expanding on a straightforward concept with more innovative level design and a greater helping of characterisation and genuinely charming humor.
Both games are as resistant to going stale as a processed McDonald’s burger bun, so much so that you can dip into either title once every year or so and still find infinite pleasure in solving the increasingly fiendish puzzles on offer, but Portal 2 took the first game’s rough diamond and polished it into a perfect jewel.
Developer(s): Supergiant Games
Publisher(s): Supergiant Games
Bam. Hades has come storming into the gaming scene, spilled the vicar’s tea, overturned most of the furniture and announced itself as the best roguelike that’s ever been made.
Hades puts players in control of Zagreus, the prince of the Underworld attempting to escape the misery of the afterlife and find his mother Persephone in the realm of mortal men. Far from taking its cues from God of War, most of the other gods in Hades act as benevolent benefactors and mentors, aiding Zagreus by offering him advice, gifts and means to finally escape the murky Underworld once and for all.
As is appropriate for a game about an underdog hero fighting his way to a better fortune, indie hit Hades has defied expectations to ship more than a million copies, entrancing players with its superb combat, intoxicating world-building and clear reverence for its source material. Hades is available on most formats and consoles, but it’s arguably best enjoyed as a single-player PC experience.
1. Half-Life 2
It’s the law of writing about video games that you’re not allowed to put anything above Half-Life 2. Placing Valve’s FPS masterpiece anywhere other than at the top spot causes a wormhole to open up beneath your chair that sucks you into an endless void, never to be heard from again.
Many consider Half-Life 2 to be the greatest single-player campaign that has ever existed, and there’s no questioning just how important, influential and downright incredible Valve’s magnum opus is. The fact that we’re still talking about it, still craving a proper third game and still eulogising over its magnificence indicates that Half-Life 2 was a little more than just another shooty bang bang trip.
Part of the famed Orange Box bundle that packaged Gordon Freeman’s adventures up with the brilliantly cartoonish multiplayer smash Team Fortress 2, the second half-life has earned its reputation thanks to its groundbreaking graphics, gameplay, level structure and in-game physics.
Until something utterly remarkable comes in to knock it off its perch, Half-Life 2 has to be the best single-player PC game of all time.
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