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The best PC games of 2021

best pc games
(Image credit: EA)

Never mind the next-gen consoles, the best PC games will show that if you want the most diverse range of games or the best looking titles, you need a desktop computer or laptop. But with so many unique and multi-platform titles available via the various digital storefronts or physical discs, it can be hard to pick one to play though.

Using a mouse and keyboard for FPS games or strategy titles is often much easier and more fun than struggling with imprecise analog sticks or limited controller inputs. Others are visually stunning, and deserve to be played on the most powerful hardware to show them off at their best. And even though there's a new console generation out, the PC will always have an upper hand in graphics as long as you have the budget.

What's more, it's a lot easier to get a hold of a gaming PC or laptop and start playing the latest and greatest games than it is to buy one of a very limited stock of Xbox Series X or PS5 consoles. All you need is one of our top gaming PCs or gaming laptop picks, and you can get started right away with these best games for PC.

What are the best PC games?

Because there's such a huge number of them, our list can only capture a small number of the total number of great PC gaming experiences. Nonetheless, you'll hopefully find something you'll like from our selection.

If you're an action fan, then shooting down aliens in Gears 5 or slicing demons to pieces in Devil May Cry 5 are the top picks for you. They both look gorgeous in their own way, and have mechanics that have been polished through the entire length of their long-running franchises, with these installments being the best yet.

If you'd prefer something slower paced but still a thrill, then XCOM: Chimera Squad is a strategy title that will see you test your mental powers against those who seek to destroy the tenuous human-alien alliance, with the help of a unique cast of agents.

Red Dead Redemption 2 and Disco Elysium are a pair of titles that will provide you with many hours of content to explore. RDR2 is full of exquisitely modelled environments for you to explore, while Disco Elysium focuses more on your character's own internal conflicts, with the RPG systems that make up the game reflecting the detective work you undertake as you play.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a game you could buy just for its beautiful vistas, but the tight 2D platforming and combat mean there's plenty to do as you travel around its world. It's a similar story with Microsoft Flight Simulator, despite the very different genre. With all the assist options enabled, it becomes a relaxing way to travel the world in an aircraft. But should you want it, you can dive into the metaphorical nuts and bolts of your plane to really explore what the simulation can offer.

What Remains of Edith Finch is the final title we'll spotlight here. This is a story-focussed game that will continually surprise you with radically different gameplay vignettes for each section. It doesn't take long to play, but the real value comes in how it'll stick with you long after you quit the game for the final time.

The best PC games you can buy today

best PC games: Psychonauts 2

(Image credit: Double Fine Productions)

1. Psychonauts 2

It's been too long since the original Psychonauts amazed us all with its enjoyable platforming and imaginative environments, so we've been delighted to try out the sequel. 

With new and more customizable psychic powers, it's even more fun to play as Raz the second time around. Plus with the extra power of a modern PC, each unique environment and set of enemies looks fantastic. Plus with the story taking place directly after the original (and a detailed recap at the start of the game), there's no discomfort while trying to understand exactly what's going on.

best PC games: Guilty Gear Strive

(Image credit: Arc System Works)

2. Guilty Gear Strive

The latest installment of the hectic 2D fighting series is also its most accessible. Whether it's the detailed tutorial, bevy of missions and training options to help you learn moves and combos, or the in-depth glossary and lore resources to help get you up to speed on the story, GG Strive gives you every chance to immerse yourself.

While the game's story mode is worth your time if you're a fan of anime action, the heart of the game is its one-on-one fights. All the characters have an arsenal of flashy and devestating moves, but it's up to you to learn how to tie them together and best your opponent. Mix in dramatic moments like aerial combos, wall breaks and stage transitions and every fight feels epic, even if you aren't an expert.

best PC games: mass effect legendary edition

(Image credit: EA)

3. Mass Effect Legendary Edition

After an underwhelming entry on the last generation of consoles, the original Mass Effect trilogy has returned with a remastered edition for the PC, as well as the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S.

This isn't just a new coat of paint on the old games though. Bioware has tweaked the controls and gameplay to make all three titles play smoothly. And yes, that includes the infamous Mako tank from the first game.

To complete the package, all the games include all the DLC too, be it just guns and armor or a full story expansion. With so much high quality content to enjoy, this is unquestionably one of the best PC games around right now.

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition won a "highly recommended" honor for "best story" at the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.

best PC games: Little Nightmares 2

(Image credit: Bandai Namco Entertainment)

4. Little Nightmares II

A sequel that's just as good as the original, Little Nightmares II once again puts you in the shoes of a vulnerable kid trying to escape the clutches of monstrous adults. This time you're not alone though. You play as Mono, the boy wearing a paper bag, but you're joined by Six, the girl with the yellow jacket who starred in the original game.

As you'd expect, there are enemies to avoid or fight, plus lots of environmental hazards and traps to work your way around. The visual design and sound design are as atmospheric as ever, which helps create a baseline sense of unease as you traverse the Pale City. It's on the shorter sides of these best PC games, but it's still all too memorable.

best PC games: Nioh 2

(Image credit: Koei Tecmo Games)

5. Nioh 2 - The Complete Edition

The sequel to 2017's Nioh keeps the already challenging core of the action RPG intact, but adds new fun elements on top of that. Set in an early-modern Japan inhabit by numerous good and evil spirits, you play a half-spirit, half-human. Adventuring across the islands you will meet key historical figures from the Sengoku Era, as well as taking on the yokai that stand in your way 

The most obvious comparison point for this game is the Dark Souls series. Combat is quick and deadly for both you and your opponents, but you can augment your abilities with new items you discover and craft, which will help you reach the next checkpoint. It doesn't just involve traditional weapons and switching battle stances any more though, as your new Yokai Shift powers let you take the form of foes you've defeated. The lethality of battle and the number of complex mechanics means this game will take some serious dedication to complete.

The Nioh Collection won a "highly recommended" honor at the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.

best PC games: Hades

(Image credit: Supergiant Games)

6. Hades

After hiding on the Epic Games Store as an exclusive early access title since late 2018, Hades has now finally launched as a full product on other platforms, and quickly became recognized as one of the best PC games around. This is a rare combination of a roguelike game with a comprehensive, branching story. You, playing as Hades' son Zagreus, have to continually fight your way through Hades (the place, not your father) over and over until you make it to Mount Olympus.

The other famous gods of the Greek pantheon are also there for you to interact with. They serve as both characters in the story and as your method of upgrading your character with powers and abilities that reflect their place in the pantheon. Each run means trying out a new combination of these gifts, and every failure still moves you forward.

Hades won "best Switch game" at the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.

Available from Steam and the Epic Games Store

best PC games: Microsoft Flight Simulator

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

7. Microsoft Flight Simulator

None of the other best PC games on this list offer you the whole world to play with, but the latest flight sim from Microsoft gives you exactly that, with both a mind-boggling scale and a meticulously detailed hangar of aircraft to pilot. 

You have the choice of both light aircraft or huge passenger jets, letting you play as a lone amateur aviator or the captain of a commercial flight. The game promises to model their flight characteristics accurately, which are affected by real-time weather and daylight effects, so it'll be difficult to get a better idea of flying one of these machines without actually stepping into the cockpit in real life.

While you can nerd out over every single setting and control of your plane, you can also let the game take care of the tricky stuff while you enjoy flying around, seeing landmarks from across the globe or touching down at one of the game's many detailed airports. 

Microsoft Flight Simulator won "best PC game" at the Tom's Guide Awards 2021.

best PC games: Horizon Zero Dawn

(Image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

8. Horizon Zero Dawn: Complete Edition

Chances are you've not played this (unless you own a PS4 also), and since this version comes with all the DLC packed in, there's no better way to experience this open-world adventure. Somewhere in the US after an unknown apocalyptic event, tribes of humans try to live quietly in amongst the hordes of animalistic robots that roam the lands. As the outcast Aloy however, you are bound for greater things.

While your human enemies are armed with the same array of spears, bows and slings as you are, taking on the machines, particularly the larger varieties, requires a lot more tactical thinking.

There is a story to play through, one which helps explain the world and how it came to be this way, and that's quite enjoyable on its own. But it's exploring the beautiful but desolate urban areas reclaimed by trees and plants, hunting down your metal prey via traps and frontal attacks, and finally bringing it down after a long tense battle that secures H:ZD a spot on the best PC games list.

best PC games: Persona 4 Golden

(Image credit: Sega)

9. Persona 4 Golden

After this 2008 JRPG was remade for the PlayStation Vita, the expanded 'Golden' edition of the game is now playable on PC, bringing the famed PlayStation series to a new group of players. As a high school student, you spend a year living in the town of Inaba, and fighting in an alternate dimension, where you must fight against the Shadows alongside your friends, using 'Personas', manifestations of your inner selves that contain immense power, as your weapons.

Since this is an RPG, a lot of your time will be spent finding new Personas to wield and levelling up your stats, which involves completing various activities with your Investigation Team, meaning you become more powerful and more invested in the characters and world at the same time. The combat takes a turn-based format, meaning that while fighting against the forces of evil can be stressful, you don't need immense mechanical skill or reactions to succeed. With a lengthy campaign to complete, this is the slow-burner of our best PC games list, and one that'll leave a positive impression on you for a long time.

best PC games: Streets of Rage 4

(Image credit: Dotemu)

10. Streets of Rage 4

Taking up the mantle of the classic 1990s Sega franchise after decades of silence, Streets of Rage 4 is a beat-em-up for up to four players to fight their way through an army of thugs to take down a pair of evil twins who want to enslave Wood Oak City. It's a throwback to arcade classics but with plenty of modern polish that means that newcomers will be just as happy playing this as the expert fans will be.

Like any good fighter, your chosen character has a long list of special moves to use, but take care as using these moves could cost you health if used carelessly. For mechanics-fiends, the game's juggling system will let you perform some seriously fancy combos if you put in the practice.

As well as the story mode, you also have a boss rush option to fight all the toughest enemies one after another, an Arcade mode that gives you a limited number of lives and the option to fight against another human player if you really want a challenge. 

best PC games: Wildfire

(Image credit: Sneaky Bastards)

11. Wildfire

Stealth games usually give you one or two abilities to sneak around the environment, but Wildfire lets you burn it down as just one of a bunch of unique ways to find a way past your enemies, either by yourself or with a co-op partner.

Playing as a witch bestowed the power of fire by a crashed meteor, you get to build your skills in this and the other classical elements RPG-style to then use in your mission to banish an invading army from your homeland, rescuing villagers along the way.

This is certainly a best PC game list member, thanks to an excellent score and lovingly-designed pixel art. This can be a fun game to experience just for the story, but the game also offers optional challenges and speedrun targets for people who want to get their teeth into the game's mechanics. It's a fantastic example of the kind of high quality indie games that the PC platform helps cultivate.

best PC games: Ori and the Will of the Wisps

(Image credit: Xbox)

12. Ori and the Will of the Wisps

This sequel to 2015's Ori and the Blind Forest builds on the original's 'metroidvania' style gameplay - exploring every corner of a large world collecting various abilities and powers, but with additional gameplay refinements and variations and a new story that's just as emotive as the original. Unlike many metroidvania games which are populated by just you and everything trying to kill you, there are lots of friendly NPCs you can encounter too. They will give you your quests and also help contextualise the world, making it feel like it's worth protecting.

This member of our best PC games list is a treat for your eyes and ears too. The artwork was all hand painted and then scanned, making it look beautiful in a way like precious few other games on the market. Meanwhile the orchestral score helps to underscore epic and intimate moments in your journey.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps won "best graphics" at the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.

best PC games: XCOM: Chimera Squad

(Image credit: 2K Games)

13. XCOM: Chimera Squad

You may be familiar with the rebooted XCOM series, which pits you and your squad of high-tech soldiers against an invading alien force. It's a pretty traditional strategy series, or at least it was until Chimera Squad appeared. The alien invasion is over, and instead humans, extraterrestrials and hybrids of the two now live together in harmony, aside from the resistance movement that you're now tasked with defeating

Instead of randomly generated troops, Chimera Squad gives you a small preset team of humans and aliens, each with unique powers. Turn order is arranged around individual characters too, meaning your tactical priorities will continuously change. There's no base this time around either, instead you operate out of a pre-built facility in a single city. It's a very different kind of XCOM but the risk that comes with changing so many established rules about a franchise has really paid off here.

best PC games: The Outer Worlds

(Image credit: Private Division)

14. The Outer Worlds

Awaking after decades of being lost on your way to a distant colony, you find that life moved on without you, with The Board, a group of all-powerful corporations, ruling every aspect of the people’s lives. Travelling between the different outposts, you must fight or charm your way to the center of power, with the help of companions with their own storylines to follow. 

Will you find a place in the company hierarchy, or will you become an anti-corporate guerrilla taking them down? The game lets you make this and many other tiny choices as you go, with multiple ways to reach your objective so you never get stuck no matter your chosen skills. With a fun retro-future aesthetic and funny but thoughtful writing throughout, The Outer Worlds is definitely one of the best PC games you can play.

best PC games: Disco Elysium

(Image credit: ZA/UM)

15. Disco Elysium

You’re a detective in the city of Revachol, and are suffering from just as many issues as the town itself, including an unfortunate bout of amnesia. When a murder victim is discovered hanging from a tree, you and your more stable colleague Kim are tasked with solving the case. 

You can use your brains or brawn to get to the bottom of this crime, improving your skills and gaining new quirks as you go. The reason this is one of the best PC games is that most of these aren't your traditional combat skills. The game instead offers more creative abilities, like pain tolerance, to help you tackle the situations you face. By the end, you'll either end up as a credit to the force, or a disgrace, having made and broken alliances with the game's factions as you try to figure out the mystery.

best PC games: Control

(Image credit: 505 Games)

16. Control

Within The Oldest House, the headquarters of the Government Bureau of Control, something ancient and alien has emerged, and it certainly isn’t friendly. As Jesse Faden, a victim of a paranormal incident searching for her long-lost brother, you will navigate and fight your way through this strange unfriendly facility, which has also somehow become your responsibility to save.

You will fight using conventional(ish) weapons and gain superpowers bestowed upon you by the contents of the Oldest House’s rooms and vaults, with neither the spaces nor the objects quite behaving like you'd expect. It’s a mindbending challenge for fans of government conspiracy stories and the idea of humankind meeting and struggling to deal with incomprehensibly enormous and powerful forces. Even if the details of the story don't matter to you, this is one of the best PC games purely for the game's highly screenshot-worthy environments and effects.

best PC games: Gears 5

(Image credit: Microsoft)

17. Gears 5

Changing enough to keep it fresh but keeping and refining most of what made the series so beloved, Gears 5 is the new highpoint for the Microsoft-exclusive third person shooter franchise. Following on from the story in Gears of War 4, Kait Diaz takes the lead in this campaign. She, JD and Del rejoin the COG Army to take on the Locust Horde once again, and fight to protect what remains of the human race and its strongholds. 

The story is only half the story though. Once you’re done with the campaign, which you can complete either alone or in three-player co-op, you can try out your combat skills with your friends in Horde or Escape mode, or against them in traditional multiplayer modes, with the option to build your own maps for customizable fun.

best PC games: Devil May Cry 5

(Image credit: Capcom)

18. Devil May Cry 5

Dante's back and better than ever. At long last, Capcom released Devil May Cry 5, which brings the crew from the four previous games together to fight a new threat of a demonic nature. Not only do you get to see Dante back in action with all his signature tricks (and a few new ones), we get to see Nero and his new interchangeable robot arms, plus new hero V and his two controllable demon familiars.

Together, they'll drive back the demon hordes the only way they know how -- in smokin' sexy style. There's a long campaign to play through with challenging enemies and bosses across several difficulty modes, or there's the new version of the Bloody Palace: a survival gauntlet which pits you against 101 levels of baddies for you to slice and smash through. It's one of the best PC games if you're an action fan looking for a fun story or a combo system to master.

best PC games: Resident Evil 2

(Image credit: Capcom)

19. Resident Evil 2

Resident Evil 2 has been released and ported to new platforms more times than we can count. But trust us on this –– you need to play this version. This edition of RE2 is more than a touched-up re-release, it's a fully remastered game that has been rebuilt from the bottom up. This eliminates the less approachable parts of the game, such as the loathsome tank controls and fixed camera angles, and enhances the parts of the experience that were well loved, while also updating the graphics to near photo-realistic quality. 

It's even scarier and more gore-soaked than the initial entry. Plus, you've got the terrifying Mr. X, an indestructible behemoth who will chase you through the police station your player characters Leon and Claire have found themselves trapped in. Both have their own campaigns to play too, meaning you will get plenty of scary but enjoyable hours out of this totally refreshed experience.

best PC games: What Remains of Edith Finch

(Image credit: Annapurna Interactive)

20. What Remains of Edith Finch

The Finch family, residing in a strange patchwork house built in the middle of a forest, has an unfortunate tendency to die young and in peculiar and gory circumstances. Visiting this house, you must explore its rooms and learn about the Finch family tree, what each member enjoyed and how they died, and perhaps unravel the origins of this family curse.

While the game starts off as a slow-burning adventure through the Finch household, each family member comes with their own accompanying memory with a unique gameplay mechanic to try each time. One moment you're a monster, the next you're whiling away time in an underground bunker, and then you're playing with enormous rubber duckies in an equally enormous bathtub. It helps the game stick in your head for a long time to come, although this smartly-told tale of fate and free will manages to do that anyway.

How to choose the best PC games for you

A good starting point for picking the best PC games out is to go by genre. While these are by no means strict criteria for what is and isn't included in certain games, it'll help you get a general idea of what each game is about.

For more detailed research, look up some reviews to see what the critics and fans make of a certain game. If you're lucky, there will be an option to try out a free demo version of a game, so you can experience a limited amount of content and then make your mind up.

You should also consider how much time you want to invest in playing a game. Story-driven games tend to be much shorter than the average RPG for example, and games featuring multiplayer allow for potentially infinite value if you're prepared to invest the time in mastering them. Consider these few pointers when making a purchase, and you'll always pick something you'll really enjoy.

Richard Priday

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, gaming, audio and whatever else people need advice on. He's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.