Some of the best games of the year are surely yet to come, but as 2016 nears its close there's already plenty to celebrate. Here, we’ve selected over 40 of the best games of the year, ordered newest to oldest. It'll be hard to pick just one as our overall game of the year come January—not that it's ever easy or without impassioned conference calls.
Omri Petitte, Steven Messner, and the PC Gamer staff contributed to this article. Updated December 1, 2016.
Killing Floor 2
Some of Killing Floor 2's fans were alienated during the Early Access period—and it's totally valid to feel burned by some of Tripwire's decisions—but what emerged at the end of it all is a very polished shooter, with hideously detailed monster gore, fun weapons, dedicated servers, and mod and mapmaking support. Those last few things are a rarity in modern games, and remain very welcome.
Despite some technical troubles—which are steadily being patched out—Dishonored 2 is one of our favorite games of the year. It's no secret that we're big fans of systems-driven games at PC Gamer, and we've celebrated Metal Gear Solid 5 and the new Hitman thoroughly for that reason. Dishonored 2 is another for the list, even better than its predecessor and one of the best stealth/action games we've played.
Hitman: The Complete First Season
We were all a little surprised when we found out the new Hitman would be episodic, but as Phil says in his review of the full first season, pulling back on Absolution's story focus was a boon. While there's still a story, what's at the heart of new Hitman is "a standalone series of sandbox murder playgrounds," as Phil put it. Blood Money fans should be pleased.
Owlboy's individual platforming and combat systems may not be the best among its peers—games like Shovel Knight and Ori and the Blind Forest—but it's great as a whole, a lovingly-made adventure with meticulous art and a well-told story. "Owlboy doesn’t trade in carefully orchestrated moments which reveal, with a sledgehammer, what the game means," wrote Shaun in our review. "It spreads its hints thinly, allows you a moment to reflect, and then has you smiting blobs mid-air with an endless supply of cannons again. The balance is marvelously handled."
With the addition of a single-player campaign and no season pass to divide the community, Titanfall 2 sheds two common complaints about the original—and also does what it does fantastically. "If this were a game from the late nineties or early noughties, we'd likely look back at the mission 'Effect and Cause' as one of the greats of the genre," wrote Chris in his review. The multiplayer is better than before as well, but there's one worry—Titanfall 2's population could suffer from its proximity to Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Let's hope it doesn't.
The leap back in time to WWI had good results, as Battlefield 1's focus on infantry combat pairs well with more meaningful planes and tanks, and its finicky guns slow things down a little, giving us more time to move and more pride in our good shots. The campaign is enjoyable too, which hasn't quite been the case in a Battlefield game for some time.
There's of course room for improvement, but Civilization 6 is nevertheless the "ultimate digital board game," as we put it in our review. It's the most transformative version of Civ so far, changing the rules of city-management and tweaking just about everything else. And Civ 6 will only get better with expansions and user-made additions—even though the mod tools aren't out yet, the modders are already at work.
"A total assault on your ears, eyes and reflexes," wrote Keza MacDonald in our review. Thumper is a rhythm game, but not the sort that calms: it expects your full attention as it bangs out beats at you while driving you toward the mouth of a screaming skull.
Forza Horizon 3
One of the best racing games on PC, with a huge open world Australian playground (that's also full of irritating personalities) and over 350 gorgeous cars. As it's published by Microsoft Studios, Forza Horizon 3 is only available on the Windows Store—but at least Chris managed a smooth 60 fps, and didn't have many technical issues despite the Universal Windows Platform's rocky start.
Fractured Space offers excellent team-based capital ship combat. It started humbly in Early Access full of untextured asteroids, but has grown to become a quality free-to-play competition. "It’s like getting a few seasons’ worth of TV sci-fi space battles in the space of 20 minutes, without all of the talking and bottle episodes," wrote Chris. It's definitely worth a try if you like slow, thoughtful tactics.
World of Warcraft: Legion
Legion had a lot of work to do after the disappointing Warlords of Draenor, but even before all its pieces are in place, it succeeds. The quest writing, new order halls, and improved class identity are all high points. "For the first time, I don't just feel like I'm playing a druid—I am a druid," wrote Steven in his review.
A refined action platformer with tricky, floaty jumps, 1,125 levels and a level editor—so there's no risk of being left wanting. Shaun has played over 300 hours of the original PS4 version, and put another 20 into this new PC release. "In some ways N++ feels like the end of the action platformer, like an exhaustive final document, a catalogue of its emotional highs and lows," he wrote in his review. It's safe to say he liked it a bit.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Andy wasn't super impressed by the story, but Mankind Divided's detailed vision of a future Prague, new augmentations, and level design earned it high marks. "Everywhere you look there are sentry turrets, security bots, criss-crossed laser tripwires, and patrolling guards," Andy wrote. "Getting inside, stealing the particular item you’re looking for, and escaping unseen was hugely satisfying."
After last year's disappointment F1 2016 deserved some skepticism, but Codemasters came through—F1 2016 is "the most well-featured, authentic recreation of Formula One ever created, and it’s a genuinely good PC port," wrote reviewer Sam White. Better physics, better AI, and new details hoist it above the series' previous missteps.
Lovely Planet Arcade
The follow-up to the great Lovely Planet, Lovely Planet Arcade strips the Y-axis from its precision, small-level shooting, meaning you can't look up and down. It's very different from its predecessor, but the essence of what makes it fun is still there: "the thrill of executing prescriptive shooting challenges with nearly zero room for error," as James put it in his review.
Furi has "a ludicrous premise, strenuous combat, loud neon synth jams, and saturated color palette"—but also restraint, says James. A series of bullet-hell hack n' slash boss fights train you in simple combat techniques: slash, parry, shoot, and dash. Some bugs and difficulty spikes held it back a little, but Furi is still one of our favorite surprise hits of the year.
It’s a “pixel art paradise,” says our review—and one you get to knock over with tanks and mechs. Brigador is one of the best-looking isometric games we’ve played, and its fully-destructible neon cityscapes are host to fantastic tactical action. The intentionally cumbersome tank controls and overwhelming visual effects can tip it from deeply challenging into deeply frustrating at times, but stomping around in Brigador is nonetheless stands out for its resurrection of an under-celebrated genre and its incredible 'Miami Vice in space' soundtrack.
Captain Forever Remix
In Captain Forever Remix, you’re cast “as both space pilot and space pirate: you target a ship, fire a broadside into its hull until it explodes and claim its booty.” Doing so involves sifting through the wreckage and attaching enemy modules to your own. Just don’t get too close to your creations—you'll die a lot. A goofy presentation dulls the frustration: “It’s possibly the first Nickelodeon-inspired roguelike, populated by a cast of misfits and oddballs that make Ren and Stimpy look comparatively normal.”
Hearts of Iron 4
You’ll find some cracks in the simulation, but how could there not be a few holes in such a sweeping, complicated scenario? Hearts of Iron 4 is “a beautiful, thrilling wargame” that presents the entire globe as it was at the outbreak of World War 2—and everything that happens from there is up to you and the AI.
“The AI may not always be sensible, and maybe combat doesn't always seem quite historically accurate,” wrote Rob in our review, “but then, you might be playing a version of World War 2 where Italy broke away from Germany to create a new Roman Empire with Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union was plunged into civil war and Stalin was deposed by 1942.”
A great team shooter that emphasizes positioning, teamwork and tactics over agility and marksmanship, but still leaves room for players to grow in the latter department. There are still character tweaks to be made to ensure they’re continuously viable and fun and all create interesting dynamics, but it’s the sort of game you could tweak forever. Overwatch can't replace Team Fortress 2 for us, but it’s certainly recaptured the experience of getting a bunch of friends together for night-long sessions of the current top shooter. now, and we’re keen to earn some golden guns.
The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine
With Geralt's journey into the sun-drenched vintner lands of Toussaint, CD Projekt RED capstones an RPG masterpiece, defining a standard for interactive storytelling. The Witcher 3's Blood and Wine expansion follows in adding new gear and combat abilities as well as stitching together small yet eventful scenarios into a greater web of intrigue. The wonderfully paced narrative of an ostensibly routine whodunit set in Toussaint's fairytale countryside reflects what makes The Witcher games so great: a politically divided world, superb dialogue, and distinctly memorable characters.
Total War: Warhammer
The Total War series and the Warhammer franchise share a love for massive armies crashing into each other on an epic battlefield, but the latter also includes wizards with fire for hair and smelly sentient fungus. That results in more distinctly characterized armies in Total War: Warhammer emphasized by the Warhammer universe’s magic spells and flying units—all added strategy layered on the Total War pedigree of positional and tactical superiority.
Piloting drones through abstract maps of derelict spaceships might not sound tense, but Duskers can be nightmarish. “Frantically typing commands into the console when things suddenly go sideways makes me feel like I’m really huddled in a darkened dropship, alone, desperately trying to save my drones and by extension myself,” said Chris Livingston in his review. Watch out for aliens.
Fallout 4: Far Harbor
Fallout 4’s best DLC is a little pricey, but offers a great new setting and more dialogue-based solutions, which is very welcome. The only part we didn’t like much was the puzzle section—that aside, the new story, radioactive fog, and very, very large monsters are well worth the a tour of the island.
Doom's reverence of a primordial aspect of FPS design—killing—borders on comical exaggeration with its fountains of demon blood and a main character who communicates by punching things. That fittingly fuels fast and fun combat indulging the nostalgia of id's run-and-gun lineage without smothering its metal brutality. Doom's since launch adds a Photo mode for screenshots and ups the classic feel with an optional center-aligned weapon model.
Paradox’s latest take on 4X space strategy isn’t perfect. In his review, Phil described mid-game as a series of “peaks and troughs, with sudden bursts of action punctuating long years of economic and military growth.” Compared to the constant wonder and mystery the early-game exploration holds, it was a slog. But the seeks to address those complaints, beefing up the mid-game a much needed dose of diplomatic opportunities. Paradox is full of perfectionists, so Stellaris should only get better with age.
Hearthstone blazed a path by making digital card games popular on PC, and many competitors have followed in the years since. But none of them have broken so far away from the pack as Duelyst. It’s a tactics game and a CCG mixed into one, wrapped up with some of the best pixel art animations and character design of any game all year. It’s easy to pick up, but the addition of movement to largely traditional card game mechanics give it an amazing amount of depth that has kept it as one of our favorite card games all year.
The Banner Saga 2
We loved the original, and the sequel is even better. The Banner Saga 2 is a weighty tale of survival, and a brutal strategy challenge. Some interface issues carry over from the first game, but as our reviewer put it: “Yes, there’s still room for improvement, but this is a smart, worthy sequel: denser, richer, more complex and yet more intimate. Even if you’ll feel in dire need of a stiff drink once this second act draws to its devastating close.”
Dark Souls 3
Enter the Gungeon
In Enter the Gungeon, a top-down roguelike shooter, there is a shotgun that will make its target love you. There are also plenty of normal shotguns that do the absolute opposite. There’s an assault rifle made from the spine of a formerly living person that shoots screaming, cursed spirits. There’s an SMG shaped like the lowercase ‘r’ that shoots bullets that spell out, well, “bullets." Hell, the enemies are cute, walking-talking bullets holding guns that shoot bullets. So while Enter the Gungeon may not have the best pacing or combat among its peers, it sure has plenty of charm and variety.
Hyper Light Drifter
We were captivated by its art long before the action RPG even arrived, and once it did we were pleased to discover some expressive animation and a stunning soundtrack as well. It’s a challenging combat game, at times extremely so, and it can feel quite punishing when it comes to boss fights. It’s still a stylish and beautiful journey worth taking, however, provided you’re up for the challenge.
The greatest work so far from Czech indie studio Amanita Design. It’s a point-and-click adventure, but puzzles aren’t as important here as imagery, metaphor, and surreal weirdness. “They're also so surreal that when I did something right, it was sometimes impossible to tell exactly what I did, or why it was right,” said Andy Chalk in our review. “I crept up behind a glowing, golden gazelle, leapt upon its back, and went for a wild ride along the side of a mountain.”
Day of the Tentacle Remastered
Day of the Tentacle is great. Day of the Tentacle Remastered is that great game, remastered, and is also great. It holds up over 20 years later, and the modernization gives us an appealing opportunity to take another trip through time. “You can still play your old copy in DOSBox or ScummVM, of course,” noted Andy in our review, “but if you want a more streamlined, modern experience, with some fascinating insight into how the game was made, the remaster is worth investing in.”
Not the highest score of the group, but that’s just the Intro Pack, and doesn’t account for all the fun we had with or the . If you prefer Blood Money over Absolution, the new Hitman is aimed at you. The episodic format is a bit unusual, but as Phil says in his episode two review, if the quality stays as high as it’s been set, the full game may end up being the best in the series.
We’re of two camps at PC gamer: those who chopped a few trees and shrugged, and those who are still running farms four months later. Stardew Valley is a charming farming and life sim, both a loving homage to Harvest Moon and a great game in its own right.
Time moves when you move in Superhot, a shooter distilling its mechanics into a polygonal portrayal of bullet-time. It doesn't take long to complete, but clearing a level without dying in a single hit is a challenging demand of mental forethought echoing the of FPS professionals. A of Superhot for the Oculus Rift is in the works, so you can make those Matrix moves in your living room without looking too ridiculous (or maybe not).
Street Fighter V
Street Fighter V is far from the perfect follow up to the very successful SF4. Capcom offers next to nothing for genre newcomers, instead pushing them into the deep end to sink or swim. That's definitely a problem, but SF5 also takes its most fundamental elements and tweaks them into possibly the purest expression of its fighting potential. Gone are SF4's obtuse Focus Attacks, replaced by the character-specific V-Skills that add a ton of diversity without overly complicating things. Recent updates have made SF5 more accommodating, but this still remains a love letter to its diehard fans.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
As a visual novel, Danganronpa's length is matched only by the ridiculousness of its premise. That 15 of Japan's most gifted students could get trapped into playing a murderous game of "Guess Who?" by a mechanical bear is certainly a very anime concept. But through that goofy setup, Danganronpa takes a dark turn and displays a real gift for taking absurd characters and making them endearing—which makes it all the more gut-wrenching when they inevitably die. There's a reason that in our review, Andy said, "the story is so compelling that I barely noticed that all I was doing was clicking through lines of dialogue."
Great dialogue, excellent voice performances, a minimal soundtrack, and some beautiful visuals brought real life to this first-person adventure game. Set in Wyoming, you play the glum and haunted Henry who is spending a secluded summer as a firewatchman. While the conclusion of the story doesn’t live up to the compelling setup, the believable relationship between Henry and Delilah, another park ranger, more than make up for it.
Sid Meier once described a game as a "series of interesting decisions." And in our review, Tom said that "XCOM 2 is the purest expression of that ethos that Firaxis has yet produced." From the moment you first take up arms against your alien oppressors, XCOM 2 hits you with a relentless barrage of choices so jaw-clenchingly difficult you're going to need a cigarette after each one. The lives you sacrifice for the greater good will be etched in your mind, and the temptation to reload an old save will be overwhelming. If you can resist and embrace consequence, XCOM 2 will transform you into a grizzled commander through the fires of conflict.
American Truck Simulator
On the surface, American Truck Simulator looks thoroughly dull. You play a long-haul trucker, making trips between various destinations as either a freelance gun-for-hire or the owner of your own trucking company. That's really about it. But using that mundane premise, American Truck Simulator does something beautiful by capturing the quiet serenity of the open road. Each trip becomes an extended exercise in meditation as you guide your cargo to its destination, and you begin to understand the joy is in the journey itself. Recent updates have rescaled the map, making it even closer to real life, and new places to visit are continually being added too.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn't erase all of the mistakes made by its prequel, but it does go a long way in reducing them to a negligible annoyance. This time around, Lara's efforts are more focused on exploration and action and less on tedious quick-time events, by-the-numbers bosses, and navigating shallow set-pieces. Rise of the Tomb Raider isn't just a better game, but it also proves that there is plenty of fight left in Lara as a character.
The Witness is brilliant in its simplicity. It speaks in a language without words, but uses shape and form to impart philosophical ideas that will change the way you see its world. Repetition is a stern yet fair teacher, and engaging with that silent discourse as a student begins to unravel the relationship entirely. But The Witness can also feel frustratingly vague. As Edwin said in our review, "what it ultimately seeks to offer is a vantage point, a perspective on life's mysteries, rather than answers." But even if you don't like the answer, The Witness proves questions are worth asking.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
To take Homeworld and put it on the ground seems “almost sacrilegious,” wrote Rob Zacny in our review. But it works. “It's not only a terrific RTS that sets itself apart from the rest of the genre's recent games,” he said, “but it's also an excellent Homeworld game that reinvents the series while also recapturing its magic.” Deserts of Kharak is both approachable—less about production, more about tactics—and another example of all the life still flowing through the RTS genre.
Darkest Dungeon is cruel, probably too cruel. It's a dungeon crawler that doesn't deal in stats and loot alone but also trades on the mental well-being of the heroes you send into its festering crypts. But these heroes don't return stronger for their troubles; they come back battered and broken, a liability you're much better off dismissing. Beneath all that doom and gloom is an innovative take on turn-based RPGs that weaves the positioning of party members with an unconventional class system, that inspires experimentation despite the constant dread of what will happen if you fail.
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human
Our reviewer loved how Aquatic Adventure “fast-forwards through the Metroidvania template, stripping it down to its most essential parts: exploration, atmosphere, and player growth”. It’s an underwater take on the classic genre, where you putter around gorgeous pixel-art environments, collecting upgrades, taking out challenging bosses, and try to decipher how earth’s oceanic apocalypse came about. You also get to swim out of a giant sea worm’s ass, a necessary experience.
Pony Island is so dependent on its little self-referential gimmicks that it’s hard to explain without giving it all away. In a sense, and because there’s a pun to be made, that makes it a one-trick pony, but it does a great trick. One of its pranks near the end of the game is so devious we won’t likely forget it soon. If you like Undertale or The Stanley Parable, you’ll probably enjoy Pony Island.