There are thousands of games on Steam, and so any list of the best ones is, in a way, just a list of good PC games in general. However, we think there are two good reasons to list our favorite Steam games to play right now.
One, far from every game is on Steam. The existence of the Epic Games Store, GOG, Battle.net, Origin, and other launchers keeps the most popular PC game store from being the only stop for PC games. If you're just looking to build a Steam library right now, or you've got a Steam gift card to spend, you won't find any games on this list that aren't available on Steam.
Secondly, many of the thousands of games that are on Steam aren't worth the time it takes to download them (you can skip Bad Rats, we promise). If you're building a Steam library for the first time, you have an immense selection to pick from. Rather than organizing this list according to precise genre definitions, we've identified some broad categories of to help you find the kind of fun you're looking for.
On Steam itself, check out our Steam Curator page, where we recommend the games that have received our highest review scores. For a broader list of games we recommend, including non-Steam games, head to our list of the best PC games to play right now.
For newcomers to PC gaming
If you're getting into PC gaming for the first time, here are some great games to start with.
You're a test subject trapped in a maze, equipped only with a gun and the will to escape. It sounds like standard videogame stuff, but there aren't any aliens coming after you, and your gun doesn't shoot bullets. It shoots portals, glowing passageways that connect to each other. Walk through one portal and you come out of another. That simple idea, plus gravity, results in dozens of ingenious puzzles, as well as an all-time favorite character in GlaDOS, the AI testing and taunting you. The first Portal is short and sweet, and the second one elaborates on the humor and puzzles in a longer adventure. Both are classics.
If you're new to first-person games on PC, the Portal games are one way to learn keyboard and mouse controls in a non-competitive environment. They're not brutally hard games, but tricky maneuvering is required in a few places. (Read our review of Portal 2.)
An easy game to get hooked on, and a definite upgrade from Windows Solitaire. It seems simple at first: You play attack and defense cards drawn from a small deck to kill monsters as you ascend a tower, adding to or subtracting from that deck as you go. After a few runs, though, you'll start to see the possibilities in the cards: combos and loops and synergies that can give you godlike power over monsters that previously stomped you, but only if you make the right choices on your next adventure. Once Slay the Spire clicks, the urge to try and try again is hard to resist. (Read our full review here.)
The Civilization games used to be what people thought of when they imagined bleary-eyed computer goblins clicking away all night, unaware of the rising sun outside. It's the quintessential "just one more turn" game, where there's always a new short-term goal to reach as you build and manage a nation by founding cities, connecting them with roads and railways, researching technology, trading with other leaders, and waging wars.
There are many opinions on which Civ game is the best, and series regulars will gladly debate the merits of all of them. Civilization 6 is the newest version, and it's a great game which adds some welcome complexity to city design (here's our review). That said, if you don't want to spend $60, Civilization 5 is also a great strategy game for $30, and Civilization 4 is a classic at $20.
A big, online shooter that you can play for free. It's possible to get really into Destiny 2—to the point that you develop esoteric opinions about the state of the game that baffle your friends—but just as possible to have a good time shooting aliens in the free story missions and then move on. (If you do get into it, the paid expansions and opinions about things called "exotics" and "Bright Dust" will be there for you.)
Try it with friends, if you can. And if you're not used to keyboard and mouse controls, Destiny 2 plays fine with a controller given its console pedigree (its developer, Bungie, first became famous making the Xbox's Halo games).
Great free-to-play games on Steam
Some of the best games on Steam can be played for free.
Somewhat in the vein of Destiny 2 (though predating it), Warframe is a free sci-fi world to leap around in as you fight "techno-organic horrors" with guns and katanas. It's one of the PC's best success stories, and a long-running co-op favorite.
Path of Exile
An online action RPG that's similar to the Diablo games. A lot of the fun is in designing your character's powers by making choices on a giant skill tree and collecting special gems that grant abilities with names like "Dread Banner," "Creeping Frost," and "Lancing Steel." Lots of fun.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Counter-Strike's style of competitive first-person shooting has endured for multiple decades now. It is ultra-nuanced, but if you're completely new to it, you may need to find a friend to show you around—it can be quite arcane.
One of the two most important MOBAs, or 'multiplayer online battle arenas.' It's not a great name for a genre, but the gist is that it's a complex, team-based competition where you're commanding a hero on a structured battlefield. If you're willing to learn its intricacies, it can become the only game you need.
Explore big open worlds
These games can provide tens or hundreds of hours of experimentation and discovery. It really just depends on how much time you've got.
Euro Truck Simulator 2: It's exactly what it sounds like, a game about driving trucks through Europe. You might be surprised by just how into it you get.
Action games that require precise timing, foresight, and cleverness.
Hades: Getting out of the underworld won't be easy, but you can do it if you keep trying. One of the best recent action games, with great characters.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice: The latest of the famously difficult action RPGs from developer FromSoftware, the developer behind the Dark Souls series. Like those games, it's brilliant if you have the patience for it.
Super Meat Boy: Another platforming favorite. The nastiness of its sawblades and ultra-tricky jumps is made manageable by the bite-sized levels.
Many of our favorite story-driven games are more or less detective stories. Here are a few of the best.
Her Story: Type in keywords to search video clips from an interview with an unknown woman. The game ends when you think you've figured it out. (That's all you really need to know going in, but see our review for more.)
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: Perhaps an even more bizarre murder mystery. The premise: A bunch of students are trapped in their high school and told that the only way to escape is to murder a classmate without getting caught.
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games: Another great (and very strange) visual novel series, this one starts with a Saw-like premise, but goes in entirely its own direction.
Take it easy
Engrossing games that don't require ultra-sharp reflexes.
Stardew Valley: Spend your days clearing out rocks and designing your ideal farm, and your evenings hanging out with new friends. One of our all-time favorites, and it has kept getting better over time.
A Short Hike: An ultra-charming game about exploring an island and making friends. Can be enjoyed in one nice sitting, if you like. (Cup of tea not required, but pleasant.)
What The Golf? Find out what golf is (maybe) in one of our favorite comedy games.
Play with friends
Some of our favorite online cooperative games.
Satisfactory: Work together to construct giant three-dimensional factories on an alien planet. Conveyer belt loops never stop being fun to design.
Left 4 Dead 2: A classic for just $10. You and up to three friends scramble to get from point A to point B while shooting waves of zombies.
Strategize and build
Games about tactics, physics, building, and raising a medieval family (there's always an outlier).
Total War: Warhammer 2: One of our favorite games in the Total War series, which has you commanding giant fantasy battles in real time. It's not a big deal if you're not familiar with the Warhammer universe.
Cities: Skylines: Design a city and then try to keep its inhabitants happy in a modern update on the classic SimCity formula. The modding scene makes it extra special.
More Steam games we love
Didn't find anything you're interested in? Here's a grab bag of great games to check out, including some lesser-known greats.
- Titanfall 2
- Darkest Dungeon
- Rainbow Six Siege
- Wasteland 3
- Final Fantasy 14 Online
- Super Mega Baseball 3
- Alien Isolation
- What Remains of Edith Finch
- Nioh 2
- Persona 4 Golden
- Amid Evil
- Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom
- Sunless Skies
- Yakuza 0
- Dishonored 2
- Half-Life: Alyx (VR only)
- Amnesia: Rebirth
- Horizon: Zero Dawn
- Unity of Command 2
- Monster Hunter World
- 80 Days
- Hypnospace Outlaw
- Telling Lies
- West of Loathing
- Valkyria Chronicles
- Legend of Grimrock 2
- Fallout: New Vegas
- Team Fortress 2
- Killing Floor 2
- No Man's Sky
- Spelunky 2
- Untitled Goose Game
- Dead Cells
- Frozen Synapse 2
- Opus Magnum
- Nidhogg 2