4. Slay the Spire
RELEASED 2019 | LAST POSITION New entry
Wes: I have spent so many hours playing Slay the Spire this year. It’s bad for me. I’m addicted to trying to create the perfect deck for The Defect, whose cards revolve around queuing up magical orbs, then buffing them, then setting them off in glorious combos while you walk away from the explosion with sunglasses on. At least that’s how it feels. What’s really happening is I’m dragging cards across the screen.
Tom: Slay the Spire teaches you to spot synergies as you encounter new cards across the course of a few runs. It’s accessible, replayable, and engrossing.
3. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
RELEASED 2019 | LAST POSITION New entry
Samuel: FromSoftware’s dark fantasy version of Sengoku-era Japan offers some of the most intense sword fights ever put in a game. In one month, I went from hating how bad I was at Sekiro’s combat encounters to unironically mastering the blade. It’s the most rewarding experience I’ve had learning a game.
James: I may have cheated the game and myself, but FromSoft somehow transposed Dark Souls’ enigmatic storytelling onto historical fiction, and invented the best sword combat system ever made to accompany it.
Tom: Reviewing this was one of the most tense experiences I’ve had working at PC Gamer. Fuck that ape boss for real though.
2. The Witcher 3
RELEASED 2015 | LAST POSITION 1
Wes: I know this is going to sound like a strange endorsement, but I still haven’t played The Witcher 3’s two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. This game meant that much to me: the idea of there being more out there for me to play someday, when the time is right, is comforting. I’m not quite ready to live in a world where I’ve experienced the true end of Geralt’s journey. Just thinking about it actually makes my stomach sink.
There are things I could nitpick, like the combat being a bit shallow, or quests relying a bit too much on Geralt’s Witcher sense smell-o-vision. But that stuff ultimately doesn’t matter. It’s all about the world and the people in it, the outstanding quests and difficult questions and opportunities for shaping who Geralt is. What an adventure.
Phil: Even The Witcher 3’s most basic mission type, the monster hunting contract, is clever in what it tells us about Geralt’s relationship with the world. Most RPGs think asking to be paid is a dick move. “You want payment for the service performed?! The cheek! The nerve! You should be saving my life for exposure...” But Geralt is doing a job, and the game treats his time as valuable – even letting you negotiate your fee before taking it on.
Jody: When I read the books I pictured Geralt from the game. I heard voice actor Doug Cockle in my head while I read the comics. God knows what’ll happen when I watch the TV show, but if it manages to live up to The Witcher 3 I’ll be happy. There’s a scene in the game with a Nilfgaardian captain, where Geralt insults him by suggesting the first words of the local language he learned were probably ones that were useful for dealing with peasants like “hands up” or “kill them”. The captain replies that actually the first words he learned were idioms, like “‘don’t play with fire’, for example.” That’s the level of writing quality I’m hoping for.
Andy: In terms of writing, quest design, and world-building, The Witcher 3 is galaxies beyond any other modern RPG. One of its greatest strengths is making every side quest interesting, rewarding you with a memorable set-piece, an intriguing little self-contained story, or just a fun, throwaway joke. When you pick up a job from a notice board, it’s rarely as simple as slaying a monster: that’s often just the starting point for something totally unpredictable. And as if its 70-hour story wasn’t good enough there are two superb expansions to enjoy, including the stunning Blood and Wine, which could have easily been a standalone game. The Witcher 3 is the greatest adventure on PC.
Phil: Outside of the story and the quests, the world is an enjoyable place to inhabit—bleak and harrowing though it is. I must have spent tens of hours travelling the map, looking for inns in which to play Gwent. The Witcher 3’s minigame is a terrific way to unwind after a hard day’s monster hunting.