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The best games on Steam

The best games on Steam

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.

Portal and Portal 2

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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.)

Slay the Spire

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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.) 

Civilization 6

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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.

Destiny 2

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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.

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Warframe
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.

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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.

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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.

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Apex Legends
One of the most popular battle royale games. Apex brings character abilities into the genre: cluster bombs, jump pads, surveillance drones, and other future-flavored gadgets. Best to learn with at least one friend who will squad up with you. 

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Dota 2
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.

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Red Dead Redemption 2: If you've got a fairly powerful PC, Rockstar's vast western tale is an excellent pick. Here's our review.

The Witcher 3: CD Projekt's landmark open world RPG, starring Geralt of novel, Netflix series, and bathtub fame.

Death Stranding: A supernatural backpacking adventure from Hideo Kojima with a bizarre and wonderful take on a post-apocalyptic USA. Our 2020 GOTY.

Grand Theft Auto 5: That famous game about stealing cars and otherwise committing crimes in a big city. Its online mode is also very popular.

Divinity: Original Sin 2: A fantastic meld of classic, D&D-style roleplaying and modern design. Our 2017 GOTY.

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. 

Challenge yourself

Action games that require precise timing, foresight, and cleverness.

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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.

Doom Eternal: In its modern form, the classic first-person shooter is a super-fast gauntlet of bloody demonic combat. We love it.

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. 

Hollow Knight: An expansive 2D bug adventure that's full of secrets to discover, and just about the pinnacle of the 'Metroidvania' genre.

Super Meat Boy: Another platforming favorite. The nastiness of its sawblades and ultra-tricky jumps is made manageable by the bite-sized levels.

Investigate mysteries

Many of our favorite story-driven games are more or less detective stories. Here are a few of the best.

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Disco Elysium: A brilliant, story-focused RPG about a hungover detective solving a murder in a grimy, fantastical city in the throes of class struggle. Our 2019 GOTY.

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.)

Paradise Killer: A wild anime and vaporwave-inspired setting houses one of our favorite new detective game designs. Find out who killed Paradise itself.

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.

Return of the Obra Dinn: Find out what happened to the Obra Dinn, a ship that was lost at sea, in this eerie, 1 bit-styled mystery. One of our top games of 2018.

Outer Wilds: Untangle a time loop that spans a whole solar system in this recently-released hit. (Not to be confused with The Outer Worlds, which is alright, too, but a different game entirely.)

Take it easy

Engrossing games that don't require ultra-sharp reflexes.

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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.

Kentucky Route Zero: Explore an ethereal highway in a brilliant adventure that was years in the making. Not relaxing, exactly, but slow-burning and moody. Here's our review.

Play with friends

Some of our favorite online cooperative games.

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Valheim: A recent favorite. Build a Viking settlement with friends, craft weapons, and fight mythical bosses. Here's a guide for getting started.

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.

Phasmophobia: Work with friends to investigate hauntings in what we recently called "the best ghost game ever made."

Dead by Daylight: A group of survivors try to escape one killer, who's also controlled by a player. Scary, and just a great asymmetrical multiplayer game.

Strategize and build

Games about tactics, physics, building, and raising a medieval family (there's always an outlier). 

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XCOM 2: Build and manage your base and command soldiers against alien invaders in challenging turn-based combat. One of our favorite tactics games ever.

Factorio: Design and manage enormous 2D factories in this satisfying construction game. We gave it a 91% in our 2020 review.

Kerbal Space Program: Learn rocket science by building spaceships for little green men, only occasionally stranding them in orbit. One of the best games of all time, with a sequel coming in 2022.

Crusader Kings 3: It might take some time to learn, but once you do, this grand historical strategy game is one of the best ever, and generates brilliant medieval drama.

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.

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