Originally published in 2020.
The nice thing about this question is there's really no wrong answer, because every year is a great year for PC gaming. Maybe you're especially a fan of 2007's Orange Box, Bioshock, and Crysis, or you really love 2015 because it brought us The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid 5, or you think Half-Life 2, World of Warcraft, and The Sims 2 helped make 2004 the best year for PC gaming ever.
Like I said, there's no wrong answer!
But it's still something to discuss and argue (hopefully politely!) over: What was the best year for PC gaming? Below you'll find answers from our staff as well as some from the PC Gamer forums. Let us know your favorite year, and why it's the best, in the comments below.
Evan Lahti: '99 is a religious moment for competitive FPS players over the age of 30. Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament formed a new era for competitive FPS. You might think of them as a similar style of game, but they were built on opposing philosophies. Quake 3 was defined by its purity: its weapons were simple, but in the hands of athletic players, they were paintbrushes for pain that could be combined with an elegant movement system. In contrast, UT looks like the Canyonero: a rocket launcher stuffed inside a grenade launcher, an attack-and-defend mode that played out like a castle siege, mutators, low gravity railgunning, Chainsaw Melee, a gun that lobbed piles of poison goo.
Throw in Team Fortress Classic and Counter-Strike (the mod, at least), and 1999 is unquestionably the primordial pool from which most current competitive shooters were spawned. I guess some other stuff came out that year too: System Shock 2, Everquest, Planescape Torment, Homeworld, Age of Empires 2, Alpha Centauri, and C&C: Tiberian Sun.
Jody Macgregor: You could make an easy argument for 2007 on the strength of The Orange Box, Supreme Commander, Crysis, BioShock, and STALKER, but this is really a personal pick. It's the year that got me back into PC gaming after the cost of upgrading and buying games here in Australia had kept me away for a few years. Portal and Team Fortress 2 helped win me back, but so did a lot of excellent low-spec games like Recettear (still the best JRPG I've played), Peggle, Deathworm, and Osu! I spent a lot of 2007 playing The Shivering Isles expansion for Oblivion as well.
Andy Chalk: 1998 is the year it all began for me. Thief: The Dark Project, Baldur's Gate, Fallout 2, Half-Life, and StarCraft (which I wasn't really into, but it probably deserves a mention) all showed up in '98, which makes it not only a seminal year for gaming, but also a launchpad for so many bigger and better things. With the exception of Fallout 2, which deserved so much better than it got, each of these represents the starting point of series that were deeply formative on a personal level: The Thief and Baldur's Gate series still share the top spot on my all-time best list, and even though I'm not as enthusiastic about Half-Life as I used to be, Half-Life 2 set a standard for shooters in a way that's never been replicated. Without 1998, none of it happens—that makes it a hell of a good year in my eyes.
Tyler Wilde: I'm tempted to go with '96 or '97 for Quake, Quake 2, Diablo, Zork: Grand Inquisitor, and other of my all-time favorites, but the start of the new millennium feels more notable to me. In 2002, games felt bigger than they ever had before: I could stand on the wing of a plane in Battlefield 1942 while someone else flew it, see the Command & Conquer world from a unit's perspective in C&C: Renegade, go jetpack skiing in Tribes, and explore a whole island in The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind. It wasn't as if big 3D spaces were unheard of at the time, but that year sticks out to me as the year we'd truly escaped hallways. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 and Grand Theft Auto 3 also came to PC in 2002.
Meanwhile, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault remains one of my favorite shooters ever—my virtual M1 Garand skills will never be better than they were then—and the release of Warcraft 3 marked the beginning of a brief period when I went to gaming cafes and drank Bawls (plus it's among the most influential games of all time, in large part due to its mod scene). No One Lives Forever 2, Neverwinter Nights, Dungeon Siege, and Mafia help seal it for me. I wish there were some indie hit I could point at to score more points—Cave Story was 2004—but I suppose every year can't be representative of everything. Good year, though!
3057, or maybe 1995
Wes Fenlon: I don't need a long list of games released in a given year to tell you which year was the best for PC gaming, because it's clearly 3057, the year MechWarrior 2 takes place. As that 31st century warfare documentary has shown us, future PC gaming will have each of us fighting for our lives in a sweet-ass mech. Yes: in the future, all computers are inside giant robots, obviously.
(Anyway, 1995 was a super influential year: MechWarrior 2, Command & Conquer, Warcraft 2, TIE Fighter, and Dark Forces all hit the PC that year).
Steven Messner: A little surprised no one has beat me to this because 2004 is clearly the best year for PC gaming. In that short span of just 365 days, some of the most influential games of all time were released alongside a bevy of really good games that didn't have quite the same lasting appeal. Obviously the big one to note is Half-Life 2, but World of Warcraft also launched in that same year along with Rome: Total War (which redefined the series), The Sims 2, Far Cry, Counter-Strike: Source, and Unreal Tournament 2004. This year also had a number of great cult classics, like City of Heroes, Sid Meier's Pirates!, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, EverQuest 2, Battlefield Vietnam, Tribes: Vengeance, Need for Speed: Underground 2.
I could go on... so I will. Painkiller, The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Star Wars: Battlefront, Final Fantasy XI: Chains of Promathia (one of its coolest expansions), The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, Doom 3 (it sucks but I still love it), Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. Looking back, that's an absurd number of really good games that could satisfy almost anyone.
Crazy year, that 2004.
Phil Savage: If I judge years based on how heated the discussions were during PC Gamer's Game of the Year process—and honestly, why wouldn't I—2015 is the clear standout. As an RPG fan, The Witcher 3 was one of the best games of the decade—huge, beautiful, and full of great writing. As a stealth fan, Metal Gear Solid 5 was an intricate sandbox full of toys—everything from the iconic fulton balloon to the horse that poops on command. 2015 was the year that brought us the best detective game of recent memory in Her Story, the best city-builder of recent memory in Cities: Skylines, and one of the best tactics games of recent memory in Invisible, Inc.
It also brought us 80 Days, Life is Strange, Rainbow Six Siege, Sunless Seas, Undertale and Pillars of Eternity. It brought GTA 5 to PC. It wasted hundreds of hours with Rocket League. And, look, personally I liked Fallout 4, so there's that. Notably, it's also the last year (to date) in which we awarded a 96% score—historically, for the UK side at least, the highest we give out. While there may be years with more historical importance, I'd argue 2015 remains the best of the last decade.
Chris Livingston: This is what happens when you answer last—you have to get creative. But 1982 was an incredibly important year for me personally: it's the year my parents bought us our first home computer, an Apple IIc. And with it came Choplifter, my very first computer game.
I devoured as many games as I could that year, including Aztec, which was basically Spelunky before Spelunky: a randomly generated tomb-raiding game filled with traps and dynamite, snakes and monsters, destructible walls and floors, and a precious idol to bring back to the surface. Loved it.
There were plenty of others I played that year: a fighting game called Swashbuckler, turn-based strategy Taipan!, adventure games Sherwood Forest and Zork 3, all which helped form my early and lasting love for computer games.
From our forums
Frindis: I think 1993 was the best year for gaming and I especially give Doom that reason. Doom was one of the first games to make multiplayer FPS quite popular and I remember how cool it was to attend local LAN events trying to get that sweet frag. There is a little slice of entertaining gaming history to be found when looking up some of the greatest Doom players in the past.
Lead programmer John Carmack would also make it easy for players to make their own maps, thus opening for both competition and yearly praises of some of the best WADS. While not being the first game you could mod, this one definitely was the most popular, carving the way for future modding communities. Another thing to mention is that being able to understand the game data also opened up for speedrunners to tighten the scores and still to this date people are competing in getting the best times.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention it was the most violent and gory fps game that year, how the 2D was made to look 3D, the BFG, kick-ass soundtrack, monsters from hell, erm..story and that Doom recently got a megawad: an unofficial sequel to the fourth episode from none other than John Romero, one of the original creators of Doom.
Mazer: A lot of my childhood favourites seem to be clustered in 1997.
Mainstream hits like Fallout, Quake 2, Hexen 2, GTA, Dungeon Keeper, The Curse of Monkey Island, Age Of Empires etc. Cult classics like MDK, Interstate '76, Oddworld: Abes Oddysee, Dark Earth, The Last Express, Myth: The Fallen Lords, Outlaws, Privateer 2, and Twinsen's Odyssey. We got ports of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Shadows Of The Empire and Panzer Dragoon to test our new graphics cards, and Carmageddon's release in Australia was completely uncensored in a very rare move for my country.
It's also the year in which the naming conventions of the Dark Forces series officially went off the rails with the release of Star Wars Jedi Knight - Dark Forces 2. It's by this logic that I'd like to move that we officially rename the final game in the series, Jedi Academy, to now be 'Star Wars Jedi Academy - Jedi Outcast 2 - Jedi Knight 3 - Dark Forces 4'.
Zloth: Actually, 2016 was a mighty good year:
- Witcher 3 came into its own with Blood & Wine
- XCom 2 came out early enough in the year to be in good shape by the end of the year
- Final Fantasy 9 (on PC) - not my favorite FF but well worth playing
- Battlezone 98 Redux - which I really really want to play some day soon
- 2016 version of Doom
- No Man's Sky showed up and I, for one, really liked it early on
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
- Valley - a short, sweet, and very pretty game
- Rise of the Tomb Raider was pretty fun
- Dishonored 2 (PC Gamer's GotY)
- Stellaris and Civ 6 - but it was definitely too early to play either in 2016, IMHO.
- Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen showed up on PC
- X:Rebirth's Home of Light DLC appeared early in the year so, by summer 2016, X:Rebirth had gotten quite fun.
MaddMann: Personally I would say 2004. Some of my all time favorite games that I still play to this day, and some that have died, but left me with great memories. Some of my favorites from 2004:
- Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven
- Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
- Steel Battalion: Line of Contact
- Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
- Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3: Athena Sword
- Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven
- Far Cry
- Final Fantasy XI
- Fight Night 2004
- Hitman: Contracts
- Metal Slug 3
- Thief: Deadly Shadows
- Doom 3
- Silent Hill 4: The Room
- Call of Duty: United Offensive
- Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
- Katamari Damacy
- Rome: Total War
- Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War
- Counter-Strike: Source
- EverQuest II
- Halo 2
- Half-Life 2
- Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
- World of Warcraft
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II The Sith Lords
McStabStab: For me I'd say 2000.
- Diablo 2
- Red Alert 2
- The Sims
- Deus Ex
- Shogun: Total War
Kaamos_Llama: Oh man 1998 has Halflife, Starcraft, Baldurs Gate, Fallout 2, Thief Dark Project, Commandos and Grim Fandango. Games of that era had so much influence on future games.
Looking back over the last 25 odd years though, it seems every year has an argument. Good times!