Linux gaming rising
These days, Linux gamers have it better than ever. Gaming on the open-source operating system has long meant dabbling in Wine and arcane workarounds, but ever since Valve launched Steam for Linux a few years back the number of native Linux games has positively exploded.
What better way to bask in how far Linux has come than to play some games that call it home? Here are a slew of killer PC games that’ve recently become Linux natives—including several recent PCWorld Game of the Year winners and 5-star games. And if you discover that your computer just doesn’t cut it with any of these, be sure to check out PCWorld’s guide to the best graphics card for any budget.
Editor’s note: We constantly update this article to add new games and remove older ones. It was updated on 8/2/2018 to include Pillars of Eternity II, Celeste, Slay the Spire, and Total War Saga: Thrones of Brittania.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
Obsidian’s stellar Pillars of Eternity ($40 on Humble) is the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate that we waited for over the past decade. It didn’t disappoint, landing firmly in our list of the 10 best PC games of 2015.
The sequel, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire ($50 on Humble) takes to the high seas, slapping your band of adventurers into a ship to explore the world, discovering island ports and shipwrecks and strange sea creatures along the way. The central story is excellent, with a strong continuation of its predecessor’s themes and several jaw-dropping setpiece moments with the sort of spectacle we didn’t think was possible in an Infinity Engine-style game. It’s a stellar RPG in its own right, but an aimless middle section and curiously lifeless world keep it from shining as brightly as the original.
At the midway point of 2018, Celeste ($20 on Steam) is the best game we’ve played so far despite its retro looks. It’s the tightest platformer we’ve played since Super Meat Boy (which is also available for Linux). The sheer act of playing the game, of mastering the movement and navigating the hazards of the titular Celeste Mountain, is immensely pleasurable in and of itself, with even harder “secret” levels awaiting people who beat the game.
It’s Celeste’s story and attitude that make it special, though. Yes, it’s hard, but the game wants you to push on, to succeed. Celeste constantly reaffirms that it believes in you, that you can definitely scale this mountain if you just keep trying, that there’s no shame in taking advantage of the accessibility options (like slowing down time or giving yourself an extra jump for the harder gaps) if you need to. Celeste is the cheerleader at your back, and it’s superb.
Total War Saga: Thrones of Brittania
After a multi-year detour into the fantasy world of Warhammer, the Total War series returned to its historical roots in Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia ($40 on Humble). It’s the first entry in a Saga sub-series designed to be smaller standalone games focused intently on a flashpoint in history, with much of the previous busywork purged. In Thrones of Britannia, Anglo-Saxons, Gaelic clans, and Viking settlers battle for supremacy in the British Isles, featuring the turn-based campaign and massive real-time strategy battles Total War is known for. Warning: Keeping hold of your kingdom can be hard.
Civilization 6 ($60 on Humble) brings the series back to its historical roots after taking a detour into outer space with Civilization: Beyond Earth (which is also on Linux). Civilization 6 adds some fairly substantial tweaks to the ol’ Civ formula, with new Districts and Active Research features that make the acts of city building and planning your nation’s advancements much more lively, respectively.
While previous Civilization installments needed expansions to truly achieve greatness, Civ 6 feels like a much more complete game straight from the get-go. Be prepared to fall into the endless “just one more turn” trap yet again.
Hitman Game of the Year Edition
This reboot returns the series to beloved Blood Money form, featuring sandbox-style assassinations that can range from quick and silent kills to prolonged slugfests to downright slapstick, darkly humorous affairs. (You can take out Home Alone’s Sticky Bandits while dressed as Santa, for example.) The large, complicated environments and myriad death-dealing ways give Hitman amazing replayability, bolstered by a borderline endless series of custom assignments that task you with killing specific NPCs in wild ways.
This is the sequel you’ve been waiting for for nearly a decade—and in many ways, this new Hitman surpasses its beloved predecessor. Buy it.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (also on Linux!) became an instant classic when it launched, mixing tough, strategic combat with perma-death for you customizable soldiers. Especially on Ironmann mode, battling back the alien invasion felt desperate and overwhelming at the best of times—and in XCOM 2 ($60 on Humble), which also almost nabbed 2016 game of the year honors, we learned that it indeed was.
The Aliens—now dubbed the Advent—won, and now crush humanity under a velvet boot. In XCOM 2, rather than being a multinational anti-alien strike force, your team’s a rag-tag bunch of resistance fighters flying around the world in a ship of your own, trying to overthrow the invaders and restore human self-determination. The setup and frequent timed missions add an even more frantic feeling to a game that already rocked high stakes, and XCOM 2 feels far more polished than its predecessor—and tweaks like stealth insertion add even more flavor to the beloved XCOM combat. Once you get the hang of the game, the massive War of the Chosen expansion ($40 on Humble) changes the feel of the game completely.
Or you could grab Long War 2, the successor to the beloved Long War mod for the original XCOM. Long War 2 tweaks and twists virtually every aspect of the game, adding new maps, new mission types, new enemies, new weapons, new solider classes, new abilities, and even a deep new haven management system that makes the strategy layer much more compelling, complex—and stressful. And yes, Long War 2 works on Linux.
Slay the Spire
Slay the Spire ($16 on Humble) is still in Early Access, but it’s already well worth your money. This card-building adventure game mashes together rogue-like dungeon crawling with Magic: The Gathering as you battle monsters and wander maps to scale the titular spire. It sounds bizarre but this game’s blend of genres winds up intoxicating, largely because of a nifty trick shared with fellow indie gem Into the Breach: You can see what your enemies are going to do next turn, giving you ample opportunity to prepare accordingly.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III
Dawn of War is a real-time strategy series set in the beloved grimdark Warhammer universe. This iteration changed some things up, though. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III ($40 on Humble) still sticks to its juicy RTS core, but spices things up by adding hero mechanics that draw from MOBA games like League of Legends or Dota 2. Hardcore Dawn of War II fans aren’t overly fond of the new units, which can absolutely wreck your standard army, but if you come to the game knowing that it isn’t just more of the same there’s a lot of fun to find here.
SteamWorld Dig 2
“The original SteamWorld Dig was an excellent Metroid-style adventure, with a twist: You were in a mine and had to dig your way downwards, collecting riches on your way. If you ever played the old Flash game Motherload, it shared a lot of DNA. The only problem with SteamWorld Dig? It was too short.
So a sequel was well in order, and I happily sank a bunch of hours into SteamWorld Dig 2 this month. At around 12 hours it’s two or three times as long as the original, and takes you from pickaxe-wielding nobody to a jetpacking, bomb-throwing, pickaxe-of-the-gods super-miner. There are also some excellent platforming challenges tucked away in the game’s corners. Highly recommended.”
ARK: Survival Evolved
Dinosaurs, weapons, multiplayer, and survival elements. Is it any wonder that Early Access title ARK: Survival Evolved ($60 on Humble) has taken the world by storm? As Steam user Kakaloto put in a review of the game, “Ark is a childhood fantasy come true. It’s like a mix of Jurassic Park and Minecraft with a touch of DayZ.”
C’mon. It’s Rocket League ($20 on Humble).
This thrilling, good-natured blend of soccer and rocket-powered cars has taken the world by storm for damned good reason, and developer Psyonix keeps the game feeling fresh with frequent updates and add-ons. Be warned: Once you fall in love with this game—and you will—you’ll have a hard time ever putting down the controller.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided ($30 on Humble) is a worthy entry in one of my favorite series of all time. The game’s futuristic recreation of Prague is brimming with possibilities and back-alley paths, supporting players who want to fight, talk, hack, or sneak their way through predicaments. You can play the whole thing without killing a single soul, and breaking into the game’s massive bank is downright thrilling. That’s not to say it’s perfect, as the game ends abruptly, and AMD Radeon graphics cards flat-out aren’t supported in the Linux version yet (though we’re writing this the day after the game’s Linux release).
Observer ($30 on Humble) bills itself as a horror game, but it’s not. Sure, it may have dark overtones and some disturbing imagery, but in reality it’s a deeply atmospheric cyberpunk thriller that plays like a mix of Blade Runner and (believe it or not) Psychonauts as you hop from mind to mind, peeling back layers of reality in search of your estranged son. Your character’s even voiced by Blade Runner’s own Rutger Hauer.
Observer is a wild ride despite some rough edges. Play it!
Total War: Warhammer
It’s a bummer than the newer Total War: Warhammer II isn’t available for Linux, but the original Total War: Warhammer ($60 on Humble) is still a delight. After years of Total War games focused on historical campaigns, Total Warhammer infused the series’ always-strong blend of 4X/RTS strategy with wild creatures and settings drawn from the Warhammer universe. Vampire Counts and Dwarven kingdoms and the other fantastical races all play very differently from one another. It’s a refreshing twist on a beloved series.
PCWorld game reviewer Hayden Dingman says, “If you’re up for a challenge, Hollow Knight ($15 on Humble) can be incredibly rewarding. It’s got tight combat and platforming, a wonderful soundtrack, a memorable cast, a unique mapping system, and hand-drawn art that only gets better as the game goes on. This one’s up there with the best the [Metroidvania] genre has to offer.”
In Slime Rancher ($20 on Humble), you use your vacuum gun to suck up cute, colorful slimes on an alien planet. Then you stick them in a pen to harvest their poop to buy better slime-sucking guns. Oh, and the slimes try to eat their poop, and sometimes get ornery if they eat poop from another slime species. It’s a pretty cool farming game.
Stellaris ($40 on Humble) brings grand strategy to space, and it’s great—a loosely defined sandbox that allows emergent gameplay to create tales of empire and tragedy across the stars. As we said in our Stellaris review: “Freed from the chains of history Paradox has created something creative and bold and inspiring, something that illuminates just how vast and unknowable space is and how tiny our place in it.”
It took over a year for a Mad Max ($20 on Humble) Linux port to arrive, but the wait may have been worthwhile. The game proved divisive when it launched, with critics lamenting its lack of soul and many gamers praising its Arkham Knight-like fisticuffs and glorious car combat. There’s a beautiful open world to explore and varied enemies to fight. Mad Max is a lot of fun despite its abundant filler and poor pacing.
So why is the delayed Linux release a good thing? Simple: The game costs a whole lot less now, making those niggling flaws much less worrisome.
The Long Dark
The Long Dark ($30 on Humble) was one of the first darlings of the budding survival game genre, back when survival games still felt fresh, and it’s still one of the best now that it’s finally left Early Access. There are no zombies or aliens to slaughter in The Long Dark—just the night, the cold, and Mother Nature.
SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT.
This marvelous game is the most innovative shooter we’ve played in years, hands-down. Time only moves full-speed when you move. Stand still and everything slows to a crawl. Bullets hang in the air, red trails stretching out behind. People are practically motionless, frozen mid-charge.
Superhot ($25 on Humble) is a gimmick game, to be absolutely clear. But as far as one-trick ponies go this one is pretty stellar, doing its damnedest to make you feel like the consummate badass and leaving you with all sorts of “That was amazing” moments, feats that could never be pulled off at full-speed. Play it.
Dying Light: The Following Enhanced Edition
Okay, okay, Techland’s latest open-world zombie slaughterfest aims higher than it manages to hit. The game trips over some details, with a bored-sounding main character and a tendency towards dumb fetch quests.
But if you ignore all that and just run around, basking in the game’s killer parkour mechanics and cornucopia of outrageous hidden secrets,Dying Light is a blast—kinetic, brutal fun. It’s gorgeous, too. Dying Light: The Following Enhanced Edition ($60 on Humble) includes the vast The Following expansion, which adds a massive new area and a dune buggy that completely changes the way you play the game. Even better: The game supports four-person co-op, and it’s an absolute blast to play with pals.
The Talos Principle
The Talos Principle ($40 on Humble) couldn’t quite squeeze out a GOTY victory after its late 2014 debut, but its brain-bending blend of killer puzzles and deep philosophical musings almost—almost!—earned it the top spot. Simply put, there hasn’t been a puzzle game this stellar since Portal 2. That still holds true today.
RimWorld ($30 on Humble) sells itself as “a sci-fi colony sim driven by an intelligent AI storyteller.” It’s awfully similar to the legendary Dwarf Fortress, but set in space with better graphics. That sort of system-driven gameplay leads to glorious emergent gameplay scenarios like this and this.
There’s a good chance you already know if you’d love it or hate it. I adore it.
Wasteland 2 is PCWorld’s Game of the Year of 2014, and the one title that Talos Principle couldn’t quite triumph over. It took a full quarter-century for this sequel to the legendary Wasteland to be made, and the wait was well worth it. Wasteland 2 ($40 on Humble) is nothing short of a love post-apocalyptic love letter to old-school CRPG fans, sporting a tantalizing setting, deliciously clever writing, and more far more flexibility to accommodate player actions than 99 percent of games out there.
Don’t have a key? Blow up the door. But make your choices wisely—each one affects how the story and characters react to you.
American Truck Simulator
Euro Truck Simulator 2 ($20 on Humble) won over hordes of gamers despite sounding about as exciting as watching paint dry: You drive a truck, hauling freight from town to town, checking in at weigh stations, buying upgrades and paying speeding fines as they pop up. But once you actually play the game, the magic sets in. The truck handling feels weighty and realistic, and hauling loads down a long highway while rocking out to your favorite radio stations and tunes somehow manages to be both intensely relaxing and stimulating at the same time.
American Truck Simulator ($20 on Humble) is more of the same, but polished up and featuring American landmarks and cities rather European ones. Early reviews say it’s great. And even if you’re not sure if a driving sim’s up your alley, it doesn’t cost much to dip your toes in since these games are only $20.
Ostensibly a turn-based stealth strategy game, the sublime Invisible Inc. ($20 on Humble) blends parts of XCOM, Splinter Cell, and rogue-like games into one heck of a gloriously addicting game. Whether you’re slinking through an office, hacking cameras, or knocking out guards, danger’s always lurking around the corner—this is one tough game—while the randomly generated maps ensure you’ll find new challenges awaiting for as long as you want to keep on playing. And it just oozes style.
Simply put, Invisible Inc. is one of the best turn-based strategy games in recent memory.
If you follow indie games at all, you’ve likely heard people namedrop Undertale ($10 on Humble) quite a few times over the past year or two. People love this game,. And let this serve as your official recommendation: Stop reading and go play it. Undertale rewards going in blind.
Still here? Need more convincing? Okay, it’s a JRPG, sort of. It’s also a bullet-hell game, sort of. And it’s pretty funny and irreverent, sort of. Think of it kind of like a modern-day Earthbound...sort of. Undertale’s a mishmash of genres, backed up by some silly writing and memorable characters. Spoiler alert: This game is best played across several playthroughs, with your decisions affecting behavior and sometimes even opening new experiences in subsequent runs.
Kerbal Space Program
Build your own spaceships and fly them to the stars without having them explode or crash and kill the crew. It’s easier than it sounds in this amazing—and amazingly tough—physics-based game. Once you’ve got the takeoff under your belt, Kerbal Space Program ($40 on Humble) lets you build spacestations, massive spaceships, and planetary bases in three different game modes. On top of the Linux support, this game's mod friendly, and it earned PCWorld's first perfect review rating in years (though SOMA and Witcher 3 earned similar reviews shortly thereafter).
Cities: Skylines ($30 on Humble) is everything that the supremely disappointing SimCity wasn’t, also cracking our list of the best PC games of 2015. Yes, Cities: Skylines somehow lives up to the unfair expectations heaped upon it, presenting one of the best city builders in years, and the developers were diligent in ensuring it works on Linux systems as well as Windows PCs.
Crypt of the Necrodancer
After earning an honorable mention in PCWorld’s list of the best PC games of 2014 while still in Early Access, Crypt of the Necrodancer ($15 on Humble) earned an offical slot on our best games of 2015 after its full launch. This Zelda-esque game is a roguelike dungeon crawler, except all movements and attacks are tied to the beat of the music.
It may sound weird, but give Crypt of the Necrodancer a whirl—it’s insanely addicting.
Crusader Kings II
Another Paradox title, Crusader Kings II ($40 on Humble) is still going strong years after release because of the developer’s devotion to releasing awesome new content on a regular basis. This deep strategy games plops you down in medieval Europe and is pretty much a less-graphic, strategy game version of Game of Thrones.
The behind the scenes intrigue is nothing short of a soap opera, full of adultery, murder, incest, political marriages, pope bribing, and the occasional slaughter of friends and enemies—all in the name of advancing your goals. This strategy sandbox sinks its hooks into you and won’t let go.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Borderlands 2
Gearbox’s loot-crazed shooter series has nestled in nicely on Linux, with both Borderlands 2 and the stopgap (but still fun) Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel gracing open-source shores. (The original is not, alas.) If you can round up a couple of friends to play with these fast-paced firefests are a ton of fun, though they can feel like a bit of a slog after a while if you’re playing by yourself.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth ($15 on Humble) is essentially The Legend of Zelda’s dungeons meets randomized Rogue-like gameplay meets monsters and rooms full of poop. If your sensibilities can handle the heavier story aspects, this finely tuned game is borderline impossible to put down—especially if you can find a buddy to play co-op with.
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
If Wasteland 2 is a love letter to old-school CRPG fans, Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove ($25 on Humble) is a pitch-perfect homage to the side-scrolling platformers of old, built from the ground up to mimic the look, sound, and even the feel of games like Mega Man and Duck Tales. Be warned: Like the 8-bit games of yesteryear, this game pulls no punches when it comes to difficulty, but the controls are so tight that you won’t care.
The hardware to play this software
Of course, in order to actually play all these games, you’re going to need a graphics card capable of doing so. PCWorld’s guide to the best graphics cards for any budget can help point you in the right direction.
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