Built to last
Far too many games these days are built to be played in small bursts: brief encounters, designed for a world with too few hours in the day and too many digital distractions. And that’s fine! Blasting through a few rounds of Overwatch or Rocket League matches is a wonderful way to spend some time.
But sometimes, you want something more—something meatier. Whether you’re looking for an entertaining way to blow a long weekend or simply want to wrap your head around a satisfyingly complex experience, these 20 deep, intricate, and just plain great PC games will hold you for hours and hours and hours on end.
Editor’s note: We periodically update this article as new games are released.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Rockstar’s critically acclaimed and utterly massive open-world western finally landed on PCs a long year after its console debut, but the wait was worthwhile. Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC is the definitive way to play, with options galore and luscious graphics that can even bring a fearsome GeForce RTX 2080 Ti to its knees if you crank up all the eye candy.
It’s one of the longer games in recent memory too, fleshed out even more by all the diversions. We’ve been even more enthralled by simply wandering the massive landscape, hunting animals, buying pomade for Arthur Morgan’s mustache, and caring for our horse than the actual story. Rockstar truly made a living world here, and you’ll want to get lost in it for a while—especially if the superb Photo Mode sinks its hooks into you.
Disco Elysium is like Planescape Torment, if Planescape plopped you in the shoes of an amnesiac drug-addicted cop recovering from one hell of a bender in the middle of a murder investigation. And, uh, your party consisted of the warring voices and emotions shouting in your head instead of other people. And there was no combat.
It’s the most transformative RPG we’ve played in a long time. And better yet, it transforms around you, heavily adapting to the skills you choose, the voices in your head you decide to listen to, and whether or not you decide to play things straight or indulge the wild impulses suggested by those whispers. It’s wild stuff—much more than we can get into here. Check out our review for more details. And it’s more than you can likely bite off too, as the developers say the game last 60 to 90 hours, and it just screams for repeated playthroughs.
If you prefer your deep roleplaying experiences with a more Fallout-y vibe than Disco Elysium’s strict CRPG roots, check out Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds, a.k.a. the Fallout: New Vegas spiritual successor you always pined for. It’s great.
It's been a long time coming but the Yakuza games are finally on PC—or at least the first three. That's still quite an introduction though, with over 100 hours of game between Yakuza 0, Kiwami, and Kiwami II.
It's a journey worth taking. Yakuza vacillates between silliness and soap opera with more grace than any other series, making you laugh right before it punches you in the gut. It's a fascinating dichotomy, and only becomes more interesting over time as you get to know Kazuma Kiryu, Majima, and the rest of Yakuza's sprawling cast. The city is a character in itself as well, with Kiryu's small slice of Tokyo evolving over the course of multiple decades. New buildings appear, old ones disappear, and occasionally Kiryu's actions leave scars the city never quite recovers from. It's an incredible saga, and I can't wait for Sega to bring the remaining games over as well.
The Division 2
The Division wasn't a very good game at release. It got there eventually, but it took multiple years and myriad updates. So when Ubisoft announced a sequel, the question was "Will they get it right this time?”
And the answer is yes. The Division 2 is still a fairly grounded game, and I'm more partial to Destiny's weird guns and space opera story myself. If you like modern military realism though, The Division 2 has plenty of loot-shooting to keep you occupied for days and days and days. "Finishing” the story is just the start too, as wrapping the campaign introduces a brand new faction and new subclasses for your character, and resets the world in the process. Then when you finish reclaiming Washington D.C. for a second time? It resets again. And again. Ubisoft's made it so you can basically keep playing The Division 2 forever if you'd like, and they've already started rolling out new end-game activities as well, including an eight-person raid.
I still wish the loot were more interesting than AK-47s and knee pads, but The Division 2 definitely learned the lessons of its predecessor.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Dark Souls is over, but From Software isn't done yet. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is From's first game in the post-Souls era, and it's...well, in a lot of ways it's very similar. Sekiro is still about pattern memorization, about painstaking combat finesse, about breezing through a few dozen small enemies only to get crushed by the boss again. Flavor text for items is still mostly nonsense, and there's a bonfire stand-in. Souls fans will recognize the shared lineage.
But Sekiro differs in key ways. It's a more vertical (and more mobile) game, allowing you to jump and even use a grappling hook to get around. And on that note, Sekiro also encourages stealth when possible, leaping down from above or stabbing from the bushes to quietly thin out encounters. Failing that, you'd better get good at parrying. Dark Souls was a game of rolling and dodging, but doing so in Sekiro is a losing gambit. Stand your ground, match sword with sword, and hope you come out on top.
Total War: Three Kingdoms
It didn't seem possible for Creative Assembly to make a historical Total War game with the same depth as their recent Warhammer games. I would've played it anyway, because I got my start on historical Total War and I'm a fan of those games. Warhammer gets to play with dwarves, vampires, elves, and more though, while mainline Total War is still a story about humans, and there's only so much creative license you can take. I was expecting essentially just another Rome II reskin with some slight interface and unit changes.
Total War: Three Kingdoms is much more than that though. It's easily one of the best entries in the series, drawing on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms period for flavor that makes every battle, every conquest, every tense diplomatic give-and-take feel more meaningful than it has in the past. How? By making characters the center of every decision. It worked for XCOM, it worked for Crusader Kings II, and now it's made Three Kingdoms an instant classic as well.
Though hey, if you're dead set on sending oversized bats into a unit of charging dinosaurs? Those Warhammer games are great too.
Destiny 2 had a rough start. The base game was fun and addicting, but light on content. Then Bungie's efforts to add to it went awry, with both the first-year Curse of Osiris and Warmind expansions falling flat.
But 2018's Forsaken expansion told a more gripping story than any of Destiny 2's prior efforts, and once through the door it was easy to notice how much Bungie had reworked since release. Weapons now dropped with randomized specs, the Crucible bumped up to 6 versus 6, so-called "Powerful” gear was easier to find each week. The situation's improved even more since, with the second-year Season of the Forge, Season of the Drifter, and Season of Opulence all adding unique end-game activities that give the hobbyist players more than enough to come back for each week.
Freed from Activision, it seems like Bungie's finally been able to give Destiny 2 some longevity—and 2019's Shadowkeep expansion and Steam migration gave the game another huge jolt.
Final Fantasy XIV
I can't believe we got here. Lest we forget: Final Fantasy XIV was so bad upon initial release, Square Enix killed it dead. Buried it. Then they rebuilt basically the entire game from scratch and released Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
But from ignominious beginnings arose perhaps the best MMO of the modern era. Maybe even more than that. According to our own Leif Johnson, "There’s no longer any question that Final Fantasy XIV warrants inclusion in discussions of the best Final Fantasy games of all time." The catch? You'll need to put in upwards of 100 hours in order to experience its best bits, working your way through six years of story and the accompanying grind. Then again, that's perfect for this article, so what are you waiting for? Better create your very own cat-lady and give it a go.
Anno is a series about supply chains, and that hasn't changed for Anno 1800. The only difference, really? Now you're doing it in the Victorian Era and building up a transatlantic empire in the process. That adds all sorts of complications, sloooowly shipping steel to your colonies, using it to construct a distillery, then sloooowly shipping rum back to Britain and hoping it's enough to keep your citizens placated.
I'm making it sound easier than it is, as Anno 1800 has dozens of different products you'll need to supply in both the New and Old World. A few farms, a factory—before you know it you have a metropolis numbering in the thousands, twelve fisheries, a dozen breweries, and somehow you're short on cigars again. Time to construct another tobacco farm or five. Oh, also it's 3 a.m. and you were supposed to be asleep hours ago. There's probably time to lay out one more road though, right?
Assassin's Creed: Odyssey
I thought Assassin's Creed: Origins was huge, and then along came 2018's Assassin's Creed: Odyssey. A sprawling epic, Odyssey trades the sands of Origins's Egypt for the rocky islands of the Greek archipelago. It's even more like fan-favorite Black Flag than its predecessor.
It's also even more like The Witcher 3, oddly enough. Odyssey has dialogue trees! Branching quests, as well! Sure, it's the diet version of Witcher 3, but nevertheless Ubisoft has made some ambitious choices with Assassin's Creed these past few years and I'm curious to see where it goes next. Odyssey also benefits from the usual spate of post-release content, with two expansions dubbed "Legacy of the Hidden Blade" and "The Fate of Atlantis." The title of that second one better get your blood pumping for some hot Assassin's Creed nonsense.
And if you somehow, 100 hours later, get through all the official content? Ubisoft added some basic create-your-own-quest tools to Odyssey, meaning there's a near-limitless amount of user-generated content tucked into every corner of this sprawling world.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire gives you a ship, a crew, and the entirety of the titular Deadfire Archipelago to explore, making the journey just as important as the destination in this successor to one of the best CRPGs in recent memory. “You physically sail your ship around the archipelago, albeit from a top-down perspective, discovering islands and shipwrecks and strange sea creatures along the way,” Hayden Dingman said in our review. “There’s even a lightweight management level to it, with you responsible for supplying food and drink and medicine to keep your crew happy. You’ll also encounter other ships on the Deadfire of course, at which point the game turns into sea-battle-via-text-adventure. It’s brilliant.”
This sequel stumbles a bit from time to time, with an aimless middle section and a multitude of bugs. The central story is excellent though, with a strong continuation of its predecessor’s themes and “four or five major ‘setpiece’ moments, jaw-dropping story beats with the sort of spectacle I didn’t think was possible in an Infinity Engine-style game.” RPG fans will find plenty to sink their teeth into in Deadfire.
Into the Breach
“Into the Breach begins with the end of humanity. The Vek, a subterranean race of giant bugs, swarms out of the ground and kills everyone on Earth. And that’s it! Party’s over. Luckily, time travel exists. There’s enough power to send a squad of mechs back to the earliest moments of the Vek onslaught. Humanity gets one more shot, one final run—unless you screw this timeline up too, in which case the whole process repeats again. And again. And again.”
Unlocking new mech squads and carrying solo pirates over to new timelines (with randomized maps) provides endless fun. And each run can be completed far more quickly than your usual Civ or XCOM campaign. It’s turn-based tactics distilled, a bite-sized version that still manages to have deep and complicated combat systems to discover within its otherwise-limited scope.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
The first Divinity: Original Sin was one of the best PC games of 2014 thanks to its deep systematic combat, which felt like what isometric CRPGs could have been if they had thrived over the years instead of temporarily dying in the early 2000s. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is better in every way, and sits beside The Witcher 3 as one of the best role-playing games released this decade.
Original Sin 2 doubles down on the XCOM-like mechanics of the original, but the real improvement came in the story. To say narrative was an afterthought in the original would be an understatement. Divinity: Original Sin 2 steps it up, weaving compelling dialogue together with Larian’s hallmark mechanics-first approach. Every quest, dialogue, and interaction is modified by your character’s unique traits, such as race and upbringing—doubly so if you play as one of five preset “Origin” characters.
This game clocks in at a meaty 80-plus hours. The ability to roll your own characters, shift around the characters of your party, or even play the whole thing in four-player co-op gives the game near endless replayability. Play this!
The multiplayer action never disappoints in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds though—a bit of a surprise, as the game’s battle royale-style combat is pretty simple on the face of things. A hundred players airdrop into one of two large maps, which are full of static buildings and areas littered with randomized loot: weapons, armor, health boosts, vehicles, weapon accessories, you name it. A circle frequently shrinks the size of the play area, damaging players stranded outside of it and pushing competitors toward each other relentlessly. The last man, duo, or squad of four wins, depending on the play mode.
Here's the thing: The game is simple. But the random loot, tense stakes, and wild unpredictability of your 99 rivals makes every playthrough thrilling—and unique. Few games suck you in as intensely as PUBG. It became the most-played title on Steam in no time, surpassing even Dota 2 and Counter-Strike. Many players have sunk hundreds, or even thousands, of hours into this quirky gem of a game, and Bluehole's been good and switching things up with new game modes and limited-time map tests.
Rainbow Six Siege
We're nearing the end of this console generation, and I still feel like Rainbow Six Siege is the only shooter to really make good on that "next-gen” feel. Maybe PUBG too. Maybe. The two are such opposite ends of the spectrum though, with PUBG focused on enormous maps and high player counts while Rainbow Six Siege pits twelve people against each other in a house or a bar or whatever.
Focusing on the micro allows Rainbow Six Siege to pull off some of the tensest multiplayer I've ever played though, attackers and defenders both vying for control over sightlines that could explode into pieces at any second. Shooting through walls—or blowing them up entirely—is the tentpole feature of Siege, but the moments between explosions are even more tense, holding your breath and wondering "Was that a footstep? Where did it come—" and then you're dead. You could play for years and never master all its tricks, and it's the one multiplayer game where every time I see it I think, "Damn, I should play more Siege.”
No Man's Sky
No Man's Sky might never be the game people wanted it to be pre-release, but it's gotten damn close over the past few years—particularly with 2018's No Man's Sky: Next update. Multiplayer! Better crafting! Base building!
As I said when we re-evaluated the game, "If you're still somehow hoping for that 'Wow' moment, exploring this 'limitless' universe, I don't think you'll find it." No Man's Sky is still the greatest example of procedural generation's failings, as you keep seeing the same plants and rock formations and et cetera across the entire universe, watching the ingredients combined and recombined into "new" combinations like a video game version of the Taco Bell menu.
That said, actually playing No Man's Sky has improved a lot since release. If you're looking for a light space sim, an Elite Dangerous or a Star Citizen where you can lean your chair back and explore in peace, it's worth a second look—especially if you bought it in 2016 and it's still kicking around in your Steam library. I'm sure that applies to some of you reading this.
Kingdom Come Deliverance
Skyrim and the other Elder Scrolls entries aren’t on this list because most gamers have played—or at least heard of—Bethesda’s buggy masterpieces by now. But if you’re a fan of open-world western-style RPGs, don’t miss out on Kingdom Come Deliverance. This game is basically a realistic Skyrim set in the Holy Roman Empire, and it leans into accuracy hard. You’re the son of a blacksmith. Moving up in the class-obsessed circa-1400 society takes real time, and real hard work. You’ll spend a day lugging a spoiled nobleman’s armor into the woods to hunt rabbits. Earning your first sword comes hours and hours into the story. Merely reading requires leveling up the skill.
It’s deep, and like Bethesda’s games, it’s kind of janky. But to Kingdom Come Deliverance’s credit, its incredible ambition and unique aesthetic made the game’s rough edges never feel that rough. For now, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is decidedly niche, and all the better for it.
The final chapter of witcher Geralt of Rivia’s trilogy mixes the grim, realistic atmosphere the series is famous for with an open world reminiscent of Skyrim—but oh so different.
Rather than ruining the experience, I’ll just say that Witcher 3: Wild Hunt earned a rare five-star review, easily won PCWorld’s 2015 game of the year award, and is my personal favorite game of all time. If you’re rushing, you’ll wrap it up in 60 to 80 hours. Feeling more explorative? Expect to spend as much as 200 hours-plus wandering the world, slaying monsters, and that’s before you dip into the fantastic expansions.
XCOM 2 ratchets the tension even higher than the original reboot by putting you on the offense, as XCOM becomes a guerrilla force in a world conquered by aliens. You command a force of soldiers putting their lives on the line to conquer the threat. That's no joke: If one of the commandos under your watch dies, he stays dead, taking his hard-won experience with him. Too many wrong moves could leave your squad stacked with rookies rather than grizzled vets, possibly forcing you into restarting the game.
XCOM 2's tactical, turn-based combat is tough, with both maps and enemies randomized for every battle, but the game gives you plenty of time to think through your moves. During the strategic phase between missions, you deal with organizational tasks—managing finances, expanding XCOM’s influence, researching newly uncovered alien tech, et cetera. You have to balance between striking the aliens where it hurts while avoiding their counterattacks, juggling scarce resources all the while. It's excellent.
The game offers near endless replayability, but if you get sick of the basic scheme, two additional modes turn XCOM 2 into whole new games, essentially. War of the Chosen is an official expansion by Firaxis that adds a ton of new factions, enemies, storylines, weapons, and more, while the sublime Long War 2 total conversion mod greatly extends the duration of the game and ramps up the importance of the strategic map and resource planning. They’re both excellent, full stop.
Stellaris is best understood as a loosely-defined sandbox, with up-front complexity hiding emergent-narrative ambitions that harkens back to Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Babylon 5, and every other sci-fi classic you can think of. Maybe you meet a race of benevolent birds, eager to share their research with the galaxy’s newest interstellar travelers. Maybe you come across the remnants of a declining empire, still overwhelmingly powerful even in its death throes and clinging to the few star systems it possesses. Maybe robot workers revolt, tipping over the balance of a delicate singularity and ushering in a new era of machine-led imperialism. Or maybe humanity spreads throughout the stars.
Some sections of the game are a bit threadbare, and Stellaris’ early game outshines its mid-game. But there’s still plenty to sink your teeth into here, and Paradox has been plugging the holes admirably with its usual deluge of post-launch content. Bottom line: It’s great.
Grand Theft Auto V
It took years for Grand Theft Auto V to land on PCs, but the wait was worth it. The PC version of GTA V is easily the definitive version of the game, bundled with a video editor for custom clips and overflowing with all sorts of tweakable settings and sliders to bend the look of Los Santos to your will.
And oh, what a glorious world Los Santos is. GTA V features not only the massive city, but also the surrounding countryside, along with numerous suburbs, towns, and wilderness areas, all overflowing with stuff to do. This playground is utterly massive—and it’s fully open and ready to explore from the get-go, unlike previous GTA games. You could waste days simply people watching in first-person mode, and that's before dipping your toes into the addictive GTA Online, which Rockstar has kept stocked with frequent updates that add new game modes, heists, vehicles, and more.
A sequel to the beloved Elite from the Amiga-era days, Elite: Dangerous is massive. This mammoth game drops you into the middle of a ginormous universe with more than 400 billion—yes, billion—individual star systems, each with their own planets, space stations, asteroids, players, and more. And new things are being added all the time, aided by the game's connectivity requirement. Simply traveling from our reviewer’s starting point to Earth’s home system took roughly 30 hours.
Elite: Dangerous would be well served by better introductory tutorials. But for sheer size and scope, virtually no game beats this living, breathing universe, which recently suffered from an alien invasion. Just this week developer Frontier released a huge, free expansion dubbed Beyond: Chapter One that advances the main story and wraps in all sorts of gameplay enhancements.
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