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.
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.
Assassin's Creed Origins
Playing Assassin’s Creed: Origins feels like playing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, but with Egypt’s endless sands replacing Carribean seas. That’s high praise indeed. The gameplay feels great and the story takes around 40 hours to complete, with optional side quests available to flesh it out even more. The newly introduced RPG mechanics add welcome complexity but need to be refined in the future to make upgrades feel more meaningful. Key point: The game is fun, and that’s more than some recent Assassin’s Creed entries can say.
It’s the sandbox that steals the show though. The map is gigantic. It might feel like it suffers from too many empty spaces playing the proper game, but the free, superb Discovery Mode add-on fills in the gaps of the vast, intricate world with in-game tours that teach you about Egypt’s history—and make you consider Assassin’s Creed: Origins in a new light.
“I stop to look at the people milling around, admire the different items that shops are selling,” PCWorld’s Hayden Dingman wrote. “Elements that were a chore in video game terms, like large empty regions in between points of interest, seem realistic and important when education is the primary goal.”
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.
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.
Civilization VI is the latest entry in the beloved PC-centric series, returning it to history’s greatest generals after a brief detour beyond earth. The game launched in a far better state than Civ V, wrapping in new city district and Active Research mechanics that provide a valuable twist on the usual Civilization formula. It’s an age-old formula, but one that’s made some vital changes this time around. This is the freshest that Civilization has felt in a long time, and the recent Rise and Fall DLC added intriguing new Dark Age and Golden Age mechanics, among other things.
Final Fantasy and other JRPGs
Japanese role-playing games are famous for their length and stat-heavy adventures—but they’ve traditionally skipped the PC platform. That’s starting to change, and it’s not just Nier Automata. Modern games from Square’s iconic Final Fantasy series migrated over in force in 2018, starting with Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age and culminating in the hotly anticipated release of Final Fantasy XV on March 6, complete with PC-centric features like 4K support and enhanced graphics features. MMO Final Fantasy XIV and older games in the main series long ago settled onto the PC.
But Final Fantasy games aren’t the only JRPGs worth sinking days of your life into. Fan favorites Ys Seven and Tales of Berseria appeared on Steam in 2017 as well. Hit up Steam’s JRPG tag for even more!
Destiny 2 has been slammed by hardcore players of the original game, who say the lack of randomized gun perks and hidden secrets and PvP heroics make the sequel’s end game less compelling. That’s true: Once you’ve maxed out three characters and found all the weapons and armor in the game, there’s little in-game incentive to keep coming back beyond the sublime gun feel.
But don’t be fooled. Maxing out a single character class, much less three, takes a significant time investment. I still haven’t hit the top 335 light level with my Hunter after playing the game 5 to 10 hours per week since it launched last September. And Destiny 2 is brimming with stuff to do. Beating the main campaign is the real start to the game, and you can spend hours upon hours blasting through public events with other Guardians, seeking out every last Adventure side-quest and scannable item, or throwing yourself at oh-so-hard Raids and Nightfall Strikes. Bungie also holds limited-time special events most weeks to entice you to come back, and is working on a long-term development roadmap to address player concerns. The initial tweaks have breathed a lot of life back into the game.
There’s a reason we called Destiny 2 “gaming junk food that we can’t put down.” The multiplayer really is boring, though.
Total War: Warhammer 2
Many strategy games stick to historical themes, or sci-fi landscapes. Total War: Warhammer 2 freshens things up with its fantastical setting. Facing down a horde of ratmen with your lizardly legions—spear-wielding chameleons, massive tyrannosaurs, and a cavalry consisting of dinosaurs riding dinosaurs—is just plain fun, and each of the available factions plays wildly different. The end goals for each campaign are disappointingly similar, though, which is part of the reason why we liked Warhammer 2 slightly less than the original Total War: Warhammer.
But get this: If you own both games on Steam, you can access the Mortal Empires campaign, which combines the maps from both titles into a gargantuan battlefield and offers your choice of 117 starting factions and up to 35 playable legendary lords. Hot damn that’s a lot of game.
Here’s the PR pitch for Nier: Automata: “NieR: Automata tells the story of androids 2B, 9S and A2 and their battle to reclaim the machine-driven dystopia overrun by powerful machines.”
I’m not going to spoil it by saying more. Nier is one freaky RPG, suffused with weirdness and Platinum Games’ wonderful action-heavy gameplay. It’s great, and the story only goes deeper the more you play, with multiple endings available—and encouraged by new mechanics, characters, and more.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands
Ghost Recon: Wildlands is utterly massive, spanning 400 square kilometers of a fictional Bolivia recreation. It’s an open world littered with tasks to do—and people to kill. As the leader of a four-person squad of U.S. soldiers, you wage war on drug cartels with the help of local rebels and an extensive arsenal of weapons and vehicles.
There’s a lot of stuff lurking inside Wildlands, but most missions wind up feeling awfully similar to Far Cry 3’s outpost missions. The game can start to feel monotonous if you stick to single player, but grabbing three buddies for destructive open-world co-op madness never gets old, and Ubisoft’s kept the game updated with ample post-launch content.
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.
No Man's Sky
Okay, okay, No Man’s Sky didn’t live up to the hype for a lot of people, and its launch was rocky—borderline disastrous, even—on the PC. But Hello Games worked out the worst technical kinks quickly and released several substantial, free updates that fleshed out the game’s systems. Now that people are done trying to judge No Man’s Sky for what they wanted it to be, we can evaluate it for what it actually is: a chilled-out exploration game with a heavy layer of survival elements.
Is that everybody’s cup of tea? Lord, no. But it sure is mine, and if the idea of casually exploring 18 quintillion procedurally generated planets in a massive universe sounds appealing to you, No Man’s Sky might just hook you for dozens of hours, too. It’s adding multiplayer support in the summer of 2018, too.
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.
Dark Souls 3
YOU DIED. Get used to the words; you’ll see them a lot. But as brutal as this dark fantasy is—and it is, have no doubt—each of those deaths serves a purpose. Every demise in Dark Souls III provides a learning experience, a small glimpse into the tightly-timed attack patterns and vulnerabilities of your tormentors. Over time—after you die and die and die—understanding dawns. When you finally use that knowledge to best the enemy, the frustration of all those deaths fades away in the moment of glory.
Until his buddy runs along and kills you with a single blow. This is the Dark Souls way. Love it or loathe it, you have to respect it—and mastering this world will take you many hours and many, many deaths, especially if you pick up the Ashes of Ariandel and The Ringed City expansions available for the game.
Fallout 4 and Fallout 4 VR
Welcome to the Commonwealth, the post-bomb remnants of the Boston area—a land rife with super-mutants, robots, bandits, freakishly augmented wildlife, and irradiated water. As "The Sole Survivor," you're on the hunt for your kidnapped son, and your decisions will mold the future of the Commonwealth—as well as which of several warring factions win control of the area, including Diamond City, a flourishing town built in the shadow of the Red Sox's iconic Green Monster.
To be fair, Fallout 4 isn't as roleplaying-heavy as its predecessors, and some of the game's rules and systems are frustratingly opaque. But the open world that Bethesda's built is just so big, vibrant, and full of stuff to do that you won't be able to put the game down. The lure of "What's over the next hill?" is strong in this one. It may not be as versatile as the Fallouts of old—heck, even calling it an RPG is a stretch—but this game's still an absolute blast in its own right... especially once you dip your toes into the deep selection of available mods.
“When you enter Concord in the normal game, it’s just some empty town full of tiny houses,” Hayden Dingman wrote in our Fallout 4 VR review. “When you enter it in VR though, those same houses tower over you—they’re 20-odd feet tall, of course. Thus a quaint little town becomes a dark and foreboding canyon, somehow more threatening.”
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