With great power comes great responsibility, or, in the case of souped up gaming PCs, a whole lot of busy work. Building a PC that can handle the newest games at the top settings can be an expensive and time-consuming process, but if you do it right, it’s more than worth it. When that PC is finally humming you can rest comfortably, knowing that for at least a few months you’ll have the most powerful home gaming device on the market. Yeah, you might have to upgrade every several months or so if you want to stay on the bleeding edge, but if you know what you’re doing, and can swing the dough, and just love games that damn much, you’ll probably get more out of it than you put in.
You probably didn’t need a top-of-the-line machine to play our favorite PC games of 2017, thankfully. There are many advantages to computer gaming beyond just the ability to adapt and upgrade them. Many games pop up on Steam that never make it to console, and many more are on PCs for months or even years before they make the jump to the Xbox or PlayStation. Early Access on Steam lets you get in on the ground floor of some of the most exciting new games, including the smash Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. PC games often have readily available mods and console commands, letting you custom tailor your game. And if you prefer the mouse and keyboard to a controller, the PC is still the only game in town.
When cobbling together our list of the best PC games of 2017, we took a big picture view. We aren’t restricting this list to games that are only playable on PC. We’re looking at the entire range of experiences and adventures that were released for computers in 2017, whether they also exist for a console or not. Because, if you’re really serious about your gaming PC, you might not have a console at all. You might miss out on high profile games from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft in that situation, but most major third-party games and pretty much all independent games get released for computers, so there’s more than enough to play. Here are our picks, if you need a guide.
Tacoma might present itself as science fiction. It’s set in a shiny, futuristic space station, with each window a beautiful vista of black and pinpricks of light. But like all good sci-fi, it’s focused squarely on the present. Its depiction of exploitative labor practices and the one-sided relationship between employers and employees, of the marginalization of the worker, might be set near the end of the century, but its message is as current as videogames get.—Garrett Martin
9. Fire Pro Wrestling World
The cult classic Japanese wrestling series returned in 2017, and although it’s still in early access, it’s so fundamentally strong and feature-rich that we have no reservations with putting it on this list. Its stamina and lock-up systems capture the rhythms of real-life pro wrestling, and its creation tools and Steam Workshop have opened up an almost limitless universe of wrestling potential. If you have any love for the one true art and its videogame adaptations, this could be your favorite game of the year.—Garrett Martin
8. Doki Doki Literature Club
Doki Doki Literature Club violates the silent contract of dating sims, and almost all games everywhere: it acknowledges the nature of its existence. It’s dark, at times bleak, and dabbles in the surreal. Its premise is poised heavily on letting the player know they, the fictional girls of the titular literature club, are wise to your presence. In fact, they know their very being relies upon it. At any time you could stop playing, or even erase their character file altogether. But please don’t. They love you.—Holly Green
7. Battle Chef Brigade
As a “match-three” game, Battle Chef Brigade goes above and beyond the call. Anime characters are superimposed on soft backgrounds featuring wet washes of paint pooled over textured paper, set to a lilting orchestral soundtrack not unlike a Miyazaki score. The combat segments, which from a distance may seem tacked-on, are not only well-incorporated mechanically, but also provide immense satisfaction with the fluidity and power of Mina’s attacks. Despite the time limit on each battle, the back and forth between two sources of panic—quickly cooking a dish to the judge’s specifications versus killing monsters for key ingredients—is actually pretty fun. The complexity of solving puzzles contrasts the no-brain hacking and slashing for a very welcome change of pace.—Holly Green
6. What Remains of Edith Finch
Despite its sometimes too-broad character development and stylistic stumbles, Edith Finch is still a fascinating game—one that has admirably tailor-built its player interactions to fit the varied stories it tells. This is welcome, especially when the inverse approach is so often taken. It’s a game made with real imagination and an honest attempt to capture the unique perspective of its wide range of characters. Given its wide scope, it’s understandable that it’s also a game that succeeds more in concept than execution. Like the subjects of the multi-generational novels whose tradition it embraces, Edith Finch’s individual successes and failures are less important than its overall effect. It’s a story made of stories, and the results of its breadth seem more important than the fine details.—Reid McCarter
5. Destiny 2
Destiny disappointed us at launch because it felt so empty and aimless. Destiny 2 doesn’t suffer the same fate, arriving with a more defined story and a greater variety of environments and enemies. The game’s structure and narrative is now as satisfying as its core action, turning the constant need for stronger weapons and armor from a chore into a compulsion. It’s also a game committed to secrets, letting you discover so much about it that isn’t directly transmitted, giving it a depth and mystery rarely seen in this type of game.—Garrett Martin
Can you call something “frustrating” if you’re actively enjoying it all the way through? You will repeat yourself a lot in Cuphead, a brutally hard game built around old-school arcade-style boss fights and platforming. A major reason the constant restarting doesn’t grow old is the beautiful presentation, with an art style patterned after early 1930s hand-drawn animation and an original score of big band and ragtime music. As difficult as it is, though, the game rarely feels capricious. You’ll usually understand what you have to do, and the struggle is just being able to pull it off. As frustrating as it can be to fight the same enemy two dozen times before finally winning, it only makes the satisfaction of pulling it off that much more powerful.—Garrett Martin
3. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
The surprise hit of 2017 has an unwieldy name, but there’s a reason for that: “PlayerUnknown” is actually a person, real name Brendan Greene, a well-known modder who created a Day Z mod based on the Japanese novel and movie Battle Royale. Battlegrounds takes that concept of a shooter where the goal is to eliminate every other player on an increasingly dangerous island and turns it into a far more accessible game. It’s not even officially out yet, but it’s already proven itself to be one of the biggest stories in games this year, and this isn’t just a case of runaway hype. The extreme pressure of Battlegrounds elevates the multiplayer shooter to a previously unknown level of tension and catharsis.—Garrett Martin
2. Night in the Woods
The genius of Night in the Woods is that it grounds its heavy themes not in the worn down characters of Raymond Carver, but in the queer anarchist punks of its lead character’s generation. The game is a rare look at characters who balance all of the burdens above with a love for retro videogames and band practice and drinking in the woods while some blowhard from high school plays acoustic guitar. The game borrows tonally from a variety of sources—everything from the hyperkinetic Scott Pilgrim to the peculiar horror of Haruki Murakami or Blue Velvet back to the blue collar sob stories of Breece D’J Pancake. Plus, did I mention all the characters are animals? Like BoJack Horseman, this aesthetic allows the game to fluctuate rapidly between over-the-top absurdity and soul crushing sadness.—Salvatore Pane
1. Nier: Automata
Nier: Automata is a mature, sophisticated game that avoids the JRPG trap of the narrative, the themes and the play being separate entities. Platinum and Yoko Taro are an expert pair here, harmoniously bringing together dozens of eclectic sources from philosophy to anime to history to real-life war to silly, over-the-top fight sequences into one cohesive whole where not a single part feels unnecessary, and all contribute to the larger message. It is a timely story about our priorities as a society and our continued relevance in an increasingly automated world, told in a clever way that makes meaning out of about four different genres worth of mechanics and yet could still be called elegant. It’s a sharp commentary that could only be done through games, and for now, it is easily the magnum opus of either of its authors.—Michelle Ehrhardt
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.