The 8 Best PC Games of 2021

We've rounded up the most addicting games to play on your computer

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Picking out the best PC games means narrowing down a staggering list of titles spanning decades of history and just about every genre imaginable. Anyone who’s had a computer has found games to play on it, whether it’s pre-loaded Solitaire or a web-browser time-killer or the latest big-studio blockbuster. Many modern games call for a decent chunk of your time and money, so we’ve assembled this guide to highlight a small selection of the top-caliber options that are worth your while.

It’s important to note that unlike with console games designed specifically for a certain system, your mileage with PC games may vary depending on how well your hardware can handle PC gaming. A high-end gaming PC with a powerful processor and graphics card will deliver the best performance for most of today’s graphics. If your system doesn’t meet at least the minimum hardware requirements, you’ll be out of luck. But even without investing in a dedicated gaming rig, you can often optimize your PC for gaming enough to enjoy the engaging narratives and satisfying gameplay of these all-around excellent games.

The Rundown
With a sprawling open world packed with detail, players can explore for hours and barely scratch the surface.
The open-world areas of Norway and England add up to a remarkable 140 square kilometers of explorable space.
Takes the tight gunplay of the Call of Duty games and the single-player campaign back to the past for this '80s adventure.
The Halo series is one of the most well-known entries in the sci-fi universe.
Best Roguelike:
Hades (PC) at Epicgames.com
It’s a satisfying journey that’s very much worth taking, since the slow burn is part of the game’s charm.
Best Music Game:
Fuser (PC) at Fuser.com
It’s a great way to experience the thrill of a live music festival or dance party even when you can’t get out of the house.
Best Open World:
Cyberpunk 2077 at Amazon
As you follow the compelling main narrative, you’ll explore the massive urban area of Night City.
It’s an old-school isometric-style turn-based RPG that puts the focus on story and freedom.

Best Overall: CD Projekt Red The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
What We Like
  • Beautiful, expansive open world

  • Immersive narrative with consequences

  • Engaging real-time combat

What We Don't Like
  • Requires powerful hardware

  • Travel is slightly clunky

Formerly a series of fantasy books and role-playing games (RPGs) with a cult following, the Witcher franchise has developed into a true mainstream hit. This is thanks in part to the popular Netflix TV show, but the success of the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has played a major role as well. With a sprawling open world packed with detail, players can explore for hours and barely scratch the surface of what the game’s continent has to offer.

Spurring along your exploration of the immersive environment is a complex, branching story that sucks you into the adventures of the titular Witcher, Geralt of Rivia. The primary quest is to save Geralt’s adopted daughter from the ghostly riders of the Wild Hunt, but along the way you’ll encounter all sorts of monsters and eerie enemies that you must learn to defeat with the weapons, combat skills, and magic at your disposal.

There are also tons of side quests potentially awaiting you at every turn, many of which may seem random but turn out to be interconnected with the world and the broader narrative. Many open-world titles let you do what you want, but in the Witcher 3, what you do truly has consequences. 

Other RPG elements are woven in to add even more detail to the world, such as alchemy, crafting, and even a full card game. It all adds up to a rich, engrossing, mature gaming experience that players can’t help coming back to.

Publisher: CD Projekt | Developer: CD Projekt Red | Release Date: May 2015 | Genre: Action RPG | ESRB Rating: M (Mature) | Players: 1 | Install Size: 35GB

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Assassin's Creed Valhalla (PC)

Assassin's Creed Valhalla
What We Like
  • A massive open world to explore set in the Viking age

  • Gleefully violent combat with exciting scenes that are fulfilling to pull off

  • Plenty of side missions to unlock and complete in tandem with the narrative

What We Don't Like
  • Perks available through microtransactions

  • Can be taxing on your PC

There have been Assassin’s Creed adventures set throughout a variety of times and places throughout history, but Valhalla might be the most engrossing one yet. The game takes players to the Viking invasion of Britain, allowing players to explore the Viking Age for the first time. As the Viking warrior Eivor, who can be customized to your liking, you’ll be responsible for settling new Viking land while dealing with English influence.

And speaking of land, the open-world areas of Norway and England add up to a remarkable 140 square kilometers of explorable space, and our reviewer was impressed by all the richness, natural beauty, and life built into the world. 

Much of the gameplay in Valhalla will feel familiar to Assassin’s Creed veterans, from the fluid parkour-based movements to the satisfyingly brutal combat that offers flexibility in how you take down your targets. You also have the chance to travel by boat, raid towns for supplies for your settlement, and call on your crew of berserkers to fight alongside you. It makes for a dynamic, visceral Assassin’s Creed installment that can change your preconceived notions about the series, and it’s a great showcase of what PC gaming is capable of.

Publisher: Ubisoft | Developer: Ubisoft Montreal | Release Date: November 2020 | Genre: Action RPG | ESRB Rating: M (Mature) | Players: 1 | Install Size: 50GB

Ubisoft has truly mastered the mechanics of boats, and sailing is just pure joy with your loyal crew singing their way down the fjords as the wind whistles in the rigging, your ship riding the realistic swells.” — Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Best Multiplayer: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (PC)

 Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
What We Like
  • Fantastic new campaign with plenty of content

  • Selection of maps to battle across

  • Cross-progression with Call of Duty: Warzone

What We Don't Like
  • Low replayability for main campaign

  • Occasionally frustrating players who rely on glitches in multiplayer

The 17th overall installment in the Call of Duty series, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War takes the tight gunplay of the Call of Duty games and the single-player campaign back to the past for this '80s adventure. It follows CIA officer Russell Adler, who's tasked with pursuing the Soviet spy Perseus before the dismantling of the United States as a global power. It's an expansive continuation of the Black Ops narrative and brings some of the classic Call of Duty multiplayer goodness to the fold once more.

Black Ops Cold War's multiplayer includes a selection of new and returning game modes as well as one called "Fireteam," which supports up to 40 players. It also offers custom character creation with individual class loadouts and a progression system that ties in with Call of Duty: Warzone, which fills the battle royale niche for players. It's fast-paced, addictive action that serves up arcade-like shooting along with plenty of different maps to explore.

Publisher: Activision | Developer: Treyarch/Raven Software | Release Date: November 2020 | Genre: First-person shooter | ESRB Rating: M (Mature) | Players: 1-40 (online) | Install Size: 30.85GB

Best Sci-Fi: Halo: Master Chief Collection (PC)

Halo: The Master Chief Collection
What We Like
  • Play through the entire Halo history with one collection

  • Great campaign and multiplayer

  • Map editing and customization with Forge editor

What We Don't Like
  • Older games may not always have the most populated servers

  • Some remade graphics are not as charming as the old ones

The Halo series is one of the most well-known entries in the sci-fi universe. You used to have to purchase each one separately on older consoles. Now, you can play through most of the series across Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which is more than just great value for players. It's also a handy way to get ready for the next entry in the series, debuting in 2021: Halo Infinite

It also makes for a simple way for players looking to get back into the series to play the games without relying on older consoles and hardware. It's easier than ever to play Halo with others online, especially with Steam support. This is the best, most modern way to enjoy Halo, and it's the most affordable as well.

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios | Developer: 343 Industries | Release Date: December 2019 | Genre: First-person shooter | ESRB Rating: M (Mature) | Players: 1-16 (online) | Install Size: 125GB

Best Roguelike: Hades (PC)

Hades
What We Like
  • Challenging, addictive roguelike gameplay

  • Intriguing story that follows Greek mythology

  • Absolutely dazzling artwork and character illustrations

What We Don't Like
  • Progress may be too slow for some

  • Narrative won’t change with future replays

Zagreus, the son of Hades himself, is trying to escape the Underworld. But he can’t reach his new life on his own: He needs the help of the mighty gods of Mount Olympus, whose distinct powers grant Zagreus new abilities or buffs along the way. Your combination of “boons” in tandem with your chosen weapon (sword, spear, shield, bow, etc.) can make a big difference in how you face the monsters blocking each escape attempt, and discovering how they enhance the fast-paced and precise combat is a big part of the fun.

In standard roguelike fashion, dying means starting over from the beginning, with procedurally generated room layouts, enemies, and challenges for each playthrough. What makes Hades feel fresh, though, is how the game deftly turns failures into opportunity—a chance to upgrade skills, try new buffs, pick a different weapon, learn more of the fascinating story. It’s a satisfying journey that’s very much worth taking, since the slow burn is part of the game’s charm. It also doesn’t hurt that the artwork, music, and basically every aspect of the presentation is fantastic the whole way through.

Publisher: Supergiant Games | Developer: Supergiant Games | Release Date: September 2020 | Genre: Action RPG, Roguelike | ESRB Rating: T (Teen) | Players: 1 | Install Size: 15GB

Best Music Game: Fuser (PC)

Fuser
What We Like
  • A wide variety of songs to mix together

  • Intuitive song mixing structure

  • Really feels as though you’re a festival DJ

What We Don't Like
  • Only snippets of most songs to mix

  • Campaign can be completed relatively quickly

Fuser is the next logical evolution of what Guitar Hero and Rock Band developer Harmonix was capable of. It lets you be the DJ, mixing music on the fly for a live crowd, working your way from festival stages to even larger arenas, hoping to emerge as one of the biggest EDM artists the world has ever seen.

You go into a performance with a set of songs chosen from a huge catalog of hits that spans decades and genres of music. On stage, you pick out pieces of these tracks—the drums, bass line, lead instrument, or vocals—and mix them together based on audience request or, really, your own musical whims. 

The game introduces more advanced skills and effects as you go through the campaign, but just playing around in Freestyle mode as a beginner results in mashups that are surprisingly cohesive and entertaining. If you feel like showing off your skills, you can share creations with the online community, or compete or collaborate live with fellow DJs. It’s a great way to experience the thrill of a live music festival or dance party even when you can’t get out of the house.

Publisher: NCSoft | Developer: Harmonix | Release Date: November 2020 | Genre: Rhythm | ESRB Rating: T (Teen) | Players: 1-12 (online) | Install Size: 16GB

Best Open World: Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077
What We Like
  • Unparalleled visual quality

  • Immense open-world cityscape

  • Lifelike character models and animation

  • Engaging campaign and side plots

What We Don't Like
  • Rampant, gaming-breaking bugs

  • Poor performance on all but high-end PCs

  • Broken AI

Cyberpunk 2077 is the result of years’ worth of development and hype from CD Projekt RED, the same team that brought us the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, another open-world PC RPG powerhouse. Cyberpunk 2077, though, puts players into a dramatically new setting.

Best described as a futuristic Grand Theft Auto, it drops you into the life of a protagonist named V, whose gender, appearance, and backstory you get to choose. As you follow the compelling main narrative, you’ll explore the massive urban area of Night City, populated with jaw-dropping details and character models that push the graphical limits of anything but the latest gaming rigs. Plus, there’s a huge helping of Keanu Reeves.

Stealing the show at Cyberpunk 2077’s launch, however, were the large numbers of obvious technical issues that players encountered throughout the game, and it’s hard to deny that the bugs often broke the immersion—if not the game itself. Fortunately, more recent patches have begun addressing the issues in mass quantities, and with a bit of patience, there is still plenty of excellent storytelling and ruthless dystopian wonder to be discovered throughout Night City.

Publisher: CD Projekt | Developer: CD Projekt Red | Release Date: December 2020 | Genre: Action RPG | ESRB Rating: M (Mature) | Players: 1 | Install Size: 70GB

"Driving out of a garage for the first time into a canyon of towering sci-fi skyscrapers bedecked in holograms and neon is one of those awe-inspiring moments that come only fleetingly in video games." Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Best RPG: Larian Studios Divinity Original Sin II

Divinity: Original Sin II - Definitive Edition
What We Like
  • Rich, complex story

  • Open-ended character creation and decision-making

  • Unpredictably entertaining four-player co-op

What We Don't Like
  • Graphics and style somewhat dated

  • All the freedom can get messy

Within today’s gaming landscape of advanced visual technology and fast-paced action, Divinity Original Sin II has found success with classic elements. It’s an old-school isometric-style turn-based RPG that puts the focus on story and freedom. You can play as a pre-made character or create one of your own, fully customized with appearance, stats, and skills of your choosing.

You set off on your adventure with up to three other companions, each with their own agendas (especially if you play co-op multiplayer), and tackle your quests however you see fit. You can split up, talk to who you want, help who you want, throw fireballs at who you want. Anything can happen—not always for the best, but always as a result of your choices.

This means certain paths can often be blocked off from you (sometimes as a bug), and it can be a true challenge to figure out how to proceed. Combat, too, often calls for careful strategy and planning to emerge from situations alive. It’s all part of building your own story, and the complex pieces of it you gather along the way are all brilliantly written and rewarding to unravel.

Publisher: Larian Studios | Developer: Larian Studios | Release Date: September 2017 | Genre: RPG | ESRB Rating: M (Mature) | Players: 1-4 | Install Size: 60GB

Final Verdict

While it is now one of the older games on our list, the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (view at Amazon) remains a modern standard-setter for PC gaming with its strong story, exciting combat, and rich open world.

For first-person shooter fans, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (view at Walmart) and the Halo: Master Chief Collection (view at Microsoft) are both excellent options with a variety of multiplayer modes to keep you and your friends busy.

About Our Trusted Experts

Anton Galang is a writer and editor who started covering technology with PC Magazine in 2007. As a Lifewire contributor, he has reviewed and written about games, hardware, and all manner of tech products.

Andy Zahn has been writing for Lifewire since 2019, covering gadgets, games, and consumer technology, including in-depth reviews for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Cyberpunk 2077.

What to Look for in a PC Game

Genre

The main thing you need to consider when you're game shopping is what kind of games you enjoy most. It doesn't matter how well designed a game is if it's the sort of thing you're never going to play, so if you love first-person shooters, it's possible that flight sims just aren't for you. We've picked some of the best of every genre and tried to be as inclusive as possible, so regardless of which types of games you most enjoy, there's likely something for you on our list.

Length

Sure, a 100-hour JRPG might seem like a great value proposition for your $60, but if you're a busy professional you might actually get more fun out of a short linear shooter (and more satisfaction when you're actually able to finish it). There are also a growing number of games-as-a-service that offer a continually evolving suite of systems and gameplay that you can dip into whenever you like, often for one flat fee.

Narrative

If you're the sort of gamer that loves a rich story and a fully developed, immersive world, you may take as much (or more) satisfaction from an adventure game or visual novel as from the latest Activision FPS. On the other hand, if you get your story kicks from books, films, and/or TV, maybe an addictive little puzzle game or a MOBA is the best gaming investment for you.

FAQ
  • Will I be able to run these games on my PC?

    It depends on your particular hardware setup and how graphically demanding the game is, but many of today’s top titles do call for higher-end specs to achieve a certain level of visual quality. Desktops and laptops built specifically for gaming should handle them just fine.

    For other machines, be sure to check each game’s minimum and recommended system requirements. You’ll need a fast enough processor with enough RAM, but a powerful graphics card such as a dedicated GPU from Nvidia or AMD is often more important. You may still be able to run the game on lower-end hardware at the cost of reduced framerates and lower graphics settings.

    Keep in mind that you’ll also need enough hard drive space to download and install the game and its required updates, which can mean file sizes in the tens of gigabytes, sometimes topping 100GB.

  • Can these games be played on a Mac?

    While some PC games are also released for Apple’s macOS, more often than not they’re designed only to run on Microsoft’s Windows operating system. However, it is possible to use Boot Camp to install Windows on a Mac, and new game streaming services including Google Stadia allow you to play games through an internet connection and bypass the hardware requirements.

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