Getting a new gaming PC is a bit like opening Pandora’s Box when it comes to deciding what to play. With frequent releases on Steam, an endless stream of free games in the Epic Games Store, a wealth of indie arthouse games on itch.io and countless other launchers and storefronts to install and choose from, it can feel like the Netflix effect of paralysis after own choice.
So if you’ve got yourself a new PC for the holidays, or even earlier, this list of excellent games released this year is one reason to consider. Some may be no-brainer because they are the biggest releases in the last few months, but others should not be overlooked.
Many titles featured here can be downloaded and played via a PC Game Pass subscription, the PC version of Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, while subscribers to the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will have access to games on both Xbox and PC platforms. Whether you prefer to buy each title individually or subscribe to access many, here are our best games that you can start your new gaming PC with.
This may be the most obvious first choice, as it is without a doubt the biggest game release of the holiday, however Halo Infinite’s open world promises to be both a technological test of PC hardware and a compelling title for any fun recurring solo campaign. Combine that with the free-to-play online multiplayer that was launched early, and glory is back, honey!
Now there are some omissions and key features missing at launch, but there is still a lot to enjoy with Halo infinite in its present form. It will hopefully only get better from here as they eventually expand it with campaign co-op and continue to grow multiplayer.
Forza Horizon 5
What happens when you mix a host of cars, Playground Games’ open world arcade racing franchise and the beautiful landscape of Mexico? You get the best racing game of 2021, complete with AI Drivatars based on your friends list to challenge you. Part of the fun about Forza Horizon 5 is you can play it as you want. Want to embrace its hardcore motorsport site? There are cars and courses for that. Do you want to take it off-road in the mud and mud? It’s here too. Do you prefer to take it easy and just enjoy driving around? The rewind feature makes it easy to undo any careless mistakes that could cost you a run. Forza Horizon 5 provides a great pick-up-and-play experience and there is a lot to experience among all cars and environments.
It does not have to be an eerie season for you to join one of the best indie hits of the year. Encryption is a horror-themed deck building deck game with a mix of rogue-like loop progression. The real trick, though, is how the game keeps changing things on you as the story progresses. We are not getting into spoilers here, but be prepared for some unexpected twists.
Even if you’re hardly a fan of card games or escape rooms – even if you’ve just played a few games Magic: The Gathering as a child or made an escape room with friends at their highest a few years ago – you should try it Encryption. It may not put your PC’s graphics to the test, but if you have a good screen with quality black levels, you can really immerse yourself in the creepy aesthetics while playing cards and sacrificing little monsters to fight your creepy AI opponent, hiding in the shadows.
Back 4 Blood
Back 4 Blood is the spiritual successor to Left 4 dead franchise of four-player co-op zombie shooter. It not only has a title in the same style, but also retains some of the original Left 4 dead developers of Turtle Rock Studios. Now, Back 4 Blood merges the classic, collaborative FPS action of Left 4 dead with a modern offering of power-ups based on a card system. The cards make each session feel a little different, keeping you on your toes as you mow down hordes of zombies and have to adjust to what fate draws you. Aside from the maps, the weapons and characters are filled with the intricacies of the series’ stars. Make yourself three friends to team up with and blow up zombie after zombie until you’ve had your fill.
Age of Empires IV
That Age of Empires the series is old enough to be past his college life and struggles through a middle job while living in a miserable apartment, but Age of Empires IV is a captivating new sequel that feels like its roots. Anyone who has played a classic RTS before will be at home here, however, judging by conversations in The Verge Slacks channels that the home is very addictive. Age of Empires IV expert scratches that itch after base building, squad placement and massive battles. The campaigns are pretty close, but be sure to try playing like the Mongols for a new twist on the old formula – with hit-and-run tactics and mobility as the new keys to the game.
The door of death
There is no more beautiful game from 2021 than The door of death. It’s enough of a pleasure just to watch, with a lush world that is beautifully animated, but the gameplay feels sub-Zelda, part-Dark souls, and all-satisfying when in action. The Nintendo Switch release came out just last month, but playing it on a PC to make sure the visuals are as juicy as possible works wonders to make this lovely virtual space as immersive and captivating as it can be. Do not sleep on this indie hit. It’s a great way to spend a dozen hours of your time, and come on – the protagonist is just that so dælme sweet.
Hot Wheels: Triggered
Imagine being a kid again and having an unlimited budget to build and run races on the craziest Hot Wheels track you could ever imagine. Now, even better, you’re an adult, and instead of tying up all your money and floor space in plastic lanes and 1:64 scale-molded metal cars, you can play Hot Wheels: Triggered. But before you copy this as a kids video game, look at the dedication that the developers at Milestone put into all of these toy car models. There are 60 cars that you can assemble and race, each one lovingly rendered down to its small toy details, with visible damage to the vehicle that is very similar to the way actual Hot Wheels develop wear. Add these visual styles to the high-speed race with split-screen support and you have a fun arcade race that looks and plays great on an advanced PC.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite
If a game like Back 4 Blood sounds appealing to its co-op chops, but you feel like zombies are a little tired, check it out Aliens: Fireteam Elite. This is a three-player shooter game that sets you up against the big xenomorphs. Foreigners franchise learning. There are a touch of RPG passive buffs to pick from in your class loadouts, but in the end, it’s fun to shoot aliens with friends. Keep your communications open and your tactics tight because these acid-blooded monsters like to swarm.
Few games have received as much criticism and expectation from fans for a sequel as the original Psychonauts. Now, 16 years later, the classic Double Fine action-adventure game is finally getting its follow-up. Like the original, Psychonauts 2 is full of charm, excellent voice acting and fun writing that, while light-hearted, also addresses some deeply personal themes. It feels a bit like an older game, for better or worse, but with a great design that is supremely unique. Psychonauts 2 takes you on a journey of joyful platforming and thoughtful empathy. Do not miss this, especially if you already have a subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate or PC Game Pass.
Few games exhibit a sense of speed and agility quite like Boomerang X. First-person action games are about maintaining momentum while flying around arenas using your character’s boomerang. Throw it at enemies to cut them up, then jump towards it to get air combinations reminiscent of old visceral air stunts Trembling rocket jump. The visual style and lighting of Boomerang X ensure that each arena is fun to explore and that enemies keep it fresh and challenging. While Boomerang X is also available on the Nintendo Switch, I think it’s the best experience to play with a mouse and a keyboard. You get more precise control and it really feels like a shooter from a bygone era with very fresh ideas.
OK, so I cheated a little. Umurangi generation first came out in 2020, not 2021. But double check that headline and figure it out – consider this an added bonus because I can not leave any option to recommend Umurangi generation and it is Macro DLC for anyone. The Nintendo Switch version was released in 2021, but even though it has new tilt controls, I think it’s worth playing this excellent indie darling on a PC for the best representation of its amazing images.
Umurangi generation is a first-person photography game that drips of style and weaves an excellent narrative through environmental storytelling. Enjoy its vibrant aesthetic, expansive photographic camera controls and stunning soundtrack by ThorHighHeels – all the while the sense of dread sets in from its post-apocalyptic world. Remember, even if you do not want to see the world burn, you have no choice.