Sony and Microsoft may have hogged the limelight this Christmas, with their new PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, but there's one gaming platform that's consistently overlooked in the media: The humble personal computer.
PC gaming has several advantages over console gaming – even next-gen console gaming. The first is that you have more control over your gaming experience; you can upgrade your machine's CPU, GPU, RAM, and HDD at any time. You don't have to wait five years or more for console manufacturers such as Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony to churn out new hardware.
Video games released for PCs, therefore, have the graphical potential to be leaps and bounds better than their console counterparts – the Tomb Raider reboot, for example, is absolutely gorgeous on the PC.
Also, interacting with certain games and genres (RTS, point-and-click adventures, and first-person shooters most notably) can be far more intuitive and slick with a mouse-and-keyboard combo – though console-like gamepads and joysticks are often compatible, depending on the game.
The flipside of this PC advantage, however, is that PC gaming carries the stigma of being an expensive hobby due to the cost of high-end gaming rigs from the likes of Alienware.
However, you can very easily build a reasonably capable machine for around £500 – and save cash buying PC games online through services like Steam, which offers mid-week, weekend, and seasonal sales ranging from 20 to 75 per cent discounts on regular prices.
If you're ready to PC game, check out our ten favourite titles of the moment below. Think that we've overlooked a hot title? Sound off in the comments section.
Guild Wars 2 (£24)
ArenaNet's massively multiplayer online role-playing game is set in the world of Tyria, a land overrun by hulking dragons. Your mission? Reunite the troubled Destiny's Edge guild and combat the fire-breathing threat. Players select a race, profession, and skill set which they use to battle foes in PVE (player versus computer controlled enemies) and PVP (player versus player) combat. Guild Wars 2 also features "World versus World" persistent battles that see players entering cross-server wars. Despite being a MMOG, Guild Wars 2 has no monthly fee, meaning that your pockets won’t suffer due to the online warfare.
The King of Fighters XIII Steam Edition (£23)
The King of Fighters XIII: Steam Edition brings SNK Playmore’s excellent 3-on-3 team fighting game to the PC. If you’ve knuckled up against friends and foes in the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, you’ll feel right at home as the deep mechanics and beautiful visuals are wonderfully ported to the home computer. Even better, this Steam Edition includes all the console DLC and The King of Fighters XIII: Climax arcade additions. It may very well be the best 2D fighter on the PC.
League of Legends (free)
Riot Games’s mega-popular MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) game features two teams of "champions" engaged in either 3-vs-3 or 5-vs-5 combat. Each team starts on opposite sides of the map, with their mission being to destroy the opposing side’s Nexus after ploughing through defensive turrets, monsters, and minions. Earned experience points and gold lets you improve your fighter’s abilities, and outfit warriors with better combat tools. League of Legends is a very team-oriented game, so find a crew of like-minded folk and have a blast. If not playing with friends, however, be warned that grizzled LoL veterans have famously little patience when it comes to “noobs” letting their side down.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (£13)
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is a near-perfect blend of three wonderful childhood staples: Comic books, video games, and, well, LEGO. Steeped in Marvel Comics goodness, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes puts players in the role of a superhero team (a wonderful mish-mash of over 100 comic book characters) tasked with recovering all-powerful Cosmic Bricks that are scattered around the globe before top-tier baddies such as Loki, Dr. Doom, and Magneto get their hands on the cubes. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is one of the most smiling-inducing games of the year, and should be on the want-list of every comic book or LEGO fan. It’s also a prime example of how the PC can be far more cost-effective than consoles in terms of game pricing – you can pick this up for just over a tenner on the PC, yet if you want the PS4 or Xbox One version, then you’re looking at an outlay of almost £40.
You can play Minecraft on nearly anything that has a power button, but we shouldn't forget its beginnings on the PC. Minecraft is a blocky, beautiful sandbox in which you can build pretty much anything that comes to mind. The core of the game is exploring and surviving in a hostile world made from building blocks that you can build with as you please. But as you play, you'll quickly see that this game has so much more to offer than just architecture. Hint: Be careful when then the sun goes down.
Papers, Please (£7)
Papers, Please is a simulator in which you play as an inspector working in a fictional communist nation. Your responsibilities are to inspect immigrants' documentation and either approve them to enter the country, deny them, or have them arrested for contraband, false documentation, and so forth. But you have a family to support – do you risk getting canned in order to let a person with a sob story into the country? Test your integrity with this intriguing and very different indie title.
Rogue Legacy (£12)
Cellar Door Games took the roguelike genre and gave it mainstream accessibility with Rogue Legacy, an indie action game. As with any roguelike, Rogue Legacy will slaughter you; death is an integral part of the gameplay. Each time you push up daisies, however, Rogue Legacy randomly generates an heir who continues the family's quest to rid a castle of dark forces. Each son or daughter has his or her own special traits, which is fitting because each time you enter the castle, the layout is randomly generated.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (£21)
Blizzard Entertainment has a reputation for taking a long, long time to release games, but military strategy fans were more than a little pleased that the developer took its time expertly crafting StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. The sequel to the award winning StarCraft sees three factions – the Protoss, Terrans, and Zerg – battling it out with weapons both old and new.
Team Fortress 2 (free)
Valve's team-based first-person shooter is almost five years old, but the game's personality and comedic take on the FPS keeps it fresh. TF2 lets players take the role of one of nine offensive, defensive, and support classes – Scout, Soldier, Pyro, Demoman, Heavy, Engineer, Medic, Sniper, and Spy – in a war between two organisations, RED (Reliable Excavation & Demolition) and BLU (Builders League United). The game's recently gone free-to-play, so you can jump into the shenanigans without opening your wallet.
Torchlight II (£15)
All hail the new action-RPG king! Runic Games' monster-slaying title manages to out-Diablo the legendary Diablo with its unique, hand-drawn art style, customisable skill trees, randomised dungeons, pets (hawks, dogs, and more), and the ability to actually – gasp! – play the game without an Internet connection. Torchlight II also includes a “New Game Plus” mode that allows you to tackle a new set of challenges with your character and skills intact after you complete the game's main campaign.