The enduring appeal of the PC has always come from its diversity. It's the home of immensely intricate RTSes, along with cutthroat and complex MOBAs that amass millions of combatants each month. It's the platform to find merciless and twitchy FPSes, time-sinking management simulators, life-absorbing digital card games, virtual reality experiments, extravagant blockbusters, and of course leagues of original, abstract, unconventional curios.
While the PC is the spiritual home of more daring and distinct games (standout 2015 entrants include The Beginner's Guide and Undertale), it also offered an embarrassment of riches in terms of traditional AAA titles. Every entrant in our top five has also been developed for consoles, but they are nevertheless the most ambitious, expansive, and rewarding games you’ll play this year.
We could hardly compile a list of 2015's best PC games without mentioning The Witcher 3, a title which sets a new benchmark for fantasy action-RPGs. Vastness and longevity are not always desirable qualities in their own right, but in this case the story of supernatural contract killer Geralt of Rivia spans more than 100 hours and so much of it will linger in the memory. Your journey across the immense Northern Kingdoms involves genuinely interesting characters, memorable locations, major plot decisions that fall on your shoulders, and awe-inspiring monsters to free from the earth. It's the attention to detail, the sharp writing, the vivid characters, and the epic heroics that makes every hour enjoyable.
It would be foolish not to mention Rocket League as well; it’s clearly the best multiplayer game released this year. This is a soccer title with a perverse, ingenious twist: the footballers have been replaced by cars. Your shiny blocks of metal and carbon fiber lack the extremities required for nuanced ball control, yet can go from 0-60 in a couple of seconds. The result is a masterfully berserk depiction of the beautiful game, with players tumbling across stadiums, boosting their thrusters skyward, flipping and twisting their rollcages with a bloodthirsty desire to collide with a giant beach ball. While this chaotic spin on soccer seems like an awful idea on paper, in practice it's an inelegant masterpiece, eliciting an explosion of emotions in players.
The Metal Gear series is one with PlayStation and the MSX consoles at its roots, but Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain represents a change in direction at Konami, being the first in the series to launch day-and-date alongside the console editions. It also happens to be the greatest stealth game of all time, replacing the series' room-by-room level structure with a vast stretch of Afghan desert. The freedom in your approach to each mission adds a dazzling degree of strategy and planning, something that had a natural limit in previous games. The AI, which has always been excellent throughout the series, now has the freedom to be truly spectacular, with enemies reacting and adapting to signs of your presence. It's by no means perfect (the story’s final stretch being particularly divisive) but this is an extraordinary achievement nonetheless.
Fallout 4 represents another remarkable achievement in a year packed with acclaimed, high profile games. Even for a Bethesda title, the degree of freedom offered to the player here is outstanding. A whole library of side-quests can be discovered and pursued at your convenience, while your instruments of death in its bleak world can be crafted and modified to your heart’s content. Dig deeper and you’ll discover further options to strengthen amour, mix your own alchemy of potions, and pick out your favourites from an extensive menu of imaginative ability perks. Then there’s options to build entire structures, optionally with their own electrical circuits and horticultural ecosystems, from the materials you have scavenged along the way. Fallout 4 is fundamentally an archaic game, thrusting you into its world with little guidance or the slickened mollycoddling of modern AAA games. What it offers instead is a promise that every moment of curiosity, and every creative thought you conjure in its world, will be handsomely rewarded.
The fifth entrant in our list is Kerbal Space Program, a compulsive simulation of an Apollo mission. It strikes a wonderful balance, educating players on the intricacies of putting a man on the moon while offering satisfying trial-and-error gameplay. The semi-real physics model is complex, but still simplified compared to what NASA gets up to. It's not quite rocket science, but when weeks of iterating finally carry your adorable Kerbal into the depths of space, you’ll certainly feel like a genius. "Edutainment" is too dirty a word for the joy it provides, but when you realise you didn’t include enough oxygen for the trip back, you’ll have learned an important lesson.