Are people even debating whether or not a PC is a worthwhile purchase if your aim is to play games? Buying a PC is typically a costlier endeavor than splurging on a single console, certainly, but gaming PCs have become a greater and greater bargain, and several of the Steam Machines on the horizon will be bringing PC gaming to your living room at console prices. And while older games aren’t always guaranteed to work, backwards compatibility isn’t a vital concern: PCs don’t subscribe to console generations, and many classics have been patched, updated, and improved to run on the fastest of modern computers. There’s no question about it: a PC made from moderately powerful hardware gives you access to the most games, the prettiest games, and the most interesting games from the past, the present, and the future.
The PC’s library is larger than any other current platform’s by several orders of magnitude--and running most current games doesn’t mean spending an arm, a leg, and a remaining pinky toe on powerful hardware and fancy liquid-cooling systems. The repertoire is seemingly endless, loaded with old favorites, modern gems, and fanciful experiments that are changing the face of the industry.
A simple look at Steam, Valve’s digital storefront, tells you most of what you need to know. Most of the so-called triple-A games that monopolize the conversation find a home on the PC. You know the ones: Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, FIFA, Tomb Raider, BioShock, and so forth. And not only do many of these games find their way to the PC, but they look visually superior in almost all instances, making the PC the one system you need if good looks are your primary concern. Furthermore, the PC is still the natural home for several genres, real-time strategy games chief among them.
But as important as many of the multiplatform games are, the PC has singlehandedly altered the landscape with games that owe their successes to the machine that does everything. League of Legends and StarCraft II dominate the e-sports scene, while innovative games like MineCraft and DayZ not only found and built audiences, but introduced trends that inspire development studios on every platform. And if you want to take a trip down memory lane, or experience the classics of their day for the first time, games like Planescape: Torment, Half-Life, System Shock 2, and Deus Ex are easily available and every bit as wonderful as they once were.
The advent of the pre-release purchase and the rise of crowdfunding have ensured that the future of PC games is as bright as the blazing sun. Starbound isn’t even officially out, yet over a million people have already purchased it, enamored by its unique blend of exploration and survival. Famed developer Peter Molyneux is bringing us Godus, which looks to bring the joys of god games like Populous to a modern audience. Then there’s Star Citizen, Chris Roberts’ upcoming space sim, which has astoundingly raised over $36 million in crowdfunding. The crowdfunding explosion has reinvigorated traditional ideas and new innovations alike. If you have lamented the dearth of deep isometric role-playing games, Divinity: Original Sin and Wasteland 2 are prepared to quench your thirst. If you long to test your strategic wits, Planetary Annihilation and Age of Wonders III shall be competing for your time.
Lest you think that the folks at Blizzard have forgotten the platform that paved the way to their success, don’t forget upcoming expansions for both Diablo III and StarCraft II. There are multiplatform games coming too, of course, though some, like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, seem to me like PC-centric games through and through. And I’m willing to bet that even upcoming multiplatform games like Titanfall, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Watch Dogs will look better on the PC than any other platform--including the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
PC hardware is as varied as its game library, and the finest machines don’t come cheaply. Yet the high price of PC gaming is often overstated, in part because high-end enthusiast components break the bank quickly. You could drop $1000 alone on a multi-GPU graphics card like the GeForce GTX 690 before adding the additional costs of a motherboard, a CPU, and whatever other doodads you want to add. But unless 5760X1080 is a meaningful resolution to you, you needn’t empty your checking account for a good PC that plays recent games at reasonable resolutions and settings. Few developers are pushing the limits of all those cores, so there’s no reason you can’t build or buy a sub-$1000 PC that meets reasonable gaming needs.
Of course, the least expensive PCs cross over into console-price territory, and if you aren’t a do-it-yourselfer, various manufacturers are preparing to release affordable Steam Machines that run Valve’s Steam OS and support the upcoming Steam Controller. And with the money you save, you might want to keep your eye on the PC gaming hardware that further supplements your experience. Hardware like the Oculus Rift, which is the closest yet we’ve come to experiencing virtual reality. Hardware like the TrackIR headtracker, which brings more authenticity to games like ARMA III. And hardware like the endless keyboards, mice, racing wheels, and gamepads vying for your attention.
In case you haven’t noticed, PCs were doing the whole “not just for gaming” thing before console manufacturers ever considered offering experiences that weren’t games. But of course you did notice, because computers aren’t just gaming platforms: for many of us, they are the way in which we interface with the world. “Including a web browser” may be something to celebrate on other machines, but accessing the Internet is a way of life for almost every PC owner. It is how we consume news and entertainment. It is how we discover ideas and express our own. And, for better or for worse, it is often how we socialize with others.
People have rightfully celebrated machines like the Wii for making games an entertainment choice for every member of the family, but the PC had already been doing that for many years. Grandmothers were playing online Scrabble before we were talking about how they were tending farms on Facebook, let alone before we were talking about how they played Wii Tennis with the family. In 2000, The Sims introduced a new kind of experience to the gaming public--and a new audience to games. While companies have struggled to create a gaming machine that has universal appeal, they overlooked the obvious: the PC is that machine already. It has been that way for quite some time, and it will remain that way for some time to come.
Viva la PC!