Every new PC requires the obligatory christening of your browser of choice, Steam, other game storefronts, and miscellaneous productivity apps (in my case, that’s Obsidian, VCV, Reaper, Guitar Pro, and Reason..new computer days are super busy for me) are obvious immediate downloads. But once you’ve got the basics, it’s time to grab some games. But which ones are your must-haves? The most essential software that no machine of yours ought to be without?
Kotaku has gathered together a number of great games that we simply can’t help but reflexively download on a new machine. These are our essentials, go-tos, games that we do not want to be without should the internet spontaneously go out (though some of these do require an internet connection).
With titles ranging from first-person shooters, to single player RPGs, MMOs, and beloved indie games, there’s a lot of ground to cover, but you’ll be able to get through this list long before you can actually download all of these games.
2 / 18
Sometime in college I had heard of this intense, machine-melting game. It was hyped as a testament to experiences that could only be had on PC. Its name would be whispered by those who didn’t have the horsepower to keep up with its demands. Largely being a console gamer myself, Crysis’ very name struck me too with fear and awe.
After many ports, two full sequels, and a remaster, Crysis, the epic shooter that would once make the most powerful GPUs break a sweat, doesn’t necessarily occupy that same spot. Arguably Cyberpunk 2077 took that throne—but with 2077 being multiplatform from the start, it never quite took on that exclusive status. You can be sure that if I have a new computer, it means that I’ve upgraded, and that means I’m here to see how many damn frames of Crysis it can push.
Arguably, the 2021 remaster of this title has made the original version a little obsolete. It’s prettier overall and runs better. But revisiting the game this way also reveals another reason it’s a must-install: the original Crysis is a vision of a game that I wish more first-person shooters would take inspiration from. With incredible levels of destruction, open environments, and high levels of item interaction, it deserves to be celebrated for more than just its visual allure.
3 / 18
I have regrettably failed to truly dive into the exquisite depth that No Man’s Sky has become in the years since its 2016 release. But that’s never stopped this game from occupying a special place in my gaming life, and space on my storage mediums. When NMS first hit PS4 nearly seven years ago, I was perfectly content with what that debut experience was—and sometimes I mourn the loss of its more simple identity.
Read More: 10 Meh Games That Became Killer With Updates
No Man’s Sky lets me just simply exist in a limitless galaxy, surfing the stars, traveling from planet to planet, resisting the call to use my pulse engines in favor of entering a planet at the very edge of its atmosphere and simply coasting to a location it tells me will take hours to reach.
I appreciate every addition the game has received, and I’m happy for those who’ve gotten the game they always wanted out of this space sim. But being able to just drift in the cosmos is…well, it hits that very part of the brain that Carl Sagan spoke so endearingly of in his life:
The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us—there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.
Being able to occupy that, whenever I want, makes No Man’s Sky essential.
4 / 18
Sleeping Dogs may never get a sequel or a live-action film starring Donnie Yen, but it will forever be the first video game I install on a new PC. What’s not to love about Sleeping Dogs? You play as a charismatic, trash-talking undercover cop with a heart of gold named Wei Shen (motherf*cker!) as he attempts to take down the detestable triad leader, Sam “Dogeyes” Lin.
Your journey toward dishing out stone-cold justice comes with its fair share of wacky and wildly entertaining pit stops. For example, Wei Shen is a big karaoke buff and will belt out the lyrics to popular songs like A-Ha’s “Take On Me,” The Clash’s “I Fought the Law,” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” in a pre-Trombone Champ-style gameplay. Speaking of gameplay, Sleeping Dogs also features a kinetic Batman: Arkham Asylum-style combat with John Woo-esque shootouts that’d put Max Payne and Jet Li: Rise to Honor to shame.
That being said, what I enjoy most about my constant replays of Sleeping Dogs is its immaculate nightlife vibes. Before starting or ending a Sleeping Dogs play session, I’ll religiously listen to its classical music radio station while aimlessly driving a boat in circles before beating up cops and criminals alike because that feeling is simply euphoric. Oh, you also go on a date with Emma Stone’s character and play wedding planner for Lucy Liu’s character Vivienne Lu, which is just lovely.
Not to be outdone by Wei Shen’s pizzazz, Sleeping Dogs’ pedestrians and street vendors will utter the most bizarre shit I’ve ever heard while perusing night markets or blitzing down alleyways toward my next mission. My favorite line goes to the Pork Bun vendor who, without fail, will guilt trip me into buying a pork bun because “a man who never eats pork buns is never a whole man.” That’s the art of the deal at work, baybee. Play Sleeping Dogs. Isaiah Colbert, Staff Writer.
5 / 18
Spelunky, the platforming roguelike, technically has a sequel that makes everything bigger and better. You’d think that would be the game I’d want, but no. Spelunky and its tough-love design, where your greatest asset is learning how things work, has been called a perfect game by some people. It’s definitely an all-time great for the genre, at least. And it’s also a small enough game that I can download quickly and enjoy it without having to worry about space, internet speed, or if it’s going to be good.
Spelunky is the rare game that captures a sense of wonder and magic, and while its secrets have been detailed thoroughly by the internet, I’ve managed to avoid the particulars after all these years. And, let’s be real, I’m not sure I’m good enough to achieve some of the deep-cut stuff in the game. I haven’t beat Spelunky and I’m not sure I ever will, but I’m happy to keep ambiently trying. Patricia Hernandez, Editor in Chief
6 / 18
RetroArch isn’t a game, but rather a time machine where we may enjoy unquestionably legal copies of the classics (you wouldn’t emulate a car, would you?). It has helped me rediscover old PSX games I’ve been long-since disconnected from while also discovering the wonders of past generations I didn’t have the fortune of access to.
It’s a recent addition to my must-downloads, but once I finally was able to wrap my head around RetroArch’s many eccentricities and ways of setting up games, and core options, latency issues for netplay, shader presets, and how to friggin’ finally get these things to display at an appropriate framerate, it’s clear: No computational device of mine that can run RetroArch is to be without it (and it’s stellar on the Steam Deck too).
7 / 18
The first game I always install on a new PC, and then keep installed there, forever taunting me, is World of Warcraft. I don’t even know why, exactly. It’s not as if I’m a consistent WoW player. I only ever played devotedly for some six months or so back when the game first launched, and Blizzard’s MMO is hardly some graphical powerhouse, perfect for seeing what your new machine can really do.
But you know what World of Warcraft does have, what defining quality I haven’t been able to shake in all the years since I first traversed Azeroth? It has vibes. Oh man, does it have vibes. The way the Night Elf town of Astranaar felt—its lush purple hues, its deep forest energy so rich you could practically smell the abundant greenery growing around you—was particularly powerful for me, but every zone of Blizzard’s game was similarly evocative, created with such care that you felt the atmosphere reaching out of the screen and surrounding you.
Those incredible vibes made such an impression on me that they became, in a way, intrinsically linked to the experience of PC gaming in my mind. So whenever I get a new PC, one of the first things I want to do is just revisit that place, that feeling. I always half-toy with the idea of fully getting back into WoW, seeing what it’s like today, exploring its landscapes anew, but it never happens. Instead, the icon just remains on my desktop, reminding me of how it felt to immerse myself in Azeroth all those years ago. Carolyn Petit, Managing Editor.
8 / 18
Look, they’re gonna bury me with a copy of Halo: Combat Evolved. As one of my top five video games of all time, before The Master Chief Collection hit PC I would always install the (flawed) Gearbox port on my machines—typically followed by the stellar SPV3 mod, which contains the truest vision of where the sequels (good as though they are) should’ve gone.
There’s no point counting how many times I’ve played various Halo (my Steam library estimates nearly 700 hours on MCC alone). And now that The Master Chief Collection is in beautiful working order (and now fully works on Steam Deck) on PC, that number, whatever it is, is just gonna keep going up with these timeless shooters—yes, that includes 4, damn it. MCC is simply an all-you-can-play Halo buffet. It’s all here: The classics, the memories, and the future.
9 / 18
Though it has its fair share of valid criticism, Final Fantasy VIII was yet another powerful experience of my youth, one that I shall only part with when my mortal form expires. Despite the original PC version containing serious issues, anything of my possession that can run Final Fantasy VIII simply had to have it installed. The recent remaster has made that much better (though it has a few annoyances of its own).
Like Final Fantasy VII, I find VIII’s characters, story, world, and soundtrack to be emotionally nourishing. I’m fully aware that I’m dwelling in some deep nostalgia here, but I don’t care. As a very troubled, insular child from a broken home, Squall and crew offered parasocial relationships to me before I ever knew that word.
I also delight in the puzzle that is this game. What even is this story about? Time travel? Space witches? What the hell is that ending? Final Fantasy VIII’s many twists and turns are of a bizarre caliber that I love thinking about for hours on end, even if I know it will never make complete sense. And that extends to its gameplay: Yeah, the Junction system is messed up, but I love breaking this game in that way. The entire system feels oddly resonant to the narrative. Like VII, this is another “new game every year” title for me.
Read More: Is Squall Really Dead? Final Fantasy Producer Addresses The Series’ Biggest Fan Theories
And I don’t care what Yoshinori Kitase has to say about it, I find the “Rinoa is Ultimecia” theory to connect the loose ends of this cyclical narrative in a delightful yet heartbreaking way. It’s the author, not Squall, who’s dead.
10 / 18
Every year, I swear that I’m going to finish Larian Studio’s epic RPG, which is the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to a “yes and” game. Whatever hare-brained idea you’ve got, the game will probably let you do. Want to fuck a skeleton, my good sir? Knock yourself out. Do you desire to waste hours talking to chickens? Yes. Spend hours talking to everyone. Kill everyone. Huh, no wonder I’ve never finished this thing. Maybe one day, but until then, I will continue to be cursed with redownloading Divinity Original Sin 2 onto every new computer I build. Patricia Hernandez, Editor in Chief
11 / 18
I am a queer, transgender woman, and will always be hated by dominant portions of society for it. That’s what makes the mythic concept of the vampire so alluring to me. For all intents and purposes, I am the horror, the misunderstood, the vilified, the degenerate monstrosity whose mere existence means that I’m to be banished to the virtual eternal night of cities and towns whose daylight politicians don’t wish to reduce me to ashes. Those who hate me and people like me never fail to exhibit an impulse of violence against us for the crime of simply existing in society; remind me who the monsters are?
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines gets an install on all of my computers for the joy of the game on its own, its connection to a tabletop game I love (that I’ve frustratingly failed to play enough of), but perhaps because of its relation to my own sense of identity. That extends to the very messy, fractured nature of this game and how it was built up by a passionate community. I reroll characters frequently, with multiple starts and stops on different machines.
It’s an RPG I enjoy playing in a macabre world that sometimes feels all too real. It is a mirror that I can see myself in, for better and for worse.
12 / 18
My life changed forever when I got a copy of Final Fantasy VII in 1997 (losing those discs has haunted me ever since). While I enjoy much of the 2020 Remake, the original experience is irreplaceably special to me. I start a new playthrough of it at least once a year, every year. Other times, I’ll just jump into a random save file I was working my way through at some point. It must be on anything I own that can run it.
Since 2015, the remaster (not Remake) has made the experience much smoother; and it’s always fun to occasionally mess around with mods that tweak character models or apply AI upscaled backgrounds to clean up the image.
The story, the characters, the landmark soundtrack with gorgeous compositions and tear-jerking melodies surpass the limitations of the rather humdrum sounds the midi-controlled sequencer on the PSX produced, it culminates into not just one of my favorite video games of all time, it’s one of my favorite media experiences, period.
Watch: Let’s Mosey: A Slow Translation Of Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII, in its original form, is an epic story of identity, friendship, love, and struggle in the face of insurmountable odds against seemingly unstoppable foes. I delight, as I did in my youth, blissfully getting lost in it. Its world, with blocky polygonal models might seem primordial by today’s standards, but to me its graphical limitations are an abstract that paints a bigger picture in my head—one that no amount of modern, hyper powerful game engines with all the bells and whistles will ever be able to touch.
And, yeah, you were right, Aeris; it was always the only way.
13 / 18
There are a ton of great arcade-y roguelites out there that can make it hard to choose, but Dead Cells is probably my number go-to when I need a moment to decompress or a quick palette cleanser. The incredible pixel art still whips, the procedural generation and build variety continue to expand, and it’s lightning fast—all things that keep me coming back here or there in the years since its release.
Each new run feels fresh, and every single attack, dodge, and power-up feels rewarding in the moment. And Dead Cells keeps getting new content, from free updates to the recent Castlevania DLC. No game does it all, but Twin Motion’s side-scrolling platformer comes close. Plus it can run on just about any PC and takes up just 500MB of space. It’s barely five years old and already feels like an all-time classic. Ethan Gach, Senior Reporter.
14 / 18
Each new PC I buy or build is better, faster, and more powerful than the last. A new PC is usually a time for trying out the hottest new games to see how amazing they look on your new rig. And I do that, of course. But I also end up downloading Half-Life 2 pretty soon after setting up a new PC. Why? A few reasons.
For one thing, it’s become my test game. I’ve played it so much across so many platforms that I can quickly tell if my monitor is fully setup if, my mouse is working well, etc. Another reason I install it soon after buying a PC is that I love the game and still, to this day, download new mods for it and create little maps in Source. Nothing great. But having it there, installed and ready to go, is a comfort thing. Like having Chrome or Photoshop installed, Half-Life 2 is always there for me. A click away and ready to help me set up my next PC, like an old friend who has my back. Zack Zwiezen, Staff Writer
15 / 18
There’s something about the classic puzzle game Portal that makes it my go-to game to test drive a new PC. It’s familiar and easy to jump into. The biggest draw, however, is how delightfully fun-sized it is. While a fun-sized candy bar feels like a hypocritical lie, with a game like Portal or its sequel Portal 2, it captures a game that feels satisfying to play without overstaying its welcome. Plus, by the time I’m redownloading games, it will have probably been a while since my last run through Aperture Science’s labyrinth laboratory. Lisa Marie Segarra, Staff Editor
16 / 18
VRChat is one of those things I never thought I’d get into. I’m not the most social person (as you might’ve noticed), so I typically wander VRChat worlds in private instances. I’m always gazing off into moonlit oceans on speeding trains, walking the rainy alleyways of virtual city blocks, driving around islands dotted with sakura trees, hanging out and chatting with friends over long distances. Sometimes I Just do what I do in real life if I can get over my social anxieties: Head on over to a random bar and absorb the ambience of random conversations that come and go, sometimes getting the urge to jot down my observations like a virtual John Ashberry.
It’s a place to escape the physical realm; and I can’t overstate what kind of a liberatory experience that is. The ability to swap my body via avatars is a form of self-expression that I struggle to enjoy in real life, even if it’s mostly in private worlds to myself or with good friends. I’ve always been a very miserably self-conscious person, and VRChat has felt like a safe enough space to just have fun and enjoy simple, silly, and cute things.
If a machine of mine has the juice to power a VR headset, you can be sure VRChat has already been downloaded.
17 / 18
Listen, Stardew Valley is simply an all-time top game. I don’t make the rules. But I do make it a point to download the farming sim on every possible console as soon as possible, and a PC is certainly no exception. PC players are also living the good life with their plethora of mods. There simply is never a time when it’s not exceedingly pleasant to live the grind of city life behind and dive into this country, pixel art dream world. Lisa Marie Segarra, Staff Editor
Everyone’s gaming tastes are different. Sometimes a game is a must-install because of the fond memories it strikes, or because it’s your go-to live service game of choice. Maybe some of the titles here are in your list as well. If not, please feel free to share in the comments what gets downloaded the second you fire up a new machine.
18 / 18