Good Single-player! It’s a form of gameplay that is supposedly dead. Or at the very least, there is a subset of people who would have you believe that there’s another subset of people very much interested in killing it. Personally, I tend to think single-player is an unfortunate victim of the gaming industry’s version of climate change.
But, traditions die only when they stop being practiced. While some traditions are definitely harmful, I should at least hope that some of them are wholesome and worth preserving. I tend to think single-player experience is one of those good, wholesome traditions. These games aren’t necessarily single-player exclusive, a lot of them have a solid multiplayer component, but single-player is the thing that is the most important for them. And unfortunately no consoles, so I can’t write about God of War, which is a terrible shame (I heard it won an award or something).
Best Single Player PC Games
Slay the Spire
|Genre||Rogue-like, Card Game|
Have you tried slaying inanimate objects? Harder than it seems.
Slay the Spire is a pretty inventive little quasi-card game. It eschews multiplayer component of most card games and substitutes for it a rogue-like single-player campaign that is going to be different every time you play it and requires careful planning, but also the willingness to experiment and change your way of thinking during the journey.
There are multiple different characters to choose from, each with very different cards (which work as moves) and lending themselves better or worse to strategies you might know from other card games, like playing “control” or “aggro”. Different enemies also have different resistances to any given strategy, so there’s an undeniable element of luck to how well you’ll be able to fare with each specific run through the titular spire.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War
Set in the world of Tolkien’s famous fantasy saga, Middle-earth: Shadow of War focuses mostly on the land of Mordor and its prime inhabitants, the orcs, despite what the title says. These orcs come in many different types and sizes and throughout the game, your main goal is to either fight them or mind-control them into joining your army. Basically, collect them like murder-happy, bad-smelling Pokemon, and then use them to do your bidding. It’s good to be a half-dead human warrior with the spirit of the ancient Elven lord.
There’s, of course, an RPG element to it with a fun story and all that, additionally supplemented with plenty of character customization and a solid combat system complete with stealth mechanics, but for the most part, it’s all about orcs. And you’d be surprised, but orc collecting is a serious affair, it’s dozens of hours of legit content.
Does a universe of infinite single-player experiences count as multiplayer?
The culmination to the story which started as a dissection of Randian ideas and now involves quantum physics. It’s definitely worth seeing this story to the very end as it does continue the BioShock tradition of managing to ask some very poignant questions.
Functionally, the gameplay is very familiar to those of you who played the first BioShock. You can use a combination of various ranged weapons and special powers depleting your energy reserves to dispatch enemies. You can also solve some light environmental puzzles to obtain hidden rewards. The game doesn’t have much replay value beyond the first playthrough, but it’s certainly worth visiting once.
|Genre||Action RPG, Turn-Based Strategy|
A semiconductor device used to switch or amplify electronic signals
From the creators of Bastion, Transistor tells a somber story about love, power, and democracy. Much like in Bastion, the biggest drive of the game comes from the excellent narration, this time by our mute protagonist’s very talkative sword.
There’s a small component of replayability in the form of the player having a choice to make the game harder with additional difficulty options which can make enemies stronger, more aggressive etc. These can be changed in real time giving you the joy of flexibility. There’s also an RPG component of character progression, so you can approaching the game with a different tactic.
Very cellular, very dead
Dead Cells has spent a very long time in the Steam Early Access program, but admittedly it was a really, really good game from the get-go. Described as a mixture of roguelike and metroidvania, it’s pretty much exactly that: you explore procedurally-generated rooms, gather weapons and fight enemies until you reach a boss.
There isn’t much story to Dead Cells, but the tactical depth in this game is undeniable. There’re hundreds of different possible combinations of weapons, abilities and perks and all customizable to suit your specific playstyle. Then, of course, there’s also the aspect of randomization which, while it doesn’t appeal to everyone, will definitely extend the longevity of this game.
|Genre||RPG, Survival Horror, Roguelike|
Slightly more mature cousin of the Edgiest Enclosure
Another roguelike, even harder and more complex than Dead Cells, Darkest Dungeon throws your little group of adventurers into a procedurally-generated dungeon, teeming with monsters, traps and other dangers. And everything steeped in fantastic art-style and accompanied by a chilling narration.
Darkest Dungeon isn’t the most inviting of video games. In fact, it takes a lot of time and effort to understand its intricacies and even once you think you do, it tends to surprise you moments later anyway. But that only means there’s more content to you to enjoy. While not a game for everybody, those who will appreciate it will find themselves enjoying playing it for a long, long time.
Far Cry 5
Keep your rifle by your side
While I have had my issues with Far Cry 5 in the past, I still have to say it’s a good game. It desires to be a sandbox of fun and destruction, but I have to say, it certainly realizes that desire right.
There’s a lot to like about Far Cry 5, from beautiful and lively geography, through environmental storytelling, to the unparalleled freedom in approaching the game however you want. Far Cry 5’s gameplay loop of locate -> explore -> blow up never really gets old. And you can have a cougar companion.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
Reportedly results in a face being tried
BioWare, while a conflicted studio, holds the prestigious reputation of a developer uniquely equipped to provide nuanced, extensive single-player experiences. Its library of RPGs is legendary and the Mass Effect series occupies a very special place in it.
Andromeda is something of a soft reboot to the series, taking place in an entirely different galaxy, but it certainly keeps the core components of the series, the space fantasy of communicating, finding common ground and possibly even love with alien races, exploration of distant worlds, and a grand-scale, cosmic conflict. There’s a great multiplayer component to the game too, but even without it, there’s a lot of replay value with character customization and branching story.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
There’s a large degree of correlation between fans of RPGs and those mostly uninterested in a multiplayer experience. And I didn’t put Pillars of Eternity here mostly to avoid writing about multiple titles from the same studio. I probably don’t have to tell you that this game developer is the one you want to be on the lookout for single-player-centric games.
Divinity is just that: the return to form for old-school isometric RPGs. An epic storyline with multiple choices, interesting characters, great depths of customization to your party, loads of side-quests, and even pets. And at the end of it, a custom scenario creator. Metaphorical buckets of content.
Fallout: New Vegas
From the creators of original Fallout
Before Bethesda bought the Fallout brand from what now is Obsidian, these fine folks made a post-apocalyptic RPG that became a pop-cultural staple. Fallout New Vegas is a glorious continuation, with all the heart of the original game, only with Bethesda’s infinitely moddable engine.
The sheer nuance of storytelling at display here is staggering and it manages to retain freedom of choosing your own route while having a structured and understandable world. Simply put: majestic.
The Witcher 3
For the umpteenth time!
I would stop writing about The Witcher, but it’s hard to stop praising a game which reportedly shipped over 33 million copies worldwide. Especially in an article about the best single-player games. The Witcher 3 has been repeatedly called one of the best RPGs of all time, nay, one of the best games of all time. And there’s a lot of truth in that, even if criteria are largely subjective.
The Witcher 3 boasts an expansive world which tells you its story completely organically. You walk around, you meet people and get embroiled in their little stories and there are hundreds of those. In addition of course to the epic main storyline which serves as a conclusion to 2 previous games and 5 fantasy books. And manages to do that without losing its audience.
|Genre||Action RPG, Hack & Slash|
What I like to call “collaborative single-player”
Nier: Automata occupies a very special place on this list because it’s a single-player experience, unlike any other game. While I can’t describe it in a way that wouldn’t contain spoilers, I can say that the playthroughs of other players play an absolutely pivotal role in your ability to finish the game and get to the true ending. While it’s a solitary journey for each player, you have no choice but walk in the footsteps of titans that came before you.
Nier: Automata does a lot of things right. it’s a very imaginative hack & slash that plays around with many core mechanics in ways that are wholly unique to it, from the perspective to saving the game. It’s an exciting journey that requires multiple attempts to see to its true end, but it’s truly worth every bit of time. It had to be at the very top of this list because it redefines what a ‘single-player experience’ even means.
Arguably there’s a big cross-section between this list and our top DRM-free games, for a simple reason: the requirement to always be online is heavily associated with DRM, but the difference is down to personal preferences.
The triple-A publishers seem to be greatly slacking off when it comes to single player experiences lately and yet when Game Awards rolled in, not only did God of War win the first place, most of the games nominated for different categories were all single-player focused projects. I think it’s quite telling.
So with that, I leave you and wish you long and satisfying hours of playtime.