PC games are demanding. Every year, new games hit the market that stretch hardware capabilities. There are ground-breaking games whose graphics alter the course of gaming forever. Myst, Doom 3, Crysis, World of Warcraft, BioShock, Half-Life 2, The Witcher 3, and many more spring to mind. That’s not even close to an exhaustive list, either.
They share a common theme though. At the time of their release, the game could push your system hardware to its limits.
So, what games should you reach for to stress test your new graphics card right now?
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was released in 2015 to plaudits across the board. Years later, and people are still blown away by the beauty of its extensive RPG world. Even now, The Witcher 3 is still one of the best ways to max out your system.
In fairness, The Witcher 3 is impressively resourceful regarding GPUs. To achieve maximum beauty, you do need a powerful modern card. However, even older cards like the Nvidia GTX 770 or an AMD Radeon R9 290 can still bring the world to your monitor. The recommended system specification for The Witcher 3 is:
- Processor: Intel Core i5-3770 or AMD FX-8350
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics Card (NVIDIA): NVIDIA GTX 770
- Graphics Card (AMD): AMD R9 290
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will definitely max out those GPUs, even on Medium settings. Those with Nvidia graphics cards such as the 1070, 1070 Ti, 1080, or 1080 Ti (or the AMD equivalents) can take their settings all the way to Ultra, depending on the rest of your system hardware.
The awesome Logical Increments gives you a much better idea of what hardware you need to experience The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt at its best. Also, you can see where your current hardware might get you regarding graphics.
2. Far Cry 5 (2018)
Far Cry 5 takes the state of Montana and pops it into your computer. You can wander around the vast open world exploring every mountain, creek, glade, and river. I spent more time looking at the scenery than playing through the storyline. (In fact, that’s true of several games on this list.)
Far Cry 5 is a slight misnomer on this list. You can still experience Montana, and its religious cults using similar hardware to series predecessors Far Cry 4 and Far Cry Primal. However, if you want constant 60+ FPS at 1080p on Ultra settings, you definitely need a top-tier GPU. Moreover, the only way to hit a constant 60+ FPS at 1440k on Ultra is using two GPUs in CrossFire or SLI configuration.
3. Final Fantasy XV (2018)
Final Fantasy XV is the latest entry in one of the most popular gaming series of all time. Square Enix is known for creating detailed, expansive environments, and the world of Eos delivers in multitudes.
Final Fantasy XV does require a high-performance GPU to see it at its best. The drop off in graphical fidelity between its Low, Medium, High, and Highest settings are notable, especially between Low and Medium. Furthermore, the world truly bursts with life at Ultra, especially if you can support Ultra settings at 1440p.
4. Kingdom Come: Deliverance (2018)
Crytek’s CryEngine has long carried a reputation as a system hardware destroyer. The original Crysis (2008) was used as a system benchmarking tool for years. (Some free Windows benchmarking tools for you to try.) Crysis 3 (2013) was much the same, and at the time of its release, only the most up to date hardware could run it on its highest settings.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance licenses a heavily modified version of CryEngine 5, named Dunia Engine. The Dunia Engine first came to prominence in Far Cry 2 but was still powering Far Cry 5 and its amazing visuals. So, Kingdom Come: Deliverance has similar graphics and hardware requirements to Far Cry 5, as well as a similarly spectacular game world.
In fact, Eurogamer tested Kingdom Come: Deliverance using an i5-8600K CPU with a Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti on Ultra, and struggled to hit a solid 60 FPS. Dropping draw distance, shadows, and lighting to High brought Deliverance to a steady 60+ FPS. But you can see the level of hardware you need to experience Kingdom Come: Deliverance at its absolute finest.
5. Arma III (2014)
You’re thinking, “How can a four-year-old game still push modern hardware to its very limits?” Well, Arma III has such extensive graphics customization that you can still use it in an attempt to melt your computer.
As one of the best tactical shooters Arma III has a few features that push your hardware to its limits. Notably, the game environments are colossal. The largest Arma III map, Altis, covers 270 square kilometers. Obviously, you’re not looking at or rendering the entire map at one time. However, you can set your view distance to 25 kilometers, take a helicopter into the skies, and marvel at the sheer scale of the world. And that takes some serious processing power.
Processing the number of units on a map throughout a large multiplayer game is also resource intensive, especially once the bullets start flying overhead. However, this is an older game, so there are some allowances. Those with extremely new hardware could use Arma III mods to add more graphical fidelity to the game to maximize their experience.
6. Fallout 4 VR (2017)
The world of VR gaming is growing from strength to strength. The first iterations of VR headsets were clunky, running at relatively low resolutions, and many users suffered from motion sickness due to inconsistent frame rates.
The Nvidia GTX 10xx series (particularly the GTX 1070, 1080, and their respective Ti models, which make our list of the best graphics cards to buy) make VR gaming a pleasure rather than a nauseating sad time. If your system hardware can handle it, Fallout 4 VR is one of the most entertaining and expansive virtual reality experiences available at the time of writing.
7. Destiny 2 (2017)
Destiny 2 is another game where you will stop to stare at the majestic world around you. The sheer scale of Destiny 2 is phenomenal, regularly fusing soaring intergalactic vistas with intricate detailing. Detailing that you might miss unless you take time to enjoy it. Another thing Destiny 2 does extremely well is lighting. Each location feels unique and has its own color schemes, while developer, Bungie, has worked hard to make transitions between zones both simple and dramatic.
Destiny 2 is actually optimized really well. Those with older hardware can certainly still enjoy battling the brutal Red Legion. Those with new hardware can crank the dial up to 11 to experience a visually stunning space story (the actual narrative is so-so) that maximizes everything your system can give.
Go and Test Your System’s Hardware!
I haven’t included Deus Ex: Mankind Divided or Quantum Break because, while requiring some serious hardware to run, that’s also down to them being poorly optimized games. Which, in turn, gives them a false position in the hardware requirements list. Also, while Forza Motorsport 7 really pushes the boundaries of system hardware, Forza Horizon 4 runs with similar specs.
CD Projekt RED’s Cyberpunk 2077 and CryTek’s Hunt: Showdown are set to push everyone’s hardware to its absolute limits. Other gamers are keeping tabs on Red Dead Redemption 2. A PC version of Red Dead Redemption 2 would offer another beautiful open world game that would see more than a few gamers’ scrambling for PC hardware upgrades.
Hardware constraints aside, these are the best PC games you can play right now, for free!