The most interesting thing about the history of hard PC games isn’t exactly how hard each game was, but rather how many different kinds of hard games the PC has given us over the years.
From meme games that are made to make you quit in a rage to underrated platformers and punishing puzzle games, the history of hard PC games is a pretty complete look at all the ways developers have come up with to punish us for thinking we could beat their hardest games.
But what are the hardest PC games ever made?
Well, answering that question is almost as hard as playing the games on the list, so in honor of the hardest PC games ever,
We’re giving you a long look at the games that made you throw your mouse and keyboard in the air and briefly think about how good it would be to break the family computer.
We’re also focused on games that were made for PC platforms only at first, or at least games that weren’t made for other platforms and then ported to PC.
This way, we can pay tribute to the truly unique ways our PCs have tortured us over the years.
- 27. Jotun
- 26. Elden Ring
- 25. Minesweeper
- 24. Dota 2
- 23. Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear
- 22. Return of the Obra Dinn
- 21. Kerbal Space Program
- 20. Hotline Miami
- 19. Dead Cells
- 18. FTL
- 17. SpaceChem
- 16. Flywrench
- 15. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
- 14. Dark Seed
- 13. Devil Daggers
- 12. Discworld
- 11. 1001 Spikes
- 10. Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines
- 9. Gabriel Knight 3
- 8. Darkest Dungeon
- 7. I Wanna Be The Guy
- 6. Dwarf Fortress
- 5. Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy
- 4. X-COM: UFO Defense
- 3. Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
- 2. Osu!
- 1. Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna
Associate Editor Lauren Morton says: Steam says I played the boss battler Jotun in Thunder Lotus for 15.7 hours, but I’m pretty sure at least four of those hours were spent fighting the allfather himself.
It’s a tough battle. The old man throws more and more guided rockets at you while every boss you’ve already beaten shows up for a cameo.
I don’t know how many times I tried to fight that guy, but in the end I decided that I had already won the game, so the gods’ boss could go shove it.
26. Elden Ring
Sean Martin, who writes for Guides: Malenia is the hardest boss that FromSoftware has ever made.
She is harder than Ornstein and Smough, the Orphan of Kos, Isshin, Midir, and even the gargoyles in Dark Souls 2, which were the closest I’ve ever come to ripping a game disc in a fit of rage.
I couldn’t stop trying to figure out how to stop her Waterfowl Dance attack, in which she rushes you like a knife-covered sparrow.
When I finally figured out that if I ran away and then dove back through it at the right time, I felt like I had won. I had been doing things the hard way until I found Bloodhound’s Step.
The first PC game that many of us probably played took over computer classes, took up more free time than many of us will ever want to admit, and left a generation of gamers confused as they tried desperately to get to the end screen.
That’s what makes Minesweeper so cool. In the end, it’s a pretty hard puzzle game that gets almost silly at high levels of difficulty. I’m just surprised that Microsoft was brave enough to make such a confusing, complicated, and hard game one of the most famous early Windows experiences.
24. Dota 2
This is a tricky post, mostly because I don’t want to talk about PC multiplayer games in this discussion about hard games.
Against some of the best professional multiplayer players in the world, it’s pretty hard to win a match.
But what makes Dota 2 stand out is its steep learning curve.
Yes, playing at the highest level of Dota is very hard, but the entry barrier is so high that it’s surprising that most new players even stick around to try to learn it.
23. Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear
If you’re only familiar with the Rainbow Six series because of Siege (which, to be fair, is a hard game in its own right),
I’ll warn you now that if you try to play the first few games in this long-running series, you’re probably in for a world of hurt.
Rogue Spear is hard in a way that can only be described as “unforgiving.”
If you want to finish the hardest tasks in this game, you have to be almost perfect at planning, aim, map, knowledge, and how to use all of those things.
Don’t even start me on those sneaky parts…
22. Return of the Obra Dinn
On the PC, there are a lot of challenging “logic puzzle” games, but what makes this truly amazing experience stand out is the way that the game’s time manipulation mechanics require you to compare almost every piece of information you get with every other piece of information you get.
Yes, you can make informed guesses in Obra Dinn, but that just shows how hard the puzzles are.
Return of the Obra Dinn doesn’t just make you think; it requires a different way of thinking than you’ll find in any other game or story.
21. Kerbal Space Program
Kerbal Space Program is easy to enjoy.
At the end of the day, it’s a pretty silly game about building spaceships, and half the fun is seeing your plans actually blow up in your face.
But have you ever actually tried to play Kerbal Space Program well?
If you have, you probably already know that Kerbal Space Program is one of the most difficult and technically advanced PC games ever made.
In this game’s nightmarish world of physics and tiny parts, it’s almost as hard to build a rocket that works as it should as it is to build a rocket in real life.
20. Hotline Miami
Hotline Miami is known for its all-time great soundtrack and crazy violence, but don’t let its fame fool you into thinking that it isn’t one of the toughest and most mentally draining action games ever made.
Even though each level of Hotline Miami is basically a puzzle, few puzzle games also require you to have perfect aim or be able to grab a homemade weapon at just the right time to save your plan of attack.
Getting a Hotline Miami level just right is one of the best feelings in video games.
19. Dead Cells
You might forget that Dead Cells is one of the hardest action games of the last few years because it’s so much fun to play.
When you try to beat the game’s later levels, you’ll have to face that fact.
Even if you “grind” your way to the top of Dead Cells and earn every weapon, attribute, and skill, the hardest challenges will still be hard to beat.
But by then, you’ll probably be too committed to finishing it to notice that you’re being actively beaten down.
FTL wasn’t the first roguelike game, but it made the genre better with its amazing sci-fi setting, brilliant structure, and intense battle sequences that put a lot of focus on strategy.
It’s also the game that showed a lot of people how hard roguelike games can be.
Even after all these years, FTL is still one of the hardest roguelike games.
You can do everything right in this game, which isn’t easy on its own, and still lose your “perfect run” because of one of a hundred random things that can go wrong.
Imagine taking a difficult chemistry test and trying to rewire the electricity in your home at the same time.
That’s pretty much what it’s like to play SpaceChem, which is one of the hardest puzzle games ever made.
I’d say that learning how to play SpaceChem is half the fight, but what makes this game so interesting is that you never really learn how to play it completely.
You just have to learn to take what the game throws at you and make the most of the different tasks it gives you to keep you on your toes.
At the risk of making too many similarities, I’ll say that the best way to imagine what it’s like to play Flywrench is to try to play Super Hexagon and Super Meat Boy at the same time without messing up in either.
That’s about how it is to be a Flywrench.
The amazing thing about this game is that you don’t have to have lightning-fast reactions to do well at it.
In Flywrench, winning comes down to a brutal mix of reflexes, memorizing the map, being able to read it quickly, and a kind of perseverance that few games would dare to ask of their players.
15. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is somewhere between a survival horror game and a simulation shooter.
It is one of the most original, scary, and yes, extremely hard PC games ever made.
The setting of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. : Shadow of Chernobyl is scary, and the game does a good job of making you feel like you could die at any time.
If the mood, story, and tone of this game don’t make you feel sad, trying to get through its hardest parts probably will.
14. Dark Seed
Even though the best reason to play Dark Seed is because of its amazing horror style (which is based on the art of H. R. Giger), the second best reason is to feel as much digital pain as possible.
The tasks in Dark Seed are hard enough on their own, but this game goes too far by adding a time limit that doesn’t leave you much time to stop and smell the roses.
You could say that this game would have been better overall if it didn’t have a time limit, but then it wouldn’t be nearly as hard as it is.
13. Devil Daggers
If you’ve never played Devil Daggers, you should make sure to do so.
This absolutely amazing FPS effectively reimagines classic shooters as a kind of arena action game that puts you in the middle of a small circle stage that is quickly overrun by the most terrifying enemies you can imagine.
Devil Daggers is pretty much what you’d get if you used mods to turn Quake into a bullet hell shooter.
There are safe areas in this game, but it’s hard to find them when you’re in first-person 3D and trying not to die all the time.
Even at a time when point-and-click adventure puzzles were made to be as hard as possible, Discworld quickly got a reputation for having some of the hardest problems ever seen in this type of game.
Discworld welcomes the weirdness of its source material by having you solve puzzles that, in all honesty, don’t make sense to us normal people.
Just when you think you might have figured out how to solve one of the game’s tricky puzzles, you learn that you haven’t even started to understand how hard it is to play this game.
11. 1001 Spikes
1001 Spikes isn’t just a return to the good old days of “NES hard.” It’s a collection of all the ideas, features, and bad design choices that made those games so hard, plus a few new ones.
Some people love 1001 Spikes, while others hate it. It has deep pits, invisible blocks, and yes, a few spikes.
It really depends on how fondly you remember the years of your childhood when you played the hardest 8-bit games ever made and died a lot.
10. Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines
In a previous piece about The Immortal, a nearly impossible dungeon crawler, I talked about how the game forces you to take a very specific path to avoid its many death traps.
Well, Commandos does something similar, but with an interesting twist: you have to make your own way to win.
Commandos is a game where inches matter. Every move you make needs to be carefully thought out because it could lead to a mistake in the future that will be hard to fix.
This amount of freedom is both very frustrating and the thing that makes you think that if you stick with it long enough, you’ll get it right.
9. Gabriel Knight 3
In this case, too, I’m not sure if Gabriel Knight 3 really deserves this “honor,” since its puzzles are some of the most illogical, frustrating, confusing, and often just plain boring in the history of adventure games.
Having said that, I think this is the last boss for fans of the type. No matter how good you think you are at solving the hardest problems ever made for an adventure game,
I’m willing to bet that this one will make you want to download a walkthrough and give up. The “cat puzzle” in this game has broken even the toughest people.
8. Darkest Dungeon
From one moment to the next, Darkest Dungeon is hard in all the ways you’d expect a roguelike dungeon crawler to be hard. Everyone is here: hard threats, few resources, wild RNG swings, etc.
The features you have to deal with between dungeon dives are what make this game stand out.
If you want to reach the nearly impossible final dungeon in this game, you often have to make hard strategic choices that punish greed and pretty much require it in order to take care of your always sick group of heroes.
7. I Wanna Be The Guy
I Wanna Be the Guy is both a throwback to the good old days when games were hard and an experiment to see how hard a game can be without being literally impossible. It does well in both areas.
There are a lot of PC games like I Wanna Be The Guy, but this is the one that got a lot of us interested in these small games that are meant to push you to your limits.
It’s one of the best examples of how the PC gaming community has been pushing the boundaries of hard old games for a long time.
6. Dwarf Fortress
Any talk about how hard Dwarf Fortress is has to finally get to the question of whether or not you should think of it as a game you can “beat.”
Millions of people play Dwarf Fortress because they want to figure out how to do their best in one of the most difficult games ever.
Dwarf Fortress definitely deserves to be on this list because of how hard it is to get started, but it’s the “endgame” that really makes this experience stand out.
Like Kerbal Space Program, when you try to do well in Dwarf Fortress, you realize how hard this interesting mix of role-playing and making a world really is.
Dwarf Fortress might be the video game with the deepest rabbit hole.
5. Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy
There have been a lot of very hard “meme” games in the past, but I don’t think any of them come close to this gem.
Getting Over It’s famously hard to play because of the way it’s controlled, but what will always be most memorable about this game is the feeling you get when you understand that one wrong move can wipe out everything you’ve done so far.
This game is one of the few in history that combines patience and mechanical tasks as well as it does.
4. X-COM: UFO Defense
There’s no doubt that modern XCOM games are very hard, and there’s also no doubt that people who are able to beat them earn a big hand for their efforts.
Still, none of the newer XCOM games will ever be as hard as X-COM: UFO Defense.
UFO Defense is different from other games in this area because it requires you to learn and think about a huge number of game mechanics all the time.
This amazing game doesn’t leave much room for mistakes, and you probably won’t even realize you’ve made one until it’s too late to do anything but start over.
3. Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Is The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy a game for trolls?
Yes, it’s true.
But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be near the top of any list of the hardest games ever made.
I don’t think a creator will ever be brave enough to make puzzles as hard as the ones in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Part of the “appeal” of this game is the way that its almost impossible logic problems highlight how silly and sad the humor is. Just bring a towel with you.
I’m just going to say it: osu is the hardest rhythm game I’ve ever played. osu! challenges your motor skills like no other game in this genre ever has, and it does so without requiring you to use a separate instrument.
Really, all you need to know about this game is that some of the best first-person shooter players in the world use it to practice for events and matches.
It’s the most pure and difficult reaction test ever made for a video game, which makes it hard not to love.
1. Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna
If you don’t know Wizardry IV, you might think it’s strange to put an RPG at the top of a list of the hardest PC games ever.
Wizardry IV is a different kind of dungeon game where you play as a bad guy trying to get out of Hell.
In fact, that’s the best way to describe this game. Hell.
Wizardry IV is the cruelest game ever made.
The maps are always changing, and the experience system (or lack thereof) means that you have to beat hard tasks without being able to count on your character getting stronger.