Warning: Some of the video games listed below are not suitable for younger viewers. Please use caution and check each game’s ESRB rating before allowing children to play it, especially those rated M for Mature. M-rated video games may contain content that is inappropriate for children and/or unlabeled content that exposes younger viewers to explicit messages and themes.
The graphics within PC games can often make or break a gamer’s experience. Thanks to incredible leaps in computing and graphics power and technologies, that experience is often a fulfilling one.
The graphics processing unit
(GPU), also called the graphics card or video card, is the piece of technology that’s majorly responsible for creating and rendering the awesome images, video, and animation found in today’s fast-paced, visually demanding, and graphically intense triple-A (AAA) games; it’s arguably the most important component
of a PC gaming system.
While there is parity within the world of gaming graphics due in part to the advanced technologies as well as skilled developers and designers, amazing game graphics are nonetheless perceived differently among different gamers - even when they’re lauded universally.
For example, the action role-playing game (RPG), ancient Greece-adventuring Assassin’s Creed Odyssey may have the best graphics to one gamer while another gamer may favor the graphics within the open world, monster-hunting Arma 3.
Make sure you read to the bottom for a rundown on how graphics settings can affect gameplay so you’re getting everything you can out of your gaming computer components for the best possible experience. You may or may not want to change your graphics settings depending on your style of gameplay and the genre of game you love most.
We’ve done our best to account for all game types for you. Here are our picks for the 7 best graphics PC games.
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt by CD Projekt Red
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the multi-award-winning 2015 sequel to the second game in the series. In this open world, single-player game, you play as Geralt of Rivia, the protagonist and monster hunter known as a witcher, searching for his missing daughter Ciri who is being sought for her magical abilities by the powerful riders of the Wild Hunt.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a visual triumph set in the fantasy world of the Continent - complete with humans, elves, dwarves, werewolves, and other monsters and creatures - but based on real-life northern and central Europe.
You’ll play through stunning vistas that include the snow-capped, darkly forested, windswept, and Viking-settled Skellige Isles. In the metropolitan, richly detailed Novigrad, you’ll experience a medieval city complete with thatched-roof cottages and brick-layered shops juxtaposed with impressive-looking castles. All this is authentically fortified behind a walled city. When you’re in Velen, or No Man’s Land, you’ll be traveling through creepy, war-torn, and heavily overgrown swamps infested with human villagers and other creatures.
There is a vibrancy to and details within all of these worlds that feels authentic to the locations that they’re based on as well as the time period. It’s a beautifully rendered game overall.
The recommended graphics cards:
- NVIDIA® GeForce GTX 770 with 8GB of RAM
- AMD® Radeon R9 290 with 8GB of RAM
2. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey by Ubisoft Quebec
The open-world, stealth, single-player Assassin’s Creed Odyssey brings you back in time to 431 BCE, specifically to ancient Greece at the time of the Peloponnesian War between the city-states of Athens and Sparta. Playing as either a male or female mercenary (Alexios or Kassandra), your character is a fictitious descendant of the real-life Leonidas, king of Sparta.
Your mercenary gets to experience the world of ancient Greece in all its glory, including both mythical and historical locations such as Delphi (and the Temple of Apollo on Mount Parnassus) as well as the gorgeously rendered statue of Zeus at Olympia.
A graphically beautiful game, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey makes you feel as if you’ve actually stepped foot in ancient Athens, visiting the Agora, the Odeon at the foot of the Acropolis, or the colossal bronze Athena Promachos statue that could be seen (in ancient times) from great distances beyond Athens. And that might not be an accident as the development team sought the advice of real-life historical advisors to ensure accuracy and authenticity.
The recommended graphics cards for 1080p gaming:
- AMD Radeon R9 290 with 4GB+ video memory
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 with 4GB+ video memory
The recommended graphics cards for 4K gaming:
- AMD Vega 64 with 8GB+ video memory
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 with 8GB+ video memory
3. Hitman 2 by IO Interactive
, stealth game hit of 2018, packs in stunningly rendered settings that you explore and work within as mysterious Agent 47. You’ll be walking, sleuthing, and fighting your way through varied locations like the slums of Mumbai, a racetrack in Miami, and fictional Whittleton Creek in suburban Vermont.
The opening sequence has you, as Agent 47, leaving authentic footprints in the sand as you work your way through the moonlit beach off the coast of Hawke's Bay, New Zealand. The clumped seagrass blowing on the beach moves realistically while you walk through it, providing your character much-needed cover as well.
When you finally approach a modern-looking, glass-walled home, you’ll notice some very cool graphics reflection technology on surfaces both outside and inside the home (once you break in, of course).
Not only do you see the moonlit sky reflected on the glass doors and windows, but you also see your own (or Agent 47’s) reflection in addition to the home’s interior - just as you would in real life. Once inside, it’s even more impressive. There is realistic-looking shading and animation within the mirrors in the house as well as in the textures of the drain surrounding the pool.
Later in the game, at the Miami racetrack, you’ll see natural-looking shadows from the palm tree fronds in addition to the billowy cloth of the waving flags. And within the crowds of non-player characters (NPCs), you’ll notice an abundance of details and textures that are visually striking.
The recommended graphics cards:
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 with 8GB RAM
- AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 with 8GB RAM
4. Anthem by BioWare
In single or cooperative squad-based online multiplayer sci-fi RPG Anthem
, you play as adventuring heroes called Freelancers who are defending humans from the threats of the powerful and skilled Javelin pilot named The Monitor. As a Freelancer, you wear and pilot an exosuit (called a Javelin) to carry out missions as you explore beyond the home base of Fort Tarsis.
The environments outside of Fort Tarsis are visually stunning, especially as you’re experiencing them while flying around in your exosuit. The power of flight - and what one would imagine the thrill of swooping down and soaring upward - feels real.
Flying through the deep gorges of rocky, yet grassy slopes of Great Falls Canyon, or the waterfalls, lagoons, and crumbling structures within Academy Ruin, or the aptly named Emerald Abyss, you’ll experience the rich and immersive graphics of the game.
The recommended graphics cards:
- NVIDIA GTX 1060 or RTX 2060 with 4GB video memory
- AMD RX 480 with 4GB video memory
5. Star Wars Battlefront II by Electronic Arts
Based on the Star Wars
film franchise (natch), 2017’s Star Wars Battlefront II
action shooter game gives you the ability to play as characters from the movies - as either a hero (such as Han Solo or Rey) or a villain (like Emperor Palpatine or Kylo Ren). If that’s not thrilling enough, you’ll also get to play within graphically rich locations from the original, prequel, and sequel Star Wars
You’ll feel as if you’ve been dropped straight into the worlds of the movies. For instance, playing on Hoth, you’ll be fully immersed in the snowy tundra while dodging the menacing AT-ATs. Of course if you’re playing as a villain, then you will have to protect those very same AT-ATs.
The transformation into the movie-world seems complete when you’re transported to Tatooine. You can almost feel the textures on the clay walls of the Mos Eisley cantina and sense the need to hide under its ominous lighting.
Fighting on the battle droid-infested streets of otherwise gorgeous Naboo, you’ll marvel at the smoothness of the marble structures in the palace. You’ll also be able to fight in the skies above planets like Endor and battle-station-disguised-as-planet Death Star II. And maneuvering and fighting within the sands of the desert planet of Jakku is just as immersive.
The recommended graphics cards:
- AMD Radeon RX 480 with 4GB
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 with 3GB
6. Arma 3 by Bohemia Interactive
Open-world, military tactical FPS game Arma 3 is set in the 2030s on the Aegean-based island nation of Altis and Stratis (shortened as Altis), as well as the South Pacific island of Tanoa. Playing as fictitious U.S. Army soldier Corporal Ben Kerry, you’ll experience individual missions as well as larger-scaled operations within a world of a declining North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) presence.
Arma 3 serves up some beautiful, realistic graphics in the island environments - especially within the water settings. The Mediterranean island of Altis includes dramatic coastlines and rustic villages along with authentic-looking military outposts and airports.
Both Altis and Stratis are beautifully lit, with dramatic sunsets, sun-drenched, sparkly trees, and dynamic, naturally-moving clouds and grass. And South Pacific-based Tanoa looks like you’ve been plopped right into the Fiji archipelago.
The recommended graphics cards:
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660
- AMD Radeon HD 7800 Series with 2GB VRAM
7. Far Cry 5 by Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Toronto
FPS and survivor-horror adventure game Far Cry 5
is set in a fictional region of Montana that’s housing a creepy group of doomsday cultists. You play as an unnamed junior deputy sheriff who has to help take down the powerful cult leader Joseph Seed and his family of despots and sycophants.
Far Cry 5 is visually stunning. It re-creates Montana with awe-inspiring graphics such as wilderness with murky and deep lakes, towering pine trees, twisty rivers, and rugged mountain peaks. Buildings that include cult outposts, bait shops, cabins, and ranger stations are photorealistic in some areas.
While there are many beautifully detailed and rendered places to enjoy, it is a fast-moving game so you won’t necessarily get to enjoy all of those places. And because there is also an ominous feeling to the gameplay, you wouldn’t want to stay too long at some of the locations even if you could.
The recommended graphics cards:
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 with 8GB RAM
- AMD R9 290X with 8GB RAM
Graphics settings that can affect gameplay
Besides the power behind the graphics card itself, there are other factors that affect the gameplay and contribute to (or diminish from) a game’s impressive graphics. Some of these include refresh rates, frames per second (fps), resolution, texture detail/quality, depth of field, anti-aliasing, bloom, and motion blur. To help you understand how certain settings or visual configurations may affect graphics performance in games, we’ve included a little bit about each.
A refresh rate is the number of times per second that a monitor refreshes on-screen images. The number is expressed in Hertz (Hz). A 60 Hz refresh rate, for instance, means that the display updates 60 times per second.
While most monitors have a 60 Hz refresh rate, fast-moving, high-quality graphics within gaming applications usually need 144 Hz or higher since larger refresh rate numbers usually translate into sharper, smoother on-screen images.
Frames per second (fps)
A frame rate, on the other hand, measures the frequency that consecutive images appear on the screen. A frame refers to one single, motionless image and the frame rate is
the number of actual frames that your computer is drawing, expressed in frames per second (fps).
A frame rate of 60 fps is often the sweet spot for gaming at conventional 1080p resolutions (see below), in part because this is the ideal rate at which the human eye - which doesn’t see individual frames - perceives smooth images.
Dip below that to around 30 fps or so and the eye can detect the hiccups in the motion, and then drop down much further to 15 fps and below, and it can actually produce headaches. Virtual reality (VR) gaming
needs higher frame rates than 1080p gaming: anything lower than 90 fps can negatively affect viewing, and thus gaming with, VR experience.
While there are other factors that are responsible for higher frame rates and can affect performance, two of which include the particular game’s graphics engine as well as in-game adjustable visual settings, the GPU (or graphics card), is the technology that’s chiefly responsible for producing frame rates on monitors
. So it stands to reason that having powerful graphics cards equates into faster, smoother faster frame rates at higher resolutions.
The resolution of monitors refers to the number of pixels in each display dimension, which is measured in width by height (W x H). For instance, a monitor with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 is 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels high.
In fact, 1920 x 1080 is a common and ideal resolution for PC gaming
. These are the dimensions for monitors with a Full High Definition (Full HD/FHD) resolution, and it’s also the origin of the term “1080p gaming.” The lowercase “p” stands for “pixels.” Most low to mid-range graphics cards can run smoothly on 1080p monitors
. Besides FHD, other resolutions that you’ll encounter include:
- High Definition (HD): 1280 x 720 pixels
- Quad HD (Quad HD/QHD): 2560 x 1440 pixels
- Wide Quad HD (WQHD): 3440 x 1440 pixels
- Ultra High Definition (UHD) or 4K: 3840 x 2160 pixels (4K is 4 times the resolution of standard HD)
- 8K: 7680 x 4320
Though the graphics on higher-resolution displays look sharp, they are often very demanding on your system’s processing power
. Conversely, while lower-resolution displays (e.g., HD or 720p) are less demanding on processing power, they can look rather blurry especially when they’re running on higher-powered graphics cards.
Matching graphics cards to monitors is important. So, for example, if you have a WQHD
(or 1440p monitor), you would ideally want a graphics card with pretty decent amounts of memory (e.g., 4GB or 8GB).
Texture detail or texture quality refers to the quality of textures (“skins” that overlay the graphics or images) of a game - expressed as low, medium, or high. Adjusting texture quality will either increase or reduce the resolution of textures, which can, in turn, influence the graphics quality and performance. For instance, surfaces within a particular game may appear sharper and more in focus at higher settings. But these higher settings may require more graphics computing power or video memory.
These settings also vary depending on the game you're playing. For instance, in a fast-moving first-person shooter (FPS) game, the texture quality setting may not matter as much since those images will be whizzing by you. On the other hand, within a slower-paced adventure, real-time strategy, or puzzle game, where environmental details within the graphics are more visible, texture quality is more important.
Be aware, as well, that adjusting these settings often changes all the textures within a game, so you may need to adjust texture quality at a gradual pace. In addition, going from “high” to “low” or vice versa can alter other graphics settings.
Depth of field
Depth of field, just like in photography, refers to the distance between two points that appear in focus: blurring objects in the background and farther away while keeping the subject (in the foreground and thus closer) in focus.
You’ll see this effect in games like an FPS that uses the aimed down sights (ADS) function, which means aiming your weapon by looking down the weapon scope (or sight), and in nearly any other game that uses zoom-in functions for examining items more closely. While this setting can create a film-like, graphically pleasing effect, it may affect performance and therefore lower frame rates within certain games.
Anti-aliasing is the setting that eliminates aliasing, which is the jagged edges of curved objects or surfaces that is also called the “staircase effect.” Anti-aliasing creates the illusion of smoothness within the edges of these “jaggies” or images by blending pixel colors around the images.
This particular setting can demand more graphics processing power, and thus affect performance if viewed on lower resolutions. Higher-resolution displays - such as QHD
or UHD - help lessen the aliasing effect, however.
Bloom is the setting that increases the brightness of light sources and objects that reflect light in a game so that it looks as realistic as possible. It’s the effect that mimics the natural effect of sunlight on certain days in the real world.
For instance, on bright days, sunlight will block out some objects so that it’s difficult to see them, creating an aura-like effect around the edges of certain surfaces. Going from indoors to outdoors, in particular, can be an especially jarring experience. Having the bloom effect switched on can recreate this experience, creating dramatic contrasts.
Bloom can be overdone, however, resulting in oversaturation and therefore unnatural lighting effects. You may see it in windows or mirrors, for instance, that are unnecessarily highly reflective.
Motion blur is the film effect that blurs the environment around you while you’re looking around, simulating the feeling of motion and producing a “streaking” effect. The objects that are part of or within reach of your character stay in focus while the moving background is blurred. It may or may not be desirable depending on the type of game that you’re playing, as it can affect performance levels.
Summing it up
Changing your graphics settings can help you enjoy these visually stunning games, but remember that not all settings will work for all games. Make your changes based on the games you love to play most. And remember, if you don’t like how it looks, you can always change it back.