Update: Added the open-world survival indie RPG Outward
Although the best PC games with cash to splash are quickly evolving, so are the best indie games you might not have heard of.
One of the best things about our best indie games list is that most of the titles, unlike AAA game publishers, don’t try to manipulate you out of every penny any chance they can get. Free from corporate influence and constant badgering for your money, the best indie games represent the pure artistic vision of the developers – especially if you have one of the best gaming PCs.
However, just because the best indie games aren’t mainstream blockbusters, it doesn’t mean they can’t keep up with the latest AAA hits. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite: the best indie games can easily exceed mainstream games in both quality and scope – becoming artistic masterpieces in the process. And, unlike their more commercial brethren, they don’t rely on tired tropes and cliches to try and sell millions of copies.
This is all exciting stuff, and if you want to dive into the best indie games, you’re in luck. We’ve gathered up all the best indie games on the market today. We’ve included both in vogue indies like Return of the Obra Dinn and Outward, along with classic titles like Braid and Dwarf Fortress. Don’t worry, we’re going to keep this list updated with all the latest and greatest indie hits. So, if you’re looking for the next great indie title, keep reading.
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Bill Thomas, Joe Osborne, Kane Fulton and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this article
Yeah, it’s not out yet, with Double Fine promising it’ll be out ‘soonish’, but Ooblets is still on our radar. The game is described as some kind of combo between Pokemon, Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing, which has certainly captured our attention – and it should probably capture yours, too. Ooblets is being developed by first-time studio Glumberland, and is backed by Double Fine. Ooblets combines an art style oddly reminiscent of Adventure time, with gameplay that revolves around gathering creatures called ooblets in the town of, uh, Oob.
Upon doing so, you’ll be able to train and battle your ooblets against other ooblet trainers. At the same time, you’ll have to balance your ooblet training with the real-world responsibilities of being a farmer. That’s right, drawing influence from the likes of Stardew Valley, you can cultivate produce and decorate your house with various trimmings as well. You’ll also be able to join an Ooblet Club comprised of friends (NPCs) you’ll meet along the way.
If you don’t know what to do in Ooblets, simply walk around and discover new shops and buildings that suit your interest. While you’re at it, you can open up your own shop and sell produce that you’ve grown on the farm in addition to the items you’ve scavenged throughout the world. Otherwise, you can feed the leftover crops to your ooblets to watch them level up and learn new techniques to be used in the turn-based, RPG-style battles.
Jonathan Blow’s masterpiece first appears to be a simple pastiche of Super Mario Bros, with a middle-aged curmudgeon replacing the titular plumber but still seeking to rescue a princess.
But, the longer you spend in the game, the more that’s revealed to you, moving from a series of time-bending puzzles to quiet reflective texts – which doesn’t stop it from being the smartest puzzle game until SpaceChem. Blow himself has subtly hinted that the ultimate story may revolve around the atomic bomb.
First released as PC freeware by Japanese designer Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya back in 2004 after five years of 100% solo development, Cave Story predates the recent indie renaissance by a few years. Because of when and how it was first released, it’s often forgotten in discussions of indie gaming.
But this classic deserves to be on every best-of list for its loving homage to the classic action platforming games of the Super Nintendo era, its incredible music and its incredibly vibrant world. Oh, and don’t forget the hugely intuitive controls, gobs of secrets and weapons that are entirely too fun to use. If you’ve yet to enjoy this one, just put it on your backlog already.
From family-owned and operated Studio MDHR, Cuphead has connected with millions of people around the world, many of whom normally wouldn’t touch a run-and-gun platformer with a ten-foot pole.
Although its gameplay was inspired by classic games like Mega Man and Contra, most gamers would likely compare it to a Fleischer Studios cartoon, like Betty Boop. Because Cpuhead utilizes a hand-drawn art style likened to a 1930s animation, it’s been universally praised for its gorgeous visuals.
Cuphead is more than just its beautiful visuals – it’s a series of 19 challenging and engaging bosses, with platforming bits interspersed between them. It was already one of the best indie games, but Studio MDHR has announced the Cuphead: the Delicious Last Course DLC, slated for 2019, with a new isle to explore, new bosses to conquer and, most importantly, a new character to master.
Many AAA games serve as escapist power fantasies, where the player is ultimately able to dominate the game’s universe – right up until the game ends. However, many indie games serve as the opposite – like the IGF award winner and misery simulator Cart Life.
Papers Please is similar to Cart Life – it’s also an IGF winner with elements of misery about it – but it’s better, being a smart, weird sim about the compromised life of a border guard under a totalitarian regime. It’s ugly and desperate, but also innovative, uproariously funny and terribly smart.
Among the hardcore gamers of my acquaintance, Spelunky is the go-to drug. Even today, several years after its release, some of them still play it every day, despite having completed it many times over. That’s because Spelunky, an ostensibly rogue-like platformer with a definite end, is tough, varied and highly randomized.
It also has more dark secrets than a presidential candidate, meaning there are many, many ways to finish it, and its daily challenges are a sure-fire way to public humiliation.
Unfortunately, humor is often missing among games, mostly being restricted to slapstick comedy or crude one-liners. The Stanley Parable, however, is hilarious without being dumbed down. Players follow (or don’t) a very British narrator who changes the world around you, depending on your decisions.
No decision is punished, every play-through throws up new humor and weirdness. Being trapped in the closet in the Stanley Parable is more moving and funny than 9/10 of other games.
If you missed out on this ironic gem back when it first launched, the developer announced the Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe edition for 2019, with new content, more endings and a console release. Actually, that Ultra Deluxe edition sounds pretty tempting even for us – and we played it a bunch when it first came out.
- Further reading: Retro-me-do! Digitiser’s Mr Biffo on his top PC games of all time
It took more than nine years to make, but Owlboy was definitely worth the wait. Originally contrived for PCs and released in late 20166, the clever masterpiece of an indie game is now available to experience on Mac and Linux as well – and there’s even a Nintendo Switch version! Owlboy centers around a race of owl-human hybrid characters called, well, Owls. Of them, you control Otis, an Owl who is censured by his mentor for his inept flying skills.
The story sees Otis’ village dismantled by pirates who clearly have conflict with the Owls. As a result, Otis has to work with an assortment of villagers in-game to take out enemies. Of course, when boss battles arise, you’ll need to manage allies accordingly, as each character comes with their own set of unique skill sets to use in conjunction with one another. If you’ve ever played and enjoyed a Kid Icarus game, this is one for the books. Otherwise, play it anyway.
Similar to The Stanley Parable, Gone Home falls into the unofficially labeled ‘walking simulator’ genre. Where it diverts from the clever and philosophical Stanley Parable, however is its focus on life’s difficult realities, instead of light humor.
After arriving at your childhood home after an overseas visit, you play as 21-year-old Kaitlin Greenbriar who is greeted by a vacant house. While gameplay is basically limited to scavenging through notes to find out where your family is, the gripping story is a extremely emotional and compelling, as long as you keep an open mind. After all this time, Gone Home stands out as one of the best indie games out there.
Only SpaceChem has mingled education with entertainment as successfully as The Kerbal Space Program. The game is simple – design and build spacecraft to take the cutesy Kerbals to the Mun and beyond.
Yet its focused use of real physics means that you’ll find yourself following NASA in building multi-stage rockets, space stations and exploring the Kerbal’s strange universe on EVAs, before bringing your discoveries back to research on the Kerbal planet – that’s if you can get off the ground at all. It’s a huge, complex, challenging and fun game, that’s smart without being preachy.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is the exact opposite of something like Kerbal Space Program – it’s an action roguelike par excellence. You play as a young boy attempting to kill his damned siblings, mother and possibly the Devil, using only your tears. Which he shoots from his eyes, of course – it’s matched only by the equally visceral Nuclear Throne.
With dozens of bizzare items to collect, endlessly procedurally-generated levels, and tons of secrets, the Binding of Isaac is a very dark take on the exploratory model established by Spelunky.
Though you might get put off by the pixel art graphics, Undertale isn’t a game that would have fit on the Super Nintendo. That’s because, in Undertale, you decisions make a huge difference in how the game ends and, more importantly, how it continues in New Game Plus.
While playing Undertale, you’ll come to realize just how much freedom the game gives you. Despite its ingenious and intense boss matches, you’ll be able to make it through the entire nine or so hours of Undertale as a complete pacifist. Plus, when you go through the game a second time, you’ll bear the weight of the consequences from your previous run. And, now Undertale is out on the Nintendo Switch, so you can take this masterpiece of game design wherever you go.
From developer Playdead, Inside is comparable to its predecessor, Limbo, in some ways but with an added layer of depth that inspires frequent wonder. This is mostly a result of the unspoken narrative, which revolves around yet another nameless boy. In Inside, however, the boy in the story is running away from a group of men who – if you fail to stay out of their sights – will try to mercilessly kill you.
Though it isn’t quite clear why the boy is running from these men or why you should even care since you don’t know who he is, Inside will leave you begging for answers. The bleak, lifeless setting of Inside is more than worth the price of admission. Its minimalist art style alone is avant-garde enough to feel right at home in a museum. Add in a game that’s both fun to play and dripping with curiosity, though, and Inside is one of the best indie games money can buy.
Developed single-handedly by Eric Barone, Stardew Valley is undoubtedly a technical feat for that little facet alone. If you’ve ever played a Harvest Moon game, you’re already familiar with the premise of Stardew Valley – you may just not know it yet. Stardew Valley is an addictive farming simulator which sees you interact with townees to the point where you can literally marry them.
Stardew Valley isn’t just farming, though – it’s a whole bunch of things at the same time. You can go fishing, you can cook, you can craft stuff – you can even go explore procedurally-generated caves to mine for items and even attack slime-monster-things. However, you should keep in mind that your health and energy are finite, so you’ll want to keep your character rested and fed to avoid suffering from exhaustion. Pass out and you’ll lose a considerable amount of money and items you’ve worked hard to attain. Stardew Valley will have you addicted for hours on end, for better or worse. (Definitely better.)
From Canadian game developer Alec Holowka, the creator of the award-winning Aquaria (also featured on this list) and independent artist/animator Scott Benson, Night in the Woods is an unconventional side-scrolling adventure game centering around a 20-year-old protagonist named Mae who drops out of college to move back in with her parents.
Featuring a story largely based around dialog choices and mini games that put a spin on mundane tasks, like carrying boxes up the stairs and eating perogies, Night in the Woods is a timeless coming-of-age tale. Not only will you experience middle class America through the eyes of a personified cat, but virtually every interaction in-game will have you laughing aloud. And now that it’s coming to the Nintendo Switch on February 1, you’ll be able to take it wherever you go.
If you’re a fan of the recent wave of games inspired by Dark Souls, you’ll absolutely love Hollow Knight. You take control of the Hollow Knight, and lead them through the deceptively adorable landscape to take on bosses and other difficult challenges. Much like Dark Souls, it’s not immediately clear what you’re actually supposed to be doing as the narrative is intentionally obtuse.
The Dark Souls inspirations don’t end there, however. It also adopts Dark Souls’ ‘tough but fair’ philosophy, where the game is only as hard as you make it – you can overcome anything as long as you have patience and learn from your mistakes. Hollow Knight takes these lessons from Dark Souls and injects them into a MetroidVania, with all the side-scrolling and upgrades you could possibly want. You can even play it on the Nintendo Switch now.
If you’re looking for a game that’s as unforgiving as it is fun, look no further than Dead Cells. It takes gameplay inspiration from so many places – from roguelikes, to MetroidVania to even a hint of Dark Souls, to create a unique action game that will test your limits.
Each time you play this game, it will be different. And, while you’ll lose some progress each time you die – and you’ll die a lot – the game will become more and more rewarding as the complex and fluid combat becomes second nature. In the final release of the game, you get access to over 90 weapons, skills and abilities that’ll let you tailor your gameplay however you want.
Whatever you do, don’t get discouraged when you fail. Get up and try again, Dead Cells will only reward you in the end – which is why it’s one of the best indie games 2018 has to offer.
Introversions was one of the earliest ‘indie’ companies, releasing games like Uplink, Defcon and Darwinia whilst Vlambeer were still in short pants. After years of struggling, they’ve finally hit a huge success with Prison Architect, a game where you build, staff, outfit and manage a maximum security prison.
With smart prisoners who are willing to do anything to escape, you’ll struggle to keep them all inside – or keep them from rioting – and turn a profit. It’s still in alpha, but it’s eminently playable right now..
These days, it’s hard to find an RPG that will really push you to your limits. Outward, with its focus on survival and tough combat is one of these RPGs. There isn’t much in the way of story, but you’re placed in the middle of the world of Aurai, where you’ll have to struggle to survive. You’re not a hero, you’re just the everyman trying to survive in a harsh world.
In many ways, Outward is like The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. There’s a heavy emphasis on exploration, but you aren’t given quest arrows or any kind of waypoint. You have to rely on your own ability to use a map, along with any directions that are given to you by quest NPCs. If you’re looking for a challenging RPG, this might be one of the best indie games for you.
Dwarf Fortress is its own genre, its own industry. This is a game that, before you’ve even set foot in it, has to generate the entire geography, mythology and history of its massive world. Then it tracks every single one of the dwarfs you’re managing down to the hairs on their legs and the particular horrible elephant murder that they witnessed and they’re now carving on an ornamental chair.
Your task is to keep the dwarves alive as they carve out their subterranean kingdom – given that insanity, monsters, and starvation plague are thrown at them at every stage that’s not easy. And dwarves, always, always mine too deep.
Run. Jump. Die. Repeat. That’s essentially the gameplay loop of Super Meat Boy, a fiendishly addictive 2D platformer that’s also bloody hard, with an emphasis on bloody. Gallons of blood is spilled as the game’s eponymous meaty hero leaps over deadly drops, spinning saws and walking chainsaws in a bid to rescue his girlfriend, Bandage Girl, from the evil Dr Foetus. Obviously. Boasting tight controls, plenty of humor and colorful graphics, Super Meat Boy lept onto the PS4 and Vita last year in style – with a Nintendo Switch release coming soon, as well.
It might not be Playdead’s most recent game, but Limbo is timeless. Even five years after its release, the game’s haunting storyline still affects us. You play the Boy, a child with glowing eyes who’s cast into Limbo to find his sister. Making your way through a bleak and dangerous world full of hostile silhouettes, giant spiders and deadly gravitational fields, you’ll need to think quickly and perfectly time your movements if you’re going to survive.
But Limbo is much more than a simple platformer: it’s an experience, and one that has you pondering the very essence of life by the time it’s over. Deep, profound and absorbing, it’s one indie game everybody should take time out to play.
If you’re yearning for a retro-styled multiplayer archery combat game (aren’t we all?), TowerFall: Ascension is the pick of the lot. Fast, frenetic and teeth-gnashingly hard in hardcore mode, the game’s mechanics are simple: fire arrows at enemies or jump on their heads to stay alive until the round ends.
Arrows that don’t hit are embedded in walls, making for tense scenarios when you have to traverse the map while dodging enemies to retrieve them. As such, practicing until you achieve Robin Hood-esque levels of accuracy is recommended. Ascension is best experienced with friends in local multiplayer mode, which recalls Super Smash Bros’ most manic moments.
It’s not often that a platformer manages to balance challenging and engaging gameplay with an emotional and thought-provoking narrative, but Celeste pulls it off. From the developers of Towerfall, Celeste follows the story of Madeline, a young girl who decides to face her mental health issues by climbing to the top of the mysterious Celeste Mountain. Ind doing so, she learns more not only about the mountain, but about herself amid the heartwarming process.
An inevitable classic, Celeste integrates the obvious jump, air-dash and climb controls into a brutal series of platforming challenges in upwards of 700 unique screens. And, if that’s too easy, you’ll unlock B-side chapters along the way, designed for only the bravest of hardcore players. Better yet, you don’t have to worry about waiting an eternity between each respawn. Instead, Celeste brings you back from the grave instantaneously, a welcome departure from the typically extensive load screens.
Have you ever wanted to land on an alien planet, and build a factory? We admit that it’s an odd premise, but we promise that it works out in Satisfactory. You’ll land on one of three planets of varying difficulty, where you’ll be tasked with building and automating a factory to exploit the world around you.
It’s a bland sounding premise, but being able to explore these beautiful worlds in first person, while scavenging materials and fighting off hostile wildlife makes it all that more exciting. Plus, there’s nothing better than sitting back and admiring something you worked hard on, right?
Satisfactory is in early access right now, and exclusive to the Epic Games Store, but if you can get past all that, you’re sure to get hours of wholesome simulation out of it.
After the raging success that was the original Nidhogg, it’s a shame to see the superior sequel get thrown under the bus. Nevertheless, in spite of its controversial art style, Nidhogg 2 packs a refined, gorgeous look that the first version, a cult-classic, couldn’t even think to compete with. In still frames, we can see how this could get misconstrued, but fortunately, it’s the fun and addictive local multiplayer gameplay that makes Nidhogg, well, Nidhogg. And it’s all there in Nidhogg 2. Plus, every time you respawn, you get one of four unique weapons that only bolster the challenge.
Esteemed indie designer Jon Blow’s follow up to Braid may look like an entirely different adventure, being 3D and all, but the two are more thematically alike than you might think. The Witness, at its core, is another puzzle game that tells an interesting story through said puzzles.
This puzzler takes place in an almost equally impressionist – albeit heavily Myst-inspired – world, but it’s story is far more nuanced and mysterious than Blow’s previous. At almost every corner of this island that you’ve simply woken up on (or beneath), there is a clue as to how you got onto this island and why you’re here.
Don’t get us wrong, we liked Bastion, but we won’t deny that Transistor was SuperGiant Games’ best work to date. Much of that has to do with the convergence of action-based and turn-based RPG elements contained within its cyberpunk futurescape. Likewise, in classic SuperGiant fashion, those mechanics are complemented by a gorgeous art style and a music score so unforgettable it’ll make you want to buy the soundtrack.
Leaving key gameplay beats up to the player, the story isn’t so variable. Transistor’s main character, Red, is a renowned singer in the city of Cloudbank. However, she’s been attacked by a group of vicious robots who call themselves the Process, operated by another group called the Camerata. In her journey, she finds the Transistor, a mysterious sword with the voice of a man. Soon enough, she’ll learn more about him and how he will shake up her world.
It’s weird to think that Oxenfree came out before the first season of Stranger Things, and yet, the two properties coincidentally have a lot in common. The 80s-inspired heavy synth music composed by scntfc, for one, accentuates some truly gripping sci-fi horror centering around – you guessed it – a group of teenagers stuck on an island.
The story involves a handful of uniquely written characters, namely the main character Alex, along with her stoner friend Ren, her newfound stepbrother Jonas, her dead brother Michael’s ex-girlfriend Clarissa and her best friend Nona (who Ren happens to be in love with).
The plot is explained through branching speech dialogue, similar to Life is Strange or modern-day Telltale games, and features five different endings depending on your choices.
Plus, at the time of this writing, Oxenfree is free on the Epic Games Store.
Exploring a surreal wilderness seems like quite the trend these days in gaming, and developer Campo Santo’s debut only serves to keep it going strong. Set in the wilderness of 1989 Wyoming, you’re Henry, a fire lookout that’s all alone in the woods after exploring something strange in the distance.
That is, save for your partner on the other line of a walkie-talkie: Delilah. She’s your only point of contact as you explore the wilderness. Will you make it back alive? Will the decisions you make help or harm the relationship with your only lifeline to the outside world, your boss? Don’t worry about those questions just yet – just look at those forestscapes!
Rust is one of the more successful indie titles of recent times. By the end of 2015 it had sold more than 3 million copies, which isn’t too shabby considering it isn’t even finished — the game has been on Steam’s Early Access scheme since launching in December 2013.
Still, it seems people can’t get enough of the Day Z-inspired survival sim. It sees you use your wits and bearings to survive its harsh open world, starting off with nothing but a rock. After gathering resources needed to build a house and weapons to fend off attackers (other online players, in other words), Rust gradually becomes more intense as you defend your growing base — or attempt to breach others’.
Fans of the original Overcooked will not be disappointed by the second installment in the chaotic couch co-op series from British indie game developer Team17.
This time your task is to defeat the ‘Un-Bread’ (zombie baked goods) that have taken over the Onion Kingdom, by battling through brand new recipes including sushi, pizza, and burgers in increasingly chaotic kitchens with up to three other people.
To add to the frantic fun, you must battle obstacles including random fires, collapsing floors, and interfering passers by, all while getting your orders out to the pass in time.
Things get complicated incredibly quickly, and relationships, friendships, and family bonds will be tested as you work together to complete your recipes on time, making it a fun and challenging couch co-op game that will make you truly understand the meaning of “too many cooks spoil the broth.”
The natural progression of survival games, SCUM takes what both predecessors like Rust and PlayerUnknown’s battlegrounds succeeded at and iterates in impressive ways. And, while it’s still in early access, it offers a unique twist – combining the frenetic gameplay of battle royale games with the slow, thoughtful gameplay of a survival sim.
SCUM, unlike other similar games, is extremely heavy on the simulation side of things, however. You shouldn’t expect to run in guns blazing, as you’re going to get tired quickly (just as you would if you tried running outside yourself with a ton of stuff in your backpack). But, if heavy statistic systems is something your into, you’ll find a lot to love here. It’s like spreadsheets with a physics engine.
Just don’t go in expecting a polished experience just yet. However, developer Croteam is promising to add more features over time, and as they’re backed by Devolver, you can trust that the game is going to shape up into something great.
Every so often there’s a game that perfectly merges aesthetic, gameplay and narrative – where everything feels like it just, well, fits. The best indie games are always the best at this, and Return of the Obra Dinn is a great example. A mystery taking place on a derelict ship, you’re tasked with figuring out how the crew of this lost ship died, disappeared or worse.
The entire game has this old-school visual style that, combined with the simple controls and gameplay style make it feel like a nostalgic adventure. Right from the settings menu, you’ll get to choose what kind of monitor you’d like to emulate – we picked an old school Macintosh option – that should give you an idea of the type of retro revivalism on offer here.
Return of the Obra Dinn is a game that will require critical thinking, exploration and a ton of reading. So, if that all sounds appealing to you, and you’re all good with retro aesthetics, you will find a lot to love – it’s one of the best indie games, in a season marked with AAA decadence.
If you’re anything like us, you’ve spent hundreds of hours playing Roller Coaster Tycoon during your childhood. And, while there have been plenty of amusement park simulators over the last few years, they’ve never quite hit the spot.
Parkitect is the closest we’ve ever been to those early aughts park simulators, and we’re absolutely in love. From the cartoonish art style to the realistic simulation and Steam Workshop integration, Parkitect is one of the best indie games 2018 has to offer.
For years, thatgamecompany has been behind some of the best indie games on the market, only most of them had been exclusive to PlayStation. One such game was Flower. Serving as kind of a precursor to the beloved Journey, Flower puts you in command of a flower petal, surfing through the wind.
You’ll activate different colors of flower beds to affect the environment, which will also get you different colored petals, until you have an entire trail of color surfing the wind. It’s an incredibly relaxing and artful experience, and it might just contain a message about the industrial world we all find ourselves living in. Trust us, give it a shot, it’s one of the best and most legendary indie games ever.