The best graphics in upcoming PC games

Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 are powerful consoles that can run even graphically intensive games at high resolutions and framerates. Racing against each other, each company has already released updated versions of their respective platforms, with even better chipsets that can handle the latest display standards. But no matter how strong those systems become, there will always be one platform that's a step ahead, always leading the charge and riding that cutting edge. The one that gets the newest and best tech, first; the one that game studios love to show off their games on. After all these years, the personal computer still reigns supreme.

In this day and age, the big AAA publishers don't have many exclusives anymore (excepting first-party games, of course). What works on one platform almost certainly works on the others. Even indie games these days jump easily from Windows to the Xbox One, given their shared development environment. So you aren't going to find something like the original Doom anymore, which came out for PCs alone and showcased their raw potential — even the new Doom was cross-platform. But that doesn't mean there aren't mind-blowing visuals coming to a PC near you, and soon. And no matter what, if you're running the latest and greatest graphics card(s) in your rig, you'll always have it better than anyone else. If you're wondering what to test your build against, these are the best graphics in upcoming PC games.

Far Cry 5 will make your rig cry

The Far Cry franchise began on the PC as developer Crytek's debut game. Crytek has always been a very visually-minded studio, and they wanted that first game to show off what they could do with their brand-new CryEngine. Far Cry succeeded in putting Crytek on the map, so much so that they moved on to other franchises. Ubisoft bought the series from them, and has been developing Far Cry games ever since.

There are a couple of elements that are fundamental to a Far Cry game, one of which is a huge open-world environment that players can explore in any direction. That means the game needs to be able to render vast areas seamlessly, and in stunning detail, too. The original CryEngine did that brilliantly back in its day. And in a way, it still is: today, the Far Cry series runs on the Dunia Engine, a Ubisoft-modded version of CryEngine.

Far Cry 5 will feature the latest and greatest version of Dunia, in order to render a mysterious and exotic land: America. And the player will be blowing up a good bit of that landscape, while simultaneously fending off waves of enemy combatants. Dunia will render all of that at once, while offering slick animations and cutting-edge lighting techniques at the same time. Crytek may have moved on, but in this important respect, their influence on the franchise remains: it's just got to look good.

Skull & Bones will make your card walk the plank

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag brought Ubisoft's venerable action series into the Golden Age of Piracy. And what pirate game could possibly be complete without a deep, robust ship exploration and combat system? Black Flag's maritime mechanics turned out to be so good, that it became the standout feature of the game. Fans were disappointed to learn that ships wouldn't be returning in the follow-up game, Assassin's Creed Unity.

But then at E3 2017, Ubisoft revealed that they hadn't forgotten about the pirate's life just yet: they were in fact taking that whole idea and building an entirely new title out of it, Skull & Bones. Indeed, ship-based combat was presented as the core of the experience. And it looks spectacular, from rolling ocean hues in blue and green inflections, to the massive splashes of tossing ships plowing through waves. Meanwhile, a variety of enemy ships, each distinct right down to the sails and gold leaf highlights, will circle around you. Combat is swift and brutal, and showcases particle effects to a spectacular degree. Explosions are always better if mast-shards are flying out of them.

Beyond the sheer graphical fidelity of the game, there are very few other games that will look like this title. At the end of the day, most games take place on the ground, or possibly in space. Very few actually take place on the sea, and naval combat at this kind of close-up resolution is uncommon in the extreme. Skull & Bones will show you a world most games simply don't even attempt.

Anthem is your rig's new theme song

BioWare has carved a niche for itself in the great mountain range of gaming: as the top purveyor of story-centric titles that still feature AAA budgets, scope, and graphics. But as famous and influential as series like Mass Effect and Dragon Age have been, they've never been massive sellers. For BioWare, it's high time they made it into the big-leagues of video game sales, and their weapon of choice is Anthem.

Anthem is a multiplayer action-adventure shooter, in which small teams of power-armored heroes venture forth into an untamed wilderness to complete missions and earn better loot so they can complete more missions. That wilderness is itself one of the star breakouts of the trailer: vibrant, verdant, and voracious, making full use of DICE's legendary Frostbite engine to render creatures and environments alike. Rays of light filter down naturally through the forest canopy, and everything from bird flocks to dust particles dynamically cross the screen.

And none of that mentions the fluid combat animations that can involve duels with massive mechanical creatures, which are capable of destroying the surrounding environment. Throw in some smoke and ember effects while enemy shots spark off of the player's armor, and the result is a freewheeling graphical tour-de-force painting what we all hope will be another BioWare narrative triumph. Quite simply, in all their long history, BioWare has never made a game that looks so promising visually. And hopefully it'll deliver on that promise, as some reports indicate that Anthem is the studio's last shot at survival…

Your PC's never seen a game of this Soul Calibur

Namco's Soul Calibur fighting franchise has always thrived on its superlative presentation: gorgeous environments, slick animations, and distinctive characters. Soul Calibur VI looks to continue that tradition, though at the same time, it will break new ground: the veteran series is bringing the fight to PCs for the first time.

As a fighting title, the actual gameplay takes place in a contained 3D space. Only two players go head-to-head against one another. In other words, there's not all that much for the graphics engine to worry about. Where other games need to deal with a huge variety of characters, or a massive open world stretching off into the distance — or both – Soul Calibur can just concentrate on making a small number of elements pop with relentless style. Every move, every attack, and every throw can be crafted and enhanced to the very limits of the developers' imaginations. At any given moment, your screen will be filled with lightning, flame, wind, or unclassified energy effects, all at the same time, with a bursting exaggeration worthy of the craziest anime fight. Which, in a very real sense, is what this entire franchise is.

While you won't be exploring the environments, they are beautifully rendered and, once again, are focused on size and scope that go beyond any pretense of realism. Soul Calibur VI has no intention of being subtle: it wants to be more. That goes for framerate, too, as 60fps is the target even when running at 4K.

Metro: Exodus is a feast for your computer

The post-apocalyptic wasteland has been seen a million times across the video gaming world. But Metro: Exodus wants to make the destroyed and barren look good. From sweeping snow-capped vistas to every last individual hair in a monster's fur, Exodus uses developer 4A Games' custom engine to the hilt. When Microsoft wanted to show off the raw potential of their new Xbox One X console at E3 2017, Exodus was their game of choice. But as good as that is, on PC, it can go even farther.

One of the key artistic elements of the game appears to be a pervasive use of particles. From dust, to snow, to shrapnel, there's almost never a static moment no matter where you're looking. Dust and lighting effects are so natural as to almost disappear from notice. Even if you're not fighting any enemies at all, you're being treated to a visual feast. Barren has never looked so beautiful.

Of course, you'll also fight enemies at some point. Here, too, the graphical fidelity is precise and gorgeous. As the big monster from the debut trailer crashes around the environment, objects bounce out of his way or are destroyed altogether. At the edge of a cliff, rocks fall off as characters get close. And once the monster gets up close, his slobbering jaws don't look any less detailed. This is definitely one to watch.

Quake is still a champion

More than any other single studio, id Software put PCs on the map as the absolute last word in graphical power. Doom transformed our notions of what could be rendered on a PC screen. And their megahit Quake practically invented the modern concept of the multiplayer shooter. Quake Champions is id's upcoming return to their shooter juggernaut, and it's bringing with it all the technical know-how of one of the industry's most proficient studios.

The developer is so focused on making Champions the best experience it can be, that they are not even bringing it to consoles at all, with id director Tim Willits quoted as saying "We want no excuses, no limitations." 

Unlike the rest of the games on this list, this is a full-bore AAA experience that is PC-exclusive. id hopes to make Quake Champions a staple eSports game, and they don't want anything, at all, to distract it from that goal. That means the controls will be built with a keyboard and mouse in mind, not a controller; and the graphics can be as insane as they want to be, because they aren't locking themselves into any on chipset.

Visually, the game so far looks to be as fast, bloody, and insane as its heritage. The priority here is speed and twitch reflexes, not thoughtfulness or strategic thinking. That said, you'll still have to keep in mind where the power-ups are, and when they'll spawn, and then try to guess how your opponents are reacting to the same information. This is an old-school game in the best coat of paint imaginable.

Star Citizen has enough budget to give you the galaxy

Kickstarter has allowed for some ambitious creators to achieve their vision. But ambitions don't get much bigger than what gaming veteran Chris Roberts has in mind for Star Citizen. It's a space-borne combat sim, a first-person shooter, and a trading simulation, all rolled into one. Plus it's an MMO. And it has a sprawling single-player campaign with top-tier Hollywood actors in it. Or rather, it will have all these things…if it ever comes out of its extended early access period.

However, unlike some Kickstarters that raise a ton of cash and then disappear into the void, Star Citizen is currently in a playable (if early) state, with several of its game modes available to try right now. While the final release date does keep getting pushed back, a steady flow of new content is flowing into the game. Procedural planets and procedural cities means that the game will feature an enormous number of localities to visit, in high detail and with long draw distances. This game is meant to make you feel like you're living in a science-fiction novel. Space has come to you.

From up close and personal motion capture to the vastness of the cosmos, Star Citizen wants to look stellar at every scale. To do this, the team at Cloud Imperium Games are using the Amazon Lumberyard engine, a modified engine made by the Seattle-based online retail giant off of Crytek's CryEngine software. If it's ever finished — and after raising nearly $150 million on Kickstarter, it ought to be — then Star Citizen should push your graphics card to the limit.

Unreal Tournament is still a blast

Epic has produced a lot of influential games over the years, from Gears of War to Fortnite. But underpinning their business for 20 years has been their proprietary Unreal Engine, which has been widely used throughout the industry. Unreal Engine 4 is still one of the most versatile and powerful engines on the market. But no matter how huge Fortnite's playerbase gets, that game isn't necessarily a graphical powerhouse: if anything, Fortnite is meant to be played on almost any machine. To really prove just what their software can do, Epic Games is returning to the franchise that gave the engine its name: Unreal.

The Tournament subseries of Unreal games have always been about fast-paced arena combat, and the upcoming sequel — titled, simply, Unreal Tournament – shows no sign of bucking that trend. Throwing players into huge, vertically-minded maps with lots of imaginative weapons scattered around, the game is a throwback to shooter designs of the 1990s. But while the design may be old-school, the graphics are cutting-edge. Epic wants to fill Unreal Tournament with bright, vibrant maps that fully showcase the raw power of their engine.

When it will debut, however, is anybody's guess. No formal date has ever been said. That said, the game is already in a playable state, and in fact, is being developed by Epic alongside the community at large. Anybody who wants to can contribute to the game. Provided, of course, that you have an Unreal Engine license.

Thrones of Britannia is a new branch of the Total War tree

Creative Assembly's Total War series is one of the most revered strategy franchises around. With nearly two decades of success behind it, Total War is now at a stage where it can branch out in multiple directions. After two successful trips into Games Workshop's grim fantasy universe in Total War: Warhammer and its sequel, Creative Assembly has announced its next historical game, Total War: Three Kingdoms, set in ancient China. But there was a surprise along the way: a brand-new subseries within the broader franchise, dubbed Total War Saga. The first such saga will be Thrones of Britannia.

This new Saga subseries is meant to focus on specific historical "flashpoints," as opposed to broad epochs that last hundreds of years. In this case, Thrones of Britannia will focus on the British isles just after King Alfred the Great's defeat of the invading Vikings, and the fragile peace that settles in afterwards. Despite being a more contained experience, by all accounts it will still have a large scope filled with many settlements to develop or conquer. And of course, the franchise's signature blend of turn-based strategy and real-time tactics returns.

And the graphics haven't suffered for the game's smaller scope. Gameplay footage shows complex effects like light glinting off individual shields, helmets, and weapons — on a battlefield with thousands of such items moving independently. Speaking of which, the series' trademark ability to render massive numbers of units at once looks as good as it ever has. The game may be a $40 release, but it will push your rig as hard as any full-priced game.

The Crew 2 looks good from land, sea, and air

Racing games often make great candidates to show off the graphical horsepower of its platform. From gleaming cities to remote regions, the racetrack can be located anywhere; the cars themselves can shine, reflect, and crash in ways that easily convey how good the visuals are. Next up in this proud tradition of gorgeous racers is The Crew 2, which will not only let you race cars, but boats and planes, too.

And you'll be racing them all in America. Not just racetracks in America, but the entire United States. Okay, so the US has been scaled down to be a manageable playspace. Nevertheless, you will be able to drive from Los Angeles to New York in one, uninterrupted trip, seeing all the amazing sights and skipping all the boring bits. Whether from the air, the water, or the asphalt, America and your own suite of vehicles will be rendered in exquisite detail. From rolling waves in San Francisco Bay, to the skyline of Manhattan, to the mud of the deep forest, The Crew 2 renders America's diversity in stunning detail.

The vehicles themselves look realistic, too, from smoke coming off the tires to sunlight reflecting off the panels. But the game itself won't be: this is a game where it's possible to fling your car up to the top of skyscrapers. Life-like graphics? Yes. Life-like physics? Not so much.

Witchfire is a showcase for the Unreal Engine

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter from Polish developer The Astronauts was an indie horror-mystery game released in 2014, based on the idea of uncovering secrets rather than blasting away at endless enemies. It was a part of a broader movement in independent games to eschew violence as the primary hook for a title. So, how are The Astronauts choosing to follow it up? With Witchfire, a game in which you… blast away at endless enemies.

Surprised? Consider this: the founders of The Astronauts are the exact same guys who founded the studio People Can Fly, which made Bulletstorm and Gears of War: Judgment. For Witchfire, they will be combining the high-octane action of their earlier works with the atmospheric dread of Ethan Carter. To pull that off, they turned to Unreal Engine 4, and, based on the trailer, it's shaping up to be a showpiece for that software. Trees in a storm feature individually swaying branches, and sunlight alters realistically as the clouds darken. Meanwhile, the environmental design looks gorgeous, right down to the ivy growing up along abandoned walls. If it can combine the best of the two wildly different styles that this team has already delivered, Witchfire could be an amazing experience. That will look even more amazing.