Most gamers have a platform that they prefer, usually the one that they started out with. Mine was PC and I stuck with it for more years than I want to count before I finally realised that I was missing out on about 50% of what gaming has to offer and transitioned to console over 14 months of disciplined effort in which I flat-out refused to play games on my beloved PC while experiencing considerable culture shock and learned basic console handling skills. But the differences between PC and console gaming are vast and making the move in the other direction, from console to PC can be equally daunting, so here’s a handy five-step guide to get you playing PC games as though you’ve been doing it all your life.
- Get a decent PC or gaming laptop. This feels like a big investment if you don’t already have the kit but it is worth it because you will get years of gaming out of one machine. The hardware won’t go out of date as fast as consoles, which have to be updated more frequently, consigning older games to history. As an additional bonus, you’ll suddenly enjoy better graphics and a smoother framerate, plus the games themselves will suddenly become a lot cheaper. Get to know Steam, a retail platform for PC games that offers AAA titles and thousands of smaller and indie games. Steam regularly has sales and this is another way to make savings.
- Prepare to be patient. PC games have long intros. PC games excel at providing the gamer with big, thoughtful, immersive worlds but that comes at a price. There’s typically going to be a much longer period where you have to learn how the world operates, attempt to understand the story and appreciate the full range of activities that the game offers. With a few exceptions, don’t expect to barge into boss fights right away. There will be a long, slow curve where you practise simple tasks until you develop muscle memory and can move on to bigger things.
It’s not very easy to fast forward past this process, as many latecomers to World of Warcraft have discovered. Sure, you can get a new subscription that includes a paid for boost that will take your character directly to the top level (currently 120) but this is guaranteed to result in headaches when you find yourself equipped with a character that has dozens of skills and abilities that you don’t understand. PC games don’t respond very well to button mashing and if you are unfortunate enough to get into a multi-player situation without knowing what you are doing, other players will notice right away and people will yell ‘learn to play!’ at you, which is a demoralising experience and not really what you were hoping for when you signed up.
Slow down. Take your PC games at an easy, relaxed pace. Pay attention to the story and don’t get stressed out when you suddenly have 20 quests to fulfil. Very few of them will be compulsory and the game is fulfilling its remit of giving players lots of different ways to enjoy the product. Whether you live to slay other players in PVP, parade around in the best gear the game has to offer, collect achievements, explore the physical world or advance the progression of your guild, your big, sprawling PC game has anticipated your needs.
- Practice your manual skills. Using a keyboard and mouse to control action can feel awkward at first when you’ve become used to using a dedicated console handset. After all, you’re suddenly using equipment that was really designed for business and office tasks for pure entertainment and that is not going to feel like a natural fit. The payoff will come when you realise that you can control your character’s action with far more precision than you could achieve on a Playstation or Xbox. No question about it, trying to aim at things with your thumbs is never going to result in the same speed and precision that you can achieve with a keyboard and mouse. Once you’ve become used to it, it will be hard to give up.
- Expect a lot of thinking time and some periods of inactivity. PC games were made for strategy and that means there will be longish periods where you don’t feel like you’re physically doing much. You’re either thinking strategically about how to get your character out of some awkward situation or else you’ve just taken an action and you are waiting for it to have an effect in the game world. The benefit here, apart from the pleasure of a more nuanced gameworld that wants your decision-making and storytelling ability just as much as it wants your ability to hit things, is that you can do other things at the same time. While your first forays into PC gaming will feel like they demand all your attention, you’ll soon be able to take phone calls, eat dinner, watch Tv and argue with your partner about household chores, all without interrupting your seamless play. The mark of this is that it will frequently take other players a relatively longer time to realise that you are away from your keyboard and there will be many situations where no-one will know because the actions you take in game don’t affect anyone else.
The downside of downtime is that if you don’t set objectives for actually achieving something in game when you log in, you can waste a few hours of game time doing absolutely nothing. I’ve logged into multiplayer PC games and felt busy while merely changing my character’s outfits, chatting to other players in game, checking my in-game mail, looking at the map, cleaning out my inventory, doing my banking and cooking imaginary food. A whole evening can elapse and you’ll find that you didn’t get into a single fight or complete a single quest. With this turn of events comes the dawning realisation that you are replicating your actual real life in game and basically just doing admin. I have never known this to be true in made for console games such as Battlefield or Far Cry where you’re either definitively taking action and moving your progress forward or else you’re not, and if you’re not, the game will certainly let you know about it as there isn’t much else to do.
- Realise that when you find a game you like, you are embarking on a long-term relationship. This is, in fact, a selling point of PC games. While most console games are designed for players who want to charge through content like a freight train, reaching completion within a few hours, many PC games are designed to cultivate a passionate, long-term relationship with the player that can last 20 years. Console games mostly cannot compete with this element. Sure, open world titles such as Horizon Zero Dawn will try to encourage you to search for collectibles and do in game achievements but these always feel like a bolt-on that rarely delivers real satisfaction next to the obvious imperative of getting to the next big boss fight.
PC games are different. There’s usually a wide variety of things that you could be doing within a game and your tastes and objectives may not be the same as the next person’s, even when they are ostensibly playing the same game. The upshot of that is that the collectible items that you normally overlook are there for some reason. The time you take to seek them out will be rewarded when they combine into some unique armour, mount or in-game toy that other, less patient or differently-focused players do not have.
You are going to become a geek, so get used to that being in your future. You can smash through a Far Cry game on your Playstation or Xbox and leave the experience feeling happy but fundamentally unchanged. In contrast, when you’ve found a PC game such as Skyrim, which you sense from the beginning is going to consume several hundred hours of your life, it will change you. In two years from now you will find yourself in deep conversations with people who made a point of talking to every NPC, holding strong opinions on every patch and minor development tweak to the game and forming relationships with other people based solely on the fact that you are members of the same guild, other in-game community or fan site. Some of those relationships will materialise in real life and some will outlast relationships that you forged outside your favourite game.
That’s it! When you’ve got your gaming machine, slowed down the pace at which you usually attack games, become physically welded to your keyboard and mouse, have learned to value thinking time as much as action time and married a guild member – congratulations. You’re a PC gamer.