There have been many false dawns for Linux gaming, but in recent years things have been improving unabated. The launch of the Proton compatibility layer meant that thousands of DirectX-only games can now be translated to Vulkan and therefore work on Linux, while new Linux-compatible games continue to be released as well.
If you want to play Windows-only games on Linux, see our guide on how to set up Proton and Steam Play. If, however, you just want to check out all the best native Linux games in 2021 you can play, then read on below.
The viking-themed survival game that’s been the talk of 2021, Valheim may still be in early access, but it’s already an undisputed success. In a lot of ways, Valheim does much the same things as every other survival game, but it’s co-op focus (allowing for up to 10 people to play together) and its pretty PS2-style visuals make its randomly generated worlds a joy to explore.
The game runs perfectly on Linux, and is receiving a steady stream of updates as it slowly builds up towards a full release. Admittedly, its story and exploration aspects aren’t fully fleshed out yet, but you can already go through its main quest of hunting down several legendary beasts as you try to maintain order in the monster-beset purgatory of Valheim.
Not only can you play this sci-fi colony simulator on Linux, but you can play it on a low-end Linux (probably even without a dedicated GPU, depending on how good your iGPU is).
Don’t let the simple visuals fool you, RimWorld is an incredibly deep game that was worked in Early Access for years before maturing to full release. It sees you manage a colony of people trying to survive on an Earth-like planet populated by other tribes.
Not only do you go through the basics of farming, building up your settlement and raiding others, but each in-game character has their own complex personality, relationships and needs, and it’s fascinating watching your little people chat, play with and even marry each other while you deal with delegating tasks around your colony.
Ok, now let’s strip the human element out of RimWorld and replace it with conveyor belts, production chains and processing plants. In the same way that RimWorld lets you enjoy the little human stories as you manage the bigger picture, Factorio is about creating complex production chains then watching it all become automated thanks to your work.
It’s vast and complex, and is all about gathering resources then processing them in the most efficient way possible. There’s an added wildcard element too, as the planet’s people won’t be too happy with your exploitation of it and will rise up against you.
Factorio is a joy to play alone, but can also be enjoyed as an online co-op game.
4. A Short Hike
Some games are just designed to make you feel good, and while we’ve got plenty of deep and challenging titles on this list, we thought it’d be nice to start things off with this indie gem.
A Short Hike sees you wandering, flying and base-jumping around a beautiful national park as an anthropomorphic hawk. You explore the park at your own pace, traverse mountains, chat to other hikers, and generally have a wonderful time bounding around the bright and cheery landscape. It’s extremely relaxing, while also having some breathtaking moments as you can freely soar around the park on your birdy wings.
At a time when many of us want to escape into something that helps us relax and forget about the woes of reality, A Short Hike is the perfect getaway.
5. Crusader Kings 3
It’s rare that a hotly anticipated new game runs on Linux straight out of the digital box, but medieval dynasty simulator Crusader Kings 3 does just that. Maybe that’s because it’s a game lacking in graphical complexity, as you hover over a map of the medieval world and look at moody kings and queens while plotting your next move in your rise to power.
The game puts you in control of a noble or royal bloodline – arranging marriages, assassinating rivals and marching armies as you attempt to expand your family’s influence and keep your bloodline going. It’s the best dynamic story generator around.
6. Total War: Warhammer 2
When people dream up which video-game franchise would match up well with movies, board games or other IPs, the combo of Total War with Warhammer would surely rank high on many lists. A few years ago, this dream was realized, and the Total War: Warhammer bandwagon has plowed on unopposed ever since.
Total War: Warhammer 2 stacks on top of the original game if you own it, letting you combine all the factions from both games into one super-campaign. Each faction feels completely unique to play, and watching thousands-strong armies of Skaven, Undead, Lizardmen, Chaos and the other grimdark factions go at it is a sight to behold.
7. Desperados 3
Another new release that supported Linux from the get-go, Desperados 3 is a relentlessly old-school real-time tactics game in the vein of Commandos (or of course the older Desperados games). It’s tough, tactical, and will have your finger permanently hovering over the quick-save button as you try to execute your plans to perfection.
But Desperados 3 (made by the devs behind the excellent Shadow Tactics) modernizes the formula, too. Showdown mode lets you pause and slow the game down to line up moves by your ragtag crew of vagabonds, and you can even play with a gamepad should you want to kick back on your couch. It’s still a tough old game at heart, but made more palatable for modern gamers.
8. Dying Light: Enhanced Edition
Probably the best zombie game that no one’s really talking about (but millions of people are playing), Dying Light has been around for a few years but is still top of the pile thanks to its frantic zombie hordes and excellent parkour mechanics. The Enhanced Edition bundles together a few years worth of DLC, including the excellent expansion, The Following.
Dying Light chucks you into an open-world city destroyed by a zombie pandemic, as you try to help out the enclaves of humanity that still live there. You refine your character with skills, leap between rooftops and chop up zombies with crafted weapons.
It doubles as one of the best co-op experiences out there, too, as up to three friends can dash around the city with you (complete with new challenges and competitive modes like races).
9. Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
There’s some debate around which Civilization game is truly best (and the previous entry, Civilization V, is also available on Linux), but when it comes to accessibility and easing players into this strategy epic, the latest version is a good place to start.
Civilization VI has the same stone-age-to-space-age turn-based formula as its predecessors, but adds neat new ideas like de-stacked cities, combined arms units, and (in the DLC) climate change, golden ages and dark ages. Some say it lacks the depth of previous entries, but now that all the major expansion packs are out, it’s a worthy addition to Sid Meier’s legendary series.
10. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
One of the titles that best represents the cRPG revival of recent years makes your typical Bethesda RPG look like a facile action-adventure. The latest entry in the majestic Pillars of Eternity series has a more buccaneering slant as you sail with a crew around islands filled with adventures and peril.
Adding naval combat to the mix, Deadfire continues with the rich storytelling and excellent writing of its predecessor while building on those beautiful graphics and hand-painted backgrounds of the original game. This is a deep and unquestionably hardcore RPG that may cause some to bounce off it, but those who take to it will be absorbed in its world for months.
11. Slay the Spire
Still in early access, but already one of the best games of the year, Slay the Spire is a deck-building card game that’s embellished by a vibrant visual style and rogue-like mechanics that’ll leave you coming back for more after each infuriating (but probably deserved) death.
With endless card combinations and a different layout each time you play, Slay the Spire feels like the realization of all the best systems that have been rocking the indie scene in recent years – card games and a permadeath adventure rolled into one. And we repeat that it’s still in early access, so it’s only going to get better!
12. Dead Cells
This one deserves highlighting as the combat-platformer of the year. With its rogue-lite structure, Dead Cells throws you into a dark (yet gorgeously colored) world where you slash and dodge your way through procedurally-generated levels. It’s a bit like a 2D Dark Souls, if Dark Souls were saturated in vibrant neon colors.
Dead Cells can be merciless, but its precise and responsive controls ensure that you only ever have yourself to blame for failure, and its upgrades system that carries over between runs ensures that you always have some sense of progress. Dead Cells is a zenith of pixel-game graphics, animations and mechanics, a timely reminder of just how much can be achieved without the excesses of 3D graphics.
13. Team Fortress 2
Everyone thought Valve was crazy to turn Team Fortress from a Half-life style realistic(ish) online shooter to a bold and bouncy online shooter in 2007. But it worked, and incredibly well, too.
The bread-and-butter of Team Fortress 2 are classic team-based modes, like Capture the Flag, Control Points, and the excellent Payload, where one team needs to escort a cart across a level (sound familiar Overwatch fans?). You pick one of several distinct classes, specializing in either offense, defense or support, and dive into one of its many meticulously-designed vibrant maps.
It’s one of the best influential online shooters of all time, and it’s completely free these days unless you fancy splashing out on skins and other sillies.
14. Dota 2
Another Valve stalwart, Dota 2 is a free-to-play MOBA phenomenon, rubbing shoulders with League of Legends as the most popular game of its kind. Fun fact: the original Dota is in fact a mod for the RTS classic Warcraft III.
So what makes Dota 2 special? It’s actually a little deeper than League of Legends in some ways (though I’m sure LoL fans will disagree). You can pick from one of over 100 heroes to take into battle, fighting alongside your team and your army of minions to push those lanes and destroy the other team’s base. Units range from healing support types to charging, head-down attackers. Whatever your play style, there will be one in there to suit you.
Dota 2 has a few interesting features as well, such as the option to eat up your own minions in exchange for gold and numerous ways of kitting out and upgrading your character. Be warned: Dota 2 isn’t for the faint-hearted.
15. Open-Source Games
As an open-source platform itself, it’s only right that Linux is home to plenty of great free open-source games as well. There’s Brutal Doom for example – a beefed-up version of ZDoom, the open-source port of Doom, Doom 2, Final Doom and Master Levels. It features extra animations, gore, and weapons, as well as redesigned maps, modernized controls and UIs.
OpenRA lets you play Westwood strategy games like Red Alert, Tiberian Dawn and Dune 2000 online in high resolutions. There’s 0 AD – the seemingly endless project to make an Age-of-Empires strategy game, not to mention the brilliant Dark Mod, which is a Thief-style game in the Doom 3 engine with hundreds of brilliant player-created levels.