The last week has been a trying one for me. On Sunday, there were four computers in my office, three of which were broken. The fourth was not really a computer, but more of a collection of parts that were cobbled together for the purpose of constructing a PC that would sneer derisively at the mere mention of turning down any game's ambient occlusion settings.
I've been wanting to build a first-rate dream PC since I was about 9 years old, and the time had finally come when I had the means and motivation to do so. After four days of sweat, famine and forgetting what day it actually was, it was finally complete—with no help from anyone with experience or even the internet. And it is as majestic as I had hoped.
After all of the unexpected mechanical malfunctions, and after my hands were sore from working with so many tiny screws, all I wanted to do when the build was finished was to download a big, bad, system-destroyer of a game from Steam to put the new machine through its paces. To see what that fancy graphics card is really worth. I made a short list of games to acquire post-haste:
Much to my surprise, those were the only really technologically demanding games that I wanted. Most of the games I hadn't been able to play recently (due to gaming only on a netbook), like Hoard, will run great on most computers—just not a netbook.
The way the PC game industry is today, most of the really creative and entertaining design work that's happening is in the indie space. Every single game in the list above is part of a series; the AAA game space has gotten so expensive to develop in and so risk-averse that sequels seem to be all that actually comes out of it anymore.
The indie games we cover here every day are, to my mind, the most interesting things happening in the industry, and very few of them require anything but a modestly powerful PC to play. I probably could have bought an i5-powered Toshiba laptop and been able to play almost everything I ever wanted to on PC, save those few games above and a handful of forthcoming ones like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and BioShock Infinite. These are also sequels, being the third and fifth games in their respective series.
Which brings us back to the titular question: Is getting a high-end dream PC worth it?
For most, the answer is probably no. Unless you're a big fan of shooters, RTS or big-budget RPGs on the PC, you really don't need a very expensive computer to play the games you want. Cheap PCs are better than they ever have been. The other day, I played Civilization 5, a game less than a year old, on my friend's Sony laptop that was included as part of a $1,000 bundle with a large TV. That machine cost a fraction of the time and money that mine did, and we're playing most of the same games on them.
Then again, if you're a PC gamer, you're probably scoffing at me right now in the warming glow of your blue LED caselights. We know why we need these garishly powerful machines. Because they can do anything we want them to do, even if we don't know quite what that is yet. It's the same reason people buy Ferraris in a world of speed limits; even though we don't use all the potential of what we have every day, it's still thrilling to know it's there. And when you do get to stretch it out playing maxed out Crysis 2, you remember what it was all for, and love your life.