Gavin has had a passion for writing almost as long as his passion for video games. Which came first, the controller or the pen?
Some games will take you a couple of hours to finish, others a couple of days. But some will offer the promise of endless hours of entertainment, giving their players reasons to keep coming back time and time again indefinitely and asking you to lose yourself in their worlds and ecosystems. These games are all continuously supported by their developers, and so excludes games that have yearly iterations asking you to buy in time and time again. Instead, this list looks to highlight some of those games that— regardless of genre and style—you, the player, could pick up today and never put down.
It didn’t take long for Blizzard’s vision of the first-person hero shooter to set the world on fire when it released in 2015. Itself an iteration of what Team Fortress 2 innovated in 2007, Overwatch combines a cast of colourful and interesting characters and personalities with lightning fast FPS reflexes and varied modes and environments. Players are tasked with capturing objective points (or moving the payload from one area to the next). How Overwatch reinvents the genre though is by giving players access to unique hero abilities and ultimate special moves, reminiscent of games in the MOBA genre before it.
The mix of character classes and abilities adds a level of competitive team strategy on top of the skill-based shooting, and is complemented by hilarious voice lines and cartoon visuals. Like any good e-sport, Overwatch’s meta is constantly shifting.
Each new game of Overwatch puts players on a level playing field with no progression to speak of, making it instantly replayable and endlessly addictive. Each game played leaves you with that feeling of “one more match”—whether it’s to redeem a crushing defeat or to continue the euphoria of a hard-fought victory. The hook to keep coming back (outside of the addictive gameplay) is in loot boxes, but where that phrase usually acts as a deterrent, Overwatch implements them well. Loot boxes contain cosmetics only (voice lines, sprays, emotes and rare skins) and are handed out readily—you’ll get one on almost every play session, and seasonal events keep the faithful fanbase coming back for a look at the newest of Blizzard’s excellent skins.
Alternatively try: Other hero shooters such as Team Fortress 2, Quake Champions or Valorant
2. League of Legends
The MOBA genre was spawned from a Warcraft III mod called Defense of the Ancients. This, in turn, led to a burst of AAA studios attempting to capture the same magic, including a full-blown sequel by Valve in Dota 2. But none attained the level of success of Riot Games’ League of Legends.
League of Legends is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) that sees games of 5v5 played out on an isometric map. At time of writing, there are 148 playable champions to choose from, and somehow no two feel the same, from the unique aesthetics and personalities to the four champion abilities available to each. Players fight across three separate lanes joined by a “no man’s land” jungle, to tear down the opposing teams’ towers and ultimately destroy the Nexus that makes up their base.
There is a high skill ceiling to League of Legends, making it hard to learn but a joy to master, and the largest competitive e-sports scene in the world revolves around the complex strategy that goes into even a single game. No two games will ever feel the same, and each game of League gives you a feeling of wanting to try just once more—one more try with a different champion, one more try with a different role, one more try with a different item build or strategy, one more try to earn in-game currencies to unlock the staggering amount of champions and cosmetics available in the game store.
Alternatively try: Other MOBAs such as Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm or SMITE
When it comes to endless games, none quite encapsulate the idea of limitless content quite like Minecraft. Created by developer Mojang in 2011, Minecraft started a wave of sandbox survival games that allowed players to hunt, gather, craft and fight for their character’s survival. Crafting is the key mechanic in Minecraft’s block-based pixel world, with players exploring the procedurally generated infinite landscape for richer and rarer materials to bolster their virtual homes. Opposition to these goals looms in the ever-present “mobs”, as well as other players.
But where Minecraft becomes a truly endless experience is in its “Creative Mode”, allowing you to play free of the hunger mechanics of Survival Mode to instead craft to your heart’s content with any and all of the materials available. Player-hosted worlds become sprawling mini-games and colossal monuments, featuring completely new games within Minecraft, and even entire real-world cities being built by dedicated creators.
Now a property of Microsoft, Minecraft continues to be supported across a multitude of platforms and spin-off games, but the base game continues to grow strong boasting over 120 million monthly players. With its enormous breadth of content, be it Survival Mode or the hundreds of thousands of player-built areas to explore in Adventure Mode, or the blank canvas of Creative Mode, Minecraft is a game that you could comfortably play at the exclusion of all others.
Alternatively try: Other sandbox creation games such as Terraria, Starbound or Subnautica
4. Destiny 2
The “game-as-a-service” model is designed with the very concept of an endless game in mind. The format is built to provide an experience that its players can regularly come back to, and Destiny 2 is perhaps the biggest and finest example of the genre.
Essentially a “looter shooter” by nature, the Destiny franchise took the addictive qualities of loot-based games like Diablo and Borderlands and mixed in elements from the MMORPG genre—timed events, daily challenges (for solo players and three-person “fireteams”) and even raid dungeons. Destiny 2 doesn’t slack on the basics though, providing some of the best gunplay, finest visuals, and most interesting environments in all of video gaming. The indulgent amount of weaponry means there is always a style of gun for you, from shotguns to sniper rifles and even the laser-beam like Trace Rifles.
The Destiny 2 campaign alone takes dozens of hours to complete, as well as four major expansions that provide continuations of the story. But where Bungie’s magnus opum provides true endless entertainment are in the large open world areas and the repeatable missions (Strikes, and their more difficult counterparts, Nightfalls.) These standalone missions allow you and your team to continuously explore locations to earn rewards and complete daily and weekly challenges for more cosmetic engrams and weapon/armour loot. If the PVE content isn’t enough, Destiny 2 also has PVP areas called The Crucible, where you can battle other players for another way to obtain loot, advance leaderboards and earn the glory of victory in the 4v4 or 6v6 deathmatch contests.
Alternatively try: Other online looter games such as The Division 2, Diablo III or Warframe
5. Sid Meier’s Civilization
“One more turn” was a phrase popularised by the Civilization series, and for good reason. Sid Meier’s seminal 4X strategy game puts players in charge of an entire nation—from its birth as a group of settlers with a camel, through multiple ages to bring it to the modern day and beyond. Playing any Civilization entry, you watch your empire go to war with nearby nations with swords and shields and horse cavalry. You’ll see the development of tanks and air bombers, and the construction of the wonders of the world. You’ll thrive, through war and bloodshed, or through culture and politics and scientific advancement.
A number of campaign options put players in the roles of historical greats like Mahatma Gandhi or Attila the Hun, and later entries offer the option to jump online and play cooperatively or competitively. Regardless of game mode, the “Next Turn” button hovers ominously present, enticing just one more round to tweak cities and manoeuvre forces.
Each entry in the Civilization series adds something different, whether it’s the square tiles of early entries, the overhauled combat of Civilization V or the district systems of Civilization VI. The fanbase can argue at length about the merits of each entry, but regardless of your choice there’s no doubting that any game from this iconic franchise will quickly rack up play times in the hundreds (plural!) of hours.
Alternatively try: Other 4X strategy games such as Endless Legend, Age of Wonders or Stellaris
Kickstarting a flagging genre in 2014, Blizzard Entertainment released Hearthstone to some surprise. It had been years since the collectible card game genre had been successful in video games, but Hearthstone changed all that. Based on the popular Warcraft property, Hearthstone is more accessible and visually stunning than any of its competitors.
Card decks are broken down into nine classes which offer diversity and range, totalling almost 2000 different cards with their own unique Abilities and Keywords. As in any card game, the gameplay comes from effectively building a cohesive deck, utilising the cards in the best order and combos and maximising your mana (resource used to play cards), all whilst outplaying your opponent through baits and switches.
Hearthstone has ranked play for its most competitive players, and plenty of opportunity for you to spend money on the game to build the most competitive decks. For those more casually interested, the game itself is free-to-play and—with enough time spent—a decent deck can be compiled from the many free unlocks earned through in-game progression or special timed events. In-game currency can be spent to play in different tournament styles, such as Arena, for more lucrative gains. Hearthstone’s format is undeniably easy to keep coming back to—whether it’s for the daily challenges and rewards, or just for another tweak of your favourite deck or an attempt to get on that new ladder.
Alternatively try: Other online CCGs such as Gwent, Pokémon TCGO, or Magic The Gathering: Arena
7. Rainbow Six Siege
Ubisoft’s military shooter Rainbow Six Siege has become one of gaming’s great turn-around stories. Launching in 2015 as the latest in the Tom Clancy line of games, Siege attempted to bring new life to the Rainbow Six brand by shifting its focus from traditional campaign modes to a strictly online multiplayer space. Players battle in 5v5 scenarios where attackers infiltrate an enclosed area as the defending team attempts to stall their efforts. The game puts emphasis on tactical play, with each “operator” given access to unique abilities similar to a team shooter like Overwatch. What sets Siege apart is the realism of the military setting, the destructive environments, and the speed at which your character dies after receiving fire.
A number of different game modes provide a variety of ways to play, and the game has yearly “seasons” as well as regular limited-time events such as the excellent PvE “Outbreak”, which injected (via. an influx of mutant alien parasites) some science fiction into the usually grounded setting.
At launch, a lack of content and a microtransaction structure caused the game to receive a lukewarm reception. However, in the preceding years Ubisoft have iterated on the game to such a degree that it now boasts 20 playable maps, 7 modes, 52 unique operators and over 60 million players. Even with hundreds of hours spent, it would be difficult for you to unlock everything Rainbow Six Siege has to offer, and its dynamic multiplayer gameplay and regular events keep it fresh years after release.
Alternatively try: Other online military shooters such as Counterstrike: GO, Battlefield or ARMA 3
8. World of Warcraft
Easily the oldest game on this list, Blizzard’s 2004 record-breaking MMORPG (massive multiplayer online roleplaying game) World of Warcraft continues to be the top experience in the genre. Since its release, eight full expansions and countless patches and updates have changed and improved the WoW experience for its loyal fanbase. The graphics have been overhauled to somehow look fantastic despite its age, and there are over thousands of hours of gameplay to be found in this enormous online game.
Choosing from 1 of 12 classes, your character can be customised with an immense variety of skills, gear, and cosmetics to create an avatar to roam the huge continents of Azeroth. World of Warcraft is a lot of different things to different people—it may be a place to socialise with friends, or a place to hunt for treasures and grind for new loot. It may even be a place to catch pets or go fishing. For many, the most enthralling experience though is grouping together with friends for PvP faction wars or end game raids, and the most recent expansion Battle for Azeroth allows you to skip straight to this high-level content.
Between all of its modes and areas, World of Warcraft is practically endless and is comfortably the largest MMORPG available today. It’s still going strong nearly two-decades after release and has one of the largest loyal fanbases of any game in the world for good reason.
Alternatively try: Other MMORPGs such as Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic or Runescape
9. The Sims 4
No list of video game time-sinks would be complete without featuring The Sims, and the most recent iteration on the beloved life sim franchise is the biggest and deepest yet. The Sims lets players create a family and control their every day lives—building their houses up from an empty plot to a sprawling mansion, improving careers spanning writers, chefs, movie stars and everything in between. But The Sims also puts you in charge of your imaginary family’s hygiene habits and hobbies, social lives and romances.
The Sims 4 improved on that promise, offering more ways to customise your Sims’ appearances and homes, and a wider range of personalities and emotions for your artificial people. At launch it was missing a lot of content that players of early games had grown accustomed to, but through the release of patches and expansions, it is now the largest and most extensive Sims game ever made.
A staggering amount of expansion packs provide even more ways to customise the Sims worlds, whether that’s adding clothes items, pets, university educations, or even adding magic and supernatural phenomenon, and with each core game iteration the possibilities only grow. Publisher Electronic Arts knows that the keen fanbase will keep coming back for the newest way to influence their Sims’ lives.
Alternatively try: Other life sims such as Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley or My Time At Portia
10. Apex Legends
Any number of recent battle royale games could have filled this slot. Apex Legends is the more recent entry and arguably the one that sticks closest to the core genre format whilst maintaining constant updates.
Surprise-released in 2019 as a direct response to the popularity of Fortnite and PUBG, Respawn Entertainment’s battle royale brought innovations to the popular genre that would be aped by competitors in and out of its genre ever since. Apex maintains the standard format of 100 players on an island, scavenging weapons and fighting to be the last person (or team) standing as the play area slowly shrinks. Apex couples a unique sci-fi aesthetic with the best gunplay in the genre (taken from Respawn’s previous hit Titanfall 2) as well as a number of its own innovations—such as the inclusion of hero classes with their own unique abilities, not dissimilar to Overwatch or Quake Champions. Apex Legends also brought group parachuting, match champions, respawn mechanics and a dynamic ping system to the genre.
Like its counterparts, Apex is free-to-play and supported via in-game cosmetic purchases and season passes, and Electronic Arts have continued to support Apex Legends since its release with new maps, new legends, and seasonal events. As with any battle royale, you’ll keep on coming back after each round, because that elusive #1 spot always hangs so tantalisingly close.
Alternatively try: Other battle royales such as Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Call of Duty: Warzone
11. Planet Zoo
Park builders are a great form of time-sink, allowing players to while away hours on their various virtual endeavours. Frontier Developments have been leading the way in this genre for years, including hits Jurassic World Evolution and Planet Coaster. The latter received a follow-up in 2019 with Planet Zoo—their biggest and boldest game yet, putting would-be CEOs in charge of operating a full zoological park.
Trading rollercoasters for lions, and tigers, and bears (oh my!), Planet Zoo also expanded on the already enormous amount of customisation in its previous games. The Planet games are also known for their fine attention to detail, and nowhere is this clearer than in the various animal enclosures. Each species perfectly mimics its real-world counterpart, down to eating and sleeping routines—and even their toileting habits! The animals are just one element of running a park though, as you are also tasked with pleasing park guests and balancing finances, and Planet Zoo provides all the tools for maintaining this side of the simulation too.
As with all of Frontier’s games, Planet Zoo has received a number of DLC expansions for the hardcore players who want to expand their access to world locations and exotic creatures. Even without these add-ons, the game provides endless hours of entertainment if you’re happy creating and tweaking new and interesting parks in either campaign or sandbox settings.
Alternatively try: Other management sims such as Planet Coaster, Prison Architect or Two Point Hospital
12. StarCraft II
Despite first releasing in 2010, Blizzard’s StarCraft II remains the king of the RTS (real time strategy) genre. The epic science-fiction stories of the three conflicting factions is timeless, but it’s the deep strategic intricacies of its unit-based battles that keep its loyal fanbase enthralled. Unlike its 4X counterparts, StarCraft II has no pausing for turns, instead forcing you to think on the fly as you build up a base area and production lines to crank out increasingly powerful units—whether they be the space marine Terrans, the swarm of the insect-like Zerg, or the technology-obsessed psionic Protoss.
Whilst the three campaign modes offer dozens of hours of engaging and polished story content, the free-to-play online component is where StarCraft II has endured. Blizzard have worked meticulously on balancing the three factions of its standout RTS to ensure a constant competitiveness for one of the biggest and most enduring e-sports scenes in the world.
No two games of StarCraft II ever play out the same, as the complex paper/scissors/rock approach of each unit forces on-the-fly changes to strategy and tactics across head-to-head or team battles, and even loyal fans are constantly finding new ways to adapt their plays. The game continues to be patched and updated, but even without this ongoing support, StarCraft II would have a large and loyal fanbase for years to come.
Alternatively try: Other RTS games such as Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War, Company of Heroes 2 or Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition
13. Cities: Skylines
Colossal Order’s 2015 city-building extravaganza comfortably unseated SimCity as the king of the genre. Cities: Skylines offers players unprecedented tools for creating and managing a fully functioning city and taking care of the needs of its thousands of citizens. It’s greatest achievement though may well be the accessibility it grants—even a first-time city builder can create a sprawling metropolis complete with industrial, residential, and commercial districts, flat housing or towering skyscrapers, football stadiums and theatres and power plants.
Perhaps the most famous feature of Cities: Skylines is the traffic management system, which tasks you with preventing jams and pileups on intersections and highways in the busiest sectors of your city. As well as transportation services, would-be mayors are asked to look after power, pollution, water, healthcare, education, garbage, and a number of other important factors in keeping your cities running smoothly and growing exponentially.
Progression milestones, multiple game modes, and a slew of DLC, plus Steam Workshop support, has meant that city-building enthusiasts can find endless hours of entertainment in tweaking, adapting, growing and even modding your cities to your hearts’ content.
Alternatively try: Other city-building sims such as Tropico 6, Frostpunk or Anno 1800
14. Elite Dangerous
Resurrecting an 80’s legend, Elite Dangerous took a dated concept and brought it into the modern age when it debuted in 2014. Offering you the opportunity of living out the fantasy of captaining a starship, Elite Dangerous successfully captures every element of simulating life in outer space. Boasting a procedurally generated galaxy map so big that no player could explore it all in their lifetime, Elite does not lack for places to go and things to do. After mastering the art of space flight, Elite Dangerous offers many methods of keeping its player base busy. Pilots have the choice of using their ship for transporting goods, mining minerals, taking passengers, getting into combat for bounty hunting (NPCs or real players), or even throwing in with the many player groups and their galactic goals and wars. Not to mention, the galaxy is gorgeous and well worth simply exploring—visiting our home Sol system is a must for any intrepid explorer.
However you choose to earn your in-game credits, the goal is always acquiring new ships—bigger, faster, more deadly—and equipping them from hundreds of variable components available across the galaxy. The ARX currency can be purchased to add cosmetics to ships and pilots. Outside of cosmetics, Frontier Developments continues to grow Elite Dangerous with regular updates, ranging from new ships to wider game changes such as recent patches that added planet surface travel and co-op missions to be completed in “wings” with friends or clan members. Elite also provides galaxy-wide events, such as the unexpected discovery of the Thargoid alien race, keeping even regular players on their guard.
Alternatively try: Other space sims such as Star Citizen, No Man’s Sky or EVE Online
15. Rocket League
Football with cars. The concept of Rocket League sells itself, but whilst Psyonix’s 2015 goliath has a lot of style, it backs it up with substance too. Rocket League captures the adrenalin and speed of car racing, and the skill and precision of football. Matches of 2v2, 3v3, or 4v4 can be played online or offline with friends. As in football, you are tasked with scoring into goals at either end of a pitch using a ball, but the addition of rocket-powered cars means fast overtakes, huge dives and flips, and even some gravity-defying wall and ceiling running.
The simplicity of Rocket League is a huge part of its appeal—the game can be enjoyed by any player new or old. However, the skill ceiling is high and for long-time players looking to rise to the top of the ranks and leaderboards, Rocket League is an artform to be mastered like any other sport.
Regular updates add new parts for customising vehicles, from tires and wheel rims, to crazy custom exhaust fumes and silly hats and aerials. Psyonix regularly patch their game with new modes, such as the battle royale-esque Rumble, or Beachball which replaces the regular ball with a—well, you guessed it. Limited time events and seasons add to the replayability of the game, and whether it’s one to revisit once a year, or every single night, Rocket League can provide you with endless adrenalin-filled entertainment.
Alternatively try: Other fantasy sports games such as Laser League, Windjammers or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
16. Killing Floor 2
Killing Floor 2 is simply pure, uncensored multiplayer fun. Teaming with up to five other friends, Tripwire Interactive’s online first-person shooter pits players against an ever-growing horde mode of mutated monstrosities. Whilst horde modes are nothing new to the genre, Killing Floor 2 succeeds in being the most visceral, violent and tactile entry into the genre. Visually it is a joy to experience, and the slow motion activated on a headshot or multi-kill allows you to fully indulge in the murderous spectacle.
Between each round of wanton killing, a store is opened up allowing you to upgrade on the fly your weapons and armour choices. You choose from one of ten “perks” (essentially classes) which grant minor bonuses and discounted weapons in their tree—Support gets cheaper access to many shotguns, whilst the Firebug utilises weapons that torch everything in sight. The monsters also vary, from simple grunts called Zeds to the chainsaw-wielding Scrake or the enormous Fleshpound. Each full game ends in a single 6v1 boss fight against one of a number of hideous behemoths.
Perks can be levelled up, granting a sense of progression, but each game of Killing Floor 2 resets weapon and armour unlocks to zero, making each round a standalone experience. Multiple difficulty settings mean you’ll never be lacking a challenge, and seasonal events add to the fun—such as the yearly winter update that adds killer reindeer, snowmen and elves to the hordes of monsters waiting for you and a group of friends to explode their brains.
Alternatively try: Other co-op first-person action games such as Left 4 Dead 2, Hunt: Showdown or Warhammer: Vermintide 2
17. Ark: Survival Evolved
Following the inception of Minecraft and Day Z the survival game genre was born, and a slew of contenders stepped up to the plate to try to take the crown. One such contender was Ark: Survival Evolved by Studio Wildcard in 2017. Taking the template from others in the genre, Ark’s players are thrown into massive open worlds with only their bare hands and the opportunity to mine resources to craft weapons, items, and build homes. Hunger and thirst are key mechanics, forcing you to focus on your own personal survival whilst working with—or against—other players to build lodgings. However, where Ark differs from its brethren is in its emphasis on dinosaurs.
Prehistoric creatures not only act as a natural threat in Ark, but also as tameable pets and major assets that provide a number of benefits, from faster crafting to rideable mounts—on land, water, or even air. Fulfilling many a fantasy of riding a T-Rex into battle or soaring over volcanos on the back of a pterodactyl, this unique spin on the genre provides endless memorable moments for you to experience. Ark also features one of the largest craftable item lists in the genre, ranging from everything between a pickaxe and a laser-mounted hover boat.
Since its inception, Ark: Survival Evolved has itself evolved to branch out from its humble prehistoric trappings, adding more sci-fi weaponry and fantasy monsters to its world through five core DLC packs, a handful of free expansion maps, a spin-off battle royale mode, and even a free official Total Conversion mod. Across all of this content, you can find endless enjoyment as parts of dedicated clans, or just with friends building and refining your virtual homes.
Alternatively try: Other online survival games such as Day Z, Rust or Don’t Starve Together
Gavin Hart (author) from United Kingdom on May 31, 2020:
Thanks Phil! MTG has had almost a dozen video games over the years, which somewhat defies what I'm defining as "endless" here - hopefully Arena becomes the sole platform for their game moving forward and it would definitely qualify! I think any of the big online CCGs could fit though, and I've included a couple of my top recommendations in the "Alternatively try" section - including MTG:A of course!
Phil on May 31, 2020:
Excellent article. I would replace Hearthstone with MTG but other than that some great picks.