At one time, free PC games were dominated by indie testbeds and Flash time-wasters. These days, the free-to-play phenomenon has completely changed our expectations. The full-priced games that once topped the charts are getting some real competition from titles that offer large swaths of the experience with zero upfront cost.
Free-to-play PC games are releasing at a rapid pace, and with that comes both pros and cons. The huge variety means that there’s something to scratch nearly any itch, but the signal-to-noise ratio on storefronts like Steam is tragic. Instead of trudging through dozens of generic clones and trashy cash-grabs, let us separate the wheat from the chaff for you. In today’s post, we’re highlighting 20 of the best free games on the PC. But there’s a lot of ground to cover: Follow along, and something here is bound to tickle your fancy.
Fortnite Battle Royale Curious about the wildly popular Battle Royale format, but don't want to shell out $30 for Playerunknown's Battlegrounds? Well, Epic Games is joining in on the gold rush with a free Battle Royale mode available in Fortnite while it remains in development. You can dive in with no upfront cost, and play this specific mode as much as you'd like. And if you end up wanting an early taste of the PVE modes, you can drop $40 for immediate access. (Download it from Epic Games, or find out more on IGN)
Pinball FX3 The world of pinball has a long history of licensed tables, so it's good to see Zen Studios keeping that tradition going even after the market for physical pinball tables has nearly evaporated. If you're willing to spend real money, you'll find tables from franchises ranging from Star Wars to Fallout to E.T. And even if you're unwilling to open your pocketbook, the free Sorcerer's Lair table is still loads of fun. (Download it on Steam, or find out more on IGN)
Paladins This "Champion Shooter" from Hi-Rez Studios is most obviously comparable to Blizzard's Overwatch, but with a new 100-player Battlegrounds mode, it's clear that this early access game is willing to ride the wave of whatever's exceedingly popular in the shooter space. You can play for free with a limited group of starting Champions, but a one-time $20 purchase of the Founder's Pack will unlock all current and future characters. (Download it on Steam, or find out more on IGN)
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 Lite Do you thrive on competition? Well, the "Lite" version of Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 lets you live out all of the nail-biting moments of operating your own football club. You can play the online myClub mode and League mode, kick around with the exhibition matches, and improve your skills with the training mode. It's more limited than the full product, but it's still a solid way to get a taste of what modern PES looks like. And if you're dying for more soccer, you can always upgrade to the complete version later on. (Download it on Steam, or find out more on IGN)
Doki Doki Literature Club Taking on the tropes of visual novels, this quirky and somewhat terrifying game from Team Salvato subverts the genre at every turn. If you can handle some severe psychological horror, this meta adventure is worth the handful of hours it takes to finish. While this isn't really the free-to-play model as we've come to expect, the entire gameplay experience remains entirely free of charge. If you enjoyed your experience, you can drop $10 on the "Fan Pack" for wallpapers and the soundtrack. (Download it on Steam, or find out more on IGN)
Brawlhalla Inspired by the likes of Super Smash Bros., this 2D fighter allows PC gamers to join in on the fun. While it doesn't function exactly the same as Nintendo's beloved cross-over series, there's enough in common to satiate your melee cravings. You can play as much as you'd like for free, but you will need to make a single $20 purchase to unlock all current and future characters. (Download it on Steam, or find out more on IGN)
Realm Grinder If you've never played an idle game before, the concept might raise your brow. You'll spend your time cycling between rapid clicking and simply waiting around for the game to progress — idling. Most games are built around some kind of a gameplay loop, but the overwhelming majority mask the repetition with exciting quests and complicated systems. Idle games, like Realm Grider, instead eschew those layers of abstraction in favor of ever-growing numbers. You'll start off by clicking over and over, and earning only a little bit of gold. After a while, your buildings will be cranking out currency much faster than you could ever hope for, and you'll get to reap the sweet, sweet dopamine release as you collect upgrades and trophies. (Download it on Steam)
EVE Online Lovingly referred to as "spreadsheets in space," EVE Online has enjoyed a thriving, if sometimes odd, community of space entrepreneurs for the last decade and a half. Yes, this game launched in the early Bush administration, and it's still going strong. A while back, CCP began offering a free-to-play option for EVE that allows unlimited access to a subset of the ships and skills. For more options, you'll need to pony up between $11 and $15 per month for a proper subscription. (Download it on Steam, or find out more on IGN)
Killer Instinct Originally developed by Double Helix for the Xbox One's launch, this superb fighting game has continued to see significant updates under the care of Iron Galaxy. Most importantly, it's now available on PCs running Windows 10. There's always going to be at least one character available to play for free, but you can also buy new characters or entire seasons worth of content outright. And since everything you've unlocked or purchased on the Xbox One transfers over to the Windows 10 version, there's never a need to pay twice. (Download it on the Windows Store, or find out more on IGN)
Dota 2 Based on a popular Warcraft III mod called Defense of the Ancients, Valve's Dota 2 is the poster child for the free-to-play model. Without spending one red cent, you get access to the entire gameplay experience. Of course, Valve does make a tidy profit from selling players cosmetic and convenience items. The Bellevue company is well-versed in the realm of free-to-play games at this point, so don't be surprised if you find yourself buying lots of new loot for this "free" game once you're hooked. (Download it on Steam, or find out more on IGN)
Path of Exile If you liked the Diablo series, Path of Exile will be right up your alley. At its core, this is an action RPG mashed together with a free-to-play business model. You'll spend most of your time moving through fantasy environments, destroying everything in your wake with blades, bows, and magic — paying for aesthetic changes and select upgrades along the way. If you loved Diablo II, but weren't so keen on the direction taken by Diablo III, you should absolutely check out POE. (Download it on Steam, or find out more on IGN)
Tera Unlike most MMORPGs, Tera's combat is real-time. Instead of just locking on and cycling through your abilities like a typical MMO, Tera is much more action-focused. You'll need to roll out of the way of attacks, and aim your shots. So if you like the social aspects of MMOs but hate the WoW formula, Tera is worth trying out. "Elite status" nets you tons of bonuses at a rate of $15 per month, and investing real money in "EMP" lets you purchase cosmetics, consumables, mounts, and random loot boxes whenever you see fit. (Download it on Steam, or find out more on IGN)
League of Legends Just like Dota 2, League of Legends is a MOBA derived from the exact same classic Warcraft III mod. However, the folks at Riot Games have a very different pricing model than Valve's. You can play a select number of characters out of the gate, but access to additional characters need to be earned or purchased. League remains insanely popular across the globe, and the folks at Riot Games continue to expand this franchise more and more every single year. (Download it on the League of Legends website, or find out more on IGN)
Hearthstone Based on the setting of Blizzard's incredibly popular Warcraft franchise, Hearthstone is a phenomenon in and of itself. This turn-based collectable card game is hugely successful on PC and mobile, and the low barrier to entry is the reason why. All you need is a free Battle.net account, and you can join in on the fun. There are optional expansions, but you can still have tons of strategic fun for free. (Download it on Battle.net, or find out more on IGN)
Star Wars: The Old Republic Did the success of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi revive your love of Star Wars? If so, check out BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG. The core story content is free-to-play, but if you're interested in even more gameplay, you can pay $13 to $15 per month for a higher tier of service that will net you more currency, perks, and content. This game isn't as popular or as polished as World of Warcraft, but it delivers a ton of content for free, and has a surprisingly solid story for an MMO. (Download it on Origin, or find out more on IGN)
Team Fortress 2 Dota 2, while wildly popular, isn't Valve's first free-to-play game. The house that Gordon built cut its F2P teeth on Team Fortress 2. Originally released as part of a bundle called The Orange Box, Valve made Team Fortress 2 free-to-play nearly four years after its original release. This class-based shooter is now infamous for its item-based economy, and maintains a surprisingly large user base. Give it a go, but don't let the virtual hat mafia get ahold of your Steam account. (Download it on Steam, or find out more on IGN)
Warframe This sci-fi third-person shooter from Digital Extremes has a lot to offer for thrifty players. You can spend dozens of hours shooting and slashing away with other players online, and you don't have to invest anything other than your time. Of course, you can spend real money on in-game currency and items, but it's not necessary to have a good time. Even better, it works surprisingly well on older systems, so almost anyone with a half-way decent graphics card can join in. (Download it on Steam, or find out more on IGN)
Smite If you're curious about the MOBA scene, but the overhead viewpoint is a turn-off for you, Smite is a decent place to start. With WASD movement and a behind-the-back perspective, Smite feels more like an action game than an RTS. Like many other games in this increasingly crowded genre, there is an absurd number of characters to choose from, and you'll need to pony up some money if you want access to all of them right out of the gate. Thankfully, a one-time purchase of $30 will unlock all of the existing characters and every future character as well. (Download it on Steam, or find out more on IGN)
TrackMania Nations Forever TrackMania is designed around besting your friends on the leaderboards, and making the craziest race tracks imaginable. Play the entirety of the stadium environment for free by downloading TrackMania Nations Forever, or spend $30 to upgrade to TrackMania United Forever with an additional six racing environments included. And if you just can't get enough, you can always move on to TrackMania 2 or TrackMania Turbo. (Download it on Steam, or find out more on IGN)
Neverwinter Ready to get nerdy? Check out this free-to-play MMORPG based in the Forgotten Realms. Explore this fantasy world with your friends, and soak in the decades of lore built-up around this popular D&D setting. You can pump in real money to improve your character, but you need to be careful of what you buy because it's easy to blow hundreds of dollars. Still, chipping in $10 or $20 on occasion seems pretty reasonable if you're having a good time. (Download it on Steam, or Find out more on IGN)
Free to Play All Day
Regardless of your specific tastes, you won’t have to spend much to get hundreds of hours of entertainment. The free-to-play and free-to-start concepts get a bad rap from exploitative mechanics from titles like Clash Royale or Candy Crush Saga, but there’s still so much here that’s worth exploring. As long as you spend your time and money wisely, the entire experience can be pretty sweet. And since there are so many fish in this particular sea, there’s no reason to put off trying something else if the monetization pressure ever gets too intense.