Recently, “The Best Free PC Games” came to mean something totally different than it used to. For most of gaming history, “free-to-play” had a negative connotation. Most F2P games were shameless shovelware that had more malware than engaging gameplay. It was a sucker’s market aiming to trap bored kids. It’s only relatively recently that these games have found a market niche. Even AAA developers are getting in on the this new and lucrative game market. Now, there are abundant F2P games which are not only great free games, but genuinely great entries in their genre.
Of course, making a good game requires funding. That’s why the modern crop of F2P games are really more “free” to play. It was the recent trend towards microtransactions that allowed for the “freemium” model of game pricing. Microtransactions give players the freedom to pay what they feel a game is worth, while players have ample time to figure out if it’s worth supporting a game. With all of that in mind, here are my favorite free PC games currently on the market.
Best Free PC Games: Fortnite
It’s the no-brainer of any free games list. Fortnite is the juggernaut of the moment. After toiling in relative obscurity as a co-op third person shooter, Fortnite introduced a free-to-play battle royale mode. They managed to capitalize on the trend that PUBG started, and may have accidentally done too well. The battle royale mode has largely eclipsed the original game now. Still, good gameplay talks, and Fortnite remains one of the better battle royale games out there. It’s fun and addicting, with a charming art style, decent balance, and relatively few bugs. The best part is, even modestly-powerful PC’s can run this game.
Best Free PC Games: Dota 2
The newest version of the MOBA genre codifier, Dota 2 still keeps pace with its competitors. At the risk of hate mail, the OG MOBA is still my pick for best in the genre. It has an absolutely mind-boggling roster of heroes, all of whom have some kind of neat gimmick or unique mechanic. Under Icefrog’s development, the game has grown from the world’s most popular game mod to an esports champion. Valve adds regular events and balancing patches to keep things from being stale. And then there’s the competitive circuit. Even if you don’t play yourself, tournament Dota 2 is a thing to behold. The casters, fans, and players all bring a level of energy that’s hard to match.
Best Free PC Games: Warframe
Warframe is one of the truly great co-op action games currently on PC. The gameplay is slick and satisfying, with impactful but balanced abilities for each character. The usual fear in these kinds of game is whether or not the grind is going to be miserable without paying. In my experience, that fear is unfounded in Warframe. While it’s definitely not quick levelling at higher levels, the gameplay is fun enough on its own to keep things fun the whole way through your progression. Plus, levelling only adds complexity to character builds. The core gameplay at max level would be familiar to players who are just starting out.
Best Free PC Games: Path of Exile
If you remember Diablo’s heyday, you remember what an absolute monument that game is to addictive gameplay. Path of Exile follows proudly in the footsteps of its conceptual predecessor with all the fixings you’d expect from a good Diablo-style RPG. The classes are conceptually interesting while being excellently balanced – though there are always debates in any given patch (that said, Witch for life). Its story does exactly what it needs to. It sets you up to carve a bloody swathe through all manner of horrible things. However, where this game really shines is in its hardcore mode. That’s where most of the community focus is. It brings to mind everything that was great about the Diablo II community. Add to this that the game receives continuous support from its developers, and you’ve got a great pick for eating up your free time.
Best Free PC Games: Team Fortress 2
Valve helped popularize the trend of taking aging pay-to-play games and making them free-to-play monetization monsters. The Team Fortress series started life as a humble mod, like many of Valve’s current properties. Then, Valve announced Team Fortress 2. Visually, it was utterly unlike anything that had been seen before. It was cartoony and colorful in a time when “real” was good – and “real” meant brown. A few years later, Valve did another shocking thing: They made it free to play. Ever since, TF2 has been the go-to free-to-play shooter. It boasts Quake-style mechanics and a plethora of fun weapons beyond the dull, overused, usual selection. Nothing can quite match the sheer joy of rocket jumping around the map like a madman and smacking some poor sniper in the face with a shovel while traveling at a velocity just south of the sound barrier.
Best Free PC Games: Dwarf Fortress
You’re not prepared for Dwarf Fortress. That’s the first, most important statement I can make about this game. It’s utter insanity. You will get all of your hairy little colonists killed time and again. The trick is that each and every horrible doom your mountain home suffers is a uniquely hilarious cascade of failures. Maybe you were using a swarm of angry elephants as a moat replacement, then they got inside the fort. Perhaps you tried to make a lava trap and accidentally incinerated all the food. Or you just went for the classic style and dug too deep for your own good. Every game is a story because the game is terrifyingly complex. Each entity in the game has its organ systems, needs, and psychology modeled. The fiendish complexity is as much an obstacle as it is a reason to keep coming back. If you can get past the ASCII presentation – or have a beefy enough PC to install a visual pack – it’s an utterly unique game that’s the very definition of a passion project.
Best Free PC Games: League of Legends
DotA may have created the genre, but it wouldn’t be where it is without the tireless efforts of Riot on League of Legends. While the base gameplay is similar at its roots to Dota 2, the two games have evolved distinctly from their source material. League is based more around steady, reproducible systems and a stable metagame than Dota 2’s constantly-evolving metagame. Champions fit into a handful of specific roles and, as a result, it’s a much easier game to learn from the ground-up. It also has a comparably larger playerbase in English-speaking countries, but whether that’s a pro or a con depends on who you’re playing with.
Best Free PC Games: Planetside 2
Planetside 2 is a truly remarkable game. What other shooters bring to the table, Planetside 2 brings more. Two sides fighting? Try three. Want tanks and airplanes to go with your infantry shooting shenanigans? Try all of the above and mechs. Want to have a huge map? Try several, all of which are active fronts in the endless fighting. It’s interplanetary Battlefield with a beautiful aesthetic theme for each of the three sides and a deep class system. All of the classic classes are here, from engineers to grunts to snipers. Admittedly, it has some problems for free-to-play players. Advancement is slow. A lot of customization options are locked behind either a long grind or cash. The free-to-play life in the game feels a lot like being stuck in a demo while others are playing the full game. But what it lacks in friendliness to free players, it more than makes up for in unique gameplay situations that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. Just be warned: You’re going to want a pretty beefy PC to play it on anything better than potato graphics.
Best Free PC Games: Warface
Warface is another free-to-play shooter that’s more reminiscent of your Call of Duty-style games. It’s a “realistic” military shooter, and I can’t make those sarcastic quotes large enough. It’s got all the trappings of your typical gritty shooter, but then you actually get into the game and it’s glorious off-the-wall insanity. You can slide like you’re coming in to first base while blazing away with a light machine gun. You feel like an action movie hero, until someone flips the script and makes you one of the henchmen. It’s good, old-fashioned shooting with a really well-developed aesthetic. The levels are well-built without too many stupid blind corners, awful chokepoints, or the like. It feels like it’s trying to steal some of the disaffected former Call of Duty players, and I’ll admit: It worked on me.
Best Free PC Games: Mechwarrior Online
Mechwarrior Online is the definitive giant, stompy robot action game of the current era of gaming. While that’s partly a function of lacking competition, the game still stands on its own two multi-ton feet. Longtime fans of the series will find a lot to love in the game, as the developers have slavish devotion to the Battletech lore. Newly interested people will find a solid community, a fantastic kind of action you won’t find anywhere else, and one of the longest-running scifi game franchises this side of the Pacific. While the game can be intimidating to new players, it’s definitely user-friendly enough to hook someone who’s never played a Mechwarrior game before. It’s a fascinating multiplayer experience that is generally more friendly than other free-to-play games. My only real complaint about its current iteration is that it’s lacking in single player content. Sometimes I don’t necessarily want to hop online to experience the stompy glory of 50+ ton giant robots leveling cities.
Best Free PC Games: Cave Story
While it’s been ported as a pay-to-play game multiple times since its inception, Pixel’s classic metroidvania about a lost robot on a crazy floating island is still free-to-play in its original iteration. Cave Story is a one-man passion project with beautiful spritework, an engaging story with great characters, and pulse-pounding gameplay. The heroic robot Quote goes on a journey through a number of interesting environments, each with their own challenge. In classic metroidvania style, you must solve puzzles and explore to acquire new weapons and powerups to help you survive in a hostile environment. Unlike many games in the genre, however, Cave Story features a lively cast of characters ranging from the odd bunny-people Mimigas to the lost scientists of an earlier expedition. All of this comes together with a phenomenal retro soundtrack that you’ll find yourself humming long after you stopped playing. While the plot gets surprisingly dark given its cute packaging, Cave Story is an engrossing experience that will keep you entertained and challenged the whole way through.
Best Free PC Games: Star Wars: The Old Republic
The Knights of the Old Republic series is the pre-eminent Star Wars RPG series and has yet to be dethroned. Star Wars: The Old Republic is an engaging MMO take on the series. Most of the mechanics of the single player games are there, including the squad interactions. In fact, SWTOR is that rarest of beasts in the MMO market: An MMO with an actually good single player component and great MMO content. Like a lot of free-to-play games, SWTOR’s free-to-play content is more of a demo to get you hooked. The expansion content remains locked behind a paywall, unfortunately. That said, SWTOR gives you plenty of time to decide if you want to drop money or not, and it’s a great free-time eater until you hit that point.
Best Free PC Games: Atlas Reactor
Atlas Reactor hails from a somewhat uncommon genre. It’s a simultaneous turn-based-tactics (STBT) game with MOBA elements. If you’ve ever played a STBT, you know basically what to expect. It’s an extremely solid example of the genre. If you’re unfamiliar with this small genre, imagine an X-COM game where both teams resolve their turns at the same time. It takes getting used to, but it makes for chaotic and gripping tactical gameplay once you’ve gotten the hang of it conceptually. On top of this, Atlas Reactor throws in unique abilities to really add a whole new dimension to the proceedings. Unusually, you’re also only taking control of one unit on the battlefield. This means you’ll have to coordinate tactics with the rest of your four person team. Honestly, it’s one of the most unique games I’ve played recently with solid aesthetics and great gameplay. And since it’s free, all you stand to lose is some time.
Best Free PC Games: Hearthstone
If you’ve never experienced the rush of opening a pack of cards for a collectible card game, it can be hard to express what makes Hearthstone a better experience than traditional CCGs. If you have experienced that and then experienced the sinking feeling of looking at your bank account, you get why a totally free-to-play CCG is a revelation. While gaining parity with the pros requires a similar investment of time and money to Magic the Gathering or its competitors, casual play in Hearthstone remains fun even as a free-to-play player. The mechanics are well-thought-out and game balance is a bit easier to maintain with digital cards. You won’t find a Black Lotus situation in Hearthstone. The class-based divisions between deck types are an interesting conceit that really helps create gameplay diversity and helps players find a playstyle they mesh well with. The added bonus of being able to play on a mobile device means it’s a public transit commuter’s dream game.