The best free games on PC
The currently ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has forced everyone to start tightening their belts to some degree, even gamers. However, a fortunate side effect of these new budgeting endeavors is that F2P (free-to-play) games have never been more in vogue, and if you primarily game on a PC you have a lot of F2P games to choose from. If you’d rather not sift through the hundreds of F2P PC games out there on your own, we’ve gone ahead and assembled a curated list of 10 games which we feel offer the best value to gameplay ratio.
The below list covers a range of games across a number of different genres and formats, so no matter your particular tastes or whether you prefer playing alone or with friends, you should be able to find something that strikes your fancy. When appropriate, we’ve also listed similar F2P games for specific genres in case our main picks don’t fully win you over.
Fortnite: Battle Royale
At first blush, it’s easy to write Epic Games’ Fortnite off as a “kiddie game” because of its cartoony visuals and slapstick presentation, both of which are undoubtedly meant to appeal to a younger audience. However, there’s a good reason why Fortnite and its accompanying 100-player battle royale mode have remained such a dominate force within both the battle royale and F2P communities.
Epic has put the boatloads of money it’s made from Fortnite microtransaction sales to good use, slowly transforming Fortnite: Battle Royale into one of the most expansive and feature-rich F2P games of all time. The game’s third-person shooting and unique structure-building mechanics are supported by an ongoing series of unique seasonal themes, tons of unlockable rewards, world-changing in-game events, and pop-culture tie-ins which have covered everything from Star Wars to Deadpool to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
If you’d rather play a F2P battle royale game whose theme and aesthetic are a little more mature, some good alternatives to consider would be Infinity Ward’s recently launched Call of Duty: Warzone or Respawn Entertainment’s sci-fi title Apex Legends.
If you’re looking for a F2P game that focuses more on cooperative play rather than competitive PvP (player vs. player) conflict, your pickings are quite slim. Thankfully, one of the few options you do have just happens to also be one of the most well-established and expansive F2P games on the market: Digital Extremes’ Warframe.
Now, to be totally honest, Warframe is not the sort of game you can just dive into and expect to master in a day. Its sleek visuals are certainly eye-catching and its acrobatic moment-to-moment gameplay can be quite fun, but one unfortunate side effect of the game’s age is that there is a lot of ancillary information to take in. Warframe is so jam-packed with different mission types, gameplay modifiers, in-game currencies, equipment builds, and recurring events that it’s hard for even the most seasoned gamers not to feel overwhelmed once they realize the game’s full breadth.
Warframe’s complexity can sadly make it hard to stick with over the long term, especially if you’re playing alone and/or hesitant to spend real-life money in its in-game shop. However, if you’re looking for a game where you can just zone out and fight some bad guys (in a super stylish fashion no less), it should at least fit the bill there.
If Warframe’s sci-fi setting appeals to you and you don’t mind fighting your fellow players directly, you might also consider looking into Daybreak’s large-scale competitive shooter Planetside 2 or Hi-Rez Studios’ Overwatch-esque team-based title Paladins.
Team Fortress 2
It’s a little hard to believe that Valve’s seminal shooter sequel Team Fortress 2 is still going strong 13 years after its original launch, but it’s also hard to ignore the game’s universal charm and bombastic gameplay. The game’s shift over to a F2P model in 2011 likely helped to bolster its longevity as well, as did major post-launch content updates such as the recurring Halloween event and the co-op Mann vs. Machine mode.
Similar to Fortnite, Team Fortress 2 often gets a bad rap for being associated with a younger crowd, but if you’re looking for a well-balanced class-based F2P shooter experience, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option than the game that made Valve’s The Orange Box such a hit.
If you’re a CCG (collectible card game) fan who’s looking for a nice and easy entry to break into on PC, Blizzard’s Hearthstone is one of your best bets. Not only does Hearthstone have an easy-to-learn format and newbie-friendly deck-building tools, it’s also supported by an ongoing seasonal structure, the newest of which is the currently ongoing Year of the Phoenix.
Along with its various PvP modes which include standard and ranked play, weekly Tavern Brawls, and even an auto-chess-esque side venture called Hearthstone Battlegrounds, Hearthstone also has a number of single-player PvE campaigns, several of which are entirely free for all players. These and other features all help Blizzard’s card game retain its place as one of the most easily accessible and visually pleasing F2P titles on the market.
Those who like the idea of a digital CCG but who want to find something other than Hearthstone have many alternatives to consider. We’d recommend looking into games such as Dire Wolf Digital’s Eternal, CD Projekt Red’s Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, or Riot Games’ recently launched Legends of Runeterra.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Counter-Strike is one of the most venerated names in PC gaming, and Valve has made sure it stays that way by actively supporting the newest game in the series; 2012’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Despite its age, Global Offensive still has a very active community and a thriving eSports scene, and Valve has been slowly expanding its content offerings through various post-launch updates and events.
Similarly to Team Fortress 2, Global Offensive began life as a more traditional paid title before Valve shifted it over to a F2P model in 2018. The F2P transition also included a unique new battle royale-style mode called Danger Zone which helped to further bolster Global Offensive’s universal appeal. Countless other games have sought to emulate Counter-Strike’s iconic objective-based competitive gameplay, but if tense close-quarters engagements are what you’re looking for, there’s no reason not to go with the franchise that started it all.
PC gamers looking to find a F2P MMO (massively multiplayer online) game to sink their free time into have no shortage of options, and with a plethora of choice unfortunately also comes a wide variance in quality. Those who decide to try out Phoenix Labs’ monster-hunting MMO Dauntless, however, need not worry since the only thing better than the game’s streamlined hack-and-slash gameplay is the quality of its world-building and F2P monetization model.
Dauntless’ core gameplay loop of PvE monster hunting is straightforward enough for new players to quickly pick up on but also supplemented with enough ancillary progression to ensure long-term engagement. Plus, players who enjoy the game enough to invest in it can take advantage of unique seasonal reward tracks to unlock unique cosmetics such as armor styles, emotes, and weapon skins. Best of all, Dauntless’ multi-platform availability and full cross-platform progression and matchmaking make it one of the best MMO’s to play with friends regardless of which gaming platform they have access to.
Some other solid PC F2P MMO’s to consider include Perfect World’s swords and sorcery-themed Neverwinter, Digital Ink Games’ superhero-themed DC Universe Online, and Grinding Gear Games’ Diablo-esque isometric RPG Path of Exile.
Destiny 2 has had its fair share of ups and downs over the past few years, but there’s no denying that the game’s F2P starter edition, dubbed Destiny 2: New Light, offers some of the best value of any F2P game out there. Through New Light, players can sample a staggering number of different activities and quests, including the entirety of the base game’s Red War story campaign as well as the campaigns from its first two expansions, Curse of Osiris and Warmind.
New Light players can also participate in seasonal events, explore outdoor patrol zones, and try out structured activities such as Crucible PvP, PvE strikes, and the unique PvPvE mode Gambit. As of late, developer Bungie has been struggling a bit to find the right method of balancing Destiny 2’s recently adopted seasonal content format, though to its credit the studio is still working hard to ensure players who invest in the game, either financially or with nothing but their time, get a good deal.
League of Legends
The Moba (multiplayer online battle arena) genre isn’t as hot as it was just a few years ago, but it does cater quite well to the F2P audience and has thus retained a strong periphery presence even as its once bright hotness has slowly cooled. Given its sizeable community and name recognition, Riot Games’ League of Legends has continued to thrive despite the waning Moba star, though that’s also very much because Riot hasn’t been content to just coast on its debut game’s reputation.
Riot has smartly built the League of Legends world out into its own mega-franchise, one which is bolstered by supporting materials such as novels and comic books as well as entirely separate offshoot games like the aforementioned Legends of Runeterra and the auto-chess title Teamfight Tactics (which is also F2P). Even on its own, though, League of Legends’ robust selection of game modes and playable champions combined with its deeply rewarding progression and unlock systems ensure it remains one of the most compelling and accessible Moba’s to date.
Moba fans looking for alternative F2P options might also want to consider Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm, Hi-Rez Studios’ mythology-themed third-person Moba Smite, or what many consider to be the “original” Moba, Valve’s Dota 2.
Similar to Warframe, CCP Games’ venerable sci-fi ship-faring MMO Eve Online is the sort of game that’s relatively easy to get into but hard to stick with if you’re playing alone and/or unwilling to give it the bulk of your attention. However, players who are looking for a more cutthroat player-driven game where digital empires rise and fall based on key political maneuverings and betrayals will find no greater candidate than Eve Online.
For many years following its initial 2003 launch, Eve Online utilized a mandatory monthly subscription model (much as many other MMO games of the time did), but that finally changed with the release of the game’s Ascension expansion in 2016. The headline feature of the Ascension expansion was a new F2P pricing model called ‘Clone States’ which allows players to explore Eve’s world and utilize a limited number of ships and pilot skills entirely for free. A monthly subscription is still needed to unlock the entirety of Eve’s feature set, but Clone States at least lets players decide if the game is right for them without any upfront monetary investment.
Sci-fi fans who like the idea of ship-based MMO exploration but who find Eve’s world to be just a little too cold and merciless can also look into Cryptic Studios’ Star Trek Online.
Mojang’s Minecraft is obviously the top dog when it comes to voxel-based creation games, but players who are looking to build their own worlds without paying any upfront costs have a few F2P alternatives to consider as well. Among those alternatives, one of the best is undoubtedly Trion Worlds’ fantasy-themed voxel MMO Trove.
Trove’s eclectic mixture of player-driven world-building and more traditional fantasy RPG components makes it an ideal game for players who like to build with purpose or who just want a little hack-and-slash dungeon delving to accompany their creation efforts. The game is admittedly geared a bit more towards younger players, but even more seasoned gamers should find a lot of value to wring out of Trove’s F2P structure.
If nothing but Minecraft will do, there is technically a free trial for Minecraft: Java Edition, but it’s more like an extended demo rather than a proper F2P experience. The free trial lasts for a total of 100 minutes (about five in-game days according to Mojang), and once that timer expires you have to purchase the full version to keep playing. At the very least, the free trial is handy for determining whether your computer can run Minecraft with no financial risk.
Some other F2P Minecraft-style games you can also try out include Roblox, a kid-friendly 3D game creation and hosting suite which actually came out before Minecraft proper, and Unturned, a zombie apocalypse-themed voxel survival game that can be played either solo or via online multiplayer.
Puzzle, Strategy, and Fighting Games
As we mentioned at the beginning, there are a lot of F2P games to try if your primary gaming platform is a PC. This naturally made it hard to trim the number of candidates for this list down to a nice round ten, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t’ also take a moment to mention a few worthy runner-ups among the puzzle strategy, and fighting game categories.
The PC gaming community isn’t exactly known for harboring a robust roster of fighting games, but if you want to throw down mano-a-mano without paying any upfront costs you do have several options thanks to games like Brawlhalla and Dead or Alive 6: Core Fighters.
Strategy game fans who also happen to have an eye for military history should also look into Wargaming.net’s vehicle combat trio World of Tanks, World of Warships, and World of Warplanes. There’s also Gaijn Entertainment’s modern combat-focused War Thunder which features land, air, and sea vehicles all in one package.
Lastly, puzzle fans can try their hand at Bethesda’s Fallout-themed spinoff game Fallout Shelter or, if they don’t mind fighting other players directly, Valve’s take on the auto-chess genre, Dota Underlords.
If gaming on a strict budget has become a priority for you, the above list should help you fill out your PC game library while keeping your bank account happy (and who knows, you might even discover some new favorites you hadn’t previous considered). Every F2P game comes with the looming temptation to spend a few bucks here and there, but the games we’ve chosen are guaranteed to offer a few hours of free entertainment at the least, especially if you’ve got a friend or two to bring along for the ride.