The concept of free PC games may be suspicious to you, and you probably aren’t wrong when you think about free-to-play models. But, thankfully, some of the best titles out there today are available for free, and they don’t restrict access or force you to spam invitations to Facebook friends like they did in Farmville days.
The best free PC games
In the list below, you can find some of the most popular titles ever in the esports scene, one of the games from the legendary Orange Box, multiple battle royale and a couple of card games with a slightly more relaxing vibe. Some have optional microtransactions, but they are not intrusive and, indeed, they are not required to make the most of these games.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Oh, nothing to see here – there is only the best FPS ever made (the best of the competitive ones, at least). And if you have any doubts about this statement, consider the 22 years of life of CS: GO and try to remember when was the last time you thought about Valorant.
It’s the best of both worlds: a shooter where pure aim counts, which rewards reflexes, accuracy and spray compensation, and it’s also a deeply tactical confrontation between two teams – one that attacks a target, whether it’s installing a bomb or saving hostages, and defending the other. This means that you can become incredible strategists without great aim and still do a good job, and vice versa: every team needs an IGL and a rifleman. Then there is the echo layer, another tactical aspect to consider. Switching to the free-to-play model didn’t spoil the game’s refined balance, and Valve’s eternal struggle with cheaters is being fought well. So don’t worry, it’s not full of hats… yet.
A lavish triple-A shooter with a shared world and no price tag. Bungie has evidently saved some Halo money in its coffers and decided to make a sequel to the game that all the other games seem to be copying in some way, all without cutting back on production values. No “that wizard came from the Moon”, this time, and the base game is free from 2019.
There is an objectively excessive amount of currencies, collectibles, resource converters and vendors, and becoming practical in this river of F2P systems is the price to pay for a connected, story-rich world that you can explore with friends and that will make you stay alert for… well, maybe forever.
Warframe was a launch title for PS4. Think about it – this game dates back to the days when Miley Cyrus shocked the VMA audience, yet it is still among the ten most played titles on Steam.
This is all the more remarkable when you consider that everyone ignored Warframe upon release. Nobody cared about its surprisingly engaging story or its rich character enhancement system. But Digital Extremes’ diligent support meant that the game became as popular as it deserved, in the end, and still feels fresh and ever-changing today.
Fortnite Battle Royale
Source of inspiration for the cheers of many footballers, responsible for the return of the Cartlon Dance and the consequent legal battle to decide who owns the rights, savior of the game that was originally Epic Games’ cooperative PvE. Home of innovative in-game concerts that draw millions of attendees, springboard for Twitch’s biggest streamers – Fortnite is quite popular, that’s what.
An agile, albeit derivative, move with which Epic transformed his latest game into a battle royale similar to the hugely popular PUBG in 2017, and saved it from obscurity. Nobody wanted to take down zombies and build walls at the time but, as a last man standing crossed with a building game, now it has no equal. And it’s free.
Welcome to the MOBA corner of free PC games, where the sound of mouse clicks is a constant background. Where the meta has already changed twice as of this writing, and the total hero count has probably increased at least three times.
Valve’s sequel is part of the genre’s original lineage, having originated as a Warcraft III mod in the 1990s. The action in Dota 2 is the same as always: take down mobs in the wool for money, upgrade the heroes, attack the enemy base. But, over the years, it has branched out into a sophisticated esports platform that attracts top players, and also allows you to learn the basics with some relatively simple tutorials and lots of settings to customize the difficulty with.
League of Legends
There are so many similarities between League and the other great MOBA titan above: they both have heroes, lanes, last hits, and the same ultimate goal of attacking and dismantling the enemy base. But there are also so many differences, the kind that might seem slight to the outside eye but have a huge impact when playing at high levels.
Things like friendly fire, runes, mastery and summoner spells. And a totally different roster, balanced following a totally different goal. So while you might think the two games are similar at first glance, being good at one doesn’t mean being good at the other. Often becoming good here means forgetting a lot of notions acquired about the other game and this is the biggest challenge for an experienced player.
Shh now, forget the worry of having to learn 700 MOBA characters and their strengths. Come, sit in this cozy tavern and play cards.
This is the honeyed tip that Blizzard whispered in your ears a few years ago and many haven’t left that tavern yet. Hearthstone is the card game everyone else has to contend with – simple enough to enjoy from round one, complex enough for an esports scene, and decades of making increasingly difficult decisions about how to build your deck. The game has the typically high production values of the company that could nominate a Diablo III cutscene for the Oscars and an ever-changing meta to learn every time.
Speaking of card games… What is most impressive about the spin-off card game of The Witcher, another of the most popular free PC games, is how little it resembles Hearthstone. There is certainly a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere, although it is evoked by the Balkan instruments that are usually heard in Geralt’s adventures, and an inherent pleasure in just seeing the artwork printed on the cards. Not to mention the opening animation, so satisfying you’ll want to watch and re-watch it for hours. But the similarities end there.
Cards in Gwent do not fight against each other. Not in the same way they do by Blizzard rules. On top of that, it’s a pretty generous game for free-to-play, providing daily login bonuses and requiring surprisingly limited grind to build really competitive decks.
It has been around longer than gaming, computers… and perhaps humanity itself. Triceratops often relaxed with some space trade after a long day in the Paleolithic, archaeologists recently confirmed. But EVE shows no signs of slowing, despite the now advanced age. A space game that is almost as old as the formation of the Milky Way, isn’t that ironic?
This happens sometimes when you set your game in the vastness of the cosmos and your game is an MMO. CCP may have provided the tools, but it was the players who made the game what it is – a perpetual war of factions between deeply involved parties (literally: the collateral damage of large-scale conflicts has reached hundreds of thousands of dollars). It’s a dense product, but the tutorial system opens its doors to everyone and the community is surprisingly welcoming, when you consider it has been a lifelong war.
A MOBA that brings you a little closer to the action, thanks to its third person view. The characters draw inspiration from ancient mythology, which certainly had an impact on the name Smite, but the gameplay is a profane mix between Dota, Overwatch and, in its arena mode, even a variant of battle royale.
The free-to-play model places an emphasis on aesthetic customization and provides an ever-changing roster of 12 heroes to play for free each month, so there’s room for even the most casual gamer. On the other end, it’s one of those free PC games with a long-lived and complex esports scene. It’s not a title that will ever outshine the other two big MOBAs, but it’s doing things its own way with a different perspective.
PUBG: Battlegrounds with slides. Fortnite without the forts. H1Z1 with players. All technically accurate descriptions of Apex Legends, but none tell the full story of how fun it is to explore, track down and eventually dominate in this game.
The characters have Overwatch-style timed abilities and characters that resemble those of Overwatch from an aesthetic point of view, and this brings a new depth to a genre that has already seen so many. Crossing the levels can be slow and dangerous if you play without resorting to skills or avoiding parkour moves that involve slides, jumps and ziplines to climb. The weapons have a similar feel to that of Call of Duty, the maps change periodically based on the changes in the lore, and it’s free. It’s free. It’s free.
Team Fortress 2
A third of the legendary Orange Box, a release that changed everything, forever, in 2007. The concept itself was not new: that number 2 in the title is a not insignificant clue to the rest and, even before becoming a Half-Life mod, Team Fortress was out and about in the Quake dial-up community.
What stood out, and continues to do so, is how expertly Valve is able to distinguish the nine classes from each other. Playing as a sniper is completely different than playing as an engineer. The big man and the doctor have their bromance, and being a spy is like playing a totally different game than any other. There will be a lot of hats, and a pretty confusing array of modes and items in the inventory, but the core of the game has never really changed: it’s a class-based online multiplayer game that does classes really great.
Call of Duty: Warzone
The best Call of Duty of the last few years, and it’s one of the free PC games you can get right away. The franchise attempted battle royale a few times before Call of Duty: Warzone and did so with the shyness of a teenager at the high school prom but, when it finally found the courage to combine its best shooting mechanics with decades of know-how in making maps and a well-balanced loot system took no prisoners.
Be realistic, though: the best thing about the game was those first few weeks, where people who had never tried battle royale wandered around the map with a “kill me” target on their back, didn’t they? But, in the end, they all learned the basics and now they have started killing you as well. Hakuna matata.
Path of Exile
How about if Diablo III got bigger and bigger, for eternity? That’s the question no one thought they had to answer before Path of Exile popped up, displaying formidable upgrades for their character and offering isometric hack ‘n’ slash gameplay that is so rewarding, and incrementally more complex to master forever.
Oh, and there’s also a sequel coming out, so hurry up to play and finish the first one – you’ll need a few hours …
World of Tanks
You might think that such woody instruments such as tanks will never be able to entertain such engaging and sinuous encounters almost like a ballet. But what World of Tanks proves, and also applies as rule # 1 for tank owners, is that these armored death boxes with huge cannons on their heads are capable of showing unexpected grace.
One of the free PC games par excellence is also a forensic simulation of ballistics and armor penetration, and this makes being able to hit an enemy vehicle a real milestone to brag about with friends. It has implications from FPS, map navigation and opponent alignment, but the combat itself is truly unique. Being a free-to-play title, World of Tanks places a great deal of emphasis on customization and upgrades, but the enthusiasm and care for the source material of this game makes it an instant classic.