Best free PC games to play today
Update: This week's best game on our radar is a top-down space shooter MMO from an indie developer that's virtually unheard of. Continue on to the next slide to find out more about Lazarus!
With new graphics hardware incoming from AMD and blockbuster gaming titles like Star Wars Battlefront 2 on the way, there’s no better time like the present to start saving up cash. And what better way is there to do that than by taking advantage of only the best free games on the market?
When you think of the best free games, you might think shallow or austere, but the truth begs to differ. In fact, the best free games that inhabit the PC space today are every bit as endearing as the best PC games in general. Because developers still make money from in-game purchases, they’re able to afford highly polished experiences that feel anything but cheap.
Admittedly, unless you fall right into the traps of publishers like Valve and EA, the best free games will never have you feeling swindled. While we know how tempting it is to buy that suave new hat in Team Fortress 2, don’t hold us responsible if the best free games recommended to you on this list turn out to be a little less free due to your own susceptibility to sporty digital headwear.
Here, we’ve devised an assorted compilation of the best free games. It’s not just a stockpile of new releases either. From retro games with low pixel counts to grinding dungeon crawlers and real-time strategy gems, this is our definitive selection of the best free games money can’t buy. We’ve even included one anticipated title on our list, featured on the next slide.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article
Best free game on our radar: Lazarus
Though you may think you’re tired of MMOs pervading the free-to-play market, Lazarus is a bit of a different story. Self-described as an “MMO roguelike,” Lazarus is a top-down space shooter developed in the Unity engine by Spilt Milk Studios Ltd. Don’t worry if you don’t recognize that name, however, as their prior work consists of nothing more than Help: The Game, A Verdant Hue and Tango Fiesta.
Interestingly enough, this is the company’s first free-to-play game, and the monetization strategy isn’t entirely clear. What is apparent is that Lazarus is focused on survival, with “thousands of players” participating in dogfights and rummaging across 160,000km² of stars for resources, according to the Steam description. While you’ll be able to upgrade your ship and supplies along the way, the game restarts every week, making for a unique Groundhog Day-inspired challenge.
Expected: TBA 2017
Best free PC games: 1 - 2
1. Planetside 2
Two years before Destiny, back in 2012, we had Planetside 2. It's an epic, all-out first-person battle so impressive, you'll give yourself a quick pinch every time you remember it's completely free. There are in-game purchases of course, but you can still dive into gaming's biggest ever battlefield and be useful with just default gear.
There's simply nothing like taking part in a massed assault on an enemy base and coming out on top, or living in a world where an enemy convoy could appear on the horizon at any second. If you need any proof that 'free' doesn't mean uninspired, Planetside 2 will provide it.
2. Dota 2
The Dota universe may have derived from a Wacraft 3 mod, but Dota 2 is very much its own entity, not to mention one of the most popular free-to-play games.
This top-down arena battler is incredibly active, attracting multi-million dollar prize funds for serious tournament players. It's not just for obsessives, though.
A brief tutorial now points out the ropes, with the Steam Community stepping in to provide guides to the original MOBA. Don't expect a warm welcome or easy learning curve from its sophisticated gameplay mechanics, but bring a few friends and Dota 2 will have you hooked on one of the biggest crazes in PC history.
Best free PC games: 3 - 4
3. Tribes: Ascend
There's only one thing you can count on in life apart from death and taxes: jetpacks rule. And Tribes: Ascend is the world's premiere online jetpack shooter. Don your jetpack and launch into battle across huge maps, with weapons that take real skill just to land a hit – never mind a kill.
Tribes: Ascend is fast, furious, and absolutely brilliant, and there's no reason to spend any money in the in-game shop if you simply want to hold your own in battle. Though there's plenty of stuff to buy if you do fancy splashing some cash…
You can pay to unlock more classes, weapons and perks, but if you're going to keep it casual you can still have loads of fun with Tribes: Ascend.
4. Path of Exile
In the style of Diablo III, Path of Exile is a free dungeon crawler that's a bit different from most free-to-play games out there. It's not just about whacking real life people until they scream at you in shrill pubescent tones through their Skype headsets.
It's more of a slow-burner than a multiplayer blaster, but give it time and you may well fall in love with this free-to-play loot-gathering hit. There are hidden depths that you only uncover after playing for hours (and hours), and a huge skill tree to slowly pick away at. There are no game-ruining things like real money auction houses here, either.
Instead, even basic loot can be useful because there's always an opportunity to enhance even the simplest weapon with magic. If you got tired of the grind of Diablo III, it's a good one to check out.
Best free PC games: 5 - 6
5. League of Legends
Pick your champion and head into battle in this amazing free-to-play game from the creators of Dota. League of Legends' automated matchmaking, range of characters and excellent maps have made it a multiplayer star over the last year, and one well worth a play.
It's a very aggressive game to play, but one that rewards good teamwork and careful tactics. Don't expect to master it overnight, but it won't be long before you're having fun.
Like Dota 2, League of Legends attracts many high-end players, and the top tournaments offer prize pools of over $1,000,000. The weird world of e-sports, eh?
6. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Ever played Magic the Gathering, the card game? Hearthstone is Blizzard's attempt at making an online free-to-play alternative to it.
And in typical Blizzard fashion, it's excellent. It's immediately inviting, lacking the terrifying learning curve you might expect from an online fantasy card game. Hearthstone plays quickly, boasts a very casual visual approach, and benefits from a basic rule set, all of which adds up to a very accessible card battler that will give you hours of enjoyment.
Despite being accessible, it's still quite challenging as well, especially if you're up against an opponent that plays their cards right.
Best free PC games: 7 - 8
7. Star Wars: The Old Republic
Taking over from the original Star Wars MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies in 2011, Star Wars: The Old Republic was not free at release at first. But it has since, like so many games of this kind, adopted the free-to-play model. If you want to get Sith kicks, this is the best way to get them for free.
However, subscriptions are still available, giving you more in-game potential. All the story missions are available without a sub – they just might take you that bit longer.
It's worth the download simply to experience the Star Wars universe from different perspectives, like the hyper-professional Imperial Agent and Bounty Hunter. If you want to go with the dull option and just have a generic Jedi Knight, though, that's fine too.
8. Forza Motorsport 6 Apex
When Xbox head Phil Spencer said he was going to bring the console's best franchises to the PC, he wasn't joking around. Among these notable series is Forza Motorsport.
Shunned by petrol-heads and embraced by gamers, Forza Motorsport may seem like an arcadey offshoot of its biggest rival on PlayStation, but it consistently looks and feels superb nonetheless.
Apex in particular brings a complete Forza Motorsport game to PC players for the first time. Though it’s free-to-play, there is additional content that can be downloaded for a modest price. While it’s not quite the full-fledged experience you can expect on Xbox One, with support for 4K screens and racing wheels, Forza Motorsport 6 Apex is the free-to-play twist we’ve been craving from Microsoft’s long-standing racing series.
Best free PC games: 9 - 10
9. Killer Instinct
Rare's classic fighting series Killer Instinct may not be the household name it once was, but the ability to play one character for free is enticing nonetheless.
What's more, characters can be purchased a la carte as downloadable content, which means you don't have to shell out a wad of cash unnecessarily for characters you'll never play. And, for the Xbox fans out there, this game is essentially Microsoft's equivalent of Super Smash Bros. and PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale since you can pick up numerous Xbox mascots. These include Arbiter (Halo), Rash (Battletoads) and General RAAM (Gears of War) in addition to a growing catalog of Killer Instinct-specific characters.
While Killer Instinct isn't as popular with the Fighting Game Community, there is a certain novelty of being able to control these classic Xbox-derived characters, and on PC at that.
10. World of Tanks
is a different kind of MMO – the clue being in the title. Team-based, massively multiplayer action with a huge range of war machines to drive into battle awaits, with new players able to join the action immediately.
An upgrade system adds a sense of personalization, while being surrounded by a whole army constantly reminds you that loners don't do well on the battlefield. Get sucked in, though, and you may find you end up spending a chunk of your wages on great big chunks of virtual metal.
While some premium tanks cost just a few dollars, others are more expensive. You can see where maker Wargaming is going to earn some cash from World of Tanks enthusiasts.
Best free PC games: 11 - 12
11. War Thunder
Think World of Tanks is a bit too arcade-like for your tastes? You need to try out the free game War Thunder. Despite being lesser-known, it's a great alternative to that tank battler. And for an extra sweetener, it throws airplanes into the mix too. As you might expect, they're a great deal of fun.
With a fast enough PC, War Thunder offers visual quality you don't see too often in free-to-play games. You will need to pay some cash to get hold of the more interesting planes and tanks early on, but getting Battlefield-like play for free sounds like a good deal to us.
There are arcade and historical battles on offer – the former is great for a more casual blast while historical battles are more for players with a few hours on their flight card.
Though its future was briefly uncertain after the sale of Sony's online entertainment division in February 2015, Everquest has returned better than ever with new expansion packs and continued support by Daybreak Game Company.
The first of its kind to commercially succeed with a 3D game engine, Everquest was released in 1999 as an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) and has since been documented as one of the most important games in the medium's history.
Featuring consistently released expansion packs (quite massive in scale, at least early on) with vast new areas, races and classes, Everquest brings to the table just about everything you would expect from an MMO – plus it's notably better at handling co-op than its alternatives.
Best free PC games: 13 - 14
While it's no World of Warcraft in terms of whether your friends are still playing it, the free game Rift had its moment – and it's still having it depending on who you ask. It added innovation in a genre that was experiencing little, letting you change your class whenever you feel like it.
The whole game is focused on separating giant boss battles and events that occupy entire zones. It's ambitious, exciting and huge with a dozen inter-dimensional rifts that keep things fresh and unique from other games in the genre.
Plus, you can ride on a landshark.
is one of the biggest free-to-play MMOs out there, and now would be a good time to take a look. In 2013 it entered its third reboot – this is actually 'Runescape 3', although just jumping in now you might not appreciate it has been around in one form or another for more than 10 years.
It's certainly not the shiniest MMO in the world despite the revamp, but hanging onto this many players shows it's doing something right. The big change introduced in Runescape 3 that made it appear a lot more modern was the ability to see much further – in Runescape 2 the horizon quickly gave way to fog. Not so now.
You can download the game for free or run it in your browser using Java, making it much more convenient than most other online role-players of this epic scale.
Best free PC games: 15 - 16
If the bleak appearance typically associated with MMORPGs is a turn-off for you, you'll be delighted to see that Maplestory takes the traditional art style of the genre and turns it on its head. Described by its developer as the original 2D side-scrolling MMO, Nexon's Maplestory takes the age-old Dungeon & Dragons-inspired genre and makes it kawaii.
The customization and lighter tone of Maplestory makes it feel more like a Harvest Moon MMO than something like Rift or World of Warcraft. It's also more focused on improving cosmetics than many other MMOs, giving players distinct control over their character's look and style.
There are even in-game weddings and dinosaurs that play guitar. Honestly the only thing we're missing here is a soundtrack composed by Oasis.
If you're into third-person co-operative shooters, is one of the best free games out there. After joining one of three factions: Tenno, Grineer or Corpos, your soldier is decked out in a Crysis-styled exosuit and equipped with guns or melee weapons.
Better looking than your average free-to-play shooter, much fun can be had in Warframe's player-vs-enemy raids — so much so that some gamers see it as, "The Destiny that never was". High praise indeed.
Best free PC games: 17 - 18
Gods from around the world get together to battle it out in a free Dota/MOBA inspired clash of divine vengeance in this effort. Despite obvious inspirations, it comes from the same developer that made FPS smash Tribes Ascend – a completely different beast.
The camera is behind the characters this time, making for a more direct connection to the action than simply guiding your lord around with a mouse, but the premise will be either familiar if you've played its inspirations, or a way to get the feel for the style if you haven't. Gods include Zeus, Thor, Kali, Artemis and... Cupid? Well, at least he has his own bow…
18. Lord of the Rings Online
Many MMOs are being launched or relaunched as free-to-play at the moment, but is one of the titles that most warrants a second look. Not only is it an excellent game in its own right, it's one of the more mature MMOs out there.
You will likely have to pay eventually, if only to unlock adventure packs, but there's no subscription fee and nothing to buy up-front. If you missed it at launch, it's time to give it a try.
Best free PC games: 19 - 20
Without seeing more than a few screenshots, you might think Wildstar is a new IP from Ratchet & Clank developer Insomniac Games. It's colorful and cartoony enough to sit alongside the same catalog as Spyro, but this is no casual free-to-play MMO, which may be the reason it didn't do as well as expected sales-wise.
If you like Blizzard games, such as World of Warcraft, Wildstar will undoubtedly quench your thirst since many of its developers at Carbine Studios came from the beloved Activision Blizzard subsidiary.
Despite not landing as "the next evolution of the modern MMORPG," according to its IGN review, Wildstar holds its own as a traditional MMO that, before going free-to-play, had a unique subscription method based on actual player progress along with some colorfully stylized graphics.
20. Eve Online
In 2003, Icelandic developer CCP Games unleashed unto the world Eve Online, an immersive and in-depth “sci-fi experience” that would eventually garner the attention of well over 500,000 players. Eve Online is unlike any game in its category, thanks to the vast range of activities to take part in as well as its (appropriately) out of this world in-game economy.
Unfortunately, the Eve Online player base has been on the decline since 2013. It should come as no shock that as time goes on, fewer and fewer gamers are interested in paying a subscription fee for a glorified space sim with a steep learning curve. As of the Ascension update, which released in November 2016, Eve Online has gone free-to-play – at least to an extent.
The new ‘alpha clones’ system featured in Eve Online is similar to the “unlimited free trial” featured in World of Warcraft. You can still engage with other players in mining, piracy, manufacturing, trading, exploring and combat, but certain skills will be off-limits. As long as you don’t mind finite access to some of the game’s most lumbering ships, Eve Online won’t cost a cent.
Best free PC games: 21 - 22
21. Blacklight: Retribution
Blacklight: Retribution may not be as free as it was before it arrived on PS4, but it's still a damn fun and affordable way to play an FPS. Almost like a free-to-play Titanfall, Blacklight: Retribution has no single-player mode to offer and takes place in a futuristic Cyberpunk setting complete with fan-favorite modes like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Domination, King of the Hill and Kill Confirmed.
Featuring customizable weapons and mechs, of course, Blacklight: Retribution is a fun, free and safe way to let off steam after that 9 to 5. Plus, with over 1 million registered players and counting, there's bound to me no shortage of teammates (and rivals) to join up with.
As it's been in beta since 2012 with little to no marketing push, you may have forgotten about or were unfamiliar with it in the first place. Most notably, Hawken is a game about mechs. But, not just any mechs – fast mechs. These are your average slow, lumbering tanks of MechWarrior Online. These are more comparable to the Exoskeletons of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
Of course, being a free-to-play game, you can expect to pay for upgrades to your starter mech. However, you can still get a taste for Hawken without spending a dime. Plus, attach an Oculus Rift and you can see for yourself what have in store for you. Admit it, you've wanted to know what it's feels like to power a mech for yourself since Pacific Rim came out.
Best free PC games: 23 - 24
23. Evolve Stage 2
Although it quickly fell off the face of the Earth, Evolve was removed from Steam and re-released back into beta a year and a half after its initial release. It was then that the follow-up from Left 4 Dead developer Turtle Rock was slashed by 100 percent with a new name: Evolve Stage 2.
Despite going free-to-play, the game's core structure remains intact. It's a game of humans vs. zombies, err, monsters, a new twist on a beloved pastime. A team of four players, called hunters, is pitted up against a single monster, with each hunter assigned their own class. Of course, with four players taking on one, there is a unique catch: hence the game's title, monsters start out at a basic level but evolve over time by killing and consuming wildlife in nearby areas.
Evolve cost $40 before, so rest assured you'll get access to a game that looks triple-A, even if much of the content is locked behind a paywall. Nevertheless you can give it a shot for yourself for the nominal cost of $0 on Steam.
24. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
Its game world is many times the size of any of its successors, and indeed it's the size of a continent, one absolutely packed with atmosphere. You might not all be able to stomach the old-fashioned visuals, but it's worth investigating if you want to see where Skyrim came from.
It's available direct from Bethesda. The publisher started offering it for free to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the game. As if we didn't feel old enough already.
Best free PC games: 25 - 26
25. Marvel Heroes 2016
Marvel Heroes is quite obviously Gazillion Entertainment's response to DC Universe Online. It's a 2-in-1 experience, blending elements of both MMOs and RPGs and featuring characters from a wide range of Marvel franchises. According to its Steam description, you can play as characters from the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-men "and more" with villains such as Dr. Doom, Loki and Magneto present at the helm.
If, after seeing the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you want to revisit these characters interactively, the Marvel Heroes MMO-ARPG is the way to go, packing PvP, weapon and armour crafting and just about everything else you would expect from the genre at this point. It even features Blizzard talent, like from David Brevik, creator of the original Diablo and its sequel.
26. Wolfenstein 3D
Interested in knowing what Wolfenstein was before The New Order? Wolfenstein 3D is now free, and will take you back to the year 1992 when celebrity game developers John Carmack and John Romero teamed up to make a shareware game like nothing before it.
Wolfenstein 3D took concepts from Muse Software's Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein to create a three-dimensional first-person shooter that would later inspire the development of Doom.
Keep in mind while playing, though, that while Wolfenstein 3D was impressive for its time, it's probably not what you would expect from a first-person shooter of today's standards. Nonetheless, it's an easy and free way to experience game history in an old-school World War II game rich with narrative about, well, shooting Nazis in the face. Don't expect to be blown away by the story in the same way as the Wolfenstein franchise's more recent entries.
Best free PC games: 27 - 28
27. Team Fortress 2
It may be an old vet in gaming terms, but nothing offers so much crazy fun as . Unlike most shooters of its age, players are still there to have a good time rather than hurl abuse at newcomers, and there's no shortage of cool toys to have fun with. Endlessly silly and amazingly fresh, it's still one of the shooter genre's kings, free-to-play or not.
As you might guess, there are some micro-transactions involved. You can buy additional items, often used to customise your character. You can create your own. It's fun, and gets you even more involved in TF2. Those cheeky devils at Valve know what they're doing.
28. Alto's Adventure
Like OlliOlli meets Journey with the art style of Monument Valley, Alto's Adventure is still an underground treat well after its February 2015 release date on iOS and Android. The Windows 10 version, however, is stacked with Xbox achievements allowing you to boost your Gamerscore without the need to exert a great deal of energy.
On the surface, Alto's Adventure is a 2D endless snowboarder with an elegant art style and a charming musical score. If it weren't for the video ads interrupting nearly every time you make a mistake, it would be an unceasingly relaxing adventure too. Unfortunately, though, it doesn't look like you can opt out of the pestering Gameloft trailers playing intermittently between falls, even if you don't mind shelling out a few bucks.
Nevertheless, between the luscious environments and the impressive day/night sequences, Alto's Adventure is an undeniably lethargic experience. Even if you find that you're constantly stumbling at the hand of your board, the frustration is more of a slight nuisance than a deal-breaker considering everything else Alto's Adventure has to offer.
Best free PC games: 29 - 30
29. Magic Duels
Magic: The Gathering is fun, right? But what if you could play it from the comfort of your PC? Fortunately, that's possible thanks to Magic Duels. Whether you're a first-time player or a 20-year vet, Duels lets you do everything the card game does and more. While over 300 new cards are advertised as being attainable throughout the game, there's also a unique story mode where you can experience Magic like never before.
If narrative in your card games isn't your cup of tea, there's also a Battle Mode in which you can challenge your friends, a four-player Two-Headed Giant battle and even an offline solo mode you can use for practice against AI.
30. DC Universe Online
Though it's yet another free-to-play MMO on this list, DC Universe Online takes characters like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and more into a massive (and shared) public world.
Choose whether you want to be a member of the Hero or Villain faction then customize your character and you'll be sent out into the world of DC Universe Online at the hands of Daybreak Game Company.
After some training, the game assigns you a position as either a member of the Justice League or The Society depending on your choice of hero or villain. Unlike other MMOs on this list and outside it, DC Universe Online is designed to be much more interactive while still retaining traditional MMORPG elements such as leveling, raiding, inventories and post-game progression. Favorably, it's not difficult to play without using real-world currency too.
Best free PC games: 31 - 32
It’s not hard to see why Paladins catches a lot of flack for its resemblance to Overwatch. At the same time, the team-based shooter bears many distinctions from that of Blizzard’s. Abilities are upgraded based on a collectible card system, which can completely change the way each character plays.
What’s more, unlike Overwatch, Paladins is completely free-to-play. While cosmetic items are available to buy using real-world currency, everything else can be unlocked simply by playing the game. For instance, you’ll start Paladins with a single deck of basic cards, and from there, more dramatically impactful decks can be unlocked.
Regardless of how you choose to play Paladins, you’ll get XP as you play. As long as you’re completing the daily quests and achievements featured in the game, you’ll be rewarded with Radiant Chests and Gold. These can be used to purchase more cards, costumes and weapon skins to make your characters more unique and skillful on the battlefield.
Described as a "Free-to-Play AAA MMO Shooter" by its developer Red 5 Studios, Firefall draws heavy influence from shooters and open-world MMOs alike. The game downloads complete with five different character classes and both PvP (player versus player) and PvE (player versus environment) modes.
Firefall has every class, including Assault, Biotech, Dreadnaught, Engineer and Recon, you could ever need in addition to all the upgrades you could expect from an MMO. Unfortunately, because it uses Amazon Web Services, the servers are often flaky, resulting in an inconsistent online experience. Get past that, however, and you're in for a treat as Firefall balances the best of both worlds, shooters and MMOs.
33 - 34
You can now get Spelunky on all sorts of platforms – it's pretty high-profile for an indie title. But it began its life PC-exclusive, and its original 'non HD' Classic version you can still get for free today.
The catch is that every time you play, the entire game is randomized. In one game you'll stumble through screen after screen of spiked horrors and swarming monsters; in the next, the software will bend over backwards to give you gold and help you on your way.
You learn how each randomized world ticks and which equipment will give you a fighting chance. And then you'll die some more. And scream. And restart. Again.
As a free MMO, Neverwinter sets a high standard for itself as it's based on perhaps the most iconic role-playing game of all-time, Dungeons & Dragons. Like everything else in the Dungeons and Dragons universe, the game takes place in Forgotten Realms, specifically, as the name suggests, in Neverwinter.
Featuring eight character classes with groups of up to five players supported, Neverwinter is based on the fourth-generation rules of Dungeons & Dragons. However, the rules are slightly modified, letting players heal their allies in addition to allowing for the use of special abilities in combat after racking up enough action points.
Best free PC games: 35 - 36
For years now, developers have tried and failed to adapt multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games for the TV. Now, however, if you're one of many with a computer tucked under your living room entertainment setup, Paragon may be the MOBA you've been searching for.
Also available on the PlayStation 4, Paragon takes what League of Legends and Dota players have enjoyed for years and optimizes it for consoles and entertainment rigs by rotating the camera behind your character. By inciting the illusion of a traditional third-person competitive shooter, Paragon aims to broaden the appeal of not only MOBAs, but eSports as a whole.
The asymmetrical maps, team-based base destruction and "hero" system are all intact. Paragon is a MOBA for newcomers, and best of all, it's free-to-play.
36. Puzzle Pirates
Most MMOs let you say what you want in your own native tongue. Not Puzzle Pirates. This adorably decorated MMO, like its title suggests, is about solving puzzles as a pirate. And, rather than asking your first mate, "What's up?", you're encouraged to use phrases like "Yarr, matey!" Otherwise, you might end up walking the plank.
In the game, you can join a crew, improve your rank and more all while speaking pirate lingo and developing new relationships. Fundamentally, you're on the search for currency from enemy ships known as "pieces of eight." However, less expected is that in order to achieve that, you'll need to solve puzzles in order to sail and protect your crew's ship.
To be over thirteen years old, Puzzle Pirates still holds up. Now you can get the multiplayer portion of Puzzle Pirates for free on Steam; a single-player mode no longer exists because of the discontinuation of the CD-ROM version of the game. Nevertheless, at least there's no reason to pirate it.
Best free PC games: 37 - 38
Like Minecraft meets DayZ, Unturned takes apocalyptic survival elements from both games and merges them into one derivatively blocky sandbox game. That’s by no means a criticism either. Like the titles it draws influence from, Unturned is at its best when experienced with friends online. Donning both PvP and PvE modes, Unturned is the real deal.
Developed by a 16-year-old kid and with over 24 million downloads under its belt, Unturned is immensely successful, and it’s not difficult to see why. The game is practically being crowdsourced through early access. Because most of its features come from Unturned’s devoted community, it has everything from fortification to vehicle access in place.
In PvP, players can rack up gear by swiping it from under their opponents’ noses. Meanwhile, in PvE, it’s all about surviving the apocalypse in collaboration with teammates. In the context of Unturned, survival means thwarting off enemies while simultaneously cultivating resources, fishing, harvesting crops and even hunting wild animals for food.
38. Dwarf Fortress
Inspiring the creation of Minecraft was no small feat for 2D sandbox game Dwarf Fortress. Dubbed a construction and management simulator, Dwarf Fortress takes simple text-based graphics into a more modern, 2006 piece of software. The game is often classified as a cult classic because of its open-ended nature and serving as one of the most iconic examples of a procedurally generated roguelike.
This means Dwarf Fortress both randomizes its environments and makes the game's permadeath system a much more difficult problem to avoid. This led to the unofficial slogan for the game "Losing is fun," which was either ironic or an accurate description of what happens in the game. Tough to say either way.
One thing's for sure, though. If you want to experience an important part of games history, Dwarf Fortress is a solid start, as it was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City back in 2013. Can't say that for a lot of free-to-play games.
Best free PC games: 39 - 40
39. Digital: A Love Story
To explain Digital: A Love Story would be giving away too much, so let's just say that it's a great nostalgia trip with a bit of future-gazing thrown in for free. Played out entirely on 1988-style bulletin boards, it starts when you respond to an email from a lonely sounding girl called Emilia.
The relationship in this, not especially long, game (an hour or so at most) is a testament to the writing that quickly enthralls despite being not much more than a string of jotting down phone numbers. It plays out as a hacker's romance, having you jump between BBS systems to uncover a conspiracy.
You never get to see what you've said, only the responses, which adds an unusual but effective disconnect to the conversations. The authentic sounding music and sound effects help: the sweet siren song of a modem connecting still sends a chill down the spine.
40. Fallout Shelter
If you're more interested in the property management systems of Fallout 4 rather than the overwhelming majority of the role-playing game's content, Fallout Shelter is a great place to start. Up until recently, the simulation game was limited to mobile platforms Android and iOS. However, with the introduction of Quests in version 1.6 of Fallout Shelter, Bethesda Softworks also felt the need to port the game to PC by way of the Bethesda.net client.
All in all, Fallout Shelter doesn't feel much different on PC, and that's undoubtedly a good thing. Mouse controls work well in place of a touchscreen, graphics are optimized even for low-end hardware and with windowed mode enabled by default, it's easy to find yourself caring after your vault residents during your downtime at work. With an indisputably manageable price point (free), Fallout Shelter could very well become the next Solitaire in your office or at school.
Best free PC games: 41 - 42
41. Life Is Strange
Sure, if you like what you play in the first episode, you'll have to pay money for the remaining four, but Life Is Strange is undeniably a game worth experiencing. Full disclosure, it's not exactly a game in the traditional sense, but rather it's more of an interactive movie. The game's outcomes are the result of the choices you make as Max Caulfield, a high school photography student who discovers she has the ability to alter time.
Along the way, you'll become deeply entrenched in Max's social life, specifically in her relationship with her childhood best friend (and blue-haired punk) Chloe Price as well as movie nerd Warren Graham and criminal prep Nathan Prescott. There's nothing like a solid cast of characters to get you hooked on a point-and-click adventure game, but any more said about Life Is Strange would border spoiler territory. In other words, play the first episode and get a taste for it yourself, absolutely free of charge.
Old Game Boy games port extremely well to browsers and the building blocks game of yesteryear is no exception. Tetris works on the same premise as its much older sibling albeit with a splash of colour and you'll surprise yourself by how easy it still is.
That's until the blocks start stacking up and before you know it, it's game over. There's no elaborate back story to Tetris except that it's about making sure you eliminate the bricks before they stack up. Surely there's metaphor in there somewhere?
Best free PC games: 43 - 44
Where Nintendo GameBoy games do well online, the same can be said for the ones that used to be magically built into tables like Asteroids. Nothing has changed from the old version of Asteroids to this one, with the aim still to break up the pieces of rock using your spacecraft and to avoid being destroyed by UFOs.
The arrow keys make it even easier to play than with a sticky joystick and buttons that have been scarred by years of spilled beers.
44. Cry of Fear
It’s not every day that we see a full-length survival horror campaign completely free of charge with no strings attached. However, that’s exactly what Team Psykskallar set out to do with Cry of Fear. Complete with a single-player story mode that exceeds 8 hours, Cry of Fear was initially contrived as a Half-Life mod clearly inspired by the classic Resident Evil, alternating endings and all.
Combine that with co-op support for up to four players, 24 unique weapon choices and an unlockable additional campaign after you beat the first one and “free” starts to sound like a bargain. Although the story itself isn’t all that, Cry of Fear sets a precedent for how a horror mod should branch out into its own game after a 4-year development cycle. It’s nostalgic, atmospheric and, best of all, downright frightening.
Best free PC games: 45
45. Total War Battles: Kingdom
Real-time Strategy (RTS) games don't come much grander than those in the Total War series, and the latest entrant, Battles KINGDOM, is free-to-play. Currently in open beta on the PC, it's also available to play on iOS and Android, so you can pick up where you left off when you're away from your battlestation. Set at the turn of the 10th Century, Total War Battles: Kingdom combines army management with kingdom building to deliver a bite-sized RTS game you can pick up and play anywhere, anytime.