Best free games 2022: play big and save bigger

A gaming laptop playing Fortnite, one of the best free games around, against a pink background
(Image credit: Future)

Free games was once a dirty word in PC gaming, but the best free games have matured considerably since the downright scammy pay-to-win shovelware of the past few years. Those kinds of games are still around, of course, but that's not all there is anymore. Some of the best PC games you can play right now are also free to play, and they've changed the landscape considerably.

Whether it's MMORPGs like Final Fantasy XIV and EVE Online, addictive card games like Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, or arena battle royales like Apex Legends, there's are more high-quality free games out there than ever before. While a lot of newer titles have demanding system requirements, not all do, and they can easily be played on less powerful hardware than you'd need for, say, Cyberpunk 2077.

A number of these have been sitting on our best PC games and best Mac games lists for a while now, and we couldn't be happier to enjoy some of the best PC gaming has to offer without having to buy it beforehand. A lot of these free games are offered up to entice you into signing up for the full experience, but no one says you have to, and the games are good enough that you probably would mind if you did.

Best free games 2022

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The best new free game in 2022

A big green dargon-lizard roars as a warrior charges at it with a sword

(Image credit: Smilegate RPG/Amazon Games)

Action RPG-and-MMORPG-hybrid Lost Ark is having a moment right now as tens of thousands of online players in North America and Europe have all suddenly discovered this South Korean gem that has already built up a substantial following following it's December 2019 release in that country. 

The high fantasy setting sees adventurers locked in a civilizational struggle with an invasion of otherworldly demons, with seven mysterious Arks holding the potential to turn the tide of the war in humanity's favor. The quest structure can get a bit repetitive and the story is something of a mixed bag, but the diversity of classes and impressive production value makes this free game a real standout.

It's a mix of free-to-play and subscription service, like many MMOs nowadays, but Lost Ark costs nothing to get started. So there's nothing wrong with giving it a whirl yourself.

Our Top Picks for the best free games of 2022

1. Final Fantasy XIV

Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker Old Sharlayan

(Image credit: Square Enix)

You've heard the meme, but now might be the time to dive into one of the best PC games ever made, period. 

The game itself might not exactly be 'new', since it was originally released several years ago, but it's gotten a new lease of life lately thanks to a dedicated community that avoids a lot of the toxicity you can find in other online games. Given the online environment today, it's little wonder that Final Fantasy XIV has built up such a devoted following. 

Unlike a lot of other free-to-play MMORPGs, you can level your character all the way up to level 60 (multiple times, even) and enjoy the game's award-winning expansion Heavensward for free, with no restrictions on play time. You can enjoy the best that Eorzea and beyond has to offer at no cost to you. So, climb aboard your Chocobo, work your way through the game's impressive roster of professions and outstanding story arc, and see what all the fuss is about.


2. Fortnite Battle Royale 

Three characters stand on a hill and look at the scenery below

(Image credit: Epic Games)

The Battle Royale genre is huge right now, and Epic Games has refined it to perfection with Fortnite Battle Royale. Originally designed as a kind of add-on for Fortnite, Battle Royale blew up in a way that nobody expected, fast becoming among the best free games around.

Fortnite Battle Royale is based on a simple scenario: you’re dropped in a map with 99 other players in a free-for-all melee, and the last one left standing at the end wins. Because of its meteoric success, Epic Games is working hard to steadily integrate new game modes and fresh features. Take Playground mode, for example – it drops you in the map and lets you build up structures for a set amount of time before the floodgates open and the carnage begins.

What’s particularly cool is that with Fortnite, you can play with your friends regardless of which platform they’re on. Whether you’re on PC, Xbox One, Switch, Android, or PS4, you’ll be able to match up against millions of other players from these different platforms.


3. Dota 2 

DOTA 2 screenshot

(Image credit: Valve)

The Dota universe may have evolved from a WarCraft 3 mod, but Dota 2 is very much its own entity, and still holds its own as one of the best free games going right now.

Thanks to its fairly light system requirements, this top-down arena battler is very dynamic without requiring the best gaming PC or the best gaming laptops in order to enjoy. While the game does draw in multimillion-dollar prize funds for serious tournament players, Dota 2 is not just for the most hardcore gamers.

A brief tutorial shows you how to play, with the Steam Community offering guides to the original MOBA. Don't expect a warm welcome or an easy learning curve from its complex gameplay mechanics. However, bring a few friends, and Dota 2 will have you hooked on one of the biggest crazes in PC history.


4. League of Legends

Gameplay image from League of Legends

(Image credit: Riot Games)

Pick your champion and charge into battle in this trailblazing free-to-play title from the folks that brought you the Warcraft III mod, Dota. League of Legends’ automated matchmaking, varied cast of characters, and exquisite maps have made it a multiplayer behemoth over these past few years. It's one of the best free games 2022 has that will absolutely stand the test of time.

It’s an aggressive gameplay experience to be sure, but one that rewards great teamwork and careful tactics. There is a bit of a learning curve as well, but you’ll be taken on a thrilling ride shortly after pressing play. Like Dota 2, League of Legends attracts many high-end players, and the top tournaments offer prize pools of over $1 million. The wacky world of esports, eh?


5. Star Wars: The Old Republic

Several players standing off in battle in Star Wars: The Old Republic

(Image credit: Bioware)

Taking on the Star Wars MMORPG mantle after Star Wars Galaxies ended its run (may it rest in peace), Star Wars: The Old Republic wasn't intended to be free at release. However, it has since, like so many of the best MMO games before it, adopted the free-to-play model. If you want to satisfy your inner Sith, this is the best way to do that, and do it for free.

Subscriptions are on hand for more in-game potential and end-game content, but in true best-free-games fashion, all the story missions are still accessible for free – it just might take a bit longer now.

It’s worth your time just to experience the Star Wars universe from different sets of eyes, 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 – you can totally do that as well.


6. World of Tanks

World of tanks

(Image credit: Wargaming)

World of Tanks is a different kind of MMO, as you may have already guessed from the title. Team-based, massively multiplayer action with a wide array of war machines to drive into battle awaits. New players can jump into the fray right away.

The upgrade system lets you personalize while being surrounded by an entire army at all times, to remind you that loners won’t make it on the battlefield. But be warned: get sucked in, and you may find yourself spending hefty sums on big chunks of virtual metal.

Some premium tanks go for just a few dollars, while others require a bit more coin. You can see where maker Wargaming is earning some money from World of Tanks enthusiasts. Still, this doesn’t stop it from being one of the best free games right now.


7. Runescape

Several players standing in a village square in RuneScape

(Image credit: Jagex Ltd.)

Runescape is one of the largest free-to-play MMOs available, and now is a good time for a deeper look. In 2013, it entered its third reboot – this is actually 'Runescape 3' – although jumping in now, you may not even realize it's been around in one form or another for more than 10 years.

Despite the overhaul, it's definitely not the sparkliest MMO in the world, 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 updated 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 enormous scale.


8. Maplestory

MapleStory

(Image credit: Nexon)

If you’ve grown tired of the dark fantasy aesthetic of most MMORPGs, you’ll love Maplestory’s creative and inspired flair. Described by Nexon as the original 2D side-scrolling MMO, Maplestory takes the classic Dungeons and Dragons-inspired genre and gives it a new twist.

The lighter tone and customization of Maplestory make it feel more like Harvest Moon than Final Fantasy XIV. And it has more emphasis on improving aesthetics than many other MMOs, giving players a lot more personalization over how their characters look. 

Maplestory even has in-game weddings and dinosaurs that play guitar. Really, the only thing missing from Maplestory is an Oasis-inspired soundtrack.


9. Warframe

Warframe

(Image credit: Digital Extremes)

If you're into third-person co-operative shooters, Warframe may be one of the best free games available. Players take control of members of the Tenno, an ancient race warring against enemies such as the Grineer, the Corpus, the Infested, and the Sentients. Your Tenno soldier uses Crysis-style Warframe armor equipped with guns or melee weapons to fight back.

Better looking than your usual free-to-play shooter, there’s a lot of fun to 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 all around.


10. Smite

SMITE

(Image credit: Hi-Rez Studios)

Gods from every pantheon come together in Smite to duke it out in a free Dota/MOBA-inspired clash. Even though Smite is pretty overt with its influences – it comes from the same developer that brought us the FPS smash Tribes Ascend – it’s still a completely different beast.

The camera is behind the characters this time, which gives you a more direct connection to the action than simply ordering your lord around with a mouse. The idea will be familiar if you've played its inspirations, and is a good way to get a feel for the style, if you haven't. Gods include Zeus, Thor, Kali, Artemis and... Cupid? Well, at least he has his own bow.


 11. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit 

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Life is Strange (and its sequel) is one of the best modern adventure games on PC. Lucky for us, there’s now a free way to experience this spectacular series. Unveiled back at E3 2018, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit puts you in the shoes of 9-year-old Chris as he, and his alter ego, Captain Spirit, go on a grand adventure.

It’s a free-to-play single-player adventure game without any kind of monetization – simply a nice prelude to Life is Strange 2. Just don’t go in anticipating the longest gameplay experience in the world, as you’ll likely finish it in just a couple of hours. That doesn’t stop it from being an amazing experience, however.


12. Eve Online

A spaceship flying through a nebula towards a planet in Eve Online

In 2003, Icelandic developer CCP Games unleashed Eve Online, an immersive and in-depth 'sci-fi experience' that would ultimately grab the attention of well over 500,000 players. Eve Online is unlike any game in its category due to the vast range of activities to participate in as well as its (appropriately) out-of-this-world in-game economy.

Unfortunately, the Eve Online player base has been shrinking since 2013. It shouldn’t be surprising that as time goes on, fewer gamers are interested in paying a subscription fee for a glorified space sim with a steep learning curve. However, since the Ascension Update, released in November 2016, Eve Online has gone free to play – at least to some extent.

The new ‘alpha clones’ system featured in Eve Online is like the unlimited free trial feature found in a lot of MMORPGs right now. You can engage with other players in piracy, manufacturing, trading, mining, exploration and combat, but there are limitations, such as certain skills being off-limits as well as higher-end ships. 

If you don’t want to limit your access to some of the game’s most lumbering ships, you can opt for the Omega subscription. Otherwise, the game won’t cost a penny, and there's plenty to do for free in the universe of New Eden.


13.  Apex Legends 

Horizon from Apex Legends slowly approaching a machine that glows with blue light

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

To say that Battle Royale games are popular would be a massive understatement. However, the level of success that Apex Legends has reached so quickly after launch speaks volumes. It’s certainly earned its spot on this list of the best free games for offering a huge amount of gameplay for literally nothing. 

Not only is the game itself incredible, bringing unique mechanics from the awesome Titanfall games to a Battle Royale, but it reached over a stunning 25 million players after a week.

Apex Legends places 60 players in the middle of a gigantic map, armed with a bunch of unique abilities that make both combat and traversal awfully addicting. It’s not exactly the chaos of 100 player Battle Royale titles like Fortnite or PUBG, but the team-based mechanics give it a flavor all its own that makes it feel intense yet well-balanced. If you haven’t joined the Apex Legends bandwagon yet, you’re sorely missing out.


14. Destiny 2

A Guardian fires their weapon in Destiny 2: The Witch Queen

(Image credit: Bungie)

Though not exactly an open-world game, Destiny 2 does follow a similar concept. It lets players traipse around freely and go to different locations to pick up quests or just explore aimlessly, all while offering a compelling story and intense firefights. 

Picking up after the events of the original Destiny, players jumping into Destiny 2 might be forgiven for feeling a bit overwhelmed, but the narrative is pretty self-explanatory, so you won't feel out of place or like you're missing out on a whole lot.

While the base game is free-to-play, it packs the caliber of a major AAA release with an incredible story and plenty of activity to keep you going for countless hours. The DLC content will cost extra (and sometimes it's the full price of a AAA game itself), but the base Destiny 2 experience is a great way to jump in and see what all the fuss is about before plopping down hard-earned cash on the latest content.


15. Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2

(Image credit: Valve)

It may be an old vet in gaming terms, but nothing offers such crazy fun as Team Fortress 2. Unlike most shooters of its age, players in this game are still there to have a good time instead of spitting insults at newcomers. And, there's no shortage of cool toys to have fun with. Infinitely silly and incredibly fresh, it's still one of the shooter genre's kings, free-to-play or not.

As you might have guessed, there are some micro-transactions included. You can buy additional items, often used to personalize your character. You can even create your own. It's fun and gets you even more involved in TF2. Those cheeky devils at Valve know what they're doing.


16. Gwent: The Witcher Card Game

Rogue Mage is a strong standalone interpretation of Gwent.

(Image credit: CD Projekt)

Command an army of Witchers, sorcerers, knights and even monsters, and lead them to an epic battle using nothing but the cards you’re dealt with. This is a card game, after all. Originally a minigame inside The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Gwent has evolved into a standalone spinoff of the wildly popular fantasy game.

You play against other players online in rounds, and to win each round, you need to gain more points than your opponent. The player that wins two out of three rounds comes out the victor. If you've spent countless hours in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt at the Gwent tables like we have, you'll definitely appreciate the expanded experience on offer.

Originally, Gwent was only available for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, however, iOS users can now partake.

How to choose the best free games for you

What games can I play for free?

If you haven't noticed, there is a bit of a theme with free games. 

Developers obviously need to get some revenue from the game that they are essentially giving away, so in some cases, there are microtransactions that typically offer cosmetic changes above the base character models or skins. 

In the case of other games, usually MMOs, the base game experience is freely available while some of the late-game content will need to be purchased.

How can I tell when a free game is bad?

While bad is a relative term, there are some free-to-play games out there that are especially scammy and need to be avoided. You'll usually see these games advertised on websites with headlines like "You can do whatever you want in this game!" or "If you own a PC, this game is a must-have!"

These games are almost always pay-to-win in that they take the typical restrictions on most free games (like level caps or slower skill progression) and crank it up to the extreme, making it essentially impossible to even play the game without using microtransactions to speed up the gameplay to a reasonable level.

If you're playing a game that requires you to build a structure or complete a mission in order to progress, but either makes you wait hours or even days before you can actually do so or offers to let you complete the task in 5 minutes for X amount of money/tokens, then that game is not worth a minute of your time.

There are far better free games out there that aren't out to nickel and dime you every step of the way.  

John Loeffler
Computing Editor

John (He/Him) is the US Computing Editor here at TechRadar and he is also a programmer, gamer, activist, and Brooklyn College alum currently living in Brooklyn, NY. 


Named by the CTA as a CES 2020 Media Trailblazer for his science and technology reporting, John specializes in all areas of computer science, including industry news, hardware reviews, PC gaming, as well as general science writing and the social impact of the tech industry.


You can find him online on Twitter at @thisdotjohn


Currently playing: The Last Stand: Aftermath, Cartel Tycoon

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