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The best free-to-play Steam games 2021

PC gaming
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REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
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REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

Never underestimate the best free games on Steam. They may not look like much, many of them missing the grand production values that their paid-for counterparts have, but they can be just as entertaining. In fact, free PC games are often some of the most played titles because they don't require that initial upfront investment.

PC gaming equipment can be very expensive, even more so when you’re shelling out for one of the best gaming keyboards or the best gaming mouse. So, while you do have to spend some cash on some of the best PC games, you don't want to constantly blow your paycheck buying them. The best free games on Steam are the perfect games to tide you over until your next big game purchase. While many of them make a profit from extras such as character skins or cosmetic items, those are also completely optional, which means that you won’t have to spend a dime if you don’t want to.

We’ve found the best free games on Steam to play on your gaming PC. You’ll have such a blast you’ll start to wonder why you’ve spent all that cash amassing a library of games in the first place. 

Best free games on Steam games at a glance

  1. Path of Exile
  2. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
  3. Idle Big Devil
  4. Paladins: Champions of the Realm
  5. Crusader Kings II
  6. Warface: Blackout
  7. Art of War: Red Tides
  8. Warframe
  9. Valorant
  10. Dota 2

The best games like Diablo: Path of Exile

(Image credit: Grinding Gear Games)

1. Path of Exile

If you're a fan of games like Diablo and want to find a way it scratch that itch while waiting for the next installment, Path of Exile is going to be a sure win in your book. This top-down dungeon raiding action-RPG focuses on character customization and has enough content to keep you playing for years to come. The community for Path of Exile is also huge, opening doors for you to forge friendships online.

The game really amps up the complexity the longer you play, allowing for layers of varied content. It's a format familiar to folk who play other dungeon-delvers, and the massive variety should feel overwhelming – but it doesn't. The freedom you're granted means that the game is only as complex as you play it.

You can adhere to convention and take off on an adventure to kill, loot and sneak your way though, or simply take things at your own pace and create your own personal hideout. Best of all, this ever-changing experience is completely free.

Download here: Path of Exile

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

(Image credit: Valve)

2. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Despite rapidly approaching 20 years of age, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is still one of the most popular multiplayer first-person shooter games, owing to frequent updates and a dedicated playerbase. Even if you've never played it yourself, chances are you're aware of pop culture sayings like "rush B" leaking into the general gamer community.

Two opposing teams comprising of Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists compete in various game modes such as securing a location to plant or defuse a bomb and rescuing or capturing hostages, though other modes such as 'Deathmatch' are available for people who just want to try and practice their stealthy knife skills. The format is familiar and easy to pick us given this is one of the OG games to predate styles such as the Battle Royale genre popular today.

If you're jaded by titles such as Overwatch or Call Of Duty titles that require you to buy the game, this FPS classic is a great free-to-play alternative. Just don't flashbang your teammates.

Download here: Counter-Strike: Global offensive

Idle Big Devil

(Image credit: Hong Kong Spark Software)

3. Idle Big Devil

Idle Big Devil from Hong Kong Spark Software may still be in Early Access, but the idle RPG game has already gotten a lot of raving reviews from Steam gamers, making it one of the best free games on Steam. While it is an idle game, which lets you progress through the game without much interaction, there’s a lot of stuff to do while you wait so it never gets boring. You also get a ton of free currency in the initial play, giving new players a chance to progress quickly.

In this game, you’re appointed by the king as the lord of killing the Undead and creatures possessed by evil spirits. You do so with the aid of a total of five heroes whom you recruit yourself throughout the course of the game. As you travel the continent, you can participate in different events that allow you to collect loot, as well as complete daily tasks that reward you with prizes. You can also gather resources to power up your heroes and upgrade your castle. 

Idle Big Devil does get a bit complicated and harder as you progress, and you will get to a point where you have to decide whether to spend money or endure a slower progression in the game. However, this game can be completely free to play, if you choose not to spend money. 

Download here: Idle Big Devil

Paladins: Champions of the Realm

Paladins: Champions of the Realm is one of the best free Steam games in 2019.

4. Paladins: Champions of the Realm

Paladins launched just after a certain team-based shooter from Blizzard, and it's hard not see the similarities. Still, that doesn’t mean Hi-Rez Studios’ free-to-play FPS isn’t worth your time – it just means you get play something that’s often just as fun and rewarding without forcing you to break the bank with a full-game price.

With a menagerie of characters to choose from (known as Champions), each match offers an objective-based experience that feels more like triple-A fare than other free-to-play shooters.

Paladins includes everything from Overwatch-style payload defence/offence to a Survival mode akin to the popular ‘battle royale’ sub-genre made popular by PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite. It offers a consistently enjoyable and rewarding place to spend your time, even if it’s a tad derivative.

It's free to play on Steam, and there's no need to sink any money into it as long as you’re willing to grind for the first few hours. 

Download here: Paladins: Champions of the Realm

Crusader Kings II

(Image credit: Paradox Interactive)

5. Crusader Kings II

We’ve all fantasized about what it would be like to roam Europe in the Middle Ages. Well, with Crusader Kings II, you can do exactly that, playing a Christian lord looking to expand and preserve his dynasty while the whole continent is in turmoil. And, it’s not just invaders you have to worry about. Your vassals and courtiers are also busy plotting against you too. 

You’ll also introduce laws, make friends with other nobles and defend your religion against the heretics. Whatever decision you make, just remember that this is a game of strategy. So even the smallest ones can affect whether or not your dynasty will survive the Dark Ages.

If you fancy playing with friends, this game has a competitive multiplayer mode. So you can play with up to 32 other players, making it best free games on Steam if you want to spend some quality time with loved ones.

Download here: Crusader Kings II

Warface: Blackout

Warface: Blackout has also honed its online economy.

6. Warface: Blackout

Free-to-play shooters in their more traditional, deathmatch-esque form are often a hit and miss affair, but despite all those polished triple-A offerings from the likes of Activision and EA, Crytek Kiev has managed to put together a robust little FPS that can be just as exciting and enjoyable as many other entries in the bullet-ridden genre.

Warface: Blackout offers four classes to choose from, with weapons, gear, attachments and specific skills tied to each one. Having the right balance of classes in your squad adds a more Battlefield-style teamwork ethic, especially when engineers can repair armour and snipers can pull off game-changing one-shot kills.

After four years of rotation on the field, Warface has also honed its online economy, neatly offering you the ability to spend in-game currency on a rental system that lets you test out guns and gear before investing time and cash into your own version.

Download here: Warface: Blackout

Art of War: Red Tides

Art of War: Red Tides takes that classic MOBA structure, but strips out all the busywork in between.

7. Art of War: Red Tides

Are you looking for a MOBA spin-off that’s light on the RTS elements but deep enough to keep you engaged through every match? Well, we’ve got just the free-to-play beauty for you. Art of War: Red Tides takes that classic MOBA structure – funnelling you down a channel with loads of units as you attempt to destroy a base at the other end – but strips out all the busywork in between. It might not appeal to the hardcore among us, but for those looking to replicate the relaxed involvement of a mobile title at your PC, this is right up your alley.

That’s not to say it’s a spectator title. You’ll still need to survey the battlefield and use your energy reserves to build units to counter those already on the field. There are a trio of modes available, but it’s in the 3v3 mode the setup works best, with matches often coming down to which team pulls off the best combo.

Download here: Art of War: Red Tides

Warframe

Warframe is one of the best examples of how to do the best free Steam games right.

8. Warframe

Okay, so the word ‘war’ features quite a lot in some of the best and most popular free-to-play titles, but that’s because few things are as fun to wage when you’re spending no money. Another such example is Warframe – an online melee brawler/shooter that’s evolved into one of the most enjoyable games on PC.

Putting you in control of a sword-wielding space ninja (yes, it’s as cool as it sounds), the game feels like a cross between For Honor and Destiny 2, with modes offering PvE and PvP matches to keep you engaged. There’s even a story mode, and it’s actually pretty fun, if a little repetitive in places.

Developer Digital Extremes has also been dedicated to Warframe, rolling out regular updates and events that offer new upgrades and expansion on its rich lore. It may have floundered on consoles, but Warframe is one of the best examples of how to do the best free games on Steam right.

Download here: Warframe

Apex legends

(Image credit: Respawn Entertainment)

9. Apex Legends

The 'Battle Royale' genre of games exploded in popularity in a very short span of time, and the crown for the best overall title is fiercely contended. One of the most consistent games that appear on 'best of' lists is Apex Legends, and for good reason.

Respawn Entertainment stealth-dropped Apex Legends to the world and reached 25 million players within a week. You have all the ingredients of a good battle royale shooter, but Apex Legends has clung to its popularity despite newcomers to the scene like Valorant.

It does of course come with the usual optional loot boxes, but you're under no obligation to buy any of these. The base game is completely free and like many similar games, you can unlock the characters by leveling rather than using actual cash.

Play here: Apex Legends

Dota 2

(Image credit: Valve)

10. Dota 2

One of the most Iconic MOBAs available to play, you've likely heard of Dota 2 if you've played similar titles such as League of Legends or Heroes of the Storm. Adopted by Valve, Dota 2 was once a recreation of as popular mod for the original Defence of the Ancients game that has managed to cement its place as one of the most popular examples of the MOBA genre.

Given its competitive nature, Dota 2 has a steep learning curve but this can be a very rewarding game with plenty of characters and content to enjoy. You team up with four other players to take on an opposing team and capture their base, with plenty of purchasable items to optimize your character, with different classes like DPS (damage per second), tanks, and support to choose from.

This style of game won't be everyone's cup of tea, but for folk who enjoy a competitive MOBA, Dota 2 is a well-established titan of the gaming world.

Download here: Dota 2