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The 25 best free games to play right now

Dauntless Gems
(Image credit: Phoenix Labs)

We're living in a golden age of the best free games. What used to be a niche business model limited to overseas games that you had to find the client for on shady download sites has become a booming portion of the games industry. Why does everybody want to let you play their games for free? The answers vary, but the simplest one is that the more people who play, the more fun the game becomes, and the more likely you are to drop a little (or a lot) of cash on optional purchases. We've put together a list of the best free games that respect not only your money but your time as well, offering a great experience even for players who never want to spend an extra cent. This list starts with the great at No. 25 and rolls all the way down to the best at No. 1, so let's get to ranking.

25. Dragalia Lost

Genre: Action RPG
Platform: iOS, Android

Dragalia Lost is the first Nintendo-published mobile game that isn't a spinoff of an existing, popular franchise like Mario or Animal Crossing. Instead, it's a new tale of a fallen fantasy kingdom and the hodgepodge of adventurers fighting to restore it. Dragalia Lost has all the usual free-to-play mobile trappings: gacha-style random pulls for heroes and items, a limited stamina meter, way too many things to upgrade. But the action RPG dungeon delving and boss battles are slick, with controls that let you execute satisfying last-second dodges and fire off powerful abilities all with one finger. Plus, you can play almost all of it with your friends (or random internet strangers) in synchronous co-op.

24. Dota Underlords

(Image credit: Valve)

Genre: Multiplayer strategy
Platform: PC, iOS, Android

To an outsider, the autochess genre seemingly popped up overnight, with a handful of games inspired by a popular Dota 2 mod rolling out from developers all over. The basics are the same for each one: you join a match, purchase a few heroes from a random starting selection, position them on an 8x8 grid, then watch them face off against a rival player's team. As it stands now, Dota Underlords is the best autochess you can play, despite Valve clearly positioning it as an early access game. The studio is regularly updating the title to counter overpowered units and encourage new strategies, and it has some even bigger updates on the horizon that will add new layers of strategy to each match.

23. Star Wars: The Old Republic

Genre: MMORPG
Platform: PC

Still bummed that you never got Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 3? Play Star Wars: The Old Republic. Yeah, it's an MMO, but if playing with others isn't your scene you can pretty safely ignore those parts of the game and just focus on exploring your character's story. Did I mention that every class has its own sprawling, fleshed out tale complete with classic KOTOR-style Light Side and Dark Side choices? If you have even the slightest bit of Star Wars fandom in your heart, SWTOR will keep you happy for a long time.

22. Realm Royale

Genre: Fantasy battle royale
Platform: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One

Realm Royale plays like a floatier version of Fortnite with less impactful weapons and no building. But those classes really do make a difference. Adhering to Realm Royale's fantasy RPG roots (it actually ties in with another game on this list, Paladins), this particular battle royale lets you pick from one of five classes before you drop into a match. This in turn affects which kinds of abilities you can find and equip; handily, only abilities your class can use will ever pop out of the chests you open. Is finding a fireball spell for your mage that different from picking up an RPG launcher? Not in the moment-to-moment gameplay, but having a rough idea of what other players may be packing just based on their class does change the tune of engagements, as do your unique movement abilities.

21. Pinball FX3

Genre: Pinball simulator
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch

C'mon, it's pinball. Everybody loves pinball. And yes, the game is heavily monetized via microtransactions for additional tables that span everything from Harry Potter to Portal to Star Wars, but it does give you one table to play with for free as long as you like. And it's a pretty good table! Whether you're an old-school pinball wizard or just liked wasting time in the Space Cadet game that used to come with Windows, you're guaranteed to get at least a few hours of joy out of Pinball FX3.

20. SMITE

Genre: MOBA
Platform: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One

Perhaps you don't want to be an anonymous cog in the League of Legends machine. Perhaps Dota 2 scares you with its hardcore rep. And yet you still want to play a decent MOBA game. We recommend you try SMITE, a third-person multiplayer battler that focuses on scraps between gods from almost every religion and faith. The community is small enough to be inclusive, but large enough to guarantee full servers, and the game is constantly updated with fresh characters and maps. Yes, its free, but a reasonable $30 payment gets you the Ultimate Gods Pack, which grants access to all the fighters and any subsequent updates for life.

19. Dreadnought

Genre: Sci-fi capital ship combat sim
Platform: PC, PS4

There are plenty of games out there to give you the thrill of fast-paced, futuristic space combat. But if you're more in the mood for Star Destroyers than TIE fighters, you should check out Dreadnought. Picture World of Tanks but with huge capital ships firing screen-filling volleys of missiles and lasers at each other and you'll have a pretty good of the basics behind Dreadnought. Then layer on the extra tactical options of MMO-inspired roles (yes, there are rogue-y giant spaceships and healer-y giant spaceships) and an extra dimension of movement and you have a very unique PvP-focused combat game.

18. Runescape

Genre: MMORPG
Platform: PC

There's a reason this golden oldie is still immensely popular. One of the largest, and one of the best MMORPGs ever, is still constantly being updated, and offers a massive, ever-evolving world to explore. Depending on what you fancy doing, there's a plethora of challenges to choose from, along with fighting, competing, quests and mini-games to boot. Whatever you do, you'll have fun along the way and no doubt meet some like-minded folks too.

17. World of Tanks

Genre: Tank battle sim
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360

If the idea of getting your face lasered to pieces by precocious teenagers in Call of Duty is your idea of hell, then World of Tanks might be for you. This game is all about strategy, out-smarting opponents, and pimping out your tank with the right armaments to suit your style of play. Nine times out of ten, a well-prepared assault will smash a quick trigger finger, so it's ideal for older players looking to inflict violence at a more considered pace.

16. Fallout Shelter

Genre: Vault management sim
Platform: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, iOS, Android

Fallout Shelter could have easily been a disposable tie-in game, but Bethesda's done a fine job of keeping it relevant in the years since its surprise mid-E3 arrival. iOS and android users can control their very own vault and toy with the lives of their poor unsuspecting vault dwellers. Send them out into the wastes. Make them lay down their lives to defend the vault from raiders. And delight in the warm feeling of productivity... or is that radiation?

15. Paladins

Genre: Multiplayer shooter
Platform: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One

Colourful, cheerful, and crammed full of satisfying shooty noises and cartoony maps, Paladins is as if Overwatch was set in a medieval fantasy world. Except, you know, with some guns thrown in for good measure.  All the maps are distinctly old-timey, from desert temples to glacier fortresses, plus gameplay is hectic but full of charm. Instead of sprinting around you get your very own warhorse to hop onto and race across maps so you feel like a proper paladin. From the start eight characters are unlocked for free so there's plenty of choice no matter what role you like to play in frantic matches. So what are you waiting for? Give Paladins a go!

14. Neverwinter

Genre: MMORPG
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One

This free-to-play MMO has two big factors pulling in its favor. One: it's based on the incredible Neverwinter series of PC games, including Neverwinter Nights. Two: Neverwinter as a whole is based on the Dungeons and Dragons name, specifically a modified version of the D&D 4th Edition rules (the game predates 5th edition). Even without the strong lore background, Neverwinter is an enjoyable MMO with six classes to choose from and a ton of quests to complete. Longtime D&D fans who've been aching for a new video game to whet their appetite need look no further than Neverwinter.

13. Dota 2

Genre: MOBA
Platform: PC

One of the most popular free-to-play PC games, like ever, Dota 2 is a top-down arena battler - aka a MOBA - that pays out serious cash to the best players. But it's not only for obsessives or professionals. Instead, dive into the Steam Community forms, read some guides, talk to some players, and then rope in a few friends to help you get hooked on the original MOBA, and one of the biggest PC games in history.

12. Fire Emblem Heroes

Genre: Turn-based tactics
Platform: iOS, Android

Fire Emblem Heroes is about as good as it gets for your average Nintendo fan. So a free version on your phone punches so many buttons. This features a variety of modes to play and isn't short of things to do. The Story Maps let you engage in the classic turn-based grid battles against a range of unlockable heroes from the series as you battle to save the Kingdom of Askr. Then there's a training tower you can grind to earn EXP, arena duels to fight other players and limited time events to catch, and a ton of seasonal events full of new heroes to unlock.

11. Planetside 2

Genre: Online first-person shooter
Platform: PC, PS4

It's staggering how much game you get for free in Planetside 2. Maps are vast, there are three different factions, plus you get hundreds of players stuffed onto the servers during most games. In fact, we recommend either taking a friend with you or learning about the game before you begin, because there's so much to understand here. Progression can be slow if you don't hand over some cash, but the starting weaponry is decent enough to give you a fighting chance in any skirmish, so you can be competitive from the start.

10. EVE: Online

Genre: Space business and battle sim
Platform: PC

CCP Games' immersive, and utterly humungous, space MMO has been free-to-play for a while now, thanks to its new 'alpha clones' system. It's akin to an unlimited free trial featured in the likes of World of Warcraft, which basically gives you access to all the mining, piracy, manufacturing, trading, exploring and combat, but keep certain skills off-limits unless you pay a monthly fee. But with a ton of content very much still accessible in front of the pay wall, it's an absolute joy and a bargain to boot.

9. Dwarf Fortress

Genre: Interesting failure simulator
Platform: PC

Dwarf Fortress is one-hundred percent free, it doesn't have microtransactions of any kind (unless you count donations to the two-person dev team). But it does have surprise invasions by werebeasts and hidden aquifers that are just waiting to flood your entire fortress with a single misplaced pickaxe. It will take you a while to get used to Dwarf Fortress because there really isn't anything else like it, though some of the newbie-friendly starter packs can help ease the transition. Once you get comfortable with telling your dwarves how to build out their (probably temporary) shelter from the cold, hard world above, you won't want to stop. Even when the werebeasts show up.

8. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Genre: First-person shooter
Platform:  PC

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has been around for years, but it only went free-to-play relatively recently. The same update that stripped the game of a price tag also added Danger Zone, a battle-royale inspired mode that sets up to 18 players against each other on an open map full of cash to grab and supply drops to schedule. Even if you're not on board for more battle royale, you still get free access to all of the core competitive shooting action for which Counter-Strike is famous. Throw flashbangs, run around with knives, jump on crates in de_dust2 - it's all there, and now it's all free... as long as you can avoid the temptation to drop tons of cash on weapon skins.

7. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Genre: Collectible card video game
Platform: PC, iOS, Android

If you grew up playing collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon, then Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is all the fun without the bookshelves full of card binders. Hearthstone takes a familiar mana mechanic, used for everything from summoning creatures to casting spells, then simplifies it by granting each player an additional unit each turn. This makes jumping into Hearthstone that much easier, as you can now focus on the core strategies of your deck without worrying about taking up precious deck space with land. It's one of those "one more game turns into an all-nighter" deals, for sure.

6. Path of Exile

Genre: Action RPG
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Few action RPGs ever transcend the status of "well, this is good to play if you're tired of Diablo," but Path of Exile is one of them. Even if it wasn't free-to-play it would still be a remarkable game, refining several of the genre's sticking points while allowing for a dizzying degree of customization through a huge talent tree/cloud and skill-altering gems. Naturally, it's great to play with friends too - and much easier to convince them to join you with no upfront cost!

5. Brawlhalla

Genre: Platform fighting game
Platform: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One

Like playing Super Smash Bros.? You'll like playing Brawlhalla, too. It may not have the recognizable roster of Nintendo's beloved fighting game, but it has a similar streamlined approach to competitive action - friendly for both casual players as well as more hardcore competitive types. It has a pretty generous business model, too: all players receive access to a rotating selection of six characters for free, and you can buy more with microtransactions or earned-in-game currency.

4. Apex Legends

Genre: Battle royale
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Apex Legends is a smooth-as-butter battle royale from the team that brought you Titanfall 2. On top of Respawn Entertainment's shooter chops, Apex Legends is also designed to modernize the genre with reduced downtime between matches and a smart respawn system for bringing back fallen squadmates. All that and its initial lineup of heroes ("Legends" in the game's parlance) are some of the most colorful oddballs we've played in years, each with abilities that do enough to set them apart while keeping the focus on gunplay. Apex still has a lot of growing to do, but when it does, the current No. 1 best free game on this list should be very nervous.

3. Dauntless

(Image credit: Phoenix Labs)

Genre: Co-op monster hunting
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Even if you've never played other co-op monster hunting games like the Monster Hunter series, Dauntless is easily the best way to get started. It uses the same core loop of taking down giant monsters then using their parts to make gear for taking down even giant-er monsters, but it makes it all much more approachable with systems that are easy to grasp and an effortless online multiplayer experience. Mastering each different weapon style feels like playing a different game, each with their own unique quirks to master - a hammer that doubles as a jetpack (complete with an active reload mechanic) is a particular favorite. Best of all, seamless cross-play means you can hunt with your friends no matter the platform.

2. Warframe

Genre: Online action
Platform: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One

Online games lasting five or more years are hardly unheard of these days, but Warframe has one key difference among that venerable cadre: its best days still seem to be ahead of it. The game of weird space ninjas fighting even weirder enemies just keeps growing - first with more kinds of randomly generated corridors, then with all-new open worlds to explore, and soon with full-on ship-to-ship battles featuring every kind of Warframe combat. Warframe remains some of the most fun you can have in any game today, free or not. Just don't let the rough post-tutorial part, where you're still figuring out what the heck to do, turn you off before you get into the real meat.

1. Fortnite

Genre: 100-player build-and-battle royale
Platform: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, iOS, Android

If you haven't heard of Fortnite at this point, I'm actually kind of impressed. Epic Games' PUBG-esque 100-player PvP game mode is free to play on just about everything. The co-op, wave defense "Save the World" mode is still a paid-for experience, but Battle Royale is free to play and constantly evolving - not to mention a perennial favorite among the GR+ staff. Get involved. And if you need some help getting started in the Battle Royale, we have some Fortnite tips with your name on them.

Looking for more great games? Here are our best PC games to play right now.

Connor has been doing news and feature things for GamesRadar+ since 2012, which is suddenly a long time ago. How on earth did that happen?