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The best free Steam games you can play right now

(Image credit: Valve)

Free-to-play is no longer a dirty word. You can enjoy lots of brilliant PC games without breaking the bank, and many of the best freebies live on Steam, Valve’s long-running PC platform. The best free Steam games range from short, touching stories to expansive MMOs, and everything in-between: whatever kind of game you like, you’ll find something that ticks your boxes. In this list, we’ll run through the best free Steam games you can play today - and don’t worry, we’ll point out any microtransactions you may come across.

20. Dota Underlords

(Image credit: Valve)

Valve’s answer to Auto Chess. In Dota Underlords, like in other auto battlers, you don’t actually control your characters during their round-based brawls - rather, it’s all about picking the right heroes and building a team that works well together. What sets Underlords apart are its Dota setting, which makes it an obvious pick for anyone invested in Valve’s MOBA, and its inherent lack of randomness, which guarantees you rewards after every match, unlike other games in the genre. It’s in Early Access, and Valve has committed to keeping it free forever, but expect paid battle passes in the future.

Play it here: Steam

19. Brawlhalla

Spawn, grab an axe, and whack everyone else in the face until you’re the last one standing. Brawlhalla is a polished platform fighter that you can play either online or with friends in local-multiplayer, and it has enough different weapons, characters and gadgets to give each round its own standout moment. Regular updates and seasonal events give you a reason to pop your head round the corner every so often. Spend money on skins or to unlock more heroes.

Play it here: Steam

18. Cry of Fear

A real edge of your seat-er. Cry of Fear is a Half-Life total conversion that looks a lot prettier than the original and plays completely differently: it’s a slow-burning horror shooter that will turn your knuckles white for eight hours. The developers squeezed a surprising amount of juice from Valve’s ageing engine, including animated cutscenes.

Play it here: Steam

17. Team Fortress 2

Valve’s evergreen team-based shooter remains one of Steam’s most popular games, more than 12 years after its release. Its foundation is an endlessly refined set of nine classes that both perfectly compliment and counter one another, and from there you can make it as serious or silly as you want. If you want pure shooting mechanics, play standard game modes on official maps. Or you can embrace its wackiness, and the endless community servers, maps, minigames and memes it has spawned. Collect hats and trade them in chilled lobbies, play a recreated version of WarioWare, or break out of jail while a team of guards tries to stop you. The choice is yours. Microtransactions are purely cosmetic.

Play it here: Steam

16. Off-Peak

A surreal jazz dream that never stops getting weirder. You’re stranded in a vaulty train station without a ticket out of town, and to kill time you wander around looking for hidden passageways, eating pizza, and talking to strangers, including a man sitting on a throne flanked by two cows. Basically it’s the above trailer, but half an hour long, with some loose narrative threads that you can tie together in your head, should you so wish. The music is fab, too. The sequel, The Norwood Suite, is well worth playing, although you’ll have to pay for it.

Play it here: Steam

15. Paladins

A polished, 5v5 objective-based team shooter with plenty of card-based character customisation. You’ll start with five champions by default and unlock more as you play: as soon as they’re available you get access to all their cards, each affecting their skills in different ways. You pick five to add to their deck, allocating points to determine the importance of each card. Laying that customisation on top of the characters’ unique abilities lets you create a champion you can call your own. You can pay to unlock characters faster, or for cosmetics.

Play it here: Steam

14. Final Fantasy 14 Online - Free Trial

Okay, it’s not a full game, but the fact you can play a large chunk of Final Fantasy 14 on Steam is worth a mention. The free trial is full of limitations - your level is capped to 35, you can’t trade or invite players to your party, and more - but it’s enough to get a flavour of Square’s sublime MMO and see whether you want to pay full whack. It can be a grind, but the story’s great once you get into it.

Play it here: Steam

13. Battlerite

This top-down arena brawler didn’t quite take off as we thought it would, but its short fights and diverse range of heroes make it a great pickup. Your best bet is to pick a hero you like the look of and stay with them for half an hour, figuring out if they suit your style. You might opt for Jamila, a shadow warrior with bouncing shuriken, or Rook, a burly chieftain with a giant hammer in one hand and a hunk of meat in the other (which he can eat to restore HP). You unlock cosmetics and new characters as you play, and spending real money simply speeds up the process. If you like the universe then try out Battlerite Royale, which is also free (but not as good).

Play it here: Steam

12. Ring of Elysium

The post-PUBG explosion of battle royales created plenty of clones and duds, but Ring of Elysium isn’t one of them. It has plenty of its own ideas: the end-of-match helicopter arrives exactly 20 minutes from the start of a round and can extract four players to victory, even in solo. Its standout feature is how you traverse the ash-covered map: ride BMXs, hang from gliders and throw grappling hooks to get around faster than your opponents. The only microtransactions are for cosmetics.

Play it here: Steam

11. Emily is Away

Ready to relive your MSN-obsessed childhood? This is a nostalgic narrative game set within a computer chat client, with conversations that start in high school and finish, after a few time jumps, in college. Emily is the person you’ll speak to most, and it’s her story you’ll dive into: it’s one of love, friendship, and betrayal, and the few choices you’ll make ensure you feel part of her tale.

Play it here: Steam

Turn to page 2 to see more of the best free Steam games.

Sam's gaming PC is literally held together with masking tape, and he bought his PS4 from a friend of a friend of a (dodgy) friend for a tenner. He wishes that games still had paper manuals, mainly so he could get the satisfaction of ignoring them. He grew up in Essex, and now lives in London.