It’s a wonderful time to be young, broke, and on the hunt for the best free PC games. In the past, particularly in the dark ages before the internet, if you couldn’t afford to buy games (or convince your parents to shell out for them), you were out of luck, forced to turn to - *shudder* - outdoor activities to entertain yourself.
In the modern era, however, games are increasingly democratic. High quality games aren’t restricted to big budget AAA spectacles. There’s a growing number of games available completely free that rival their $60 counterparts, and the lion’s share of those games are on PC. So if you can afford to cobble together a reasonable PC, something else that’s becoming easier and less expensive than ever before, you’re effectively buying a platform with a huge built-in library of free, fantastic games. You don’t even need to sort through the ever rising ocean of them - we’ve done the work for you, and fished out the best of the best. And if you want to spend a bit of money, well here are the best PC games available right now, and the best classic PC games of all time.
15. Mechwarrior Online
The success of this year's Battletech has drawn attention back to a well deserving franchise that’s been chugging along for decades now. MechWarrior is the real time, action-based mech simulator branch of the same universe, and the free online version has been steadily growing and improving since its launch back in 2015. The brand new Solaris 7 expansion adds arena combat to the intense giant robot action, as well as a bunch of supporting content like sponsors and and patron contracts, all aimed at letting you live out your gladiatorial fantasies.
14. Realm of the Mad God
A wildly inventive take on the traditional MMO formula, Realm of the Mad God pits you and your fellow players against hordes of aggressive monsters in an 8-bit-styled top down shooter. The developer, Wild Shadow Studios, describes it as the first “bullet hell MMO"—an apt description, with the screen often clouded with hundreds of projectiles as you and your allies exchange fire with dense packs of enemies. There are a bunch of fantasy archetype character classes to experiment with and a staggering amount of loot to gather up/lust after, so there’s always incentive to come back to this cutesy, frenzied shooter and keep mowing down baddies.
13. EVE Online
Often hailed as the best story generator in video games, with some of the most dramatic and legendary conflicts happening amidst its stars, the incredible game that lays at the heart of EVE Online sometimes gets short shrift. In the past few years it’s gone free-to-play and then stripped back many of the restrictions on free players, so you can now experience almost everything its universe has to offer without spending a dime of real world money. If you’ve ever been tempted to dip your toes into this massive, sprawling space sim but have put off by the traditional subscription structure or the game’s depth and complexity, there’s never been a better time to dip your toes in. It’s not a game for everyone, but for those who do enjoy it, it’s one of the most massive and engaging experiences in gaming.
It’s easy to dismiss Paladins as an Overwatch clone given some of the really obvious parallels. While it does liberally crib from the Overwatch playbook, it also brings some unique elements to the arena shooter formula, like an interesting deck-building mechanic tucked in alongside the shooting, or universal mounts to ferry players back into the action at top speed. Its managed to attract a huge player base and continues to be regularly updated with new features and heroes, in much the same way as Blizzard’s behemoth, but unlike Overwatch you can jump in and play completely gratis. Whether you don’t want to invest the cash or just want a little change of pace, Paladins is a great option that feels and plays much better than you might expect.
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11. DOTA 2
Dota 2 is an amazing example of what’s possible when a titan of the industry commits its resources to developing a great free-to-play title. Dota 2 continues to dominate the MOBA genre, pulling in tremendous amounts of cash for its annual esports tournament The International, an event that pays out millions of dollars to its winners. The game continues to change and evolve regularly, constantly branching off from and evolving its simple premise: two teams, three lanes, and streams of AI minions all trying to destroy each others base. Dota 2 is a juggernaut that even now, years after its release, shows few signs of losing momentum.
10. Fallout Shelter
An unlikely turn for Bethesda and their huge open-world RPG franchise, Fallout Shelter was a huge surprise at their 2015 E3 press conference, an unexpected gem that turned out to be a delightful amuse-bouche in the lead up to the launch of Fallout 4. More than that, it proved to be a deep, addictive strategy game that borrowed Fallout’s Pip Boy art style and applied it to a deep simulation of what operating a Vault of survivors in the wake of a nuclear holocaust might be like. Porting it from mobile to PC was a no brainer, with the elegance and ease of mouse and keyboard controls, and it’s even easier to lose hours and hours to Fallout Shelter on its new home.
9. Defiance 2050
Defiance 2050 is a bit of an odd case, a free-to-play, updated version of an MMO shooter that released all the way back in 2014 accompanied by a SyFy original television show, and originally launched as a full price proposition. While the show itself disappeared after three clunky seasons, the game continued plugging along, keeping its head above water with its solid third person shooting, zippy vehicles, and huge catalog of skills and gear. 2050 takes the best stuff from the vanilla game and overhauls it, streamlining and adding a number of quality of life improvements that make the formula feel fresh and give lapsed players a great excuse to jump back in.
8. Star Trek Online
Star Trek Online is the best sort of game-as-a-service MMO, a free game you can pop into anytime you want to explore a massive and beautifully realized galaxy. Then, after you’ve had your fill and drop off for a few months, you can dive right back in and discover a treasure trove of new features and content that have piled up while you were away. Most recently, the Victory is Life update adds the mysterious, dangerous Gamma Quadrant, the sector of space beyond the wormhole from Deep Space 9, with its deadly factions and elite warriors, adding another chapter to what is already a staggering amount of strong content.
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Like Dota 2, Hearthstone illustrates what happens when a company with tremendous resources applies them to a proven formula, in this case Blizzard attacking the collectible card game genre. Hearthstone is arguably the best and most accessible digital take on the Magic: The Gathering legacy, welcoming new players with its bright, cartoonish art style and simple rules. But the true brilliance of Hearthstone is how its systems, and the quirks of individual cards, interact with each other in intricate ways, opening an incredibly high skill ceiling for players that really want to dive in and apply themselves. Like the best CCGs, Hearthstone is satisfying for casual players but also dangerously addictive for veterans.
6. Doki Doki Literature Club
Doki Doki Literature Club is the sort of free PC game the world needs more of, a welcome departure from all the space shooting and sword waving that typify free-to-play games. It’s a breath of fresh air for the visual novel genre, taking a well trod blueprint, a high school full of anime girls, and turning it on its head in fascinating and shocking fashion. If you’re lucky enough to not have played DDLC or had it spoiled for you, you’re in for a treat. Even if you're unfamiliar or generally uninterested in visual novels as a form, DDLC will surprise you with its deft, affecting storytelling.