The free-to-play genre has exploded over the past few years, pushing out buggy, predatory games for unique titles with ethical monetization practices. Even with the boom bringing new experiences to consoles — check out our rankings for the best free Xbox One and PS4 games, if that’s your bag — PC is the home for most free games. From Brawlhalla to World of Warplanes, here are the best free PC games.
It’s hard to compile any list of games without mentioning Fortnite. Epic Games’ massive battle royale title released into early access only a mere three years ago, and just left early access earlier this year. Despite that, it has attracted hundreds of millions of players thanks to its variety of challenges, rare skins, and live events. Fortnite is a staple, not just because it’s a free PC game, but because it’s a good game in general. If you’re just now diving in, make sure to read up on the best places to land and how to win a match without building.
Dauntless is basically free-to-play Monster Hunter, just much more accessible. The reasons die-hard fans love Monster Hunter are the same reasons why newcomers often turn away from the series. Monster Hunter is slow, progression is complex, and failure is ingrained in the game. Enter Dauntless. Not only is Dauntless free, it’s much easier than Monster Hunter World to pick up and play. Combat is more reminiscent of a hack-and-slash, and although genre staples like stamina management and the lack of animation cancel are present, they’re much more forgiving in Dauntless.
Developer Phoenix Labs doesn’t force microtransactions on you, either. Crafting new armor and weapons to take on bigger monsters is a part of the free experience. The vast majority of the microtransactions are cosmetic. You can gain an edge in leveling with the Hunt Pass — Dauntless‘ take on a battle pass — but you don’t need to spend any money to have a good time with Dauntless. Plus, it supports cross-play between PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch, so you can pair up with your friends no matter what platform they’re on.
Read our Dauntless review
Apex Legends is Fortnite‘s meaner-looking older brother (complete with a dirty beanie). Faster and more rugged with a greater focus on gunplay, Apex Legends is a fast-paced battle royale game with a lot of depth. It has only been around for a little over a year, but despite that, Apex Legends is still putting up record-breaking player numbers. Since it’s still in its fifth season — which added quests to the game, among other things — now is a perfect time to jump in to Apex Legends. It’s one of the best battle royale games around, after all.
Since its release in 2013, Path of Exile developer Grinding Gear Games has maintained a clear stance on microtransactions: You can buy items in-game, but they won’t give you an edge in any way (a hopeful mark on the cynical hearts of free-to-play enthusiasts). As for the game itself, Path of Exile is an isometric action RPG set in a dark fantasy world. Hacking and slashing is a big part of the game, but Path of Exile has a lot of depth, too. Character customization is basically endless, offering a strong driving force behind the often monotonous nature of ARPGs.
You should jump in and hone your skills as soon as possible; Grinding Gear plans on rolling out Path of Exile 2 next year.
Brawlhalla is an arena-based fighting game for up to eight players that takes a lot of notes from a certain mascot-ridden Nintendo franchise. Gameplay-wise, Brawlhalla doesn’t do anything new. You’ll use your tiny character to beat up the other tiny characters and hope they fly off the map. It’s Brawlhalla‘s unique monetization model that sets it apart. There are cosmetic microtransactions, but they take a backseat to the characters. There are more than 50 playable characters in the game, and each week, eight of those characters are cycled through the free roster.
You can buy all of the characters for $20 — pocket change compared to Smash Bros. — but Brawlhalla‘s cycling model allows you to try all of the characters before spending any money. If you have no particular affiliation, you can easily just use the free roster. None of the characters have any distinct advantages.
Magic: the Gathering Arena provides a fresh take on the decades-old trading card game. It doesn’t change the formula — the staple formats are the same ones players have been playing for years with physical cards — but Arena offers a streamlined, flashy interface for playing online (a much-needed change for MTG, especially compared to Magic: the Gathering Online). Currently, Arena supports Standard, an Arena-exclusive format called Historic, and drafts for the latest sets. There are also time-limited events, such as Brawl and Mormir, that make their way to the client periodically.
Guild Wars 2 has kept a steady pace over the last eight years, which is a feat for any free MMORPG. Upon its release in 2012, Guild Wars 2 distinguished itself by lacking a subscription fee (par for the course for MMOs at the time). With games like Elder Scrolls Online following suit, developer ArenaNet dropped the price tag, offering the base Guild Wars 2 experience for free. And there’s a lot to experience. Vanilla Guild Wars 2 offers around 70 hours of gameplay, with each of the two expansions offering an additional 80 or so hours. ArenaNet announced a third expansion earlier this year, but it probably won’t show up until 2021.
Eve Online earns the “massive” bit of massively multiplayer. It’s a community-driven space exploration game with unmatched scale. Judging the actual size of space in Eve Online is tough — one player spent a decade exploring and still couldn’t discover everything. More space doesn’t just offer more content, but more experiences. Eve Online is a game about exploration until the moment you stumble upon other ships. With its scale, it’s easy to forget that you’re in space with other players, making teaming up with or against them all the more satisfying.
Neverwinter is an action RPG set in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. On its own, Neverwinter is a decent time, offering old-fashioned action RPG gameplay for the low cost of free. If you’re a D&D fan, though, it’s a must-play. Set in the wildly popular Forgotten Realms campaign setting, Neverwinter harkens back to Baldur’s Gate and, of course, Neverwinter Nights, all while maintaining consistency with D&D lore. Even if you’re not a D&D fan, Neverwinter might turn you into one.
Dota 2 is the second-most-played game on Steam, taking a backseat only to Valve’s own free-to-play Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Between it and League of Legends, there are few differences from a gameplay perspective. They’re both MOBAs, they’re highly competitive, and the player bases are absolutely massive. The kicker is that Dota 2 offers all of its 119 heroes for free, whereas League charges for them. Dota 2 also heads multiple high-profile competitive events, the most prominent of which is The International.
Call of Duty has an interesting history with the battle royale genre. Attempting to use the Blackout mode to sell Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Activision quickly learned that it couldn’t compete with rivaling free PC shooters. That’s where Warzone comes in. It’s an expansion for 2019’s Modern Warfare, but don’t need the base game to get in on the battle royale action. Outside of the looting and shooting, Warzone in unique with its Plunder game mode and Gulag mechanic, adding some much-needed refinement to the battle royale format.
Read our Call of Duty Warzone review
Hi-Rez Studios specializes in free, online, hero-based games, one of which is Paladins (Smite and Realm Royale are worth a shot, too). Despite Hi-Rez claiming otherwise, Paladins is an awful lot like Overwatch, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a hero-based shooter, but Paladins changes the formula a bit by throwing magic into the mix. There’s also a deckbuilding mechanic in the game, where you can customize your character with collectible cards. Ultimately, Paladins plays like Overwatch, but with the deckbuilding aspect and some special abilities, it puts greater focus on customization and player expression.
Although it went through various rounds of beta testing for more than a year, the much-anticipated MMOFPS Planetside 2 was officially released in late 2012, instantly setting the standard for free-to-play MMOs in the process. The scale of this game is breathtakingly large, the graphics are stunning, and the gameplay is sheer insanity. Players choose to play as one of thee rival factions constantly vying for control over the map and can pick between a number of different classes before entering the battlefield. Whether you’re infantry, artillery, or air support, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be chaotic.
Star Wars: The Old Republic offers a look at a former version of Bioware, before the whole Anthem debacle. It’s dated in a number of ways, from the lackluster visuals to a subscription-based monetization model, but it has that thing that Bioware does so well. The world feels alive, and even more impressively, distinctly unique from the movies and any other Star Wars game. The base version of the game is free, but you’ll need a subscription to get the full experience. You can play as long as you want as a free user, though the title comes with a long list of restrictions.
Read our Star Wars: The Old Republic review
Love flight sims and dogfighting games? Well fire up the Top Gun soundtrack and bust out your joystick — this game is everything you’ve ever wanted. Developed by the same people who brought us World of Tanks, WOWP applies the same formula to air combat. Take to the skies in your own custom-built plane and compete against thousands of other people in huge team-based battles or one-on-one dogfights — the choice is yours.
Read our World of Warplanes impressions
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