With consistently lower title costs and regular deep discount sales, Steam is a bargain gamer’s paradise. Sales are great, but aren’t completely free games even better? Before you try and snag a blockbuster game on sale, check out the store’s extensive free-to-play selection for some great gaming experiences that you can jump into without paying a dime.
From cartoon brawlers and Fallout spin-offs to the most popular multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs) and tactical first-person shooters, the free-to-play market has hit the point where there’s something for everyone. Most of these titles are built for great multiplayer experiences (and a handful are cross-platform enabled) — perfect options for groups of friends looking to test out a new game without breaking open their wallets.
We’ve rounded up the best free games on Steam for you so you can jump into a new game without slogging through reviews.
Battlerite and Battlerite Royale
Battlerite is a top-down MOBA-style brawler where fantastical champions battle it out in front of a roaring crowd. The base Arena mode offers fast-paced action 2v2 and 3v3 battles where teams must strategize and plan their champions’ choices wisely to complement each other. Think your team is holding you back and you’d be better off solo? Try the game’s battle royale counterpart — Battlerite Royale. Take your favorite champion from the team arena and see how you stack up when you’re all alone. Like most battle royales, this mode features a shrinking safe zone, plenty of looting, and being booted back to the menu after a death.
If you’re bouncing back and forth between both games, there’s a battle pass system that allows you to collect cosmetics and virtual currency to be used in either.
For fans of the Super Smash Bros. series that want to give another platform fighter a shot, Brawlhalla is a similar game with a whimsical art style and a rotating cast of lovable characters. The goal of each match is clear: Knock your opponent off the map, either off the platform or into the atmosphere, to claim victory. Any strategies and habits learned over on Super Smash Bros. will come in handy here — the same combination of tactful dodges, light attacks, and power hits will land you on top.
Each week, a batch of six fighters are playable without spending any money. Or, if you find a favorite fighter to main or want to try them out all at once, you can pay $20 to gain access to all 40-plus characters. Brawlhalla is completely cross-platform, too, so you can battle it out with friends who have also snagged the game for free on Switch, PS4, or Xbox One.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
The final entry in Valve’s popular Counter-Strike series, CS: GO is a free-to-play first-person shooter that pits teams of terrorists and counter-terrorists against each other in a series of objective-based matches. Terrorists are typically tasked with either planting a bomb or defending hostages, while the counter-terrorists have to defend bombsites (and defuse bombs if they fail) or rescue the captives. CS: GO has nine main game modes for both competitive and casual gamers, including Danger Zone, the series’ take on a battle royale mode.
Despite first being released back in 2012, CS: GO has a very active and loyal fanbase. The Counter-Strike series has always been a big player in the competitive gaming scene, so expect some fierce battles with players who have been around for a while — they weren’t exactly happy when the game went free-to-play in 2018.
Crusader Kings II
Crusader Kings II is a grand strategy game with role-playing game (RPG) elements set in Europe at the close of the Dark Ages. Players pick a ruler and make sure his dynasty survives as you play a succession of his descendants through the ages, fighting other lords for territory, investigating treasonous plots, and managing resources. When playing as a specific ruler instead of a God-like controller of a civilization, each turn is a bit more personal than a typical historical strategy game. You can customize your character’s skills and appearance and control their individual actions — you can get married and have kids, become a warlord, go hunting, and more. There’s so much you can do, and every decision affects the game.
You can take this game on solo or build a wild multiplayer game with up to 32 other players, forming alliances or doing a little backstabbing with friends. A third installment in the Crusader Kings series is set to be released this September.
Destiny 2 is a sci-fi, open-world, first-person shooter developed by Bungie. The game takes place in the distant future, when a conglomerate of alien armies have invaded the solar system and threaten the last vestiges of humanity. Players can keep busy in a variety of ways through the story, adventures, and quests, and in competitive multiplayer modes like the Crucible and Trials of Osiris. Destiny 2 is a game of serious depth that has only expanded since its launch. Whether you’re planning on gearing up solo and finding a team to play with online or jumping in with some friends, it’s a stellar free-to-play shooter.
Bungie has publicly stated that it’s looking into bringing cross-platform play to the game, but it doesn’t look like the update is in the works to be released anytime soon.
Read the full Destiny 2 review
Dota 2 is one of the biggest titles in all of esports. Combining elements of real-time strategy games and tower defense games, this popular MOBA pits two teams of five players against each other to destroy the core of the other team’s base. With regular updates, including gameplay changes and new characters that change the meta, Dota 2 is one of those games you have to log on to regularly to remain competitive.
With over a hundred heroes to choose from and nearly unlimited combinations and strategies, it can take some serious gaming hours to figure out how you like to play the game.
Fallout Shelter puts players in control of a state-of-the-art underground vault from Vault-Tec and tasks them with keeping the underground safe haven functioning properly. A standard resource management game with a post-apocalypse spin, gameplay revolves around keeping the vault’s dwellers happy; making sure the shelter has enough food, water, and electricity; and defending the base from murderous raiders. You can also send adventurers out into the wasteland to collect supplies, send radio broadcasts to recruit more settlers, and pair off your settlers to produce new residents in-house.
If you’re a fan of the Fallout series and have ever imagined how well you’d run a vault, this is the simulator for you. Learning how to best utilize vault dwellers with different skills and knowing when to ship out a settler takes some time, but it’s good fun watching your vault grow when you figure it out.
BioWare’s stellar Neverwinter Nights series brought Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) game mechanics to life in an immersive fantasy RPG. In the free-to-play massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Neverwinter, players can choose one of eight D&D character classes and team up with friends to defend the city of New Neverwinter from the Lich Queen Valindra. This isn’t a typical MMO — there generally aren’t zones with hordes of players fighting to grind certain spawns, and the story is surprisingly in-depth for the genre.
As with any MMO, there are loyal fans of the game who have been around since its initial 2013 who are terrifyingly decked out with rare armor, weapons, and skills. Don’t be afraid — this is a nice entry-level game for anyone trying to get a feel for D&D combat systems and have some fun hunting down evil creatures.
Paladins: Champions of the Realm
Blizzard’s Overwatch remains the king of the “hero shooter” multiplayer genre, but Paladins is a worthwhile alternative and is completely free. Before battling it out with another team, players choose from a roster of champions divided into four tactical categories: Front Line, Damage, Support, and Flank. Like Overwatch, each character has a set of unique abilities and a charged “Ultimate.” All players have free access to six default champions and a rotating roster of four others — other characters can be unlocked by purchasing them or grinding for in-game currency.
No matter where you stand on the issue of whether or not Paladins is a Overwatch copycat, it’s worth checking out at no cost to your gaming budget.
Path of Exile
Heavily inspired by the Diablo series, Path of Exile is an online action RPG set in a dark fantasy realm. Banished for your misdeeds to the dark, you are an exile struggling to survive on the continent of Wraeclast and seeking revenge on those who have wronged you. Players pick between one of six classes — Witch, Shadow, Ranger, Marauder, Duelist, Templar — each of which has their own movesets, strengths, and weaknesses. Combining skills, armor, and weapons, you can carefully customize your character to suit your preferred playstyle.
While exploring the world through the main storyline is plenty engaging, you can always take part in some competitive online player versus player (PvP) gaming. Developer Grinding Gear Games has a strict mission in terms of its free-to-play world, too — no pay-to-win options here, so don’t fear jumping in.
Ring of Elysium
While Fornite and Apex Legends generally dominate the battle royale shooter category, Ring of Elysium is a hidden gem. In a world wrecked by a sudden volcanic eruption, the air is filling with deadly volcanic ash, and the only means of escape is a single rescue helicopter. Unlike most battle royales that feature a safe zone that slowly shrinks inward, players must stay within a constantly moving Ashen Eye and collect oxygen to assure survival.
Ring of Elysium’s development team remains committed to improving the game as it progresses past the early access period, with patches coming on an almost daily basis to add features and address feedback. If you’re looking to expand your battle royale experience past the most popular titles, give this a shot.
Smite is another game from Hi-Rez Studios, the same developer behind Paladins, but it’s a straight-up MOBA. Smite features five versus five online battles in a large map, where you must push past your opponent’s defenses to defeat the Titan. You play as one of 108 playable deities, immortals, heroes, and mythical creatures from ancient mythology that each belong to one of five classes: Guardian, Mage, Hunter, Warrior, or Assassin.
The only issue with picking up Smite is that it’s a highly-competitive game — expect no mercy from elite players and no way to hide from them in casual game modes.
War Thunder is a military MMO that puts players in control of the armies of World War II nations (United States, Germany, Britain, U.S.S.R., and Japan). Players can take part in major battles on land, in the air, and at sea, fighting with millions of players from all over the world in an ever-evolving environment. With over 1,500 vehicles in play and a dedication to historical accuracy, strategizing and picking the correct combination of war machines is the key to victory. There are a variety of game modes for different experiences, too, from standard online multiplayer deathmatches to solo historical campaigns.
There is no cost to start playing, but the content isn’t fully available at the start — War Thunder operates under a “freemium” model. Still, you get quite an experience without paying a dime, and history buffs will love it.
Warframe has always been an overachieving game. Launched as a free-to-play game in 2013, its player base has only shot up — more than 26 million people have played it so far. Combining the sci-fi aesthetic of the Halo series with the gameplay and fighting mechanics of Destiny 2, this is one of the most exciting free games to tackle with a group of friends. Players take control of one of 30 plus Warframes — armor units that have their own abilities and customizations — and light up hordes of enemies across open-world landscapes.
This game is more about serious customization rather than an in-depth story. You’ll find yourself repeating similar missions over and over again, but the rewards and upgrades to your armor are the real prizes.
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