Times are tough right now and not everyone can afford to shell out $60 for the latest AAA games, no matter how many 10/10s they receive. There have been a few wallet-friendly summer sales over the past several weeks -- with more to come! -- but sometimes, you just need to entertain yourself for the lowest price possible: zero.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of quality free and free-to-play PC games to choose from. On Steam alone, you'll find dozens upon dozens of no-cost MMOs, MOBAs, competitive shooters, and more.
We went on a hunt for 10 fantastic free (or free-to-play) Steam games. By narrowing things down so much, this list was never meant to be exhaustive nor comprehensive, but to highlight a handful of great titles. We've also done our best to include games from a variety of genres. Without further ado, let's get started.
- Release Date: October 2007
- Genre: Hero-based team shooter
- Play if you like: Overwatch, nostalgic shooters
No free-to-play game list would be complete without the granddaddy of modern hero shooters, Team Fortress 2. Originally a sequel to a 1996 Quake mod, 2007's Team Fortress 2 proved so successful that an entire genre spawned around it.
However, while recent hero shooters like Overwatch or Valorant might have more modern graphics and fancier animations, Team Fortress 2's core gameplay loop is as compelling as ever. Instead of forcing you into a rigid playstyle upon picking one of the game's 9 unique characters, Team Fortress 2 gives you the ability to customize how each hero feels by equipping them with wildly different weapons.
If you don't like shooting grenades and sticky bombs as the Demoman, for example, you can swap them out for a sword and shield, and charge into combat with reckless (and drunken) abandon. Or, choose to forego the Soldier's powerful rocket launcher in favor of a zero-damage "Rocket Jumper," used exclusively for sailing around the map and descending upon your enemies from the sky, melee weapon in hand.
- Release Date: March 2013
- Genre: Co-op third-person shooter
- Buy if you like: Weird sci-fi worlds, Destiny 2
Warframe is not the most accessible game in the world for new players, but it's still considered one of the best examples of a consumer-friendly free-to-play game. There are no predatory loot boxes, and while it has its fair share of grinding, everything that you can pay for in the game can be earned through regular gameplay -- and it won't take you 40,000 hours (we're looking at you, Star Wars: Battlefront II).
At its core, Warframe is best described as a third-person, pseudo-MMO action game, but even that overview feels insufficient. The amount of content and content variety on offer here is honestly mind-boggling.
You have your slightly generic (but nonetheless entertaining) co-op hack-and-shoot missions that you undergo to gather crafting materials or experience the main story, but there are also massive, open-world zones, rideable mounts, craftable pets, PvP action, and player-controlled space combat sequences.
Then, of course, there's the Warframes themselves: instead of classes, you can collect dozens of these humanoid weapons systems, each with their own unique appearance and powers. With so many options, there will almost certainly be a Warframe that suits your playstyle, whether you prefer sneaking, shooting, or slicing.
- Release Date: August 2012
- Genre: Team-based shooter
- Buy if you like: Counter-Strike: Source, Rainbow Six: Siege, Insurgency
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is the most recent entry in the ridiculously-popular Counter-Strike franchise, and it's also the most popular. At its core, CS: GO is a relatively straightforward team-based shooter that emphasizes individual skill and reaction times over everything else.
In this sense, CS: GO isn't all that different from its predecessors. As usual, you and a group of other players will take on the role of Terrorists or Counter-Terrorists and face off against the enemy team by defusing bombs, killing or protecting hostages, or simply eliminating all hostiles.
However, CS: GO differentiates itself with a larger player base, improved graphics, a wider variety of guns, and its many, many balancing changes (most notably relating to weapon and movement physics). There's also plenty of cosmetic skins for you to unlock if that's your thing.
In the end, CS: GO is a game for those who need a break from other modern shooters. Here, you won't need to worry about coordinating ultimate abilities or healing up your allies -- just dive in and go for frags.
- Release Date: October 2013
- Genre: Action RPG
Buy if you like: Diablo series, deep customization
If you're a fan of top-down action RPGs, there's a good chance you've heard of Path of Exile. It's a free-to-play, spiritual successor to the Diablo franchise, designed for those who have become disillusioned with the design direction of Blizzard's popular series.
Whereas Diablo has slowly been simplified over the years, Path of Exile revels in its depth and complexity. It offers players hundreds of active skills to choose from (by way of "skill gems" that you attach to various pieces of gear), 7 playable classes, multiple subclasses, over 1,300 passive perks to unlock, and of course, plenty of legendary equipment to strive for.
None of these rewards are handed to you on a silver platter. To earn them, you'll have to fight off hordes of enemies, big and small, throughout Path of Exile's lengthy story campaign. Once you've geared up, you can test your skills against other players in intense PvP tournaments, or simply kick back, relax, and customize your own personal Hideout.
Best of all, your progress in Path of Exile will carry over to its sequel, Path of Exile 2, when it releases later this year (or early 2021).
- Release Date: February 2012
- Genre: Grand strategy
- Buy if you like: Europa Universalis, Stellaris
Some people prefer solving their problems using their wits instead of their brawn, and if that describes you, there's no better game for you than Crusader Kings 2. This grand strategy title lets players take on the role of a famous ruler from medieval European history (or create their own, with the appropriate DLC), and carve out a path for their dynasty over several generations.
You can get married, have children (which you'll play as when your ruler inevitably kicks the bucket), acquire traits and skills, and manage your kingdom on both a micro and macro level. Get down into the nitty-gritty by keeping ambitious vassals in check and adjusting realm laws, or set your sights on world conquest through realm-spanning alliances and sheer ruthlessness.
At the end of the day, Crusader Kings 2 is a reactive and multi-layered sandbox for those that enjoy complex diplomacy, skullduggery (including assassinations and kidnappings), and medieval role-playing.
- Release Date: March 2014
- Genre: MOBA
- Buy if you like: DOTA 2, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm
Given how long the MOBA market has been around, it can be challenging for developers to come up with something genuinely fresh that still feels like a part of the broader genre. Smite is an excellent example of a game that accomplishes this lofty feat.
In Smite, you and your teammates enter the fray as one of 109 gods from various worldwide mythologies. You can play as Thor and smite your foes using Mjolnir's power, or take up the mantle of Artemis and pepper the enemy team with rapid-fire arrows.
It's not just its unique cast of characters that help Smite stand out; the game's controls are another major selling point. Unlike most other MOBAs, Smite has a third-person camera, which lets you navigate the battlefield using the WASD keys for movement and your mouse for (horizontal) aiming.
This makes the game feel faster and a bit more action-oriented than its competitors, but don't think that makes the experience any less challenging. In true MOBA fashion, you'll still be pushing lanes, killing minions for XP, and stalking the jungle for enemy players; all tasks that will require proper communication and teamwork to accomplish.
Smite doesn't attempt to reinvent the MOBA genre, but it's a good option for anyone who is just looking for a slightly different experience than they'd get in games like DOTA 2 or League of Legends.
- Release Date: October 2017
- Genre: Arena brawler
- Buy if you like: MOBA teamfights, team brawlers
What if you took the most entertaining parts of a typical MOBA match -- the teamfights -- and turned them into their own standalone game? That's a question developer Stunlock Studios decided to answer with its action-packed "team arena brawler" Battlerite.
Battlerite has some of the same components of a standard MOBA, such as hero characters and special abilities, but with a significant twist. Instead of fighting in large maps with lanes and minions, two small teams duke it out in a small arena, with no jungle or special buff-granting bosses to worry about.
Like Smite, you control your character using the WASD keys, but here, your camera is fixed in a MOBA-like overhead position, giving you a birds-eye view of the battlefield. This movement system, combined with the many leaps, dashes, and teleports many characters possess, emphasizes aggression and punishes slow-paced play.
Indeed, if you attempt to play a more defensive game of cat-and-mouse with your opponents, you'll likely run head-first into Battlerite's Sudden Death mechanic. This mechanic kicks in when the match timer expires, causing a green ring to shrink around the arena. This forces you to either eliminate your opponents quickly or risk taking rapid, unavoidable damage from the deadly encroaching fog.
- Release Date: October 2017
- Genre: Sci-fi FPS
- Buy if you like: Looter shooters, Halo franchise
Destiny 2 was already a solid first-person looter-shooter on release, but as is the case with many modern "live services," it's only gotten better with age. These days, it has several content-rich expansions (both free and paid), raids, PvP modes, and a compelling main storyline, which can be completed solo or with up to two other friends.
Content variety aside, it's Destiny 2's fantastic combat system that keeps players hooked. It's fast-paced, and most guns in the game feel incredibly impactful, with meaty sounds effects and beautiful animations.
Fortunately, high-quality shooting mechanics didn't come at the cost of weapon variety. As you progress through the game, you'll get your hands on SMGs, shotguns, sniper rifles, and more. Many of these guns possess their own passive abilities and elemental effects, which can add an absorbing tactical layer to Destiny 2's more challenging encounters.
Of course, your character's progression doesn't just come from weapon or armor unlocks. In Destiny 2, you choose from three distinct classes: the juggernaut-like Titan, the mystical Warlock, and the agile Hunter. You obtain a basic set of class-exclusive powers reasonably quickly, and can eventually expand upon them with more potent ultimate abilities gained through your chosen subclass.
Destiny 2 is a fantastic game for those who want a more accessible MMO-like experience, or those who just want to experience an exciting sci-fi world with their friends.
- Release Date: July 2015
- Genre: Action MMO
- Buy if you like: Minecraft, World of Warcraft
Getting tired of traditional MMOs like World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2, but Destiny 2 isn't quite your thing? If so, consider taking a look at Trove, an action MMO from Trion Worlds. Its cutesy, block-based aesthetic might be a deterrent to some, but make no mistake: Trove is just as content-rich and entertaining as any other game in this genre.
There are intense dungeons to delve into and bosses to defeat, which will inevitably reward you with new gear to equip for your chosen class -- of which there are many; 16 in total. These classes range from standard options like the Knight or Gunslinger to far more unusual choices such as the Candy Barbarian (a brute with a penchant for sweets) or Dino Tamer.
If you get bored with Trove's more generic MMO features, there are plenty of distractions for you to pursue. The game takes a page out of Minecraft's playbook by letting players build their own personal homes block-by-block, or even work with other players to create massive "Club Worlds." You can also make and submit your own 3D equipment, or snag gear made by others.
In short, Trove is a laid-back MMO for creative individuals or those who simply enjoy experiencing the creativity of others.
- Release Date: October 2018
- Genre: Collectible card battler
- Buy if you like: The Witcher 3's Gwent minigame, Hearthstone
When The Witcher 3 first came out, fans didn't just get a fantastic, open-world RPG with well-written quests and solid combat. They also got Gwent, a surprisingly complex and entertaining card-based mini-game.
Gwent proved to be so popular, CD Projekt Red spun it off into its own standalone title, aptly named Gwent: The Witcher Card Game. It received plenty of tweaks to make it fit better as an independent experience, but the core gameplay mechanics remained intact.
Like the mini-game, you don't win matches of Gwent by dealing direct damage to your opponent. Instead, your goal is to build up a more powerful army of minions across two distinct "lanes." If your army score (the combined attack value of all your creatures) is higher than the enemy's when a round ends, you win that round. Win two out of three rounds and the match is yours.
To achieve victory in Gwent, you'll need to use your wits and your various card abilities, such as board clears, card draw, and debuffs. As an example of the former, since your goal isn't to zerg down your opponent directly, there are times when it's beneficial to intentionally throw a round. This can force opponents to waste their valuable cards early and give you an advantage in the long run.