Gaming on a PC is a wonderful thing. Should you both have the money and the time to spend, you can play the very best games on the very best tech and sit back while you face, heart and soul gently weep. However, investing in all that hardware can leave the ol’ bank balance looking a little penurious. Enter the wonderful world of free-to-play, via Steam.
And while F2P might come bounding into the room with the shadow of the microtransaction looming over it, that doesn’t mean you have to play any of these games with soul-selling agreement to spend money further down the line. Every ‘free’ game we’ve gathered together here can be enjoyed for hours on end, all without spending a dime.
If console gaming is more your thing, you can grab three free games when you pre-order the Xbox One X now. Hundreds more gaming goodies will be deeply discounted on Black Friday, so keep an eye on our guide to the best deals.
1. Fractured Space
When it comes to MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arenas), not every game has to be a fantasy-based romp with daggers, spells and cutesy champions.
Take the science fiction ship battles of Fractured Space. Sure, it’s a MOBA-style 5v5 affair, but now you’re in control of a powerful frigate as your hurtle across the stars and attempt to destroy your opponent’s base before your own suffers the same fate.
Skewing the classic MOBA concept as a space-based naval affair gives the setup you know and love with a much-needed breath of fresh air while blowing away all the cobwebs. You can customize your ship and crew, as well as hotkeying weapons and abilities so you can combine the best ships for the task ahead.
It’s one of the most exciting MOBAs on PC, and it's free to play on Steam.
Download here: Fractured Space
Much like Paladins, Gigantic offers a team-based shooter that’s part-Overwatch, part MOBA and part something brand new. Instead of having you defend a slow-moving carriage through a map (because that never gets old) or destroy an enemy base (in classic MOBA style), Gigantic tasks you with killing an enemy giant while attempting to protect your own. Sounds mad, right? It is, but a brilliant kind of mad all the same.
With an art style that mashes up Studio Ghibli flourishes and classic Disney cuteness, Gigantic’s 20-strong character roster offers enough skills, weapons and attributes to appease even the pickiest of players.
Each match is a 5v5 event, with players working together to power up their own Guardian (that’s your giant weapon/walking base) while risking it all to lay siege to the enemy. The roving nature of your Guardian makes every match an intense affair, and best of all, it’s 100% free on Steam.
Download here: Gigantic
3. Star Trek Online
MMOs and film licenses don’t often mix well – from The Matrix Online to Star Wars Galaxies, recognizable universes have rarely lasted in the realm of persistent online worlds. Except for the enduring Star Trek Online, that is. Retroactively made free-to-play following its launch back in 2010, STO gifts you with a crew and a Federation starship and sets you free to sail the stars in true Trekkie fashion.
There are microtransactions available should you want to speed up the levelling/resource gathering process, but STO is consistently generous with its free content, especially to new players looking to see their very own final frontier. It’s also set within ongoing Star Trek canon, taking place roughly three decades after the events of Star Trek Nemesis (you know, that terrible TNG film with Tom Hardy).
With an economy, ever-shifting alliances and a still impressively vast community, STO manages to bottle that magic that makes Star Trek so timeless.
Download here: Star Trek Online
4. Paladins: Champions of the Realm
Paladins launched just after a certain team-based shooter from Blizzard, and it's hard not see the similarities. Still, that doesn’t mean Hi-Rez Studios’ free-to-play FPS isn’t worth your time – it just means you get play something that’s often just as fun and rewarding without forcing you to break the bank with a full-game price.
With a menageries of characters to choose from (known as Champions), each match offers an objective-based experience that feels more like triple-A fare than other free-to-play shooters.
Paladins includes everything from Overwatch-style payload defence/offence to a Survival mode akin to the popular ‘battle royale’ sub-genre made popular by PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. It offers a consistently enjoyable and rewarding place to spend your time, even if it’s a tad derivative.
It's free to play on Steam, and there's no need to sink any money into it as long as you’re willing to grind for the first few hours.
Download here: Paladins: Champions of the Realm
MMOs set within the confines of a fantasy setting are hardly new – in fact, almost all of them fit that description to a tee – but very few of them manage to offer just as much diverse content as the Korean-made ArcheAge.
You can do all your usual MMO minutia – questing, gathering resources, looting new weapons and gear, and so on – but grind through its early levels and you’ll discover an online world full of surprises.
Want to conquer lands and lay claim to them? Check. Fancy building your very own castle? Double check. How about forming an alliance and besieging another for control of their land? Triple check. Oh, and how about a naval combat setting that practically adds an entire open-ocean to explore and plunder? All the checks. ArcheAge offers all this and more. Its naval combat mechanics are particularly impressive, enabling you to dispense maritime justice or hunt for loot as a virtual pirate.
Download here: ArcheAge
6. Warface: Blackout
Free-to-play shooters in their more traditional, deathmatch-esque form are often a hit and miss affair, but despite all those polished triple-A offerings from the likes of Activision and EA, Crytek Kiev has managed to put together a robust little FPS that can be just as exciting and enjoyable as many other entries in the bullet-ridden genre.
Warface: Blackout offers four classes to choose from, with weapons, gear, attachments and specific skills tied to each one. Having the right balance of classes in your squad adds a more Battlefield-style teamwork ethic, especially when engineers can repair armour and snipers can pull of game-changing one-shot kills.
After four years of rotation on the field, Warface has also honed its online economy, neatly offering you the ability to spend in-game currency on a rental system that lets you test out guns and gear before investing time and cash into your own version.
Download here: Warface: Blackout
7. Art of War: Red Tides
Are you looking for a MOBA spin-off that’s light on the RTS elements but deep enough to keep you engaged through every match? Well, we’ve got just the free-to-play beauty for you. Art of War: Red Tides takes that classic MOBA structure – funnelling you down a channel with loads of units as you attempt to destroy a base at the other end – but strips out all the busywork in between. It might not appeal to the hardcore among us, but for those looking to replicate the relaxed involvement of a mobile title at your PC, this is right up your alley.
That’s not to say it’s a spectator title. You’ll still need to survey the battlefield and use your energy reserves to build units to counter those already on the field. There are a trio of modes available, but it’s in the 3v3 mode the setup works best, with matches often coming down to which term pulls off the best combo.
Download here: Art of War: Red Tides
Okay, so the word ‘war’ features quite a lot in some of the best and most popular free-to-play titles, but that’s because few things are as us fun to wage when you’re spending no money. Another such example is Warframe – an online melee brawler/shooter that’s evolved into one of the most enjoyable games on PC.
In the form of a sword-wielding space ninja (yes, it’s as cool as it sounds), the game feels like a cross between For Honor and Destiny 2, with modes offering PvE and PvP matches to keep you engaged. There’s even a story mode, and it’s actually pretty fun, if a little repetitive in places.
Developer Digital Extremes has also been incredibly faithful to its creation, rolling out regular updates and events that offer new upgrades and expansion on its burgeoning sci-fi lore. It may have floundered on consoles, but Warframe is very much alive on PC.
Download here: Warframe
9. Star Conflict
There’s been a resurgence for the sci-fi dogfighting subgenre in the last few years – thanks in part to the rise of VR – but there aren’t many titles that let you take to the stars and shoot space ships for nada. In fact, there’s just the one, and it’s one of the most enjoyable games we’ve played on this list.
The game is split into four main modes – PvP, Open Space, Sector Conquest and Missions – offering plenty of content for absolutely no pounds/euros/dollars. You can atomise other players in classic deathmatches, explore an impressively vast universe in Open Space or head into co-op for a bit of PvE action in Missions. You can set up custom battles with friends if you’re in mood for a private dust up. Ship designs offer different attributes depending on your play style, and earning new ones can be pulled off without spending a penny if you’re willing to grind.
Download here: Star Conflict
10. Atlas Reactor
Part MOBA, part RTS, Atlas Reactor borrows those now ubiquitous decision queues and adds a neat twist: instead of each player acting out their turn one after the other, everyone gets to play at the same time. The result? A strategy game in actual real-time as players move units around the map, exchanging actions in a chaotic flurry. It can be a little more luck based than we would like (since you don’t know what you’re opponents are going to do next, it’s often guess work alone), but the pace soon hooks you in.
Decision, one of two main modes in the game, forces you to make these decisions in 20 seconds or under for each turn (making every match hella fun and hyper intense), while Resolution slows things down into four phases as you plan out your moves and set traps as you attempt to win each 4v4 showdown.
Download here: Atlas Reactor
- Every one of these titles is the perfect fit for a Microsoft Surface Book