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25 Best free PC games to play today

GamesRadar logo GamesRadar 14/9/2021 Ali Jones
a person riding on top of a mountain: Apex Legends Genesis Collection Event © Provided by GamesRadar Apex Legends Genesis Collection Event

Picking out the best free PC games is no mean feat. If you're playing on a computer rather than a console, you've got to consider your specs, for one thing, but you've also got a huge list of potential games to choose from, whether or not you're minding your pennies.

Thankfully, we've got you covered. This list whittles down the best free PC games to give you 25 of the titles right at the zenith of PC gaming. We've spanned a wide array of genres from battle royales to card games to narrative adventures. There are standalone juggernauts like Roblox and spin-offs like Teamfight Tactics or free alternatives like Paladins or Dauntless that have become hugely successful in their own rights.

This list only tackles the best free PC games, so if you're looking to spend a little more cash, you can check out our list of the best PC games or the best classic PC games. And since PC gaming can easily run a little more expensive than console gaming, here's a rundown on how to build an affordable, powerful gaming PC, or a list of the best gaming laptops if you're not looking for a desktop.

25. Paladins

Even while we wait for Overwatch 2, Blizzard's hero shooter remains a premium experience (and that's before you start counting up how much you've spent on skins). Thankfully, Paladins remains a strong alternative at a much lower price point. Blizzard fans will notice a few differences, most notably the mounts that help you get around the map, but Hi-Rez's offering sticks remarkably close to the established formula when it comes to game modes while switching things up a little more in its large (and growing) roster of playable characters. 

24. Dauntless

As Paladins is to Overwatch, so might you draw a comparison between Monster Hunter: World (and its icy expansion) and Dauntless. While Capcom's smash-hit is a full-priced experience, Phoenix Labs' offering conjures a similar experience for absolutely nothing. It's not quite as broad as the long-running series that inspired it, but still offers hours of slaying, with multiple weapon types to master as you make your journey across its fractured, floating world with your party of up to six players.

23. Teamfight Tactics

Plenty of companies tried to cash in on the 'Auto Chess' phenomenon, but Teamfight Tactics has easily been the most successful. Riot's effort, which uses various League of Legends characters and their extra-dimensional alternatives as its units, seems to have gone the distance, with regular updates and even a narrative element that's weaving into LoL's ongoing (and somewhat nebulous) narrative arc. Seasonal changes can be dramatic, but a lot of attention is paid to balance, and major overhauls have kept TFT from going stale. The game mode resides within League of Legends' client, and a battle pass and cosmetics are both available for the game's premium currency. 

22. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit was initially released as a companion narrative ahead of the arrival of Life is Strange 2, but even if you're not familiar with Sean and Daniel's story, this is another charming outing from Dontnod, filled with as much charm and attention to detail as any of the official games. Focused on Chris, a young boy with a vivid imagination and a father struggling to cope with his grief, Captain Spirit offers a heartfelt standalone narrative from one of the best story-driven studios out there.

21. Roblox

Once upon a time, it might have been easy to write off Roblox as another blocky kids game just ripping off Minecraft. Not only have those days long since passed, that criticism is now entirely incorrect - as well as being a multibillion dollar title drawing in tens of millions of players every day, Roblox is slowly becoming an increasingly respected game development tool. The most high-profile example is VVVVVV creator Terry Cavanagh's recent foray onto the platform, but a suite of creators has been using its tools (and making a decent income from them) for years. As the attention offered to it grows, Roblox's own development could be fascinating to be a part of.

20. Crusader Kings 2

Crusader Kings 3 might have replaced its older brother at the top of the Paradox pecking order, but if you're looking for grand strategy on a budget, this is easily the best place to start. The base game, which puts you in charge of your own portion of medieval Europe, is now entirely free. If you want to expand upon that already excellent experience, the game's huge number of DLC add-ons are now available via a subscription service that costs $4.99 a month, but even without all that extra content there's hundreds of hours worth of diplomacy, warfare, and subterfuge on offer. 

19. War Thunder

War Thunder is a little more casual than the truly hardcore military sims out there, but if you're looking for some dogfights or tank skirmishes with some genuine depth, there's a huge degree of mastery on offer. Fans of ground, air, and naval combat are all catered to, with a wide roster of vehicles stretching back decades from some of the world's biggest military powers, and detailed customisation means you can pick a style to suit you and really dominate your opponents. Paid DLC does offer a way to unlock new vehicles faster, but they can also be earned with in-game currency. 

18. Rocket League

The blend of football and rocket-powered RC cars might once have seemed peculiar, but after Rocket League's arrival in 2015, any doubts were immediately assuaged. A premium release has since made way for a free-to-play model funded by cosmetics inspired by an increasing number of crossovers, from F1 to Jurassic Park. As well as pixel-perfect gameplay that makes Psyonix's offering one of the best sport games out there, a massive skill ceiling and plenty of interesting variant modes ensures that there's enough to keep you playing for years at basically no cost. 

17. Spelunky Classic

If you've been itching to try out the indie phenomenon but don't fancy paying for the privilege of dying over and over (and over) again, the original Spelunky is a free, pixel-art predecessor to the 2012 smash hit and its recent sequel. Controlling a fedora and bullwhip-wielding spelunker, the aim is to make it past the dangers that await in a giant, procedurally-generated cave, collecting as much treasure as you can on your way down. Despite its adorable aesthetic, however, Spelunky is hiding a dark side, with enough ways to kill you that you'll still be learning its secrets dozens of hours in. 

16. Doki Doki Literature Club

Sadly, you won't be able to play Super Smash Bros on PC any time soon, but there are plenty of alternative platform fighters available. Of those, Brawlhalla is arguably the leader of the pack, with regular season updates, a huge (and growing) roster of fighters, and plenty of weapons and gadgets to ensure that fights always feel fresh and that there's ample opportunity to master your favourite styles. Cosmetic items and new characters can be purchased with premium currency, but there's also an in-game currency to help you progress. 

15. StarCraft II

The game that arguably kickstarted the esports craze, StarCraft II maintains a thriving competitive scene more than a decade on from its original release. Following on from the events of 1999's Brood War expansion of the original game, the sequel continues Blizzard's epic space opera, featuring the return of its three iconic factions. A classic narrative mixes with oceans-deep tactical gameplay to make one of the best examples of this iconic genre. The free version offers access to the entire Wings of Liberty single-player campaign, as well as the multiplayer modes, although the Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void expansions are paid additions to the story.

14.  Dwarf Fortress

14 years in the making and with decades still to go, Dwarf Fortress is one of the deepest and most complex PC games in the world. The open-ended gameplay tasks players with establishing and running a colony of dwarves within an auto-generated world with its own unique history. The original text-based graphics can be hard to parse (although modded alternatives are available) and the punishing nature of the world can be a turn-off, but persevere and you'll be met with a hugely-immersive experience with a level of detail hard to match in any game that you don't play with a D20. 

13. Valorant

Not quite Overwatch, not quite Counter-Strike, Valorant is an intriguing blend of the tactical and hero shooter genres that manages to capture the best of both. A diverse and growing roster of characters head into best-of-25 round-based contest; one team tries to plant and defend the explosive 'spike', while the other attempts to stop them, before the roles are reversed at half time. Characters are split into multiple classes based on their combat abilities, but everyone has access to the same guns, meaning that you'll need to master both the crisp gunplay as well as the map-changing abilities to succeed. 

12. Warframe

One of the biggest breakout hits of 2020, a reasonable elevator pitch for Genshin Impact might describe it as 'anime Breath of the Wild', but that's far from the entire picture. Its four-player combat lets you switch between characters on the fly, using their elemental magic to pull off crazy combos. During downtime, you can explore the massive open world of Teyvat, climbing, gliding, and swimming to unlock its many secrets. The Gacha-style approach to microtransactions won't be popular with everyone, but it doesn't stop Genshin from being one of the most ambitious free-to-play titles on this list. 

11. Warframe

If you're looking for the loot grind and epic sci-fi setting of Destiny, but don't have the time to invest in Bungie's FPS/MMO hybrid, Warframe is a more-than-worthy alternative. Played in third-person and at lightning speed, it offers more than 40 character archetypes to unlock and master, as well as enough customisation options to ensure that however you like to play, you can grab your own unique build. Getting in and out of a mission is seriously quick, so you'll be upgrading your gear in no time at all. 

10. Path of Exile

Diablo 4 is still a long way off, but Path of Exile is likely to remain a significant contender to the dungeon-crawling throne even once it's time to return to Sanctuary. Path of Exile's huge skill tree and regular expansions have turned it into one of the most-played games on Steam, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Capturing the dark fantasy nature and endless loot cycles of classic ARPGs, there's enough here to keep fans of the genre entertained for hundreds of hours, and suck newcomers in without worrying about catching up on decades of lore.

9. Doki Doki Literature Club

 It's hard to explain what makes Doki Doki Literature Club such an excellent visual novel without giving away what makes it so special. It starts out as a pretty standard dating sim set in the poetry club of a traditional high school, but evolves into something far more intriguing as time goes on, resulting in one of the most important and high-profile examples of its genre anywhere. And if you dip in for a second time, it'll push the limits of the genre even more, changing the entire game around you as you play.

8. Legends of Runeterra

Most collectible card games are initially available for free, but require a pretty significant spend for those hoping to stay at the top of the ladder month after month. Legends of Runeterra, from League of Legends developer Riot Games, aims to break that cycle, offering players generous rewards and the means to acquire cards they actually want without relying on random chance. Regular expansions add to the roster of available champions, allowing players to hone in on a playstyle that works for them, all while building on the fascinating world of Runeterra. 

7. Runescape

Not just a relic of the mid-noughties, Runescape is still thriving, with both a modern-day version and an Old School alternative for those of you still hankering for the good old days of pre-2007. Both games offer tonnes of free content spread across their massive worlds, but you'll get access to a lot more via a paid subscription. Thankfully, Runescape makes its memberships available with in-game currency, so if you're prepared to sink some serious time into a new MMO, this is a great way to do so for free while mastering skills from prayer to fishing, and taking on foes from humble goblins to huge, world-ending monstrosities. 

6. EVE Online

Nearing its third decade, EVE Online might be one of the oldest games on this list, but it's also one of the deepest and most ambitious experiences you can have on a PC - if you're prepared to make a name for yourself. CCP's huge space sim is home to one of the most fascinating communities you'll find anywhere in the world, complete with its own economy, warring political factions, and pitched space battles that seem like they're straight out of a Star Wars film. A $14.99 subscription offers access to more ships and skills, but new recruits can find everything they need to make a start for free. 

5. Destiny 2: New Light

Destiny 2's base game, alongside two of its early expansions are available for free, offering access to developer Bungie's exceptional gunplay and many of its competitive modes, as well access to a sprawling and ambitious storyline. Whether you're looking to outshine your opponents in PvP, smash hordes of enemies in PvE, or just make sure you've got the shiniest space armour out there, you'll find hundreds of hours of entertainment in Destiny 2. 

4. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive 

The most recent iteration of Valve's classic tactical shooter series might not be the newest kid on the block anymore, but it remains the quintessential example of the genre. There are no flashy abilities to hide behind here - success lies in your knowledge of the map and the mastery of the weapon in your hands. But while CS:GO is somewhat pared down in comparison to its new competitors, it remains one of the most clinical modern shooters out there, at an entirely unmatched price point.

3. Apex Legends

Ok, it might not be Titanfall 3, but Apex Legends is a worthy alternative. Set in the same world as Respawn's mech-based shooter, the Apex Games blend classic battle royale with the character-based skills of the hero shooter, for an end product that manages to be the best of both worlds. After a slight lull in the wake of its epic launch, Apex is currently in a great spot, with a hugely diverse roster and a rotating schedule of three brilliantly detailed arenas.  

2. League of Legends

From humble beginnings, League of Legends grew quickly into one of the biggest games in the world, and has stayed there for years. The aim of the 5v5 MOBA is simple - destroy your opponents' base, or Nexus, before they can destroy yours - but with more than 150 champions, there's a huge amount to learn. That learning curve is seriously steep, so if you're starting out, find a champion you like and master them first. Once you're over that initial hill, however, there's also a huge global esports scene, novels of lore, and a constantly-evolving competitive environment to get lost in. Premium currency can help you unlock new characters faster, but is mostly reserved for cosmetics. 

1. Fortnite

Fortnite might not be at the peak of its power anymore, but it's impossible to deny the phenomenal impact that Epic's battle royale has had. After a swift pivot away from the original Save the World, Fortnite became a family-friendly alternative to the rapidly-growing last-man-standing genre, complete with its iconic building mechanic. Since then, it's set a new benchmark for the pace of change for evolving games, with an ever-deepening narrative, ambitious crossover events, and in-game virtual concerts that draw in audiences in the millions. Premium currency 'V-bucks' is reserved solely for cosmetic purchases. 

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