The 17 Best Free PC Games

If you're looking for a good time but don't have a dime to spare, these 17 free PC games will leave you smiling.

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Worth the price of admission

There was a time when "free-to-play" was a dirty term in the games industry. Actually, there are still terrible, exploitative free-to-play games on the market—more every day, in fact.

But occasionally—occasionally—we get something...miraculous. We get a free-to-play game that doesn't try to con players out of money or make the design intentionally boring in order to make those purchasable unlocks more exciting.

Here, you'll find a list of games so good the developers could've charged money (or, in some cases, did charge money) before going free-to-play. These aren't just good free-to-play games, they're good games, full stop.

If you're looking for more bite-sized gaming snacks, check out PCWorld's guide to 16 free, fun browser-based games. They're not as meaty as these titles, but they're still fun.

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Dota 2

We might as well start with Dota 2, considering it just recently concluded the largest e-sports tournament in history: The International 4, with a prize pool of 10 million dollars.

Dota 2 is a successor to the WarCraft III mod DOTA, or Defense of the Ancients, the grandpappy of the now-booming MOBA genre. Players pick a hero and battle it out against the other team, competing to bring down the enemy base by out-maneuvering foes with skillful tactics. Or, if you're like me, you pick a hero and mess something up five minutes in and your entire team gets angry because they know you just lost them the game.

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League of Legends

And we can't mention Dota 2 without mentioning its counterpart, League of Legends. League is yet another MOBA, again inspired by the original DOTA mod.

So why choose League of Legends over Dota 2? Now we're getting into dangerous "Mac versus PC" or "Schwarzenegger versus Stallone" arguments—the type where nobody wins. The truth is you should just pick whichever your friends are playing or whichever looks best to you and jump in. The differences when you're starting are minimal—you probably won't even notice most until you've reached an advance skill level in one or the other.

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Hearthstone

Hearthstone is a collectible card game developed by Blizzard and based on the WarCraft universe. Like Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, and other physical CCGs of old, your task is to create the most advantageous deck and battle it against your opponent's. You'll start with a basic deck, but the game is good about handing out more advanced cards as rewards for in-game actions. In other words, this is probably the least expensive CCG you'll ever play—there's no need to pour hundreds of dollars into it.

The game is designed to be friendly to newcomers but also has a very high skill ceiling, and there will even be an official tournament at this year's BlizzCon.

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PlanetSide 2

PlanetSide 2 is a massively multiplayer online first-person shooter. How massive? Does "thousands of players battling for control of a persistent world" do anything for you?

The name is not a misnomer—PlanetSide 2 is enormous. You'll join one of three factions (the authoritarian Terran Republic, the freedom-loving New Conglomerate, or the technology-obsessed Vanu Sovereignty) and fight to take over territory alongside hundreds of teammates. The game plays exactly like a triple-A shooter's multiplayer except, you know, enormous—and free.

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War Thunder

If you prefer your combat in the air, try War Thunder. War Thunder is a World War II flight sim that throws dozens of players onto the same map in massive battles. The game's a bit more punishing to new players, slapping them with wait-times and resource limits early on. Get better at the game, though, and you can easily play this one without sinking a dime.

Also, the game recently added in tanks—it's now a dual-front, air-and-ground war. There's even Oculus Rift support, for you budding virtual warriors.

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Neptune's Pride

Neptune's Pride is a space strategy game with a twist—everything is done in "real-time." In other words, ships take hours to manufacture and then hours to jump through space. Everything progresses whether you pay attention to it or not. You could be sitting down to dinner while your so-called "best friend" completes an eight-hour warp jump and conquers half your planets. Then you can retaliate while the other players sleep.

It's sick and twisted and will probably ruin at least one friendship if not your life. But damn, I'd say it's worth it—if you can deal with the minimalist graphics.

star wars the old republic
Star Wars: The Old Republic

EA is lucky that BioWare hires great writers. Star Wars: The Old Republic is actually an egregious affront to free-to-play games, but the MMO's semi-singleplayer campaigns are strong enough I think the game is still worth including.

Be warned, however: This is not the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic sequel we all desperately wanted, and some of the restrictions on free-to-play accounts are absurd—for instance, you can't even sprint for the first 10 levels unless you're paying for a subscription. So, yeah. But the storywriting and Force powers rock.

lord of the rings online
Lord of the Rings Online

If you prefer your MMO experiences unfettered and aren't tied to the Star Wars universe, then try out Lord of the Rings Online. What was once a premium, subscription-based game is now almost entirely free outside of a few item restrictions and the like. There's a ton of content here, all based on Tolkien's lore. Whether you're a fan of the books and films or just a fan of solid fantasy MMOs, Lord of the Rings Online is the best free-to-play MMO of its type.

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Star Trek Online

You're captain of the USS WhatsItsName. Your mission? Well, that's up to you.

While Star Trek Online has a lot of content even if you stick to developer-created missions, it's actually far more interesting due to The Foundry—a mission-building tool for players to create their own missions. Some players in Star Trek Online have recreated entire arcs from the TV shows using The Foundry, while others have crafted new stories for the Trek universe that rival the complexity of a plot you'd see on TV.

It's an impressive effort and testament to the benefits of user-generated content—it's kept Star Trek Online alive long after the gaming community-at-large wrote the game off.

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World of Tanks

What, you don't like how War Thunder blends tank and air combat? Tired of all those planes buzzing around with their dumb propellers? World of Tanks is all-tanks-all-the-time. A veritable planet full of tanks.

Oh, and also it's an MMO—so, like, massively multiplayer tanks. Basically, there are tanks everywhere. Everyone shoots everyone. Tanks explode. And if you start to miss those dumb propellers, you can always check out Wargaming's other title, World of Warplanes.

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Tribes: Ascend

Tribes: Ascend is what you play when you've decided, "You know what? Counter-Strike just isn't punishing enough." It's a first-person shooter with a heavy focus on movement, by which I mean merely running will get you shot. You have to take full advantage of your jetpack and learn to "ski" downhill if you want to have even a fighting chance.

It's chaos, with enemies above, below, and behind you. And then you die. Tribes: Ascend is wonderful.

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Quake Live

Once upon a time, Quake Live ran in your browser. Nowadays you have to download it to play, but don't let that stop you.

Quake Live is basically just Quake III Arena, but tweaked. In other words, it's an ultra-fast, old-school twitch shooter with an emphasis on crazy weapons, strafe jumping, and health packs. Step right up. Witness how your twitch shooter skills have atrophied since 1999. Your reflexes are pathetic. You're not as young as you used to be. Where did the time go?

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Path of Exile

Path of Exile is an action-RPG in the Diablo II vein—you explore randomly-generated maps, click things until they die, collect loot, and repeat. There are seven classes (six to start) and the skill trees are so complicated you might have an aneurysm.

If you were disappointed by Diablo III, try Path of Exile. If you weren't disappointed, try it anyway. The game's free, so what do you have to lose?

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Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 is the first non-MMO, big-budget game I remember transitioning from "You pay for this" to "This is free." Whatever deal with the devil Valve made to turn Team Fortress 2 into a free-to-play shooter/hat simulator, it clearly worked: Seven years after release it's still the third-highest game on Steam on any given day.

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StarCraft Arcade

WarCraft III was a fine real-time-strategy (RTS) game in its own right, but it was the custom games that really set it apart—for instance, the entire MOBA genre spawned from a custom WarCraft III map.

Perhaps hoping to replicate that success, Blizzard has made it entirely free for you to play any custom StarCraft II maps. All you have to do is download the free StarCraft II Starter Edition and you can jump in. You can't play ranked StarCraft II matches, but if you're looking to play some innovative, crazy games made by amateur and hobbyist modders, you're all set. Some of the games available are wildly inventive.

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Warframe

Sometimes Warframe gets a bit repetitive. Sometimes it drags.

On the other hand, it's free and you get to play as a space ninja, teaming up with other space ninjas to kick butt and take names across the galaxy.

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Heroes & Generals

Heroes & Generals is actually two games. You can play it as a World War II-era shooter, a la Battlefield 1942, or play it as an RTS game where resources are allocated to troops in order to sway the tide of battle. Both aspects are equally important, and it can lead to some challenging matches if your Generals fail you and send you into battle unprepared—say, if the other side has tanks and you don't. That's part of the fun, though, since it feels more like a real war. Balance is overrated, and you only have your team to blame anyway.