From military to sci-fi to fantasy, from MMOs to block-builders to card battlers, it turns out that zero can buy you quite a lot in the F2P game world – and that some classics are available at the steepest possible discount.
TERA has been a mainstay in the MMO stable for many years, and with good reason. Rejecting traditional point-and-click combat, TERA is an all-out actioner that draws from games like Devil May Cry. If that fact doesn’t grab your attention, perhaps its new event server will. Manahan is an alternate reality where level progression is quicker, dungeons are tougher, battlegrounds are switched up, and special changes are added to pretty much everything. Regardless of if you are a new or returning player, TERA’s most recent update has something for everyone.
Closers is an episodic anime MMORPG where you can fight battles with jumps, dodges, and combos in your quest to save Earth. You play as a titular ‘Closer’ - a character with a customisable personality and character arc - in your fight against horrific interdimensional beasts.
Each Closer has their own combat style and that, combined with the thousands of weapons at your disposal, makes the experience different every time you play. And, if you fancy engaging in some beat ‘em up action with your friends, there are modes for co-op and head-to-head PvP, too.
You don’t have to find a group of like-minded aviation enthusiasts on a message board and join their virtual squadron to enjoy War Thunder. You don’t have to choose between realism or accessibility, either. You just download it, and then you’re flying – or driving, or shooting, or even both at the same time. This massively-multiplayer WW2 combat game effortlessly encompasses all of the explosions and excitement that planes and tanks are capable of generating.
Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2 is one of the best MMOs available. Even better: you can play a huge chunk of it for free. There’s a lot to do, from traditional questing for NPCs to zone events where everyone can suddenly get involved and work as a massive team to bring down a boss, or help a burning village. You’ll need to pay to get into the Heart of Thorns expansion, but the base game is huge enough as it is, and the backlog of Living World stories now available to play means there’s plenty to see, explore, and get involved with.
Blade & Soul
Blade & Soul's story is of a journey to the West: well-regarded enough in Asia to prompt a 10,000 signature petition for wider release, this martial arts MMO has since blown up under NCSoft West's stewardship. The keys to its success? High-wire swordplay pulled straight from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and a propulsive revenge plot akin to that of Kill Bill. It is a highlights package of the best of Wushu.
Crossout is a vehicular combat MMO in which you craft outlandish cars and then drive them into battle alongside other players. Set to a Mad-Max-stye backdrop of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, there’s an emphasis on deep customisation as well as skilfull driving and aiming. Crossout contains a variety of co-op and competitive game modes, as well as a marketplace full of tradable goods. The sheer number of different body types, guns, cannons, and armor ensures that there are many different ways to play… although they are all pretty deadly.
World of Tanks
One of the mightiest PC free-to-play games there has ever been, World of Tanks is an accessible and exciting tank simulator that is built on a foundation of complex game mechanics. It pits two teams of tankers against each other in a classic deathmatch scenario. There are hundreds of vehicles to unlock across ten different tiers, from speedy scouts to hulking heavies. You will be surprised at how many tanks Wargaming have managed to cram in.
World of Warships
If you like the idea of World of Tanks but the battlefields just are not wet enough, then you need World of Warships. Introducing the navy to the concept of deathmatch, the controls are simple and welcoming, but allow for interesting tactics. World of Warships is more fun than Total War’s pondering naval engagements, definitely more approachable than Silent Hunter, and far, far deeper than the Pirates games. Surprising deep, if you'll excuse the submariner humour.
Duelyst is a free PC CCG that offers players something a little more strategic than just laying down cards. Instead of a standard deck and board, Duelyst offers a five-by-nine grid straight out of a top-down tactical game like Blood Bowl. Cards in Duelyst spawn in units rather than simply casting effects, which makes for a game that is like a CCG twist on chess. Order your units across the grid, out-maneuver your opponent, and score a worthy victory. Counterplay Games Inc. have also lavished their game with a beautifully crisp 16-bit art style that’ll have you collecting cards for the art just as much as than their effects.
Star Trek Online
Who wouldn’t want to take control of a starship, explore the fringes of the galaxy, battle dangerous aliens and train an elite crew of pangalactic professionals? Star Trek Online is your chance to show the internet that you’d make a much better Picard than Picard. Or, at least, than they do. Each quest in this MMO is like an episode of the show, and each mission series is an arc, complete with the occasional filler episode. Packed full of the best pieces from Roddenberry’s universe, this is the only MMO for a true Trekkie.
Neverwinter comes from a long line of ambitious, multiplayer Dungeons & Dragons RPGs – including both the original Neverwinter Nights - the first ever MMOs with graphics - and the BioWare game of the same name. Neverwinter, however, is the cheapest yet at a tempting $0.00, and benefits from the massively-multiplayer expertise of City of Heroes studio Cryptic. Packed with action-focused combat, challenging dungeons, and amazing locations to explore, it is also fantastic Forgotten Realms fan service: a place where you can meet both RA Salvatore’s Drizzt and Minsc from Baldur’s Gate.
Skyforge blends sci-fi and fantasy together for an action-heavy MMO that’s happy to ditch many of the rules so many other games adhere to. There’s no levelling or strict classes: instead you develop your character however you like and can swap between different combat roles whenever you wish. As you gain more power you’ll eventually become a god incarnate, complete with your own followers.
Warface is a fast-action military shooter, but less concerned with realism than its po-faced peers. Warfare wants you to do two things: cooperate with your team in urban deathmatches, and slide along on your arse while firing a machine gun. Made by Crytek, the developers behind Crysis and the original Far Cry, you can be assured it is crafted from top-tier shooter DNA.
A shiny, colourful space sim that places you in a massively multiplayer universe, Star Conflict drops you right in the middle of an interplanetary skirmish that encompasses both PvE and PvP. Its void is as roomy as any other sector of space you might name, while its busy, man-made surface environments recall the twisty tunnels of the Descent series.
Everything’s better in space, as Warframe proves with its Ninjas in space theme. It is a co-op third-person game where teams of ninjas suited up in powerful ‘Warframe’ armours head out to slice up bad guys, or just hang out at the dojo. It blends some MMO elements with the sensibilities of a more straightforward action game, creating something slick, exciting, and very sociable. The game is often compared to Destiny, and Warframe players will even tell you that it is far better than Bungie’s triple-A shooter.
Shortly after Shadowverse’s mobile release in Japan in 2016, it became the biggest strategic card game in the country, and with good reason. This charmingly designed CCG eases you in gently with its tutorial and single-player story mode, and keeps you coming back with complex gameplay and new card packs every three months. You have seven different leader classes to choose from, and they each allow significant strategic depth. Whether you are an aggressive, cautious, or sneaky player, Shadowverse will cater to your playstyle.
Paladins is a team-based hero shooter that pits teams of colourful, ability-laden heroes against each other. Yes, it is a bit like Overwatch, but shares many of Blizzard’s titan’s merits as a tactical murder simulator and provides them at a fraction of the cost. You can play as a mecha-goblin or gigantic rolling bomb and work in conjunction with your comrades to knock the numbers out of your opponents before diving on the objective. Bonus: everyone gets their own horse.
Following the same formula as League of Legends and Dota 2, Smite has teams of five players trying to fight their way into their opponent’s base. Rather than giving players a top-down view of the battlefield, however, it chooses a third-person perspective, switching the focus of the game from tactics to action. Plus, instead of a roster of colourful fantasy characters, each player takes on the role of an almighty god inspired by real religions, from Norse to Celtic to Chinese.
Blizzard's world-dominating card game is about as addictive as chips. Who's ever had enough chips? You've always got room for more chips, and you've always got time for another game of Hearthstone. With a gargantuan selection of cards, the game now supports hundreds of different play styles, which you can easily tailor by building your perfects decks. The heart of Hearthstone is in its competitive multiplayer matches, but Dungeon Run provides an excellent and moreish solo card experience few other games can match.
No MMO can claim to be as player-driven as Eve Online, with the space game/lifestyle boasting mega-corporations run by legions of players and, very occasionally, gigantic space battles with upwards of 5,000 participating pilots. Eve Online’s free-to-play model lets players experience all of that space madness (bar access to some of the end-game ships and skills) without having to pay a subscription fee.
League of Legends
Inspired by the original Dota, League of Legends takes the same 5v5 base attack concept, but introduces a completely different roster of playable characters that is constantly being expanded. Many players find League of Legends is easier and more accessible than Dota, but it is still extremely nuanced; it has one of the highest skill ceilings in gaming, and the best players are considered tactical geniuses. More than 100 million people play it every month, so you won’t struggle to find a game.
Two teams of five choose their Dota 2 heroes from a selection of hundreds before taking to the battlefield to destroy their opponent’s base. It is no mean feat, as both teams bases spawn waves of creatures and are protected by powerful towers. Each player will need to make the best of their hero’s abilities in what is not only a game, but a sport. It is tough, complex, and inspires fanaticism in its fans. It is one of the most played games on Steam, and draws in hundreds of thousands of players every day.
Heroes of the Storm
Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard’s stab at taking on League of Legends and the MOBA crowd. Yet this 5v5 arena game isn’t just another Dota clone. Instead of a single map, Heroes of the Storm has many themed arenas that ask you not only to defeat the enemy but also complete side quests to help improve your chances. Not only does this provide variety, but it is intensely fun. Combined with the All-Stars approach that pulls maps and characters from every Blizzard game - from Warcraft to Overwatch - Heroes of the Storm is the most polished of the MOBA gang, and the easiest to pick up and play.
Team Fortress 2
Valve’s class-based shooter, Team Fortress 2, has achieved legendary status thanks to its varied game modes, impeccable sense of fun, and being home to more hats than the world’s millinery stores combined. The whole game is free-to-play these days, from the standard shoot-everything-that-moves deathmatches to the fantastic Mann vs Machine co-op mode where teams fend off waves of robots.
This golden oldie continues to be one of largest MMORPGs ever made, as well as holding the record for being the most updated game in history. Runescape has an enormous player base and a massive, ever-evolving world to explore, full of challenges that you can choose according to your own interests. Want to fight, complete quests, or just to play minigames? In Runescape it is entirely up to you.
Now, turn to Page 2 to find more priceless games – and please do share your own recommendations in the comments.
Rift was once a subscription-based fantasy MMO – like World of Warcraft in new trousers, essentially. It made its name by updating and improving itself at a ferocious pace, with new raids, new zones, new world events appearing on a monthly basis. Now it is entirely free-to-play: you can explore its colourful, exciting world without spending a penny. And when you consider how many hours you can sink into Rift, that’s not a bad deal at all.
Archeage is the closest thing we’ve got to a proper pirate MMO. You can try to master the endless sea as a notorious pirate or choose to be a humble peddler of crafted goods. The labour system – how ArcheAge gates its content – may take time to get used to, but nevertheless it is a really solid free-to-play experience.
If you’re not into piracy, there’s plenty of classic fantasy MMO elements to keep you happy. Yes, magical swords and fancy armour are still a huge part of ArcheAge. In fact, the Maelstrom update made dramatic improvements to item upgrades, so that you can now steer your equipment in more specific and exciting directions. Which is just as well, since Maelstrom also filled Bloodsalt Bay with massive, toothy monsters. Better bring the best equipment you’ve got.
Think Battlestar Galactica meets Dota, and you’ll be somewhere close to the award-winning Fractured Space. Control gigantic ships and shoot your intergalactic foes in intense battles as you use your tactical nous to capture bases.
The complexity of developer Edge Case Games’ meta has only grown deeper in the years since release - and that’s on top of the game’s time in early access, too. From solo scraps in PvE to 5v5 quickplay, there are plenty of modes to get your teeth into if you are low on time. But, if you’re looking to get into something meatier, Fractured Space has the tactical complexity to rival the best MOBAs.
Trove is an MMO with a level of creativity to rival Minecraft, and is exactly as good as that sounds. Set in huge, blocky voxel worlds, there is an emphasis on exploration and discovering new loot. What is neat is just how much you can customise the look of your character: every item dropped can be used to change your style or design something new.
Normally if you want to take charge of massive airships, you’ll need a fair amount of cash and hours of training. With Dreadnought, a team-based dogfighter from Yager Development, you can pilot massive spaceships across the skies of many different planets for absolutely zero cost.
Dreadnought gives you access to a variety of ships equipped with massive, earth-shattering weapons that you can customise down to the last thermal exhaust port. The combat is a tactical affair, with a combination of slow methodical broadside assaults and rapid, piercing strikes. There are several game modes to choose from, and doing well in the tactical team-based warfare will reward you with an ever-growing fleet of ships.
Lots of people like to play golf, and many of them like to play golf videogames, too. MMOs are designed for lots of people. Therefore the two should combine, and they do in Winning Putt. The good news is that this free PC game has all the trappings you would expect from that genre, wrapped around a perfectly serviceable set of thwack-the-ball-into-the-hole mechanics. There are plenty of upgrades and wardrobe items to be had, plus all kinds of friendly and competitive play options. And a man with a really nice voice gently encourages you throughout – something which, frankly, more games should have.
Combining the turn-based tactics of XCOM and the Pixar-like characters of Overwatch, Atlas Reactor is a PvP game unlike any you have played before. Across a series of discrete phases, players must make simultaneous turns involving movement, dodges and attacks. There is no point firing at an enemy's current position because the moment the action starts they will have dived out the way. Mix this novel method of strategy with the kind of glitzy abilities you would expect of a MOBA, and you have got one of the most compelling and intriguing free games on PC.
Path of Exile
An action-RPG in the mould of Diablo, Path of Exile is one of the most polished, well-executed games on this list. Adventure with a friend or two through hundreds of areas in a dark fantasy world that provides a dizzying collection of monsters to repeatedly click on until they squish. Path of Exile does feature a microtransaction system but it’s admirably unobtrusive.
Lord of the Rings Online
Turbine’s free-to-play MMO transports you to perhaps the most famous fantasy setting there has ever been. Explore Tolkien’s Middle-earth, from The Shire to Mordor, and build up a character than will be worthy of 1v1ing Sauron himself. The LOTRO Store is where premium players can drop pennies, but frugal adventurers can lose themselves in Middle-earth just as easily.
Hex: Shards of Fate
At its heart, Hex is a two-player card game. Hex’s rules are a little more complex than Hearthstone’s but we found it to be a more rewarding game. Both players have 20 health and draw cards from their decks to summon creatures and cast spells against each other. The spells and creatures can weave their abilities together to make powerful combinations. Hex is free on Steam right now, and with hundreds of different cards available, players are still finding new ways to combine them.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
After a long, slow start, Star Wars: The Old Republic is now a stellar MMO – particularly thanks to the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion, which is basically 'BioWare does a proper KOTOR sequel'. It is a fast-paced action-RPG with lightsabers and space combat and Jedi houses and bounty hunters and, if you go full dark side, you can fire lightning from your fingertips. Really.
Wildstar is built for lapsed World of Warcraft players. It's a sci-fi MMO that looks and feels like a Blizzard game, but with one important difference: it's for the hardcore. Ignore the cutesy looks as, at the top end of the game, you'll find raids that make Warcraft's easy-mode dungeons look like something for kids.
Battle has never been so big. Imagine entire continents at war, with tanks, trucks, and fighter craft alongside hordes of infantry. Throw that into the far future and you’ve got PlanetSide 2, a never-ending conflict on an incredible scale that’s pretty damn good-looking to boot. There is nothing else quite like this out there.
Pledge your loyalty to a great house or sign up for a mercenary company in this mech simulation. Whether you’re piloting a light or heavy mech, you’ll have to manage your weaponry and keep an eye on your system temperature. In the Mechwarrior universe, piloting a giant robot can be a technical and rather nuanced occupation. There is also stomping for the more violently-inclined player.
Dungeons & Dragons Online
Do you want a chance to adventure in some of the most famous fantasy worlds there ever were? With D&D Online you can set foot in the Forgotten Realms and the land of Eberron, stepping into the well-worn boots of a thief or a spellcaster as you fight dragons and demons. It’s not often you get high fantasy for free.
Tribes is probably the fastest FPS in the world. It’s set across huge levels of open valleys and leafy forests: you zip through them by skiing down mountains and jetting up hillsides. Just be aware that success comes from both ultra-fast reactions and clever teamwork.
In Armored Warfare, the tanks of today and tomorrow are at war. The idea is that you're fighting as part of a modern-day private military company. Big player-versus-player rucks are exciting, but if you're not into that, there's a co-op campaign you can play with your mates.
Revelation Online may look overly familiar at first thanks to its classic eastern visuals, but there is one very specific feature that sets it apart from the likes of ArcheAge and Blade & Soul: flight. Your champion, rather than being chained to the floor by gravity, can simply spread their wings and soar through the skies of Nuanor. The seamless open world is yours to explore on your terms, with nothing deemed out of bounds. Flying is not just for exploration, either. The numerous PvP modes include an aerial combat arena, adding a new dimension to multiplayer battles.
World of Warplanes
Seize the free-to-play concepts behind World of Tanks, take them to the skies, and you have World of Warplanes, a game of whirling dogfights and nail-biting bombing runs for teams of jet bombers and biplanes alike. It’s getting sleeker and shinier with every release.
Heroes & Generals
Do you want to shoot all the guns and make all the decisions? War isn’t all about what happens on the front line, but nor is it about the decisions made back at headquarters, so Heroes & Generals is the perfect game for players who want to try a bit of both.
Turn to Page 3 to find more games for $0 - and let us know about your own favourites in the comments.
Don’t Take It Personally Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story
Step into the role of a high-school teacher who has the ability to peer into the private lives of their students. How far would you look? Would you interfere? Would you use your powers for good or for your own advancement?
Digital: A Love Story
An adventure set in the early days of the internet, Digital is a game unlike any others. It presents you with an Amiga-style interface and has you dialing into the bulletin boards of old, a place where esoteric communities chatter and strange secrets are waiting to be found.
It says something about how special PC gaming is that one of the best platformers we’ve ever seen is still free. Spelunky is inspired by the 8-bit classics, but it procedurally generates its levels so that you have something new to explore every time you play. It also has snakes, boulders, ice caves, and more bats than you can shake your shotgun at. If you can find one in the darkness.
Ultima 4: Quest of the Avatar
One of the oldest of the old-school RPGs, Ultima 4 offers a seamless world to explore, packed full of adventure, and it closely tracks the morality of your actions, keeping an eye on the kind of hero that you’re turning into. Nowadays, it looks quite a lot like a roguelike, but make no mistake, there’s a great deal of character interaction in this one.
A top-down, team-based action game where each of you takes the role of an engineer, medic, gunner, and so forth. Alien Swarm takes its inspiration from a certain very famous sci-fi film and throws hordes of horrific extraterrestrials at you across a series of ever more difficult levels. Race against the clock and coordinate with your team to get to the shuttle or to put up your sentry guns before time runs out.
A game of empire building and global dominance, FreeCiv is inspired by the Civilization series (particularly Civilization II) and gives you control of a single nation which you can set forth on the road to greatness. It’s constantly being updated and improved and even features support for 126 player games. Why? No idea.
Open Transport Tycoon
Transport management might be nerdy but it’s also incredibly engrossing. Build your own transport network, with trains, ferries, trucks, and jets, and use it to help develop the world around you, watching cities expand as you ship goods and connect commuters. This is another freeware version of a stone-cold classic and it runs far better than Transport Tycoon ever did, offering bigger levels and more to play with.
Tower of Goo
Mother to the incredible physics puzzler World of Goo, 2D Boy’s Tower of Goo is a more basic affair, challenging you to construct a tower of gooballs as positively vertitudinous as you are capable. The higher you climb, the more the wobbling structure quivers and the daintier your construction must become.
Dwarf Fortress is a seemingly impenetrable simulation that mixes Dungeon Keeper, roguelikes, and ridiculous levels of detail to create something truly unique in games. Manage an expanding fortress of dwarves by mining materials, setting up industries, defending from goblin attacks, and satisfying the whims of nobles.
“A multiplayer game of strategy, intrigue, and conquest,” Neptune’s Pride is a space-bastard simulator that will turn friends against friends. Games take days and moves take hours as you muster forces and conquer systems, forming alliances and betraying loved ones as you go. Strategy at its most brilliantly cutthroat.
Hidden & Dangerous Deluxe
In 1999, Hidden & Dangerous arrived at the bleeding edge of tactical shooters, a dual first-and-third person World War 2 FPS that demanded a strategy-minded approach and punished trigger-happy impatience. It looks hideous today, even compared to its sequel, but the free version’s still worth a boot.
A wonky-limbed Flash classic turned wonky-limbed internet meme, QWOP simulates some form of track-and-field event in which the runner’s arms and legs are individually controlled using the titular keys. If you can stay upright long enough to hear Chariots of Fire playing, you’re winning.
Super Crate Box
Super Crate Box is a super-fast, super-dangerous platformer where enemies constantly drop from the top of the screen. Score points not by killing them, but by collecting crates, each of which has a new weapon for you, though some are much better than others. Let any of the monsters past you and into the fire below and they respawn more powerful than before. Repeat this formula and enjoy ad infinitum.
From the guys behind the excellent Machinarium, the Samorost games mix photography and painterly art to create one of the most uniquely atmospheric hidden object puzzlers around. It also has a gently progressing story about one creature’s asteroid home colliding with another.
Surprisingly, there are still people jaunting around a free-to-play, microtransaction fuelled Norrath to this very day. Everquest 2 might lack some of the modern conveniences of more contemporary MMOs, but you can’t fault its determined approach to showering you in countless giant rats at the end of every quest.
That's your lot for games that cost zero money! Let us know what you think of our choices in the comments.