Our best free PC games list has gotten a big overhaul for 2020, out with some of the old and in with a few new free games we’re playing on our computers these days. How about a hellish four-faced Tetris board you can play in your browser? Or our selection of the best free-to-play PC games right now? Or some eternal greats like Command & Conquer and Dwarf Fortress? There are a lot of free PC games to choose from here.
To make it easier, we’ve divided the list up into genres. Some are free online games, while others are free downloads from sites like Itch.io. To start, here are some of our absolute favorites, followed by our go-to free-to-play games to lose hundreds of hours into.
Best free PC games to play right now
- Haunted PS1 Demo Disc – An awesome collection of low-poly horror game demos that evoke early Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Weird, creative, spooky. There are 17! What a bounty.
- Bombergrounds: Battle Royale – It’s Bomberman, but in big 25-player matches. Super fast action.
- Walking Simulator – A parody of Death Stranding that has you strap a giant stack of stuff on your back and go for a hike. It’s pretty broken, but still good for a laugh.
- Dwarf Fortress – A terrific story generator about managing dwarf society in a world that can kill them horribly, and hilariously, in moments. One of our favourite sims ever.
- Crusader Kings 2 – A vast and deep grand strategy game that lets you simulate a dynasty in ancient Europe. There’s so much to master here, and the potential for great stories. If you like the base game, there’s nearly a decade’s worth of expansions to buy.
- Frog Fractions – Initially a game about a frog catching flies to save apples, Frog Fractions morphs into increasingly surreal and subversive forms and becomes so much more. Just play it.
- NetHack – Yes, it’s ASCII, but stick with it. This is the roguelike to end them all, a dungeon crawling adventure that lets you do so much more than you’ll ever anticipate. Let it get its hooks in you and you’ll be immersed, even without graphics.
The best free-to-play games
Best of the best
While most of the games on this list are completely free, these free-to-play games are supported by in-game microtransactions or paid-for updates. They want your money, but they’re also massive games you can sink months or years into and some of the most popular games in the world. These are the ones we think are actually worth your time.
This phenomenally successful third-person shooter throws 100 players into a map and shrinks the borders of the playable area until only one individual, or team, is victorious. Once you’ve parachuted in you need to raid buildings and loot chests for weapons. You can also build structures anywhere you like. The best players are able to build and battle at the same time in remarkable shows of dexterity.
An outstanding, dangerously moreish digital card game. Regular events and card drops keeps the meta bubbling. The density of the card collection available is daunting but you can keep up with our round-up of the best legendary cards.
You play a sci-fi ninja in this third-person co-op action game. Warframe has been quietly growing in popularity as new updates and challenges have been added. The game has even gained massive open world zones in addition to the many, many missions that make up its planet-hopping campaign.
Two teams of five battle across three lanes in this colourful MOBA. Summoner’s Rift provides lengthy, intense competition, but you can also jump into the Howling Abyss for some All Random All Mid action.
This is a crunchy and detailed Diablo-like with remarkably deep character development and progression systems. It’s not the most beautiful action RPG in the world, but it is engaging and rewarding in the long run. The microtransactions aren’t too intrusive either, which makes this a must-try for fans of Diablo 2 and its ilk.
Best free games: Classics
The MS-DOS Archive.org library – This recommendation exists outside a genre, because it’s a collection of thousands of classic PC games playable in your browser. The MS-DOS collection on Archive.org contains more than 4000 games, all emulated and easy to play in just a few seconds. Wolfenstein 3D, Prince of Persia, Jazz Jackrabbit, Carmen Sandiego… you could spend a lifetime of lunch breaks playing these games alone.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert – Westwood’s alternate history spin-off is still a great RTS. Visit CNCNet and you’ll find downloads of Command & Conquer, Red Alert and Tiberian Sun, all updated to work nicely on modern systems and integrated with the CnCNet multiplayer platform for easy online play.
StarCraft – Two decades after it was first released, Blizzard now offers its strategy space opera free of charge. The bundle also brings you the Brood War expansion’s fresh crop of campaigns, tilesets, units and upgrade advancement. Get that APM up.
The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall – Boasting a 63,000 square mile map, Daggerfall is an enormous RPG set in the Breton homeland of High Rock. It features many elements that remain in the Elder Scrolls series today, including guilds, enchanting and a reputation system. It’s not as accessible as Skyrim, but a great RPG in its day.
Beneath a Steel Sky – Developed by Revolution, best known for Broken Sword, this dystopian point-and-click adventure was co-created with Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. It’s an enjoyable adventure, with clever puzzles that make use of the hero’s body-switching robotic sidekick.
FreeCiv – First released on PC over 20 years ago, this open source turn-based strategy game is heavily inspired by Civilization. Available in 33 languages, running on pretty much every OS under the sun, for no cost at all, it’s no surprise the game has been wildly successful.
The Dark Mod – Not a mod, but rather a fully featured standalone ode to Thief with a bounty of user-made levels. If you love Thief, this is all the Thief you’ll ever need.
Best free games: Action
Marathon – A classic ’90s shooter from Bungie, who went on to make Halo and Destiny. The full trilogy can be played for free.
HETS – Spelunky meets Contra in this murderous platform game where you explore one randomly generated level after another. The guns push you back with their hefty recoil, shake the screen, and turn enemies into pixel confetti.
Xonotic – A retro areana FPS that’ll remind you of Quake 3 Arena, maintained and updated by an active community.
Double Action Boogaloo – Is it enough to just kill your foe? Far better to blast them during a slow-mo dive off a balcony. That’s the joy of Double Action: Boogaloo, an action shooter with acrobatics and bullet time that somehow works as an online deathmatch.
Canabalt – The game that invented the endless runner, and also the game that proved that it is impossible to jump through a window if you are actually trying to do it. I love Canabalt for its atmospheric, low-key sci-fi visuals and amazing soundtrack.
The Last Tango – Rhythm espionage survival. I’d have called it Dance Dance Execution, but the principle remains the same. You play as two spies, dancing through a variety of deadly locations. They’ll pirouette past traps, dodge under attacks, and take down enemies with an elegant twirl. And a gun.
Best free games: Strategy
Gridland – A perfect browser game. It’s a match-three, but it’s really a game of building and survival: by day you match bricks, wood, etc. to gather materials needed to construct a little village. When night comes, rats, zombies and skeletons emerge as you connect their relevant icons on the game board. At this point it’s a fight for survival. Gridland can easily eat a weekend if you’re not careful.
Twisted Insurrection – A standalone Command & Conquer Tiberian sun mod that surpasses the original game with new units and massive campaigns. A must-try for RTS fans.
Best free games: Exploration
Olav and the Lute – An enigmatic adventure game set in a post-apocalyptic world, with a cracking central mechanic. Rather than combining objects with other objects, you’re affecting the world with a lute, by plucking at its colour-coded strings. It’s a bit like Ocarina of Time, and a lot like LOOM; to open a door, for example, you’ll pluck a certain combination using the game’s moderately fiddly interface. Olav & Lute is a short, stark, striking adventure.
Bad Dream: Series – Bad Dream is all about clicking. Being a point and click adventure series, that might seem obvious, but rarely is clicking on things as satisfying as it is in these macabre games. You’ll use the mouse to make bugs slither out of plant pots and other gruesome actions.
flOw – flOw’s minimalist appeal and dynamically adjusting difficulty curve has hooked hundreds of thousands. Use the mouse to guide a creature through an evolutionary mire, gobbling up smaller animals to grow, and hitting red blobs to swim deeper. When you eat, you evolve, but you can see large predators moving through the gloom on the levels below, waiting to swallow you whole. Serene yet addictive.
Cube Escape – Basically room escapes, but with a macabre sense of humour, a touch of Lynchian weirdness, and cryptic stories that have inspired much fan debate. It’s an inspired concoction, with challenging puzzles and an absorbing atmosphere.
Off-Peak – Off-Peak is like visiting a scrapbook made from a jazz fusion dream. It’s a strange but brilliant space, furnished with all manner of oddities. There’s the former viola player who now treats his ramen counter as a string section, and the whale which hangs in the main space, dwarfing everything else as you steal pizza slices far below.
Hyperrogue – While the concept is mildly terrifying, in practice this is one of the more approachable roguelikes, as it streamlines the genre to focus on movement and combat. You’re hopping around a mathematically tricksy sphere here, far bigger than its surface area and encompassing wildly differing geographical regions.
Brogue – ASCII roguelikes have a reputation for being impenetrable. Brogue, despite staying true to the genre, works hard to feel approachable. The controls make navigating its dungeons a breeze, and the elegant shading makes its symbols atmospheric and readable.
Best free games: Story & Comedy
Deltarune – Who knows where Undertale follow-up Deltarune is heading for its second chapter, but this multi-hour RPG already feels like a complete game, taking the player from their school, to a troubled fantasy land and back again. It manages to be both hilarious and moving, just like Undertale.
Butterfly Soup – One of our favorite visual novels. Jody described it as “a coming-of-age story but also a coming-out-to-yourself story” that’s great because of its genuine characters and smart writing throughout.
Emily is Away – Party like it’s the early-’00s in this narrative game set in a chat client. You’ll get to know fellow high school student Emily through snippets of online conversations about life, love and indie rock music. If you enjoy this, paid-for sequel Emily is Away Too is worth checking out.
Double Hitler – What if Hitler had actually been two kids in a giant coat the whole time? Double Hitler recreates key moments in Adolf’s adult life, putting you in the role of said kids in said giant overcoat. As you can imagine, even the act of walking is difficult when you’re really two children in a big jacket, and about 90% of the game is spent trying to stay upright without toppling over and revealing your secret. Double Hitler is pretty much QWOP: wonderfully silly, and told with a masterfully straight face.
Aye Fair Lady – A musical adventure game bursting with jokes. This Yorkshire-set point-and-click game is fully voiced so you can enjoy that regional accent to the fullest. You play a curmudgeon called Steggy who is on a mission to ruin Mandatory Singing Day with a song that will destroy the competition. It’s only a few screens large, but it’s full of quirky characters and a few lovely tunes.
Dog of Dracula 2 – Set after the condiment prohibition of a now-overthrown tyrant, and with the world now largely jacked into the cyberbahn, Dog of Dracula 2 takes you into the seamy, neon world of Nuevo Tokyo. Follow the tale of a friendship gone awry—of your link to a little pup in a Dracula cape who’s sporting a green mohican and a range of cyber implants. Dog of Dracula 2 dives headfirst into ’90s pop culture references and daft cyberpunk tropes with total commitment.
Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden – Neo New York is reeling from the devastation of a Chaos Dunk. Falsely accused of the crime, former NBA player Charles Barkley is on the run from Michael Jordan. This is the basis for an absurd JRPG that delights in sending up the genre’s tropes.
Stick Shift – As creator Robert Yang says, “Stick Shift is an autoerotic night-driving game about pleasuring a gay car.” It’s part of an anthology with Hurt Me Plenty and Succulent, covering eroticism, politics and more. Stick Shift is funny while also offering food for thought.
Best free games: Puzzle
Schwerkraftprojektionsgerät – In this browser game, you play four boards of Tetris simultaneously. It’s exactly as infuriating as it sounds. When you press the drop button, the Tetris piece currently at the center of the screen gets added to all four boards with its relative rotation, meaning it’s guaranteed to be an awful placement on at least one of them. The only good news is that in “if Tetris was a demon with four faces” (in English) there’s no time ticking away or pieces dropping without your command.
Where Is My Beard? – I generally keep my beard just under, and on, my chin, which makes it easy to find when a puzzle game asks me to locate it. In Where is My Beard? you have to make a bunch of unbearded shapes more hirsute, by engineering it so that they touch bearded ones—face fungus being contagious, as you know.
Naya’s Quest – Naya’s Quest was made by VVVVVV and Super Hexagon creator Terry Cavanagh. In case you were wondering: yes, it is bastard hard, just less stressful on your reflexes. It’s an isometric puzzle-platformer about a girl and her pilgrimage to the edge of the world.
The Republia Times – You’re the editor of a newspaper in a totalitarian state in this game from the creator of Return of the Obra Dinn. Each day you must choose which stories to run and how much space to give them, impacting your paper’s popularity and the government’s approval with the general populace. Smart and cynical.
Best free games: Horror
Cry of Fear – A Half-Life total conversion from 2013, Cry of Fear is impressive for the sheer number of things it tries to do with the aging GoldSrc engine. It’s a game about running from spasmodically jerking not-humans as you explore and solve puzzles and generally feel bad about your situation. It’s scary, primarily due to jump scares but also because of its relentless tension. Despite some rough edges, this is an ambitious eight or so hours of quality horror.
House of Abandon – This story of a person playing a text adventure takes a sinister turn. Originally standalone, it became the first episode of eerie, atmospheric adventure Stories Untold. You can still play it for free by downloading the demo from Steam.
Chyrza – Chyrza’s brand of horror is that unsettling strangeness you get with ruined alien desertscapes and mentions of a strange and terrible pyramid. But it’s not just Chyrza. Kitty Horrorshow’s back catalogue thrums with eerie and creepy experiences.
Best free games: Strange and Surprising
Bubsy 3D: Bubsy Visits the James Turrell Retrospective -A weird punk edutainment game, in which the titular cat-thing takes a trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Using a deliberately awkward control scheme, you jump and glide your way across floating platforms, moving towards the museum and receiving hints from the talking frogs.
David Lynch Teaches Typing – Allow a convincing facsimile of much loved cult film and TV director David Lynch to teach you typing in this amusing typing game that is in no way officially associated with the man himself.
Cyberpet Graveyard – Unleash a gaggle of adorable, squiggly mini-pets on your desktop. Cyberpet Graveyard has a lot of components. There’s a text adventure, there are text files containing scraps of lore, and windows where your pets live. Considered together, these elements combine to tell a story about the little creatures bouncing around your computer. Sweet, dark, and funny.
A Museum of Dubious Splendors – A Museum of Dubious Splendors is both a storybook and exhibition space. It elevates objects by supersizing them, by connecting them to the game’s collection of tales, by putting them in a museum space, by making them beautiful and weird, dangling in space.
Muscle World – Prepare yourself for an unsettling journey into a world of gym people trapped in some sort of gym purgatory. In this RPG you and your competing muscle men have to dangle-walk from vast ceilings, traversing between points of respite where you can recharge your stamina. Other gymgoers will put you down and try to kick you to your death in the infinite darkness below. Can you survive their taunts and master muscle world?
Skeal – Recommending Skeal is a tough job because the absolute best experience is to go in with zero idea of what to expect. To that end, it’s a downhill skiing experience which becomes transcendental the longer you ski and the more reveals you trigger as the jape unfurls.
Universal Paperclips – When you start, you have zero paperclips. Creating new ones is laborious, but… well, I won’t ruin the surprise. Like Cookie Clicker, it starts as a game about making a number bigger, but turns into something far more sinister.
Lost Constellation – Tangentially related to Night in the Woods, Lost Constellation is an adventure about an astronomer who journeys through a forest to see ghost of her dead lover. The tone will be familiar to fans of Night in the Woods, as will its mix of warmth and melancholy.
Sacramento – Dziff’s interactive sketchbook leaves you to explore a watercolour world just beyond a little train station. Wander amongst the flamingos or lily pads, or head on over to the big greenhouse and take a peep inside. When the sun sets you’ll be scooted back to the station and sent on your way.