There are an astounding number of top tier computer games that are Free To Play (F2P) these days. So many, in fact, that you probably don’t have to pay another dollar to play a video game for the rest of your life if you didn't want to!
Most of the guides to free games out there mash all types of games together in one big list. So, to be different, I’ve decided to split them up conveniently by genre so you can quickly find the best games in the category you heart the most.
Instead of going at this subjectively, I’ve made my best attempt to assess the popularity of each of these games over the past 12 months and will give you the top 3 in each genre (at least if that many free games exist in the genre). There’s no point wasting your time on a dying no-name game, right? You might as well go where all the action is! I’ve also only included top tier 3D games while mostly forsaking older style 2D games and browser based games.
Jump To A Game Genre
This list is all on one page (surprise!) so you can read through super fast simply by scrolling, or you can use the handy menu below to jump to a genre you like:
- MMO Shooter
- Mech Shooter
- MMO Role Playing Game (MMORPG)
- Role Playing Game (RPG)
- MMO Action
- Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)
- Real Time Strategy (RTS)
- Collectible Card Game (CCG)
- War Game
Shooters are definitely the most popular genre of free video games - I discovered 14 of them in my research for this article. I’m going to include the top 5 here, instead of the usual 3, because there are so many good ones to choose from.
All of these games center around team-based online battles where you match up with other gunslingers to take down an opposing team while completing various objectives according to the game mode you’ve chosen.
Most of the games in this category are First Person Shooters (FPS), but the top game is a Third Person Shooter (TPS) so based on reader comments below I have renamed this section to "Shooters".
Warframe is an interstellar shooter that has you fighting as an ancient Tenno warrior that has been called back into action now that the Grineer are taking over the solar system.
2) Team Fortress 2
Team Fortress 2 is a quirky first person shooter due to its cartoony graphics, but it must be good because it has stood the test of time. Having launched in 2007, it is still going strong today with a large player base and continued popularity. The game is a follow up to the original Team Fortress, which was originally just a mod to the popular Quake franchise. This installment is 100% its own game and it gets great reviews.
Warface is a typical war-based FPS with four main character classes: Rifleman, Sniper, Medic, and Engineer. Team Warface faces off against team Blackwood in big multiplayer battles with a choice of 6 game modes. If you’re looking for a free alternative to the Battlefield series of games, then this is the one for you.
Crossfire has its roots in Asia dating back to 2007, which explains why it is so insanely popular with over 400 million registered users. It was later released to North America in 2009 and has continued to maintain its popularity relatively well despite its age. The game is centered on two mercenary outfits that used to hire themselves out to the highest paying governments worldwide. Now, they have grown so large that they pursue their own agendas outside the law and frequently butt heads because of their generally opposing world views.
5) Ghost Recon: Phantoms
Ghost Recon is a futuristic shooter where you play as a “Ghost”, which is an elite military operative that is practically invisible on the battlefield while employing cutting edge weaponry and technology to decimate opponents. This game is made by the well-known game developer Ubisoft, who have put out a lot of other Tom Clancy themed games.
The shooters listed above, although played online, have a limited number of people participating in each match. Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games are typically set in a persistent world with thousands of simultaneous player and there are no set matches that have a starting or ending point.
The fight continues 24/7 whether you are participating in it or not. You simply jump into the game when you can and pick up where you left off battling the enemy, leveling up, collecting gear and weapons, and accomplishing your objectives.
1) Planetside 2
Planetside 2 is by far the largest (and best) MMO shooter as there are only four of them on record. I actually tried this game myself with my friend for a few hours and I must admit it was a cool experience even though I had no idea what I was doing not being an FPS gamer myself.
The massive persistent world with never-ending battles was crazy to see and the ability to pilot vehicles and aircraft in addition to wielding a wide array of weapons adds a lot to the game. I must admit that we died often and repeatedly due to our inexperience, terrible control, and lack of good weapons. However, I’m sure things would go much more smoothly for any veteran shooter who knows their way around the standard controls.
Firefall is a bit newer than Planetside 2 and has more role playing elements incorporated into the game. You have to complete quests to earn currency and equip better gear. This is all done cleverly with the use of different characters classes and what are known as “battleframes”: these are wearable suits that each have different weapon systems and abilities. You can level each of battleframes up separately gaining new stats and abilities for them. You are then able to switch between them as much as you like depending on what the situation calls for.
There is a whole different class of shooters called Mech Shooters where you control a mechanized warrior instead of a person. This adds an additional level of complexity and fun to the game because movement and weapons are altogether different and there is added difficulty of controlling the mech and its various weapons systems. I remember loving this genre as a kid as I used to play a primitive mech computer game in the early 90s before the internet was a thing. I think it may have been the original MechWarrior.
1) MechWarrior Online
The MechWarrior franchise has been around since 1989, but in 2013 it finally got upgraded to a free to play online game. You get to control various “heavily armored combat platforms” on a team consisting of up to 12 players against an opposing team of similar size. There are 61 different BattleMechs to choose from each with a different role to play on the battlefield. The game relies heavily on communication and picking the right BattleMech composition to dominate the enemy team.
Hawken is a much more fast-paced mech game compared to many predecessors in the mech genre which will be a comfort to traditional FPS lovers. Mechs are completely customizable and upgradeable adding a lot of meat to the game in addition to the usual set of multiplayer gaming modes we have come to expect from any shooter.
MMO Role Playing Game (MMORPG)
Runescape is an older MMORPG that was launched in 2001 and playable only in a web browser but it is still massively popular. I wouldn’t normally include it here but, because it does have both a windows and mac client in addition to the browser, it is technically a 3D game (albeit with limited graphics). That, and it is just too popular to ignore.
Runescape is your typical fantasy role playing game in that there are hundreds of quests to complete and you can travel through a massive persistent world set in medieval times slaying monsters and dragons while gathering loot and leveling up your characters and gear.
2) Star Wars: The Old Republic
Star Wars: The Old Republic was initially a hotly anticipated subscription based MMORPG that launched in 2011 but was forced to transition to a free to play model at the end of 2012 because of a falling subscriber base. At the time, it was the most expensive video game ever produced so the fact that it is now free is incredible for those who can’t afford a subscription. Unfortunately, there is a level cap of 50 for free players along with some other restrictions. You can see the free vs. pay differences here.
The game is obviously set in the Star Wars universe so that means you can play as a Jedi Knight which means wielding light sabers and using the Force. You also get to commandeer various space fighters and choose between 8 different character classes that belong to either The Sith Empire or The Galactic Republic factions.
Aion is an MMO role playing game set in a rather unique fantasy world. It has its roots in Asia but has definitely become popular in North America too as it was released here less than a year after it was initially released in South Korea. It was originally subscription based but later become free to play in 2012 with no restrictions on gameplay whatsoever (a nice bonus).
It has the typical combination of PvP, PvE, classes, skills, crafting, groups, quests, and mounts. One interesting aspect of the game is that characters can fly using their wings in certain designated zones in the game. Flying interacts with most other aspects of the game including travel, combat, quests, and crafting.
4) Lord of the Rings Online
Who doesn’t love Lord of the Rings? Even people who don’t typically engage in fantasy worlds seem to flock to the theaters to see the latest LotR flick. Well, the fact that you can immerse yourself in the LotR universe through an MMORPG is even better than going to the movies!
The game is starting to show its age having launched in 2007, but it has received generally rave reviews (86/100 on metacritic) and is still being played very actively today. There are a few restrictions on free players that you can eschew if you upgrade a VIP subscription. You’ll also have to shell out for the 5 existing expansion packs if you want to play them. Right now you can get the first 4 expansions for $39.99 and the most recent one, Helm’s Deep, for an additional $39.99.
Rift is another fantasy based MMORPG that has received stellar reviews scoring an 84/100 on metacritic. Launching in 2011, It was originally subscription based but that only lasted for 2 years and it is now completely free to play up to the max level, including expansions (very nice!). There are small advantages to players who pay a monthly fee listed here, but they are really nothing to speak of when compared to most of the other games I’ve mentioned. This is a great game for players who never plan on making an in-game purchase.
The MMO Action genre is similar to MMORPG except that the gameplay is much more action based than role playing. There are fewer quests and more freestyle combat, but you can still typically level up your hero, gather gear and loot, and generally progress as you would in an RPG. Although the differences are minor, they are still enough to be a refreshing change from the standard RPG gameplay.
1) Marvel Heroes 2015
Set in the Marvel universe, Marvel Heroes is a game that was originally being developed as an MMORPG pre-2008 under a different name (Marvel Universe Online). It set to have a monthly subscription was canceled before release due to competition from World of Warcraft and other games flooding the MMO market.
Later, in 2009, development was picked back up by a different game studio, the name was changed, and the genre was changed from RPG to Action. The decision was also made that the game would be free. After 3.5 years of further development on a new 3D game engine, it was finally released in 2013 to mediocre reviews. Fortunately, they reworked the game even more and rebranded it “Marvel Heroes 2015”. Since then it has received very positive reviews with a score of 81/100 on metacritic.
The entire game is available to players 100% free with paying players only getting small advantages. You can choose to play as one of 48 heroes currently (I didn’t even know there were that many Marvel heroes) and that list continues to grow. This one looks like a winner that you should definitely check out!
2) DC Universe Online
DC Universe Online is very similar game to Marvel Heroes set in the DC Comic universe instead of the Marvel universe. It was released earlier than Marvel’s game in 2011 and has received generally positive reviews with a score of 75/100 on metacritic. User scores are somewhat less though hovering around 6.1/10.
Again, the entire game is accessible to free players after it went free to play after just 10 months of being subscription based. There are tons of superheroes to choose from as your playable character each with many possible customizations available for their look and gameplay.
If you have ever played Dungeons & Dragons, then this game is the one for you because it is a D&D themed game. It is also very similar to a typical RPG in that it is set in medieval times and puts you on quests. However, the world isn’t massive and persistent and the game is more linear and story-based than many large scale MMOs. You team up with up to 4 other people and quest through the world together Diablo-style.
Role Playing Game (RPG)
When it comes to free games, massively multiplayer online worlds seems to be where it’s at. Traditional RPGs that have a fixed number of people playing together are definitely taking a back seat these days. However, there is one really good free game in this genre:
1) Path of Exile
Path of Exile is an interesting game because it has been created by hardcore gamers for gamers. This group of gamers decided to get together and make a game that they’d love to play themselves and Path of Exile was born.
The game is very similar to the Diablo series in that you spend your time questing through dungeons and a fairly linear story. It’s an action RPG so there is a lot of focus on hack and slash combat. They’ve gone to great lengths to make the game replayable though because all instances in the game are randomly generated right down to the magic properties of the monsters you find so no two battles should be exactly the same.
Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)
I’ve known about Dota, League of Legends, and Heroes of Newerth for years now but I’d never actually played a MOBA until I discovered Heroes of The Storm much later. MOBAs are team based games where you control a single hero as one cog in a team typically comprised of 5 players. You work together to gain experience, level up, and eventually destroy the enemy’s fortress.
The best way I can describe the gameplay is like a cross between a Real Time Strategy, like StarCraft, and a brawler, like Smash Brothers. This genre is a blast to play and so far have always been 100% free with no real disadvantages to people who don’t pay for what are mostly cosmetic items in the shop.
1) League of Legends
League of Legends is currently the most popular PC game in the world right now with more than 70 million registered users and in excess of 32 million active users on a monthly basis. Those are insane numbers! It’s also pretty surprising given that it only has a metascore of 78/100 and user ranking of 5.6/10 on metacritic.
2) Dota 2
Dota 2 was the new kid on the block before Heroes of the Storm. It has struggled to gain a following in the wake of LoL but has still managed to garner a decent number of players recently reaching 1 million concurrent users. Dota 2 scores somewhat better on metacritic than LoL with 90/100 and a user ranking of 6.4/10.
3) Heroes of the Storm
Heroes of the Storm just exited beta this month so now anyone can play and it is starting to surge in popularity. Many people like it over League and Dota because there is no item shop, teams share a level instead of each hero having their own level, there is no last hit to get a kill, and there is big comeback potential so that one team rarely completely runs away with the game due to an early advantage.
Real Time Strategy (RTS)
1) StarCraft II
StarCraft II is the game I’ve spent the most time playing in my life and is incredibly exhilarating for those who like competition. It’s also very challenging because not only do you have to strategize well, but you have to control dozens of units simultaneously all while making split second decisions and managing your base and resources.
A lot of StarCraft is free to try out with the Starter Edition, which lets you experience the first five campaign missions of Wings of Liberty and all of the multiplayer units from both Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm. You can’t play 1v1 ranked games. You can however play custom games, unlimited arcade games (great for casual players), and team ladder when you team up with somebody who owns the full version of the game. Watch this YouTube video for more details on what players can do for free.
2) Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances
The command and conquer series has always struggled to keep up with Blizzard RTS games but that doesn’t mean they aren’t also great games. Launched in 2012, this game was developed as F2P from the start whereas all other C&C game have required an upfront purchase price.
What makes this game unique is that it is an MMORTS. There is a persistent world which completely changes the normal RTS gameplay. So, if you are looking for something completely different in the RTS genre, this one’s for you.
3) Ground Control
Ground Control is an older RTS from 2000, but it is extremely well reviewed and introduced a lot of new features to the genre including being able to zoom right in on the battlefield and take control of individual units. It has single player and multiplayer modes and somewhere along the line became completely free to play.
Collectible Card Game
The first ever collectible card game was Magic The Gathering invented in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast. Since then there hasn’t been a ton of similar games created but most of them use physical cards and there has been little progress in online versions of these games. All that changed with the release of Hearthstone last year. Now at least there is some choice and Hearthstone is a lot less expensive to play than Magic too.
Hearthstone is a collectible card game based on the Warcraft universe that pits 8 different heroes against each other in epic 1v1 battles. There is a basic set of cards that come for free with the game and then you work to collect the rest of the cards by opening card packs that each contain 5 random cards. You can get packs by winning them in the arena, buying them with gold you earn from completing simple quests (eg. win 3 games) and other game objectives, or by using real money.
You can also get more cards by playing through the various single player adventures that are part of the game. The adventures typically cost $24.99 to buy or can be purchased for 3,500 gold, which takes a long time to earn in game.
The game is insanely fun to play and can be played on PCs, tablets, and now phones as well. The goal is to play minion cards that have health and attack stats onto the game board. You use those minions to defeat enemy minions and to attack the opposing hero’s “face” to eventually defeat them. Minions also can have special abilities that make them more powerful or allow them to interact with other cards/minions in interesting way. In addition to controlling minions, your hero can cast spells to help remove minions, buff your own minions, or deal direct damage to the opposing hero.
2) Might & Magic: Duel of Champions
I’ve never played this one myself but after reading the gameplay page it sounds like it has a lot of similarities to hearthstone in that you collect cards, play creatures, use spells, and have hero abilities. However, it also offers quite a few additional mechanics including: creature positioning on the game board, multiple hero abilities, buildings, and “fortunes”.
1) World of Tanks
Doesn't the thought of controlling a heavily armoured vehicle like a tank get your blood pumping? I know it's an enticing thought for me and that's exactly what you get to do in this game. It's a more slow-paced strategic game than many in that there is a lot of value in exactly how you control and position your tank when facing off against the enemy.
Unfortunately, the game gets a lot of negative user reviews because it can be very pay to win in the later levels of the game. It takes too long to level up a tank in the traditional fashion so if you make any early mistakes in the tank or upgrades you choose, you'll find yourself losing most 1v1 battles if you don't shell out some real cash.
2) War Thunder
War Thunder is a more historically based and all-encompassing war game than World of Tanks (WoT). Not only can you control both armoured vehicles and aircraft, the game allows you to play as real nations that compete in game modes that mirror real battles that took place during World War II. It has a slightly higher critic score on Metacritic than WoT (82 vs 80) and a significantly higher user score (6.7 vs 5.0).
The game also gives players a choice of game modes that either adds to or takes away from the realism of the gameplay. For example, in Arcade Mode you can do unrealistic maneuvers that would normally destroy an airplane or black out its pilot and in Realistic Battles you have to be much more careful to avoid these realistic consequences of reckless piloting.
3) Heroes & Generals
Heroes & Generals is a very recent F2P war game to come out (it was just launched in July 2014). It also has very unique gameplay in that it combines mostly FPS gameplay with high level strategy that impacts a persistent game world. What this means is you participate in realistic FPS battles that have a lasting impact on the state of the game. You can conquer regions of the game map and literally move troops and other resources around the map to achieve strategic objectives.
1) Need for Speed World
Sadly, you only have a few more weeks left to play Need For Speed World as it will be shutting down on July 14, 2015. For that reason I won't spend a lot of time explaining the game. Give it a try while you still can if you are interested.
2) TrackMania Nations Forever
TrackMania Nations Forever is the free online version of the popular TrackMania series of racing games. The free version allows you to do most of the things that the paid version does with slightly inferiour graphics and a few other restrictions.
In this game you get to compete against other racers on the same track but you are unable to interact with their vehicles in any way making the competition all about who can navigate the track most efficiently, not who can block or run the other drivers off the road best.
3) Auto Club Revolution
Auto Club Revolution has some very slick looking cars but apparently that is ALL it has going for it because the game totally lacks customization and takes every opportunity to grab your money even for simplistic upgrades to your cars. It only has 9 user ratings on metacritic averaging 3.1 and no actual critic reviews. I'm not sure how the game keeps operating with feedback like that, but good free racing games are slim pickings so I'm still including it here.
Please Support The Developers
Although most of these games can be played completely free allowing you to get endless hours enjoyment out of them, they still cost a lot of money to make and keep running. Game companies have adopted the free to play business model because it gets their games in front of a much wider audience quickly giving them a higher earnings potential. However, if everyone stops paying altogether then these free games will eventually shut down.
I haven't spent a lot of money on free to play games, but I do love Blizzard Entertainment and continue to support their games. I have made in-game purchases in both Hearthstone and Heroes of the storm to make sure they are at least getting something out of me for making such great games. They aren't destitute by any means, but I still think they deserve what's coming to them and I'm happy to pony up a few dollars to pad their bottom line.
What PC Games Do You Play?
I'm curious what games (free or other) you are currently playing? It's always nice to make new discoveries and hear other people's experiences before trying something new!