The House that Gordon Freeman Built is the digital distribution site when it comes to buying and playing the best PC games. Launching with its own iconic Half-Life 2 back in 2003, Valve’s Steam has gone from strength to strength ever since. That obviously makes narrowing the best Steam games down a colossally challenging task.
PC gaming has become so popular since the platform’s release that you’ll find many of the best PS5 games and best Xbox Series X games on Valve’s storefront. And if you’re lucky enough to own one of the best gaming PCs, you can run the likes of Cyberpunk 2077 at higher resolutions and far faster frame rates than either of the current-gen consoles.
There’s also a huge variety of indie games and titles that won’t cost you a penny available on Steam. So whether you’re a fan of AAA blockbusters like Grand Theft Auto V or your jam is more of a Planet Coaster vibe, our picks of the best Steam games has you covered. Oh, and don’t forget you can play many of these excellent titles on the go thanks to the brilliant Steam Deck and Steam Deck OLED.
The best Steam games
One of the best PC games ever made is a gloriously dark, intensely funny detective sim that demands to be played with a keyboard and mouse. Don’t believe us? Spend five minutes on console with Disco Elysium using a controller and you’ll quickly change your mind. Played from an isometric perspective, the game’s unique, painterly art style and constantly warped conveyor belt of dryly delivered gags make it an utter hoot to play. The sheer ownership you’re given over the initially inebriated player character detective is something else, too. You’re pretty much granted carte blanche to make him as big of a screw up as you see fit.
“Just one more turn” is the rallying cry of Civilization VI players everywhere. In this historical turn-based strategy game, you choose one of 18 world civilizations (the Americans, the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Kongo, the Romans and so forth), then lead them all the way from the Stone Age into the Space Age. You can choose to conquer your foes through military might, or lead the world in scientific achievement, or become a utopia for artists and philosophers. With a ton of options to customize your experience, Civilization VI is friendly for newbies and veterans alike, and can be as chill or as demanding as you want it to be.
If you’re a fan of cowboys and sandbox gameplay, we’d be astonished if there’s any game you’ll enjoy on PC more than this truly epic Wild West quest. Red Dead Redemption 2 is simply one of the best open-world games of all time, and the fact it was treated to a brilliant PC port makes the emotionally conflicted tale of outlaw Arthur Morgan a bonafide Steam great. Even years after its initial release, it’s still several cowboy country miles ahead of most open-world games. The world-building is impeccable, the sense of time and place second to none and the variety of brilliantly paced missions is rivalled only by GTA 5.
Probably the most ruthlessly efficient first-person shooter on PC. Doom Eternal serves up non-stop slaughter quite unlike any other FPS title of the last decade. Thanks to a typically brilliant id Software engine, you can revel in slicing and dicing the Doomslayer’s hellish enemies — hoo-boy are those finishers satisfying — at buttery smooth frame rates without the need for a cutting edge PC. That’s partly what makes Eternal one of the best games you can play on Steam Deck. Just make sure you keep your virtual trigger finger in-shape because the firefights against Hell’s fugliest beasts are relentless.
The more recent Resident Evil 4 remake may be more exciting, but this pitch perfect redux was the entry that put Capcom’s legendary survival horror series back on the map. Built on the beautiful RE Engine, Resident Evil 2 transforms those blocky corridors from the 1998 original into a graphically gorgeous fright fest set in gaming’s most iconic police station. The best thing about the remake? It’s not slavishly in service to the PS2 game. It makes a bunch of canny design tweaks, with the best example being that it turns fedora-wearing boogieman Mr. X into a relentless pursuer on par with Alien: Isolation’s titular Xenomorph.
It launched in a horrible state on PC, but eventually this remake of one of the best PlayStation games ever made finally got to a level where it’s now on par with the PS5 version… well, provided you own a beefy rig. Following Joel and Ellie’s cross-country journey across a post-apocalyptic USA plagued by the undead, The Last of Us: Part I is a perfectly paced action-adventure that combines nerve-shredding stealth with impactful gunplay. But the real star is the beautifully told story of an unlikely surrogate father/daughter duo, and the sometimes devastatingly cruel lengths people will go to in the name of love.
The game that essentially launched Steam as a service back in 2004, Gordman Freeman’s immaculate shooter sequel is as important to the Valve success story as the original Halo is to Xbox. Following the adventures of everyone’s favorite kickass theoretical physicist as he battles both aliens, the undead and an authoritarian government, there’s an argument to be made that Half-Life 2 is the most effectively paced video game of all time. The Gravity Gun frights and zombie-slaying fun of Ravenholm! That river chase! The first time you look up in awe at the towering terror of a Strider. All these years on, it remains a riveting masterpiece.
A highly addictive rogue-like dungeon crawler where you Groundhog Day yourself to death time after time playing the fleet-footed son of Hades, Zagreus. For fans of Greek mythology, Hades is a no-brainer of an essential experience. Its tongue in cheek take on legendary deities never fails to raise a grin and its art style is consistently eye-arousing, regardless of the level of hardware you’re gaming on. Brilliant to play on either one of the best gaming PCs or Steam Deck OLED, the dagger-sharp combat on display means buying the Greek farm over and over again isn’t that big of a deal. A devilishly addictive delight.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the most ambitious and refined open-world games on the market today. You play as Geralt of Rivia, who plies his trade as a Witcher, roaming the countryside as he slays monsters for money. However, in the third and final installment in the Witcher trilogy, Geralt has also caught the attention of various kings and queens — as well as the deadly King of the Wild Hunt, who pursues him across dimensions. With an epic story that adapts to your choices, tons of meaningful side quests and an enormous world, packed with secrets to discover, The Witcher 3 can keep you immersed for dozens of hours.
Best free Steam games
We’ve researched the best free Steam games based on their popularity, the depth of their gameplay and our own personal experiences with them. The games listed below are perfectly playable, even if you never spend a cent, with rich experiences for paying and non-paying players alike. Furthermore, we’ve tried to explore a variety of genres. (Free-to-play shooters may be a dime-a-dozen, but they’re not necessarily to everyone’s tastes.)
Apex Legends skillfully threads the line between being a battle royale game and a form of hero shooter. Based in the same setting as the excellent Titanfall games, Apex Legends pits you and up to two others in a game that's sees a mix of teams fight to the death in on a large map that slowly condenses with a deadly forcefield closing in.
This might sound like another version of Player Unknown's Battlegrounds. But the suite of skills each character has, from tracking abilities to teleports and shields, and a great selection of semi-sci-fi weapons, combined with fantastic movement, elevates Apex Legends above other battle royale games. And with added classes and content as the game matures, it's a great choice for a top free game that you can lose hours upon hours in with that 'just-one-more-game' approach.
Brawllhalla is a 2D fighting game that has the same chaotic energy as Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. Much like the latter game, Brawlhalla is easy to pick up and blends a mix of original characters with licensed ones; characters from Rayman, to Tomb Raider, to The Walking Dead and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are featured.
And up to eight of these characters can battle it out on arenas with multiple platforms. Do be aware that the free-to-play element here means the characters available rotate on a weekly basis. But thankfully, there's no option to spend money to get a character that'll give you an advantage over other players, meaning the brawling is even. If you do decide to splash the cash, it'll be on cosmetic items only.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is what you get after a mod for the original Half-Life gathers such a following that it becomes not only its own game but a form of its own genre. Counter-Strike offers team-based first person shooter action with objectives that see terrorists and counter-terrorists face off against each other. Victory can come in the form of completing an objective, like successfully planting or disarming a bomb, or simply wiping out the other team. And with fast-paced action and a wide selection of weapons this can be both very challenging and a lot of competitive fun.
“Grand strategy” and “free-to-play” don’t often go together, but Crusader Kings II from Paradox Interactive demonstrates that the pairing might have some legs. Crusader Kings II started life as a regular paid game, in which you take control of a Christian king in medieval Europe. The goal isn’t just to wage war on neighboring countries; it’s also to establish diplomatic ties, secure your family’s legacy and see how you can reshape the history of the continent. If you want the game’s DLC and expansions, you’ll have to pay up, but you can play for quite a while without plunking down any money.
Here’s an unusual one. Doki Doki Literature Club starts out as a Japanese-style visual novel about a high school student who courts a variety of pretty girls. As you play through this short game, however, you might get the sense that something is amiss — and as you begin your second playthrough, events become even stranger. To say more would spoil what makes Doki Doki Literature Club such a trip, but if you’re in the mood for a story that gets turned completely on its head, this is a good one. Just be aware that it’s not for the faint of heart.
Dota 2 is one of Valve’s most popular games. One of the big players in the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) space, Dota 2 started life as a Warcraft III mod, and eventually took on a life of its own. If you’ve played League of Legends or similar games, you know the drill: Choose a hero, team up with a few other players and lead an army of AI-controlled soldiers to conquer an enemy base. Dota 2 is a colorful, fast-paced game that tests both your tactical and strategic thinking. Communicating with your teammates is key. But if you get good, you can earn quite a few in-game rewards — or you can buy them with real-world money.
You can’t play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for free — although it's often available for less than $10 during seasonal Steam Sales — but you can play arguably the best part of the entire game without spending a single cent.
Gwent is a collectible card game that serves as a side activity in The Witcher 3 main game. But its popularity was so overwhelming that developer CD Projekt Red eventually expanded Gwent into a standalone free-to-play title that is now more than six years old and has carved out its own impressive legacy.
Allowing you to build a deck of fantasy monsters and swordmen, Gwent is a compelling mix of flashy animations and strategic gameplay. Naturally, you can spend real-world money on booster packs to augment your deck, or you can earn in-game currency as you refine your skills and defeat your foes.
Gwent offers a lot of tactical depth, in both deck construction and how you play. And it's these elements that will keep you playing for dozens of hours. You just might sink more time into Gwent than you did The Witcher 3.
Imagine if Blizzard’s Diablo series were free-to-play, and had an extremely long story campaign, and that’s Path of Exile in a nutshell. In this isometric hack-and-slash RPG, you’ll take control of an adventurer, then carve a bloody swath of destruction through thousands of monsters in your quest for revenge. If you’ve played a game like this before, you know the drill. Each class has a variety of skills to master, and you can collect tons of weapons and armor, each with different benefits, as you go. Paid transactions can get you extra storage space or cosmetics, but nothing that radically changes gameplay.
While many people may have wanted Knights of the Old Republic 3, Bioware came up with MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic in 2011. It got fairly positive reviews at the time but a rocky launch and entering into a post-World of Warcraft world saw Star Wars: The Old Republic get a little overlooked in some ways.
But to Bioware's credit, the developer kept adding content to it, including in 2022 with the Legacy of the Sith expansion. What we now have is a huge online multiplayer RPG with a rich story and a fantastic vein of Star Wars pseudo lore to tap into.
The relatively cartoon-like graphics keep it feeling less dated that one might think, and it still plays well in that classic party-based format. If you have the time and inclination, then this is definitely a Star Wars game worth checking out. Just bear in mind, only the base game is free, as you'll need to pay for high-level story packs.
Get the BEST of Tom’s Guide daily right in your inbox: Sign up now!
Upgrade your life with the Tom’s Guide newsletter. Subscribe now for a daily dose of the biggest tech news, lifestyle hacks and hottest deals. Elevate your everyday with our curated analysis and be the first to know about cutting-edge gadgets.
Dave is a computing editor at Tom’s Guide and covers everything from cutting edge laptops to ultrawide monitors. When he’s not worrying about dead pixels, Dave enjoys regularly rebuilding his PC for absolutely no reason at all. In a previous life, he worked as a video game journalist for 15 years, with bylines across GamesRadar+, PC Gamer and TechRadar. Despite owning a graphics card that costs roughly the same as your average used car, he still enjoys gaming on the go and is regularly glued to his Switch. Away from tech, most of Dave’s time is taken up by walking his husky, buying new TVs at an embarrassing rate and obsessing over his beloved Arsenal.