The best free Steam games are pretty easy to find. All you have to do is open up Steam, find the Categories menu, and click on Free to Play. This will give you a full list of Steam’s free titles — and even if you just take the most popular games into account, there are still more than 400 options. Luckily, if you need help narrowing down your list, Tom’s Guide is here to help.
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.)
Read on to find the best free Steam games — and remember that if you’d like to try any yourself, you already know where to find them.
Hero shooters are all the rage right now, and Apex Legends is one of the best. In this competitive multiplayer title, you’ll take control of a futuristic warrior, armed with a variety of weapons and special powers, and take on an opposing team for control of a varied series of battlegrounds. While you can spend money on Apex Legends’ variety of character and weapon skins, you can also earn a lot of rewards through skilled gameplay. Electronic Arts is also constantly adding new content to the game, from maps to characters, meaning that you’ll have to stay on your toes to remain at the top of the rankings.
Free-to-play fighting games aren’t all that common, and free-to-play fighting games that channel the spirit of Super Smash Bros. are even less so. Brawlhalla is a platform fighter in which up to eight players can compete for supremacy, using a variety of both original and licensed characters. The free-to-play characters rotate each week, and nothing you buy gives you a competitive advantage; real-world money will net you only cosmetic items. One cool feature of Brawlhalla is that it hosts a variety of characters from other multimedia franchises, from Rayman, to Tomb Raider, to The Walking Dead, to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
You know Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. You’ve probably played Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. And yet no list of the best free Steam games would be complete without it. This venerable multiplayer FPS began life as a Half-Life mod way, way back in 2000. In 2012, Valve released Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: a graphical and gameplay update that modernized the game for more demanding machines, and a wider audience. The setup is simple: a team of terrorists and a team of counter-terrorists duke it out to see which side can kill more enemies, and complete more of its objectives. If you get really good at this one, you could conceivably win some money (or at least some prestige) on the tournament scene.
Crusader Kings II
“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.
Doki Doki Literature Club
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 — but you can arguably play the best part of it without paying money. Gwent is a collectible card game that served as a side activity in The Witcher 3. It was such a hit with fans that developer CD Projekt Red expanded Gwent into its own free-to-play game. 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.
Path of Exile
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.
Star Trek Online
One of my personal favorites on this list, Star Trek Online is the next-best thing to watching a new Star Trek TV series. This free-to-play MMORPG combines on-the-ground missions with capital ship combat, giving you plenty of opportunities to fight off Klingons, Romulans, Borg and other deadly threats. You can also command your own starship and explore the far reaches of the galaxy, upgrading your skills and collecting new crewmates as you go. The most interesting part of the game, though, is that it’s highly story-driven, with each mission structured just like an episode of Star Trek, and contributing toward a larger “seasonal” arc.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
We can’t discuss the Star Trek MMO without also mentioning its Star Wars counterpart. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, you’ll create your own Jedi Knight, Sith warrior, trooper or smuggler as you play out a story that takes place thousands of years before Luke, Han and Leia ever teamed up. As a BioWare game, The Old Republic has a fantastic narrative, full of twists, turns and moral quandaries. The gameplay is also good, challenging you to refine your skill set and equipment as you battle a variety of science-fantasy enemies in real-time. You’ll need to pay for high-level story content, but the base game is free.