Best free games to play today
Update: The latest game from Left 4 Dead developer Turtle Rock has gone free-to-play. It’s monsters versus hunters with Evolve at number 24 on our list!
There’s no doubt about it, gaming isn’t cheap. Ask any hardcore gamer what system they play on and they’ve either invested thousands in a high-end PC or boast the latest and greatest from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. And, if you want to play every major game release, you’ll need to prep your wallet for an additional series of unwieldy purchases.
However, if gaming for you is nothing more than passive entertainment, there are more than enough titles that you won’t have to spend a penny on. Sure, you might not get the same full-fledged blockbuster experience you would expect of a full-priced console game, but the entertainment value is usually all the same.
In fact, free-to-play gaming has largely consumed the $32.8 billion (around £24.6 billion, AU$44.5 billion) mobile games market. And, with mobile games seeing less demand in 2016, PC is starting to see a free-to-play renaissance as well. Everyone from EA to the tiniest indie developer has something to offer.
Plus, with Microsoft bringing games over from Xbox One to Windows 10, there’s no better time like the present to start checking out the latest entries in classic franchises like Killer Instinct and Forza – completely free of charge.
But, on our list, it isn’t just new games that made the cut. Here we’ve covered everything from The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall to DC Universe Online in a uniquely diverse list that caters to everyone’s tastes. No more do you have to hand over a grocery cart’s worth of finances for some of the greatest games ever made, even if that was previously the case with some of these titles.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article
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1. Planetside 2
Two years before Destiny, back in 2012, we had Planetside 2. It’s an epic, all-out first-person battle so impressive, you’ll give yourself a quick pinch every time you remember it’s completely free. There are in-game purchases of course, but you can still dive into gaming’s biggest ever battlefield and be useful with just default gear.
There’s simply nothing like taking part in a massed assault on an enemy base and coming out on top, or living in a world where an enemy convoy could appear on the horizon at any second. If you need any proof that ‘free’ doesn’t mean making compromises any more, Planetside 2 will provide it.
2. Dota 2
The Dota universe came from a mod made for World of Warcraft 3, but Dota 2 is very much its own entity, not to mention one of the most popular free-to-play games.
This top-down arena battler is incredibly active, attracting multi-million dollar prize funds for serious tournament players. It’s not just for obsessives, though.
A brief tutorial now points out the ropes, with the Steam Community stepping in to provide guides to the original MOBA (or whatever-you-want-to-call-this-genre-if-not-MOBA).
Don’t expect a warm welcome or easy learning curve from this surprisingly complex game, but bring a few friends and you have a good chance of being hooked on one of the biggest crazes in PC history.
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3. Tribes: Ascend
Jetpacks rule: it’s one of the few things you can rely on apart from death and taxes. And Tribes: Ascend is the world’s premiere online jetpack shooter. Don your jetpack and launch into battle across huge maps, with weapons that take real skill just to land a hit – never mind a kill.
Tribes: Ascend is fast, furious, and absolutely brilliant, and there’s no reason to spend any money in the in-game shop if you simply want to hold your own in battle. Though there’s plenty of stuff to buy if you do fancy splashing some cash…
You can pay to unlock more classes, weapons and perks, but if you’re going to keep it casual you can still have loads of fun with Tribes: Ascend.
4. Path of Exile
A Diablo III-style third-person role-playing game, Path of Exile is a bit different from most free-to-play games out there. It’s not just about whacking real life people until they scream at you in shrill pubescent tones through their Skype headsets.
It’s more of a slow-burner than a multiplayer blaster, but give it time and you may well fall in love with this free-to-play loot-gathering hit. There are hidden depths that you only uncover after playing for hours (and hours), and a huge skill tree to slowly pick away at. There are no game-ruining things like real money auction houses here, either.
Instead, even basic loot can be useful because there’s always an opportunity to enhance even the simplest weapon with magic. If you got tired of the grind of Diablo III, it’s a good one to check out.
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5. League of Legends
Pick your champion and head into battle in this amazing free-to-play game from the creators of Dota. League of Legends’ automated matchmaking, range of characters and excellent maps have made it a multiplayer star over the last year, and one well worth a play.
It’s a very aggressive game to play, but one that rewards good teamwork and careful tactics. Don’t expect to master it overnight, but it won’t be long before you’re having fun.
Like Dota 2, League of Legends attracts many high-end players, and the top tournaments offer prize pools of over £1,000,000. The weird world of e-sports, eh?
6. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Ever played Magic the Gathering, the card game? Hearthstone is Blizzard’s attempt at making an online free-to-play alternative to it.
And in typical Blizzard fashion, it’s excellent. It’s immediately inviting, lacking the terrifying learning curve you might expect from an online fantasy card game. Hearthstone plays quickly, boasts an almost casual-style visual approach, and benefits from a basic rule set, all of which adds up to a very accessible card battler that will give you hours of enjoyment.
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7. Might & Magic: Duel of Champions
There’s one other alternative to Hearthstone we need to mention, too, and that’s Might & Magic: Duel of Champions. It initially seems a bit less accessible, with a less glossy approach that feels a bit closer to card battling’s roots, but there’s actually a bit less grind involved in the game.
That means a bit less of the casino-effect visual hit when you win, but it won’t sap your time in quite the same way either. Unless that’s what you’re after.
Where’s the official Magic: The Gathering take on the fantasy card battler? There is one, called Magic Online, but as there’s real money involved it’s anything but free.
8. Star Wars: The Old Republic
Taking over from the original Star Wars MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies in 2011, Star Wars: The Old Republic was not free at release. But it has since, like so many games of this kind, adopted the free-to-play model. If you want to get Sith kicks, this is the best way to get them for free.
However, subscriptions are still available, giving you more in-game potential. All the story missions are available without a sub – they just might take you that bit longer.
It’s worth the download simply to experience the Star Wars universe from different perspectives, like the hyper-professional Imperial Agent and Bounty Hunter. If you want to go with the dull option and just have a generic Jedi Knight, though, that’s fine too.
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9. Forza Motorsport 6 Apex
When Xbox head Phil Spencer said he was going to bring the console’s best franchises to the PC, he wasn’t joking around. Among these notable series is Forza Motorsport.
Shunned by autosport enthusiasts and embraced by gamers, Forza Motorsport may seem like an arcadey offshoot of its biggest rival on PlayStation, but it consistently looks and feels superb nonetheless.
Forza Apex in particular, while not a complete game due to its prominently displayed Beta status in the Windows 10 Store, is a free-to-play dilution of its Xbox One counterpart. But, with a 4K-ready gaming PC, this is more like a revolution than a dilution.
10. Killer Instinct
Microsoft’s dream of unifying the PC and Xbox One marketplaces is finally becoming a reality thanks to the "Play Anywhere" program recently announced at E3 2016. Let’s not forget, however, the handful of titles that started this trend, one of which revived Rare’s classic fighting game. Killer Instinct may not be the household name it once was, but the ability to play one character for free is enticing nonetheless.
What’s more, characters can be purchased a la carte as downloadable content, which means you don’t have to shell out a wad of cash unnecessarily for characters you’ll never play. And, for the Xbox fans out there, this game is essentially Microsoft’s equivalent of Super Smash Bros. and PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale since you can pick up numerous Xbox mascots. These include Arbiter (Halo), Rash (Battletoads) and General RAAM (Gears of War) in addition to a growing catalog of Killer Instinct-specific characters.
While Killer Instinct isn’t as popular with the Fighting Game Community, there is a certain novelty of being able to control these classic Xbox-derived characters, and on PC at that.
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11. World of Tanks
World of Tanks is a different kind of MMO – the clue being in the title. Team-based, massively multiplayer action with a huge range of war machines to drive into battle awaits, with new players able to join the action immediately.
An upgrade system adds a sense of personalisation, while being surrounded by a whole army constantly reminds you that loners don’t do well on the battlefield. Get sucked in, though, and you may find you end up spending a chunk of your wages on great big chunks of virtual metal.
While some premium tanks cost just a few pounds, others tip above £30. You can see where maker Wargaming is going to earn some cash from World of Tanks enthusiasts.
12. War Thunder
Think World of Tanks is a bit too arcade-like for your tastes? You need to try out War Thunder. Despite being lesser-known, it’s a great alternative to that tank battler. And for an extra sweetener, it throws airplanes into the mix too. As you might expect, they’re a great deal of fun.
With a fast enough PC, War Thunder offers visual quality you don’t see too often in free-to-play games. You will need to pay some cash to get hold of the more interesting planes and tanks early on, but getting Battlefield-like play for free sounds like a good deal to us.
There are arcade and historical battles on offer – the former is great for a more casual blast while historical battles are more for players with a few hours on their flight card.
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Though its future was briefly uncertain after the sale of Sony’s online entertainment division in February 2015, Everquest has returned better than ever with new expansion packs and continued support by Daybreak Game Company.
The first of its kind to commercially succeed with a 3D game engine, EverQuest was released in 1999 as an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) and has since been documented as one of the most important games in the medium’s history.
Featuring consistently released expansion packs (quite massive in scale, at least early on) with vast new areas, races and classes, EverQuest brings to the table just about everything you would expect from an MMO – plus it’s notably better at handling co-op than its alternatives.
While it’s no World of Warcraft in terms of whether your friends are still playing it, Rift had its moment – and it’s still having it depending on who you ask. It added innovation in a genre that was experiencing little, letting you change your class whenever you feel like it.
The whole game is focused on separating giant boss battles and events that occupy entire zones. It’s ambitious, exciting and huge with a dozen inter-dimensional rifts that keep things fresh and unique from other games in the genre. The flood of enemies unleashed by these almost unceasingly are what prevent Rift from ever truly getting stale.
Plus, holy shit, you can ride on a landshark.
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Runescape is one of the biggest free-to-play MMOs out there, and now would be a good time to take a look. In 2013 it entered its third reboot – this is actually ‘Runescape 3’, although just jumping in now you might not appreciate it has been around in one form or another for more than 10 years.
It’s certainly not the shiniest MMO in the world despite the revamp, but hanging onto this many players shows it’s doing something right. The big change introduced in Runescape 3 that made it appear a lot more modern was the ability to see much further – in Runescape 2 the horizon quickly gave way to fog. Not so now.
You can download the game or run it in your browser using Java, making it much more convenient than most other online role-players of this epic scale.
If the bleak appearance typically associated with MMORPGs is a turn-off for you, you’ll be delighted to see that Maplestory takes the traditional art style of the genre and turns it on its head. Described by its developer as the original 2D side-scrolling MMO, Nexon’s Maplestory takes the age-old Dungeon & Dragons-inspired genre and makes it kawaii.
The customization and lighter tone of Maplestory makes it feel more like a Harvest Moon MMO than something like Rift or World of Warcraft. It’s also more focused on improving cosmetics than many other MMOs, giving players distinct control over their character’s look and style.
There are even in-game weddings and dinosaurs that play guitar. Honestly the only thing we’re missing here is a soundtrack composed by Oasis.
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If you’re into third-person co-operative shooters, Warfarme is one of the best free games out there. After joining one of three factions: Tenno, Grineer or Corpos, your soldier is decked out in a Crysis-styled exosuit and equipped with guns or melee weapons. Better looking than your average free-to-play shooter, much fun can be had in Warframe’s player-vs-enemy raids — so much so that some gamers see it as, "The Destiny that never was". High praise indeed.
Gods from around the world get together to battle it out in a Dota/MOBA inspired clash of divine vengeance in this effort. Despite Smite’s obvious inspirations, it comes from the same developer that made FPS smash Tribes Ascend – a completely different beast.
The camera is behind the characters this time, making for a more direct connection to the action than simply guiding your lord around with a mouse, but the premise will be either familiar if you’ve played its inspirations, or a way to get the feel for the style if you haven’t. Gods include Zeus, Thor, Kali, Artemis and… Cupid? Well, at least he has his own bow…
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19. Lord of the Rings Online
Many MMOs are being launched or relaunched as free-to-play at the moment, but Lord of the Rings Online is one of the titles that most warrants a second look. Not only is it an excellent game in its own right, it’s one of the more mature MMOs out there.
You will likely have to pay eventually, if only to unlock adventure packs, but there’s no subscription fee and nothing to buy up-front. If you missed it at launch, it’s time to give it a try.
Without seeing more than a few screenshots, you might think Wildstar is a new IP from Ratchet & Clank developer Insomniac Games. It’s colorful and cartoony enough to sit alongside the same catalog as Spyro, but this is no casual free-to-play MMO, which may be the reason it didn’t do as well as expected sales-wise.
If you like Blizzard games, such as World of Warcraft, Wildstar will undoubtedly quench your thirst since many of its developers at Carbine Studios came from the beloved Activision Blizzard subsidiary. Despite not landing as "the next evolution of the modern MMORPG," according to its IGN review, Wildstar holds its own as a traditional MMO that, before going free-to-play, had a unique subscription method based on actual player progress along with some colorfully stylized graphics.
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21. Battlestar Galactica
The officially licensed Battlestar Galactica MMO is dope, not only because it’s among the most visually pleasing browser games, but it’s also entirely free to play. Now, we know what you’re thinking: usually the words ‘free-to-play’ are accompanied by a game that, in reality, is pay to win. And, while there are optional in-game purchases to be had here, they’re just that – optional.
The story in this rendition of Battlestar Galactica is simple. The Galactica and the Cylons have been shot into an unfamiliar part of space by some unknown piece of tech. With both factions engaging in combat over outposts and control points, you can play as either one. The gameplay itself, on the other hand, requires both navigation around ships and an abundance of mouse-based space combat and mining.
22. Blacklight: Retribution
Blacklight: Retribution may not be as free as it was before it arrived on PS4, but it’s still a damn fun and affordable way to play an FPS. Almost like a free-to-play Titanfall, Blacklight: Retribution has no single-player mode to offer and takes place in a futuristic Cyberpunk setting complete with fan-favorite modes like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Domination, King of the Hill and Kill Confirmed.
Featuring customizable weapons and mechs, of course, Blacklight: Retribution is a fun, free and safe way to let off steam after that 9 to 5. Plus, with over 1 million registered players and counting, there’s bound to me no shortage of teammates (and rivals) to join up with.
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As it’s been in beta since 2012 with little to no marketing push, you may have forgotten about Hawken or were unfamiliar with it in the first place. Most notably, Hawken is a game about mechs. But, not just any mechs – fast mechs. These are your average slow, lumbering tanks of MechWarrior Online. These are more comparable to the Exoskeletons of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
Of course, being a free-to-play game, you can expect to pay for upgrades to your starter mech. However, you can still get a taste for Hawken without spending a dime. Plus, attach an Oculus Rift and you can see for yourself what VR games have in store for you. Admit it, you’ve wanted to know what it’s feels like to power a mech for yourself since Pacific Rim came out.
24. Evolve Stage 2
Although it quickly fell off the face of the Earth, Evolve was removed from Steam and re-released back into beta a year and a half after its initial release. It was then that the follow-up from Left 4 Dead developer Turtle Rock was slashed by 100 percent with a new name: Evolve Stage 2.
Despite going free-to-play, the game’s core structure remains intact. It’s a game of humans vs. zombies, err, monsters, a new twist on a beloved pastime. A team of four players, called hunters, is pitted up against a single monster, with each hunter assigned their own class. Of course, with four players taking on one, there is a unique catch: hence the game’s title, monsters start out at a basic level but evolve over time by killing and consuming wildlife in nearby areas.
Evolve cost $40 before, so rest assured you’ll get access to a game that looks triple-A, even if much of the content is locked behind a paywall. Nevertheless you can give it a shot for yourself for the nominal cost of $0 on Steam.
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25. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
Played Skyrim or Oblivion? You should at least give the classic The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall a nod. This 1990s RPG is a precursor to those incredibly popular RPGs, and is a bit of a classic in its own right.
Its game world is many times the size of any of its successors, and indeed it’s the size of a continent, one absolutely packed with atmosphere. You might not all be able to stomach the old-fashioned visuals, but it’s worth investigating if you want to see where Skyrim came from.
It’s available direct from Bethesda. The publisher started offering it for free to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the game. As if we didn’t feel old enough already.
26. Marvel Heroes 2016
Marvel Heroes is quite obviously Gazillion Entertainment’s response to DC Universe Online. It’s a 2-in-1 experience, blending elements of both MMOs and RPGs and featuring characters from a wide range of Marvel franchises. According to its Steam description, you can play as characters from the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-men "and more" with villains such as Dr. Doom, Loki and Magneto present at the helm.
If, after seeing the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you want to revisit these characters interactively, the Marvel Heroes MMO-ARPG is the way to go, packing PvP, weapon and armor crafting and just about everything else you would expect from the genre at this point. It even features Blizzard talent, like from David Brevik, creator of the original Diablo and its sequel.
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27. Wolfenstein 3D
Interested in knowing what Wolfenstein was before The New Order? Wolfenstein 3D will take you back to the year 1992 when celebrity game developers John Carmack and John Romero teamed up to make a shareware game like nothing before it. Wolfenstein 3D took concepts from Muse Software’s Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein to create a three-dimensional first-person shooter that would later inspire the development of Doom.
Keep in mind while playing, though, that while Wolfenstein 3D was impressive for its time, it’s probably not what you would expect from a first-person shooter of today’s standards. Nonetheless, it’s an easy and free way to experience game history in an old-school World War II game rich with narrative about, well, shooting Nazis in the face. Don’t expect to be blown away by the story in the same way as the Wolfenstein franchise’s more recent entries.
28. Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 myClub
Though maybe not as loose on the rules as Dan Marshall’s Behold the Kickmen, Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 myClub makes the soccer/football sim experience of the popular PES series more accessible than ever. At the click of a mouse, PES 2016 myClub can be installed via Steam with no hassle. Although stripped of its online components, the free-to-play edition of PES 2016 pairs offline Exhibition Match and Training modes.
The game is upgradeable to a full version of PES 2016 if you’re so inclined, but you can get a taste of the realistic sports sim at a nominal cost. Though it may not be up to par with FIFA in terms of content, Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 myClub is visually and mechanically impressive in its own right, making it one of the best free-to-play sports games on the market.
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29. Team Fortress 2
It may be an old vet in gaming terms, but nothing offers so much crazy fun as Team Fortress 2. Unlike most shooters of its age, players are still there to have a good time rather than hurl abuse at newcomers, and there’s no shortage of cool toys to have fun with. Endlessly silly and amazingly fresh, it’s still one of the shooter genre’s kings, free-to-play or not.
As you might guess, there are some micro-transactions involved. You can buy additional items, often used to customise your character. You can create your own. It’s fun, and gets you even more involved in TF2. Those cheeky devils at Valve know what they’re doing.
30. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Phantoms
Though it may not be the "next generation" online multiplayer shooter Ubisoft claims it is, the latest in its Ghost Recon series features three different character classes – Assault, Recon and Support – which are designed to work well in conjunction with one another for team-based strategy. What’s more, there are even three different game modes, dubbed Conquest, Onslaught and Holdout to consider while you’re deciding on a play style.
Sure, it’s barebones compared to a lot of other shooters you could play, but it also comes from one of the most reputable publishers in the industry – and best of all, you can play Ghost Recon: Phantoms without spending a dime. Unfortunately, it was also originally intended for the Wii U, meaning it’s not all that impressive in the visual department. Nevertheless, you can pick it up for free on Steam so long as you’re willing to sign up for a Uplay account.
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31. The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot
Another title in Ubisoft’s growing catalog of free-to-play titles, The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot is exactly what it sounds like – "Diablo meets Dungeon Keeper," according to our friends at PC Gamer.
Designed to take advantage of looting systems popularized by other games in the ARPG hack-and-slash genre, Mighty Quest has players rushing to be the best. Have the best armor, the best weapons, monsters, traps, potions and skills. While, for this reason, MQFEL has been criticized for being a pay-to-win game under the guise of an addictive Diablo clone.
Regardless, as long as you’re responsible enough with your wallet, The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot is worth at least trying out. Who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy the challenge of getting the best loot without handing over a small fortune.
32. Magic Duels
Magic: The Gathering is fun, right? But what if you could play it from the comfort of your PC? Fortunately, that’s possible thanks to Magic Duels. Whether you’re a first-time player or a 20-year vet, Duels lets you do everything the card game does and more. While over 300 new cards are advertised as being attainable throughout the game, there’s also a unique story mode where you can experience Magic like never before.
If narrative in your card games isn’t your cup of tea, there’s also a Battle Mode in which you can challenge your friends, a four-player Two-Headed Giant battle and even an offline solo mode you can use for practice against AI.
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33. DC Universe Online
Though it’s yet another free-to-play MMO on this list, DC Universe Online takes characters like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and more into a massive (and shared) public world. Choose whether you want to be a member of the Hero or Villain faction then customize your character and you’ll be sent out into the world of DC Universe Online at the hands of Daybreak Game Company.
After some training, the game assigns you a position as either a member of the Justice League or The Society depending on your choice of hero or villain. Unlike other MMOs on this list and outside it, DC Universe Online is designed to be much more interactive while still retaining traditional MMORPG elements such as leveling, raiding, inventories and post-game progression. Favorably, it’s not difficult to play without using real-world currency too.
Yes, Tera is another MMO on this list, but once again it’s not without its distinct qualities. Unlike a lot of massively multiplayer online games, Tera isn’t as much about grinding to make progress as it’s about making combat enjoyable for once. Using what the Korean publisher En Masse Entertainment refers to as "True Action Combat," Tera lets players aim, dodge and time attacks in real-time, making for notably more suspenseful (not to mention fast paced) battles.
If an MMO with action-based combat is what you’re looking for, look no further than Tera. Although the game’s servers are nearing shutdown in China, Tera maintains an install base of well over 1.4 million, so for the rest of the world, it’s unlikely to go anywhere but up.
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Described as a "Free-to-Play AAA MMO Shooter" by its developer Red 5 Studios, Firefall draws heavy influence from shooters and open-world MMOs alike. The game downloads complete with five different character classes and both PvP (player versus player) and PvE (player versus environment) modes.
Firefall has every class, including Assault, Biotech, Dreadnaught, Engineer and Recon, you could ever need in addition to all the upgrades you could expect from an MMO. Unfortunately, because it uses Amazon Web Services, the servers are often flaky, resulting in an inconsistent online experience. Get past that, however, and you’re in for a treat as Firefall balances the best of both worlds, shooters and MMOs.
You can now get Spelunky on all sorts of platforms – it’s pretty high-profile for an indie title. But it began its life PC-exclusive, and its original ‘non HD’ Classic version you can still get for free today.
The catch is that every time you play, the entire game is randomized. In one game you’ll stumble through screen after screen of spiked horrors and swarming monsters; in the next, the software will bend over backwards to give you gold and help you on your way.
You learn how each randomized world ticks and which equipment will give you a fighting chance. And then you’ll die some more. And scream. And restart. Again.
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As an MMO, Neverwinter sets a high standard for itself as it’s based on perhaps the most iconic role-playing game of all-time, Dungeons & Dragons. Like everything else in the Dungeons and Dragons universe, the game takes place in Forgotten Realms, specifically, as the name suggests, in Neverwinter.
Featuring eight character classes with groups of up to five players supported, Neverwinter is based on the fourth-generation rules of Dungeons & Dragons. However, the rules are slightly modified, letting players heal their allies in addition to allowing for the use of special abilities in combat after racking up enough action points. And, if you’d rather play on a console, you’ll be pleased to know Neverwinter is currently out on Xbox One with a PS4 release slated for Summer 2016.
38. Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun
Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun got a bad rap at its original release back in 1999. It was too slow and buggy, people said, but many of the issues were patched out. If you remember turning your nose up, it’s time to take another look.
EA made the game freeware to celebrate the release of Command & Conquer 4 back in 2010. It didn’t work too well – C&C 4 hardly resurrected the brand.
In standard EA fashion, Tiberian Sun is no longer widely available from Origin, the EA Steam equivalent, but you can still find the freeware installer package for the game and its expansion online.
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39. Spiral Knights
Many free-to-play (F2P) gamers (even we) look to RuneScape as one of the most storied, revered online games, and they’re absolutely right. However, I doubt many of those folks have played Spiral Knights from developer Three Rings and Sega.
Available both in your browser and through Steam, think of Spiral Knights as a massively multiplayer The Legend of Zelda – and you and your comrades are each unique little Links. It’s your job to dig deeper and deeper through a series of isometric dungeons to find a secret – any secret – that will get you and your people off of this planet.
Frankly, it’s a crazy fun, low-impact romp of hacking your way through dungeons teeming with monsters and puzzles that will require some friends to enjoy to the fullest. Plus, it’s five years old and still going strong with updates, so that’s a good sign.
40. Puzzle Pirates
Most MMOs let you say what you want in your own native tongue. Not Puzzle Pirates. This adorably decorated MMO, like its title suggests, is about solving puzzles as a pirate. And, rather than asking your first mate, "What’s up?", you’re encouraged to use phrases like "Yarr, matey!" Otherwise, you might end up walking the plank.
In the game, you can join a crew, improve your rank and more all while speaking pirate lingo and developing new relationships. Fundamentally, you’re on the search for currency from enemy ships known as "pieces of eight." However, less expected is that in order to achieve that, you’ll need to solve puzzles in order to sail and protect your crew’s ship.
To be over thirteen years old, Puzzle Pirates still holds up… unless you want it on iPad, as the developer (Three Rings Design) announced back in 2013 that it would stop supporting Apple’s tablet platform. Now you can get the multiplayer portion of Puzzle Pirates for free on Steam; a single-player mode no longer exists because of the discontinuation of the CD-ROM version of the game. Nevertheless, at least there’s no reason to pirate it.
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The question of whether games are art or not is a dull debate that has raged on for years. But making you terrified from one minute to the next is an art in itself. An art Slender has down.
Although it’s just a simple 3D exploration jaunt where you look for eight pages seemingly scribbled by the Slender Man’s victims, this game is terrifying. Our monster in this little slice of horror is a tall faceless man who stalks you, hunts you.
Set in a dark forest with nothing but a flashlight to keep you company, if this doesn’t give you chills, nothing else on this list will. Once you’ve completed the Eight Pages, you can also check out the slightly beefier horror-adventure Slender: The Arrival. It’s not free, but is a good way to test your nerve.
42. Dwarf Fortress
Inspiring the creation of Minecraft was no small feat for 2D sandbox game Dwarf Fortress. Dubbed a construction and management simulator, Dwarf Fortress takes simple text-based graphics into a more modern, 2006 piece of software. The game is often classified as a cult classic because of its open-ended nature and serving as one of the most iconic examples of a procedurally generated roguelike.
This means Dwarf Fortress both randomizes its environments and makes the game’s permadeath system a much more difficult problem to avoid. This led to the unofficial slogan for the game "Losing is fun," which was either ironic or an accurate description of what happens in the game. Tough to say either way.
One thing’s for sure, though. If you want to experience an important part of games history, Dwarf Fortress is a solid start, as it was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City back in 2013. Can’t say that for a lot of free-to-play games.
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43. Digital: A Love Story
Remember the excitement of logging into your first BBS? What if you’d found something more than just files and chatter and naked pictures of assorted Star Trek actresses?
To explain Digital: A Love Story would be giving away too much, so let’s just say that it’s a great nostalgia trip with a bit of future-gazing thrown in for free. Played out entirely on 1988-style bulletin boards, it starts when you respond to an email from a lonely sounding girl called Emilia.
The relationship plays out as a hacker’s romance as you jump between BBS systems to uncover a conspiracy, mostly interacting by firing off emails to the characters. You never get to see what you’ve said, only the responses, which adds an unusual but effective disconnect to the conversations.
It’s not a long game – only an hour or so of action at most – but it’s a testament to the writing that you quickly get sucked into what is basically just typing out a lot of phone numbers. The authentic sounding music and sound effects help: the sweet siren song of a modem connecting still sends a chill down the spine.
Nothing more than a simple numbers game, 2048 is an addictive way to pass time. Whether on the bus, at home or even at work (we won’t tell), 2048 requires nothing more than basic math skills and an knowledge of the divisors of the four numbers in its title: two, zero, four and eight.
Sliding numbers into each other results in adding them together with the ultimate goal of getting these four numbers lined up consecutively, from left to right. Sure, it sounds easy in prospect, but spend no more than a few minutes with 2048 and you’ll be frustrated by just how quickly you were outsmarted. Unless you master it instantly, in which case tell us how you did it.
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The Valve version of Portal, where you use a teleporting gun to get a boiler-suit clad man through a series of levels, has been reimagined as a completely free 2D version right in your browser.
Anyone that played the original copy will be thrilled by the free online rehash and find themselves wiling away the hours using the trusty portal gun to try and complete what is a simple concept but at the same time fiendishly difficult.
Old Game Boy games port extremely well to browsers and the building blocks game of yesteryear is no exception. Tetris works on the same premise as its much older sibling albeit with a splash of colour and you’ll surprise yourself by how easy it still is.
That’s until the blocks start stacking up and before you know it, it’s game over. There’s no elaborate back story to Tetris except that it’s about making sure you eliminate the bricks before they stack up. Surely there’s metaphor in there somewhere?
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Where Nintendo GameBoy games do well online, the same can be said for the ones that used to be magically built into tables like Asteroids. Nothing has changed from the old version of Asteroids to this one with the aim still to break up the pieces of rock using your spacecraft and to avoid being destroyed by UFOs.
The arrow keys make it even easier to play than with a sticky joystick and buttons that have been scarred by years of spilled beers.
48. 18 Hole Crazy Golf
Crazy golf doesn’t just have to be something reserved for seaside outings thanks to the quirky 18 Hole Crazy Golf.
The levels start off very easy but get progressively harder so that you’re attempting to get past all manner of obstacles including bunkers with nothing more than a trusty putter and golf ball. There’s really nothing more to it than that.
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49. Mortal Kombat
Makes no bones about it. The original Mortal Kombat set a standard along with Street Fighter for the fighting genre and it’s the fully old school version of Mortal Kombat that you will find here.
Anyone that played Mortal Kombat way back when will recognise the soundtrack and the character names of Scorpion, Sub Zero et al. No fancy graphics have been added at all and the game feels slightly slow these days but nostalgia-wise this title still holds significant value.
50. Total War Battles Kingdom
Real-time Strategy (RTS) games don’t come much grander than those in the Total War series, and the latest entrant, Battles Kingdom, is free-to-play. Currently in open beta on the PC, it’s also available to play on iOS and Android, so you can pick up where you left off when you’re away from your battlestation. Set at the turn of the 10th Century, Battles Kingdom combines army management with kingdom building to deliver a bite-sized RTS game you can pick up and play anywhere, anytime.
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