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Best free PC games on Steam 2021

Free Steam Games
Free Steam Games (Image credit: Windows Central)

The best free PC games on Steam range from competitive first-person shooters to card games; if you're just getting started with PC gaming, you can save a whole lot of money and still have a ton of fun. Some of these games get a whole lot better (with a whole lot more content) if you do pay for a "full version," but most will land you hours of enjoyment without spending anything. Here are nine of the best free PC games on Steam that will pair up nicely with the best gaming laptops, custom gaming PCs, or pre-built desktops.

Halo Infinite

Halo Infinite's multiplayer and campaign segments released separately, with the former part being free-to-play. The new Slipspace game engine is gorgeous and there's new gear to enjoy (namely the grappling hook), but you'll feel immediately at home if you've played Halo games in the past. The same frenetic action is here, all played out in a sandbox that's bigger than ever. Map design is excellent, guns feel as good as ever, and there are tons of people to play against.

The multiplayer progression has been off to a rocky start — the free-to-play aspect means money needs to be coming from a battle pass — but the developers have been tweaking things to ensure players aren't left feeling a bit sore. If you love casual multiplayer shooters with fast action, Halo Infinite should get some attention.

Destiny 2

Destiny 2's base game (without expansions) went free-to-play on PC a couple of years ago, giving everyone a shot at the storyline and PVP combat. It's a looter-shooter with RPG and MMO elements, meaning you're going to be doing a whole lot of grinding to upgrade your gear. Yes, it's still worth playing in 2021, with the developers evening out some of the grind to accommodate new players just arriving after years of game content.

Destiny 2 has three classes to choose from, each with 10 different subclasses that you can move between any time you want. The base game has a ton of content to enjoy for free, and when you reach the "end" you can choose whether or not you want to continue with paid expansions. If you love loot that comes from shoot and can get behind a sci-fi story, this is a great pick.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star Wars: The Old Republic is an MMORPG with free and paid subscription options. You can essentially carve out a story for yourself in the Star Wars universe, playing as the character you want. Whether that's a Jedi, Sith, bounty hunter, smuggler, or any other classic Star Wars role is up to you.

The Old Republic has been around for more than eight years, delivering five different expansions with a ton of extra content. Explore planets, run missions, and make meaningful decisions as you live out life in the Star Wars universe.

Path of Exile

Fans of the action RPG (aRPG) genre should pay close attention to Path of Exile, an online game that has been under constant development since its release in 2013. It's the classic tale of waking up on an island shore with nothing but rags and ending up a powerful demigod after countless hours of play. There are new leagues all the time, each with a new gimmick and gameplay loop that brings back players for another run at glory.

Instead of asking players to pay for each new update, Path of Exile makes its money off of entirely optional cosmetic upgrades. You can play all parts of the multi-act story with any one of the myriad character classes, you can collect any of the countless items of gear, and you can have fun with all your friends without spending a cent … at least unless you want to really change your look.

This is a game that will suck you in and not let you go, and it's a great way to kill time while we wait to see whether Diablo 4 is a return to aRPG greatness.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

If you mention the words "first-person shooter" (FPS) to a PC gamer, chances are they will think about Counter-Strike. Global Offensive is the latest version of the game, and it's the most-played game on Steam most of the time. It's a competitive five-versus-five shooter that's been honed down over the years to what we have now, a game that millions of people every year either play or watch. With iconic maps, iconic guns, and a steep skill curve that makes you question your own sanity, CS:GO will suck you in and not let you go until you reach Global Elite.

It was switched over to free-to-play a couple of years ago, and indeed you can have a ton of fun without spending any money. However, you can still buy a "Prime" version of the game to exclusively play with other Prime members. In any case, CS:GO makes most of its money from cosmetics, just like lots of other games in this collection. Ultimately, this is a great game for anyone who likes some classic bomb timer/hostage rescue competitive play.

World of Warships

World of Warships is a lot deeper than it might first seem (see what I did there), and I know some people who only play the game despite owning plenty of other games. It's free to play, making its money from cosmetics. This online multiplayer game plops you down in the sea and makes you fight it out against other massive ships and submarines, all from the WWI and WWII era.

There are more than 400 vessels to command and upgrade as you play, whether solo or with friends. Play PVP or PVE, and learn what it takes to keep your ship afloat. If you're not really one who goes in for fast-twitch competitive gaming, this one has more of a focus on strategy and execution than reflex.

Apex Legends

We're all still riding the Battle Royale wave, and only the best are still pulling in big numbers. Apex Legends, from Titanfall and Titanfall 2 developers Respawn Entertainment, is considered one of the best Battle Royales out there, no doubt helped along by its free-to-play structure. Like many other games, it makes most of its money from cosmetics that allow you to show off to your friends.

Apex Legends features distinct characters with different abilities and devices, and teams of three can come up with some interesting strategies to make it to the final circle. Ultimately, it will still come down to what loot you find and how well you are handling it against other teams who also want to get the elusive win. If it's a battle royale experience you want from Steam, this is the way to go.

Warframe

Warframe is a massive game, both in terms of player counts and content. Released 2013, it's been continuously expanded with new content, picking up new players along the way. You pick from one of more than 40 "Warframes" (the avatar you'll be playing as), each with different abilities that can also be customized. Pick a weapon, then head out into a huge world where you kill, kill, kill.

You can play solo in the online world, or you can team up with three other players for some group fun. There's a story to follow, but the real draw is the endless grind that MMOs are known for. Warframe is totally free, but there are cosmetics you can buy to help the developers.

Dota 2

A best free Steam games list wouldn't be complete without Dota 2. Whether negative or positive, most reviews on Steam are from players with thousands and thousands of hours of play. This is a game from the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre and is a sequel to the original Defense of the Ancients mod for Warcraft 3. You and your chosen hero join a team with four other players and face off against another team of five, each team attempting to reach and destroy an Ancient.

Each hero has a set of unique abilities, and the real draw here is teamwork and PVP combat. This game has a massive competitive following and is one of the most-played and most-watched PC games out there. It's completely free to play, with money again coming from optional cosmetics.

GWENT: The Witcher Card Game

A few years ago, there was a little game called The Witcher 3 — our pick for best PC game — that had inside a separate little game known as Gwent. Gwent, which drew its cards from the world in which it was nested, became so popular that developer CD PROJEKT RED decided to release a standalone version for free.

Whether or not you've invested in the Witcher universe, GWENT does a great job of introducing characters and their backstories. There are tons of cards to collect, craft, and upgrade, and the competition is fierce. Play online or against AI and try not to come back for just one more hand.

Brawlhalla

Being able to pay to win in an online brawler is no bueno; luckily, Brawlhalla keeps paid content to cosmetics and lets talent speak for itself. It's a cross-platform game with a huge player-base, and it mimics a lot of what makes Super Smash Bros. great. Up to eight real or AI players start on a "stage" with the goal of knocking every other player off the platform.

Characters all have special abilities, plus extra gear and weapons fall during the stage. There are tons of characters to choose from (including plenty from outside the Brawlhalla world), and the at-first simple gameplay will keep people coming back in an attempt to master it.

War Thunder

War Thunder is a bit like World of Warships in the sense that it delivers online historical battles for free, but unlike World of Warships, you can climb out of the ocean onto land and into the skies. War Thunder has more than 100 maps to play around in, with more than 2,000 tanks, ships, planes, helicopters, trucks, and more from the WWII, Cold War, and modern eras.

It included PVP and PVE gameplay, it's cross-platform with a huge player base, and it even works with VR headsets if you really want to feel like you're in the cockpit.

Cale Hunt
Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

3 Comments
  • I would like to know if there is any free steam game similar to Ori and the Blind Forest, Mario or similar games.
  • Star Trek Online is also free-to-play with all gameplay content unlocked. The space combat is addictive, and if you're already a Star Trek fan, then there's literally hours upon hours of story content to play through.
  • DotA 2 was a sequel to warcraft mod not StarCraft, wasnt it?