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The best free PC games in 2021

Cube Escape: The Cave
(Image credit: Rusty Lake)

When I played PC games in the '90s, I thought the shareware versions of games like Wolfenstein 3D were simply whole games. So many of the best free PC games back then were packed with levels and playable for hours and hours, even if you didn't pay to unlock the rest of the game. And there were so many secrets to find! Shareware made for some amazing demos back then, and yet today there are so many more free PC games to choose from. It's easy to find a free game to play; the only hard part, really, is deciding how to spend your time. 

This guide to the best free PC games aims to help you spend your time wisely and keep  your wallet in your pocket, and we update it with new recommendations every month.

Best of the best

Hades artwork.

(Image credit: Supergiant Games)

Best PC games: Our all-time favorites
Best laptop games: High quality for low-spec
2021 games: Everything to play this year

Up first are the best free PC games to play right now: They're the newest or the ones we're the most excited about on the PC Gamer team. We also recommend our favorite free-to-play PC games, the ones that have been updated most recently or are currently having a great season. 

Below those we have timeless recommendations: the best free PC games divided up by genre and tone, including adventure games, puzzle games, and even horror games. Jump to whatever suits your mood.

If you're looking for more free games to add to your permanent game library, make sure to check in every week on which games you can grab at no cost on the Epic Games Store and also all the temporary freebies right now available on other sites.

The best free games: July 2021

The best free PC games right now

(Image credit: Dead Idle Games)
  • Arid - A survival game that leaves you stranded in the desert after a plane crash. This student project is surprisingly well done: it really conveys the heat of the desert and has spooky caves to explore. Also mercifully light on crafting.
  • Deliver At All Costs - When you're pushed to the edge and can't stand the grueling drudgery of delivering one more package, what do you do? Start throwing packages out of your truck with the power of a cannon. At All Costs is very literal, here. Andy recommends it.
  • Blaseball - A massive sports betting simulation that nearly defies explanation, but we did try. It's still an absolute wild mess and we love it.
  • If on a Winter's Night, Four Travelers - An adventure game with damn good pixel art and a fantastic premise, exploring "the stories of four different characters in a masked ball taking place on a train in the late 1920s." All the story names here are on point, but special shout out to "The slow vanishing of Lady Winterbourne."
  • Interminal - If you, like Andy, used to enjoy hanging out in airports, you might find yourself moved by this endlessly generated, mellow terminal. Go for a walk, and daydream.
  • Loco Motive - A throwback to classic LucasArts point-and-click adventures with a great sense of humor. Solve a murder mystery aboard a train and marvel the pixel art and funny writing while you do.
  • NERTS! Online - A competitive solitaire game for up to six players. What's a Nert? I don't know. But NERTS! Online is a new version of a long-running multiplayer solitaire that the game developers at Zachtronics like so much, they made a digital version when Covid-19 meant they couldn't go into the office.

Best free PC games: Free-to-play

Best free PC games: Valkyrie from Apex Legends

(Image credit: Respawn Entertainment)

Free-to-play games

Apex Legends - Currently the hot battle royale on the block, Apex has really been on a roll since it was added to Steam, with exciting seasonal updates. An early July event brought back the train on its map World's Edge, and that train is Apex Legends at its best. As always, Apex is a great-feeling first-person shooter, with an excellent slide (you gotta love a slide) and a focus on tight three-player squads. 

Genshin Impact - Genshin may look like a more anime The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it does have similar open-ended exploration. But it's also an intense action-RPG with a ton of characters to collect, and much of the fun is assembling a powerful team with unique elemental abilities that combine in dramatic combos. Most impressive is the pace of quality updates it's gotten since launch. This is a F2P game you can keep coming back to.

Fortnite - It's Fortnite. Y'know, the massive sandbox battle royale, a game that's hosted concerts, Star Wars characters, Marvel superheroes, and so much more. Constant updates keep the world fresh, while Fortnite's combination of building and shooting gives it the competitive depth to stay engaging. It's still the battle royale that all others have to compete against.

Hearthstone - Still the digital card game to beat. Like any living online game, Hearthstone has its ups and downs, but each new expansion brings an exciting new meta to come to grips with. You can try to compete with the best and earn the rank of Legend every month, or go crazy in the anything-goes Wild mode, where years of cards are all fair play. There's also quite a good bit of singleplayer content to work through from recent expansions, if that's your preference.

Path of Exile - This is a crunchy and detailed Diablo-like with remarkably deep character development and progression systems. It's not the most beautiful action-RPG in the world, but it is engaging and rewarding in the long run. The microtransactions aren't too intrusive either, which makes this a must-try for fans of Diablo 2 and its ilk. 2021 is a great time to play, as Path of Exile has gotten what is likely its last expansion before sequel Path of Exile 2 lands in 2022.

Valorant - Riot's tactical shooter takes a direct shot at Counter-Strike: Global Offensive with a hero-driven spin. It's a fantastic competitive shooter that you can play for hours. Most heroes come for free out of the box, and the rest can be unlocked for free if you play enough.

Best free PC games: Story & Adventure

Best free games: Deltarune Chapter 1

(Image credit: Toby Fox)

Best free Story & Adventure games

The Doll Shop - Blending horror with romance, The Doll Shop transports you to a small village, which is being buried under a relentless snowfall. It tells a sinister story involving creepy handmade dolls. The art is sublime and the ending is especially memorable.

The Supper - The Supper is a dark story of revenge that brings to mind Sweeney Todd. You play as a peg-legged tavern owner, who has to serve three very special dishes to a trio of horrible pirates, who really should have checked the Food Standards rating first...

Lockheart Indigo - This is a sci-fi detective game that feels a lot like a JRPG. You’ve arrived at a vast mansion to solve the murder of its former owner, but locked doors and suspects stand in your way.

Deltarune: Chapter 1 - This sorta sequel to Undertale is packed with memorable characters, catchy tunes, and emotive dialogue despite being a fraction of its size.

Little Party - The quiet and bittersweet story of a mother trying to reconnect with her daughter. It’s a gentle and funny game about rekindling lost relationships. 

Eternal Home Floristry - The tale of a hitman who gets taken in at a flower shop while he recovers from his injuries. The game’s ability to tackle tough topics through the act of gentle flower arrangement is remarkable.

The Herbalist - A wordless adventure about a traveller searching for a mysterious herb. You wander around its strange world trying to interpret symbols, in the hope of discovering the plant you need.

Off-Peak - Stranding you at an otherworldly train station, Off-Peak encourages you to explore, talk to the locals, and luxuriate in its strange atmosphere. It’s got an incredible sense of place, despite feeling like nowhere on Earth, and as you poke around its nooks and crannies, the true nature of its world is revealed piece by piece. 

Haunted Cities - There are three volumes worth of Haunted Cities to savour. Despite the name, these aren’t really horror games – they’ve just inherited much of the atmosphere of games such as Silent Hill.

Emily is Away - Party like it’s the early-’00s in this narrative game set in a chat client. You’ll get to know fellow high school student Emily through snippets of online conversations about life, love and indie rock music. If you enjoy this, paid-for sequel Emily is Away Too is worth checking out.

Olav and the Lute - An enigmatic adventure game set in a post-apocalyptic world, with a cracking central mechanic. Rather than combining objects with other objects, you're affecting the world with a lute by plucking at its colour-coded strings.

Best free PC games: Horror

Free PC game: We Are Broken

(Image credit: Raul Felix)

Free horror games

No Players Online - In the spooky, original No Players Online, you log onto an old FPS, but where you’re the only player in a futile game of Capture the Flag.

We Are Broken - An interactive visual novel where you must talk your way out of being eaten by a vampire. We Are Broken conjures a dark and cruel world with cutting visuals and music that makes your skin crawl.

Sentient - This one’s a little Saw-esque. You’re stuck in a room and forced to obey instructions given through an old speaker. Being trapped is horrible enough, but what cranks up the creepiness factor here is the dog-flap sized hole looming in the corner of the room, darkness shrouding whatever, or whoever, is inside. 

Bleakshore - This chilling adventure uses the fuzzy, lo-fi aesthetic of PS1-era 3D graphics to create an impressively eerie atmosphere as a shadowy figure stalks you across the landscape...

Faith - Faith lures you into feeling secure—if a little jumpy—with its retro aesthetic, before it transcends its limitations in one shockingly scary moment.

David Lynch Teaches Typing - What begins as a friendly typing lesson from film director David Lynch slowly descends into a surreal, disorientating nightmare. At one point you have to touch a gross twitching bug. Great work, kiddo!

House of Abandon - This story of a person playing a text adventure takes a sinister turn. Originally standalone, it became the first episode of eerie, atmospheric adventure Stories Untold.

Chyrza - Chyrza’s brand of horror is that unsettling strangeness you get with ruined alien desertscapes and mentions of a strange and terrible pyramid. But it’s not just Chyrza.

Best free PC games: Action & Platformers

Free PC game: Spelunky Classic

(Image credit: Mossmouth)

Free action & platformer games

1Boss1Battle1Button - This challenging rhythm game pits you against a scary Picasso-faced monster, and your only hopes of survival lie with a single button. Pressing it in time with certain beats lets you jump, crouch, and dodge out of the way of oncoming attacks.

N 2.0 - In this ultra hardcore platformer with simple controls and a minimalist aesthetic, the focus is entirely on quick, precise control. And lots and lots of practice.

The Last Tango - Rhythm espionage survival. You play as two spies, dancing through a variety of deadly locations. They'll pirouette past traps, dodge under attacks, and take down enemies with an elegant twirl. And a gun.

Eggnogg+ - This is Nidhogg, but free, and with different moves, and a bit more tongue-in-cheek. Expect hyperactive duels in a series of arenas.

Cuckoo Curling - A fun four-player game that combines the rules of curling with Connect Four. An easy game to pick up and play with friends, you can play Cuckoo Curling in local or online multiplayer.

First Cut - Flashy fighting games are all well and good, but there’s something satisfying about the one-on-one sword duel, as evidenced in Square’s classic Bushido Blade. First Cut is that but in 2D, essentially, offering feudal Japan-themed duels against some truly beautiful pixel art backdrops.

Best free PC games: Strategy

Free PC game: Dwarf Fortress

(Image credit: Bay 12 Games)

Best free strategy games

Dwarf Fortress - A complex game of colony management that’s still in development 18 years after its original inception. The incredible depth of its simulation doesn’t just add depth and challenge, it allows for emergent stories to arise as you play, giving your dwarves a life of their own.

Tiny Islands - You’re drawing maps of little islands in the sea here, by placing beaches, houses, even waves as random cards are dealt out to you. But placement is everything, as every icon has its own set of rules. 

Brogue - ASCII roguelikes have a reputation for being impenetrable. Brogue, despite staying true to the genre, works hard to feel approachable. The controls make navigating its dungeons a breeze, and the elegant shading makes its symbols atmospheric and readable.

Terra Nil - Terra Nil begins at the ultimate end of civilisation, letting you breathe life back into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. In this relaxing, therapeutic anti-builder, you construct devices to cleanse the earth, and to regrow green plants and trees.

Best free PC games: Chill and relaxing

Free PC game: Lieve Oma

(Image credit: Florian Veltman)

Best free chill games

Toripon - You’re stuck inside your flat, thankfully with company. Instead of friends, your companions here are loads and loads of birds. Don’t look a gift parakeet in the mouth. Just sit back and explore your apartment, examining every nook and every crevice for your feathered friends.

Bernband - You’re an alien in an alien city, going for a nice walk. Flying cars BladeRunner past as you cross a bridge, someone’s rapping in the corner of the car park, and every crowd hubbubs away. Despite the four-fingered hands and alien aviary, it feels like a real city. A real chill city.

Lieve Oma - Lieve Oma takes you on a relaxing jaunt through an autumnal wood on the hunt for mushrooms. As you scamper around, your granny follows slowly behind, teaching you about which mushrooms are okay to eat and teaching you her humble life lessons.

Forest Are For Trees - Walking through the forest is something that takes on new meaning in this mind-expanding exploration game, which is small and possibly infinite all at once. It’s a walking sim, sort of, where you traipse around an eerie woodland. But something funny happens when you make contact with a tree. Inside every tree there’s another forest full of ghostly trees.

Best free PC games: Puzzle

Free PC game: Cube Escape: The Cave

(Image credit: Rusty Lake)

Free puzzle games

Transmute! - Play as a wizard who can transform into different objects. You might turn into a key to open a lock, or a boat to sail the open sea. And you’ll do so to unlock a gorgeous, friendly fantasy world.

Mirror Isles - No list of puzzle games is really complete without a PuzzleScript game from Alan Hazelden, and Mirror Isles is one of the very best. It’s a top-down, Sokoban-style puzzler where you have to hop between islands, by using magic mirrors to swap places with your reflection.

Cube Escape - There’s a strange atmosphere to developer Rusty Lake’s series of locked room puzzle games. Getting out of each one will test your brain, but you’ll be even more taxed trying to figure out what’s going on in their bizarre universe.

Corrypt - What starts as a relatively simple block-pushing game ends as one where you’ll reshape the world, by using magic to reprogram the state of the environment.

Counterfeit Monkey - Words are great, aren’t they? They hold power over the world—literally, even, in this text-based puzzle game. You come equipped with a letter remover, which allows you to change the items around you, by deleting a single letter from their names.

Naya's Quest - Naya's Quest was made by VVVVVV and Super Hexagon creator Terry Cavanagh. In case you were wondering: Yes, it is bastard hard, just less stressful on your reflexes. It's an isometric puzzle-platformer about a girl and her pilgrimage to the edge of the world.

The Republia Times - You're the editor of a newspaper in a totalitarian state in this game from the creator of Return of the Obra Dinn. Each day you must choose which stories to run and how much space to give them, impacting your paper's popularity and the government's approval with the general populace. Smart and cynical.

Best free PC games: Comedy and Oddity

Free PC game: Everything Is Going To Be Okay

(Image credit: Alienmelon)

Best weird and funny games

Everything Is Going To Be Okay - Vividly animated creatures deal with existential horror and pain—and are alarmingly sanguine about it—in this cathartic collection of minigames, videos, and quizzes. It’s overwhelming, just as life can be overwhelming. But it’s refreshing for a game to deal with that fact. 

Pet the Pup at the Party - You’ve run out of small talk at a rambunctious house party and before anyone notices how awkward you are, you must find a pooch and pet it.

Head Over Hooves: My Heart Bleats For You - An apocalyptic dating sim where you must make a goat fall in love with you and then sacrifice it to save the world from eternal damnation.

Alfonso's Bowling Challenge - This sort-of sports game swerves away from its premise quickly, building on its strange version of bowling until you’re making breakfast and chopping hair with your bowling ball. 

Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, And The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist - This team-up of The Stanley Parable creator William Pugh and stand-up comedian Simon Amstell takes you on a hilarious journey behind the scenes of a game falling apart at the seams.

The Book Of Beasts and Buddies - An interactive monster manual filled with curious creatures. Each page throws you into a brief Pokémon-inspired encounter, and through interacting with them you can gather your findings for the bestiary.

Cooldog Teaches Typing - There are plenty of educational game parodies, but only one features a chihuahua-looking thing as the teacher. If you learned to type by having a teacher shout at you, you’ll appreciate the gentler methods of Cooldog.

Stick Shift - As creator Robert Yang says, "Stick Shift is an autoerotic night-driving game about pleasuring a gay car." It’s part of an anthology with Hurt Me Plenty and Succulent, covering eroticism, politics and more. Stick Shift is funny while also offering food for thought.

Skeal - Recommending Skeal is a tough job because the absolute best experience is to go in with zero idea of what to expect. To that end, it’s a downhill skiing experience which becomes transcendental the longer you ski and the more reveals you trigger as the jape unfurls.

Best free PC games: Classics

(Image credit: No One Lives Forever)

Free classic games

StarCraft - These days Blizzard sells a shiny remaster, but if the original’s good enough for South Korea, it’s good enough for us. There’s a reason that even today it’s an esports sensation – this iconic RTS remains a triumph of tight strategy and intense competition, with an incredible amount of depth for devotees to get lost in.

The Dark Mod - A tribute to the Thief series, this standalone game lets you download a massive variety of user-made stealth levels, from tightly contained ones like Thief’s Den to the more open variety of Return to the City, and plenty of spooky ones like The Creeps.

The Operative: No One Lives Forever - The classic stealth FPS, never re-released thanks to licensing hell. Its clever humour and charming 1960s setting hold up nicely, as do the arsenal of goofy, Bond-esque gadgets at your disposal. That includes lipstick bombs, sleeping gas perfume, and a briefcase rocket launcher.

The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall - 1996's Elder Scrolls sequel was huge and ambitious, letting you explore High Rock and Hammerfell. A lot of series staples, like joining the Mages Guild, started here.

Beneath a Steel Sky - This point-and-click adventure features art by Watchmen’s Dave Gibbons, a twisty sci-fi story, and a really goofy sense of humour. One of its neatest ideas is how you can stick your AI pal Joey’s electronic brain into different mechanical robots to solve puzzles.

The MS-DOS Archive.org library - A collection of thousands of classic, free PC games playable in your browser. The MS-DOS collection on Archive.org contains more than 4,000 games, all emulated and easy to play in just a few seconds. Wolfenstein 3D, Prince of Persia, Jazz Jackrabbit, Carmen Sandiego... you could spend a lifetime of lunch breaks in here. But then you might starve.

Hey folks, beloved mascot Coconut Monkey here representing the collective PC Gamer editorial team, who worked together to write this article!