Welcome to our roundup of the best free PC games you can put on your hard drive. This collection mostly includes our favorite browser games and free downloads, but towards the end you will also find a section dedicated to good free-to-play games. These contain microtransactions that we judge to be fair and reasonable, and they're great games too.
We've categorised this collection under a few headings. In classics you will find great old PC games that have since been released as free downloads. In exploration you will find some beautiful worlds to explore. In the story section we've stashed some smart, imaginative interactive fiction. Comedy and horror speak for themselves. Replayable games include brilliant roguelikes such as the original Spelunky, and strange and surprising is where everything else lives. Let's start with some legendary computer games that you can download right now, no strings attached.
BEST CLASSIC FREE PC GAMES
Link: Blizzard store
Two decades after it was first released, Blizzard now offers its strategy space opera free of charge. The bundle also brings you the Brood War expansion’s fresh crop of campaigns, tilesets, units and upgrade advancement. One of the longest-serving games on the esports circuit, the pro scene is largely over for StarCraft, but the top players can still make a few bob in the tournaments that remain. That means in addition to being a free game, you could pump up your actions-per-minute and earn an infinite return on your zero investment. PC Gamer: offering sound careers advice since 1993.—Philippa Warr
The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall
Link: Daggerfall official site
Boasting a 63,000 square mile map, Daggerfall is an enormous RPG set in the Breton homeland of High Rock. It features many elements that remain in the Elder Scrolls series today, including guilds, enchanting and a reputation system. It’s not as accessible as Skyrim, but fans will get a kick out of exploring an early version of Tamriel.—Andy Kelly
If you want to drown in nostalgia, head here. There you’ll find the Internet Archive’s MS-DOS software library, which offers thousands of DOS games, all playable through your browser. Maxis’s original SimCity is on there, letting you bring housing and commerce to a land of chunky ’80s pixels.—Phil Savage
Tribes: Ascend dev Hi-Rez has released every Tribes game for free. If you’re after a singleplayer experience, try Irrational’s Tribes: Vengeance. But for frenetic multiplayer, it’s Tribes 2 that you want. The unofficial patch at TribesNext.com will get you up and running.—Phil Savage
Beneath a Steel Sky
Developed by Revolution, best known for Broken Sword, this dystopian point-and-click adventure was co-created with Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. It’s an enjoyable adventure, with clever puzzles that make use of the hero’s body-switching robotic sidekick.—Andy Kelly
Link: FreeCiv site
First released on PC over 20 years ago, this open source turn-based strategy game is heavily inspired by Civilization. Available in 33 languages, running on pretty much every OS under the sun, for no cost at all, it’s no surprise the game has been wildly successful.—Andy Kelly
BEST FREE PC GAMES ABOUT EXPLORATION
Link: These Monsters site
These Monsters offers an intensely colourful art gallery and monster experience. You explore a structure littered with TVs and pictures of beasts. If you’d prefer procedurally generated artists try Secret Habitat and if you’d prefer to be the artist go with Joy Exhibition.—Philippa Warr
Still images don’t do Bernband justice. In a screenshot it’s blocky and confusing, but in motion it turns into a future city, complete with hovercars and seedy drinking establishments. While you investigate, your arms waggle and your feet clip clop delightfully.—Philippa Warr
Link: Mobius Digital Games
Though still not released as a full game, Outer Wilds has been attracting attention for years. It’s already won two IGF awards, including the Seumas McNally Grand Prize. The alpha for this delightful first-person space exploration game drops you into a little solar system that’s stuck in a time loop and leaves you to choose what you do with that time. I remember hopping from planet to planet before discovering that trying to land on the sun was a bad idea. Even though this build is presumably out of step with the main game, it’s replete with little surprises and mysteries to uncover.—Philippa Warr
Off-Peak is like visiting a scrapbook made from a jazz fusion dream. It’s a strange but brilliant space, furnished with all manner of oddities. There’s the former viola player who now treats his ramen counter as a string section, and the whale which hangs in the main space, dwarfing everything else as you steal pizza slices far below.—Philippa Warr
Orchids to Dusk
Pol Clarissou’s contemplative alien landscape experience is more at the meditating end of the exploration spectrum than the clicking end. All you can do is guide your character around the world for a few minutes as your oxygen runs out. Will you head for a distant oasis, or settle down in the sand as you brace yourself for the end?—Philippa Warr
BEST FREE STORY PC GAMES
A Raven Monologue
I t’ll take you less time to play this textless tale than it will take for me to write here why you should. It’s a tiny storybook about a raven interacting with villagers while a bittersweet song loops. It’s easiest to think of A Raven Monologue as a short, sharp burst of emotion, not a million miles away from one of those pre-movie Pixar shorts in terms of its impact. Mechanically speaking, your only interaction is moving back and forth between the wonderfully illustrated panels, but there’s an ambiguity to the tale which means that puzzling out your own interpretation of events is a significant part of the action.—Philippa Warr
I ’m only partway through Butterfly Soup myself but it’s here because of the heartfelt nature of the recommendations that caused me to pick it up. When a game causes people to email me saying that the way it represents Asian-ness and identity is relatable in a way no other piece of media has achieved for them, that’s worth celebrating.—Philippa Warr
Link: Birdland site
B irdland is a Twine game which marries a deliciously bizarre series of weird bird dreams at summer camp with a coming-of-age story. You play as Bridget and must attend odd classes by day and navigate bird interrogations by night. These sections intertwine with dream decisions, changing your character stats and options.—Philippa Warr
Emily Short’s interactive fiction game strips out many of the verbs associated with the genre. Instead, the action is centred on a single in-depth conversation. It’s a modern retelling of the Greek myth of the same name, featuring a detailed dialogue system.—Phil Savage
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.—Phil Savage
BEST FREE COMEDY PC GAMES
A musical adventure game bursting with jokes. This Yorkshire-set point-and-click game is fully voiced so you can enjoy that regional accent to the fullest. You play a curmudgeon called Steggy who is on a mission to ruin Mandatory Singing Day with a song that will destroy the competition. It's only a few screens large, but it's full of quirky characters and a few lovely tunes.
Dog of Dracula 2
Set after the condiment prohibition of a now-overthrown tyrant, and with the world now largely jacked into the cyberbahn, Dog of Dracula 2 takes you into the seamy, neon world of Nuevo Tokyo. Follow the tale of a friendship gone awry—of your link to a little pup in a Dracula cape who’s sporting a green mohican and a range of cyber implants. The text spits out lines like, “The neon glow of her e-cig illuminates her rain-stained onesie,” and your orange-suited avatar can peer at USB ramen before entering a dive bar containing pastries of easy virtue. Dog of Dracula 2 dives headfirst into ’90s pop culture references and fantastically daft cyberpunk tropes with nothing less than total commitment.—Philippa Warr
Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden
Link: Tales of Games
Neo New York is reeling from the devastation of a Chaos Dunk. Falsely accused of the crime, former NBA player Charles Barkley is on the run from Michael Jordan. This is the basis for an absurd JRPG that delights in sending up the genre’s tropes.—Phil Savage
Link: 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.—Philippa Warr
Murder Dog IV: Trial of the Murder Dog
The Murder Dog is on trial at the Hague for crimes against humanity. You, the Murder Dog, are definitely guilty, but court proceedings and the in-game legal system mean that there’s still the chance of a not guilty verdict. You can dispute accounts, call witnesses and eat evidence as you try to wiggle out of a death sentence.—Philippa Warr
Icarus Proudbottom's World of Typing Weekly
Link: Holy Wow Studios
There’s something inherently satisfying about typing, even if you’re just copying sentences on your screen as fast as possible—maintaining accuracy to build up a gauge that lets you activate multipliers for points. This arcade tapping is played over a hilarious episodic mystery featuring a robot detective and a spirit owl.—Phil Savage
BEST FREE HORROR PC GAMES
Cry of Fear
A Half-Life total conversion from 2012, Cry of Fear is impressive for the sheer number of things it tries to do with the aging GoldSrc engine. It doesn’t take place in a series of grey, blocky corridors, for one thing (rather, a grey, blocky city), and it even boasts a basic inventory system. It’s a game about running from spasmodically jerking not-humans as you explore and solve puzzles and generally feel bad about your situation. It’s scary, primarily due to jump scares but also because of its relentless tension. Despite some rough edges, this is an ambitious eight or so hours of quality horror.—Phil Savage
Slender: The Eight Pages
Based on the internet legend of the Slender Man, this horror was catapulted to notoriety by shrieking YouTubers. It involves wandering a dark wood collecting pages, avoiding Slendy, and its claustrophobia makes it genuinely difficult to endure.—Andy Kelly
My Father's Long, Long Legs
Link: Correlated Contents
Michael Lutz weaves a disturbing tale of a father with an obsession for digging the ground beneath the family home. The pacing and tension ensure that you’re gripped until the very end, never quite knowing where it’s leading you.—Philippa Warr
Link: Umbrella Isle
Created for a contest with the theme Public Access Television, 2:22AM encapsulates that guilt when you’ve stayed up too late and ended up on the odd channels. The world feels weird and there’s a headache building behind your eyes as you dig a grave or fry an egg.—Philippa Warr
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. You can still play it for free by heading to the Steam page and clicking “Download PC Demo”.—Phil Savage
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. Kitty Horrorshow’s back catalogue thrums with eerie and creepy experiences.—Philippa Warr
BEST FREE REPLAYABLE PC GAMES
Link: Spelunky World
There’s a good chance you know what Spelunky is. The paid-for remake was PC Gamer’s 2013 GOTY and a sequel is in the works. But 2009’s original is still free and worth playing. It’s a dungeon platformer that tasks you with collecting gold and gems as you plunge deeper into a dangerous subterranean world. You’ll die a lot, but as you do you’ll learn to avoid each bat’s awkward approach angle, or to not jump in front of the obvious traps. Then you’ll clear the caves and emerge into a jungle, where you’ll start dying again.—Phil Savage
Link: Bay 12 Games
This is almost certainly the most ambitious game on this list. Dwarf Fortress can be played as either a management sim or an adventure roguelike, letting you carve out your place in the procedurally generated world, or just explore it. The community-created graphics packs can help you make sense of its interface.—Phil Savage
The Dark Mod
Link: The Dark Mod
Don’t let the name fool you. While originally a total conversion for Doom 3, The Dark Mod is now a standalone tribute to the Thief games. A healthy community has crafted a library of levels set in a variety of dark towns. From one-off missions to multi-part campaigns, if you’re looking for recommendations, check out our round-up.—Phil Savage
Double Action: Boogaloo
Link: Double Action Boogaloo
Is it enough to just kill your foe? Far better to gun them during a slow-mo dive off a balcony. That’s the joy of Double Action: Boogaloo, an action shooter with acrobatics and bullet time that somehow works as an online deathmatch.
Link: Brogue game
A SCII 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.—Phil Savage
Giraffes Volleyball Championship 2016
Taking place in the distant past of 2016, this game allows you, a waggly-legged ruminant, to showcase your staggering ability to head a ball over a net. Or to gaze into the abyss of inadequacy as you fail time and time again. Either way.—Philippa Warr
BEST STRANGE AND SURPRISING FREE PC GAMES
Link: Cyberpet Graveyard
Unleash a gaggle of adorable, squiggly mini-pets on your desktop. Cyberpet Graveyard has a lot of components. There's a text adventure, there are text files containing scraps of lore, and windows where your pets live. Considered together, these elements combine to tell a story about the little creatures bouncing around your computer. Sweet, dark, and funny.
A Museum of Dubious Splendors
A Museum of Dubious Splendors is both a storybook and exhibition space. It elevates objects by supersizing them, by connecting them to the game’s collection of tales, by putting them in a museum space, by making them beautiful and weird, dangling in space. It’s part of Studio Oleomingus’s bigger project; a narrative experiment called Somewhere. The drip-feed of its facets illuminates a search for the mythical city of Kayamgadh. Studio Oleomingus offers a vibrant world of uncertain fictions and exploration. It might be the most exciting studio in game development right now.—Philippa Warr
Prepare yourself for an unsettling journey into a world of gym people trapped in some sort of gym purgatory. In this RPG you and your competing muscle men have to dangle-walk from vast ceilings, traversing between points of respite where you can recharge your stamina. Other gymgoers will put you down and try to kick you to your death in the infinite darkness below. Can you survive their taunts and master muscle world?
At first, Frog Fractions appears to be an insipid edutainment game about a frog that’s trying to teach you maths. But as you unlock new upgrades, things become surreal, until you finally break out into weirder and more inventive adventures. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on what it actually is, it turns into something new.—Phil Savage
Steve Howse’s multiplayer browser game smooshes Snake and Agar.io together. Your task is to grow the longest worm on the server. Outmanoeuvring opponents, especially when they have you caught in their own trails is incredibly satisfying. Turning into pellets when you coast from that success straight into another snake is less so. PW
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.—Philippa Warr
Link: Universal Paperclips
When you start, you have zero paperclips. Creating new ones is laborious, but… well, I won’t ruin the surprise. Like Cookie Clicker, it starts as a game about making a number bigger, but turns into something far more sinister.—Phil Savage
BEST STRANGE AND SURPRISING FREE PC GAMES
It’s worth digging through the entire Arcane Kids catalogue. Its manifesto—“Make the games you wish to see on the Dreamcast”—informs its anarchic output, and has resulted in such oddities as Bubsy 3D and the unsettling Sonic Dreams Collection. But my favourite remains student project Zineth—a skate-’em-up that pays homage to Jet Set Radio. Traversal feels great, as you jump, grind and wall-run your way to uncontrollable speeds, rewinding time whenever you make a mistake. The memorable soundtrack and abrasive, cel-shaded aesthetic serve to enhance Zineth’s unique sense of style.—Phil Savage
Tangentially related to Night in the Woods, Lost Constellation is an adventure about an astronomer who journeys through a forest to see ghost of her dead lover. The tone will be familiar to fans of Night in the Woods, as will its mix of warmth and melancholy.—Phil Savage
Dziff’s interactive sketchbook leaves you to explore a watercolour world just beyond a little train station. Wander amongst the flamingos or lily pads, or head on over to the big greenhouse and take a peep inside. When the sun sets you’ll be scooted back to the station and sent on your way.—Philippa Warr
Link: Google Doodle
Google Doodles transform the company’s logo on its search page. Sometimes it’s a still image to highlight a holiday or memorable event, but plenty have interactive elements, becoming games and toys. These seed games into people’s lives in a way that’s different from purposely going to a gaming site. You went to look up a recipe for banana loaf and suddenly you’re solving a Rubik’s cube. Or you wanted to find out what’s so great about yachts and now a cricket minigame has ruined your productivity. These are games as unexpected delights, rather than sought-out distractions.—Philippa Warr
Google Earth VR
Link: Google Earth
While VR is yet to hold my interest, there are a few free experiences worth seeking out. Chief among them is Google Earth VR, which lets you fly across the world, sticking your nose into its satellite maps. It also incorporates Street View—letting you stand in front of a static, 3D image of your house from the comfort of your actual house.—Phil Savage
Link: Twisted Insurrection
It’s Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, but better. This is a standalone game that adds new buildings and units, and features completely new campaigns. It’s a treat for fans, taking a lesser-loved entry and turning it into something essential.—Phil Savage
This began life as a mashup of Hotline Miami and Superhot called Superhotline Miami—a top-down shooter where time only moves when you do. It inspired its creator to push the concept further, making an original game with a cool, minimalistic art style.—Andy Kelly
Link: Made Real Stories
In this award-winning text adventure, you play as a lifeform captured by Blind Ones, (or humans, as we humans would call us). It excels by asking you to take the role of a creature you don’t understand, manipulating creatures it doesn’t understand.—Phil Savage
David Lynch Teaches Typing
Featuring a fantastic impression of the director, this is not a game about teaching you typing. It uses its premise to confound you in a number of clever ways, and pays homage to David Lynch’s love of messing around with your head.—Andy Kelly
BEST FREE TO PLAY GAMES
All the games in the list so far have been completely free. The following games are supported by in-game microtransactions or paid-for updates. In this category we have chosen games that offer a lot of entertainment without having to pay anything.
Fortnite Battle Royale
This phenomenally successful third-person shooter throws 100 players into a map and shrinks the borders of the playable area until only one individual, or team, is victorious. Once you've parachuted in you need to raid buildings and loot chests for weapons. You can also build structures anywhere you like. The best players are able to build and battle at the same time in remarkable shows of dexterity.
Link: Dota 2 site
The sequel to the Defence of the Ancients WarCraft 3 mod is one of the biggest games on Steam. Two teams of five pick from a huge roster of heroes and fight to smash each other's ancients. It's one of the most intense competitive games around, and features a cosmetics-only microtransaction system.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Link: Hearthstone site
An outstanding, dangerously moreish digital card game. Regular events and card drops keeps the meta bubbling. The density of the card collection available is daunting but you can keep up with our round-up of the best legendary cards.
Link: Warframe site
You play a sci-fi ninja in this third-person co-op action game. Warframe has been quietly growing in popularity as new updates and challenges have been added. The game has even gained massive open world zones in addition to the many, many missions that make up its planet-hopping campaign.
League of Legends
Link: League of Legend site
Two teams of five battle across three lanes in this colourful MOBA. Summoner's Rift provides lengthy, intense competition, but you can also jump into the Howling Abyss for some All Random All Mid action.
Team Fortress 2
Link: Team Fortress 2 site
We gave it a massive score of 96 when it was released in 2011, and that was before loads of new modes and maps were added. It's a team shooter with a timeless Pixar-esque aesthetic. The cosmetics have gone wild in recent years but a close game of payload is still a magnificent thing. The nine distinct classes are varied but beautifully balanced.
World of Tanks
Link: World of Tanks site
This long-running team-based tank combat game successfully adapts traditional FPS modes to a much larger scale. It's much more accessible that traditional tank sims, but the unlock process can be quite a grind, so expect to spend money at some point for premium boosters.
Path of Exile
Link: Path of Exile site
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.
Link: EVE Online site
CCP's atmospheric space MMO is one of the best story generators on PC. It dropped the monthly subscription fee a long time ago so if you like space, betrayal, and some of the biggest multiplayer battles ever seen in a game, this is your next download. To access all of the skills you will need to sub at some point, but there's a huge amount of game on offer before you get there.