It's that time of year: the doldrums. There are few big games on the horizon, and so we turn our attention to the best free PC games to while away the hours. Not that there's ever really a bad time to spend a relaxing Sunday afternoon trying out free games, but this season is a particularly good time to check out some cute indies or get really, really into a competitive F2P game.
There are loads of free games on PC. The biggest games in the world, like Fortnite and League of Legends. Small, thoughtful indie visual novels. Puzzle games that will make you tear your hair out in frustration and then come back a few minutes later anyway.
If you're at a loose end or are waiting for the next Steam sale to dive into a game you have to pay for up-front, check out some of our favorites below. Free games don't cost money, but they do cost your time, so we've put this guide together to protect that vital resource. Any game here you devote a few precious hours to will be time well spent.
Our guide to the best free PC games is regularly updated with new games that the PC Gamer team is playing and recommend firsthand. It's broken up into a few distinct categories, including major free-to-play games, casual free games you can pick up for an afternoon, and a selection of stone cold PC classics you can download for free (or even play in your browser).
If you're looking for free games to add to your permanent game library, make sure to check a couple of our other guides:
The best free PC games right now
The best free games: late Spring 2022
- We have a separate guide to the best games like Wordle, a style of daily puzzle game that's all the rage right now. Try Quordle for a tougher pure word game, Dungleon for a cute fantasy tile-based alternative, or Nerdle if you're a math wiz.
- Reaver - This demo for an upcoming 'boomer shooter' is a neon, arcadey kill-em-all fest with a 'rock-paper-scissors' formula applied to its weapons. The real star here is the vertical movement, which lets you wall jump to infinity (and then come crashing down with a ground pound).
- Just Act Natural - A claymation party game with bits of Werewolf/Among Us DNA, but lots of game modes that set it apart. Most modes revolve around a few players trying to pretend they're brainless NPCs, while the rest of your party snipe at them from the skies. It's silly and a perfect game for your Discord crew to kill an hour with.
- Townscaper - A delightful town-drawing game, where you simply place roads and buildings on top of the sea to create an aesthetically pleasing little city. You can get it on Steam or play a free version of it right in the browser.
The best F2P games: late Spring 2022
🖱 Lost Ark - An action-RPG MMO where you're besieging castles and battling demon clowns. Combat's always throwing hordes at you so you can carve them up with style. Surprisingly generous as a F2P game, giving you all the inventory space you need and a free mount early on.
🔫 Apex Legends - Apex has had quite a run as our battle royale of choice, and that looks to continue in season 13, which introduces new legend Newcastle. Is he Robocop, but a knight? We're excited for map changes and an overhaul to ranked playlists.
⛏ Fortnite - Still Fortnite, which means it's the same and radically different every time we look. There's a constant stream of crossovers, but the most notable addition is the no-build mode, an easier entry point if you like to focus on shooting over building sky castles.
🔮 Path of Exile - It's not the most beautiful action-RPG in the world, but by god it's deep, with endless skills to level, loot to loot, and consistent expansions that introduce new mechanics. A real "oops, there goes 1,000 hours" kind of game.
Free puzzle games
Best free PC games: Puzzle
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 friendly little 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.
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.
Free horror games
Best free PC games: Horror
No Players Online - In the spooky No Players Online, you log onto an old FPS server, 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.
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!
Best free strategy games
Best free PC games: Strategy
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 Story & Adventure games
Best free PC games: Story & Adventure
Deltarune: Chapters 1&2 - This sorta sequel to Undertale is packed with memorable characters, catchy tunes, and emotive dialogue. Chapter 2 released in 2021 and was a Big Deal for Undertale fans.
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.
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.
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.
Free action & platformer games
Best free PC games: Action & Platformers
1Boss1Battle1Button - This tough 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.
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: Chill and relaxing
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.
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 weird and funny games
Best free PC games: Comedy and Oddity
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.
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.
Best free PC games: Classics
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.