While Steam gets a lot of hype for discounted prices, you don’t actually have to spend any money to enjoy some of the best games the service has to offer. Over the years, Steam has accumulated a number of great games that are free-to-play, and I’m here to tell you which ones you should check out.
Some of these recommendations will be obvious, as some of Steam’s biggest games are free-to-play—so why wouldn’t I suggest them? But, I also want to make sure to tell you about some offbeat free games you might otherwise not hear about, especially when it comes to games that try something new. With that in mind, here are our top free Steam games that everyone should try.
Note: this article originally ran in 2015, but has now been updated with newer picks.
If you’re looking for a game to really sink your teeth into, Dota 2 is probably your best bet: I spent dozens of hours trying to master Valve’s MOBA, and barely scratched the surface. While your goal is straightforward—lead your creeps and team to the enemy base, so you can destroy a large structure known as the ancient—the depth and intensity that Dota 2 offers is staggering. It’s a great game for people with a competitive streak, provided you can keep your cool under pressure.
Once you notice Doki Doki Literature Club has a “psychological horror” tag on Steam, you might deduce that this isn’t nice game about an after school club. But even if you go in with that knowledge, the game still does an excellent job of getting under your skin. Breaking the fourth wall and subverting tropes aren’t new to visual novels, but DDLC isn’t just out to make you frightened, or to poke fun at visual novel conventions. It’s a deeply empathetic game that really makes you care for its characters, especially as they go through a series of horrific events.
- Gita Jackson
What started as a nondescript free-to-play shooter several years ago has managed to become one of the most engrossing multiplayer grindfests around. Warframe’s central campaign stretches across tons of different planets and missions that all combine to make a wonky space odyssey that’s irresistibly weird, like if Terry Gilliam directed a Destiny game. There’s an army of cyborg clones, mega corporations, infected mutants, and mechanical aliens, all of whom you’ll shoot, stab, or zap with space magic. Every mission (and you will play hundreds of them) is ultimately in the pursuit of collecting materials and loot for crafting ever more badass weapons. Fortunately, the game’s parkour element and fluid combat keep most of it from become too monotonous. Last year, Warframe also added the Plains of Eidolon, a big open world area where you can fish, mine, and hunt alongside other players in addition to all the usual “go kill that dude for a reward” stuff. If you ever got trapped on a desert island, this would be the game to have with you.
You might know Vlambeer thanks to games like Ridiculous Fishing, and Nuclear Throne. One of their earliest games is also on Steam, and not only is it free, it’s also damned good. Super Crate Box is an arcade-style game where you try try to rack up a high score. The twist? Your weapons are constantly randomized, which keeps you on your toes. Super Crate Box is a good choice for people looking for a simple, addictive, no-frills game that is a joy to play.
A game that puts you in the shoes of an 11 year old girl who doesn’t know how sex works, How Do You Do It? is short, sweet, and refreshingly honest.
An action RPG that mixes some of the best that games like
Diablo and Final Fantasy VII has to offer, Path of Exile is a great game that many people would probably fork over $40 bucks for. Fortunately, you don’t have to. The best part: Path of Exile continues to update, so even if you’ve played it before, it might not be a bad idea to give it another try.
Depression is not a subject that people speak openly about—but Depression Quest doesn’t pull any punches with it. Created in the style of choose-your-own-adventure games, Depression Quest is a take on what it’s like to live with depression, and the many difficulties that come with it. As you can imagine, it’s a very bleak game...but also a necessary one. Disclosure: I am friendly with the developers behind the game.
Remember the days of Windows XP and AIM? Emily Is Away is a contemplative look at the early ways in which we communicated with one another via instant messaging, told through the eyes of a guy that’s just about to graduate high school. Think of it as the video game version of 500 Days of Summer. Bonus: there’s also a sequel on Steam.
It starts out really cute, then becomes horrifying. Hope you’re ready to have a heart attack.
I first received Yume Nikki on a USB thumbstick from a friend who excitedly told me about a “wild game” where you explored dreams. It’s hard to explain how curious Yume Nikki was at the time it came out—it would be nearly eight years before the concept of walking simulators really solidified. It was an RPG where you never fought anything, a dungeon-crawl where you could get trapped in rooms.
Yume Nikki’s legacy includes games like Undertale and Lisa, wild experiments in morality and mood. It’s no exaggeration to say that certain games wouldn’t exist without Yume Nikki. It’s worth trying at least once, if only to see what the big deal was.
Secret World Legends is a free-to-play reskinning of Funcom’s 2012 MMO The Secret World. Legends streamlines the game’s clunkier bits—crafting, combat, and skills—and lets its globe-trotting story and Lovecraftian setting shine. In Secret World Legends, you play as a member of one of three secret societies facing off against supernatural horrors. The contrast between the mundane settings of coastal Maine or modern Tokyo and the newly-unleashed monsters that prowl them gives the game a unique vibe among MMOs. It’s full of memorable characters, creative puzzles to solve, and lore that makes its weird world even weirder. It’s just as fun to play solo as it is in a group, and the community is generally active and friendly. The Secret World was the first MMO I ever played, enough to give it a permanent place in my heart, and as a free-to-play game it’s worth checking out.
There are a ton of other free-to-play games on Steam, which you can check out here. But do make sure to let us know some of your personal favorites below, too!