By now, you’ve hopefully hopped on the social distancing train. As so many experts have suggested, it’s one of the best tactics for slowing the spread of covid-19. One possible side effect of social distancing is that you might find yourself with an uncontrollable urge to play a lot of video games. Thing is, playing a ton of new games can run up a huge tab. Sixty bucks for a new title here, sixty bucks for an annual online service there—it adds up, quickly.
But you needn’t break the bank in the name of gaming. There are plenty of great ways to play games that don’t cost a penny. And there’s no better time to give them a try than while you’re hunkering down. We’ve gone ahead and rounded up some of the best options around.
Of course, it’s impossible to catch all the free offerings on the internet, so we could use a hand from you. If we missed any worthy free games, call them out in the comments. We’ll update this article regularly as more games lose their price tags—and as these ones jack back up in price.
For those craving a throwback, Total Annihilation is free on GOG until 9:00 p.m. ET on June 7. The 1997 real-time strategy game drops players into a fascinating sci-fi world full of robots, AI hiveminds, and galactic domination. Throw in a physics engine that was bonkers for the time and an impressive crop of unit types, and you’ll understand why this one’s considered a bona fide classic. GOG is also running a summer sale at the moment, where many games are up for grabs at staggering discounts (up to 90 percent).
Chromebook owners don’t just get an effective laptop at a bargain. By making the most of Chromebook Perks, you can nab copies of great games, including Doom and Doom II, arguably the most classic of all classic shooters. You can also get Stardew Valley, the idyllic country-living RPG, and Fallout Shelter, the one Fallout game that puts you in full control of one of the franchise’s notorious vaults. Bonus: The Chromebook giveaway of Shelter includes a pack of in-game items.
The first episode of Life Is Strange, Dontnod’s coming-of-age adventure game, is free on the Microsoft Store. It’s an emotional ride. You play as Max Caufield, a senior at a private high school who’s trying to reconnect with a long-lost best friend. The twist? Max is also grappling with her newly discovered time-manipulation powers. A lot of game developers talk about choice, about how your decisions affect a game. With Life Is Strange, Dontnod really walks the walk. You never know how your choices will play out, and, more often than not, you’ll be sidelined by an unexpected outcome. It’s as if someone turned the butterfly effect into a game. If you end up liking Episode 1, the whole first season is currently on sale for $4.
Each week, PC gamers can snag free games from the Epic Games Store. The offerings can be a mixed bag, but can also be stellar. (This year alone, gamers have been able to snag Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Grand Theft Auto V, and Civilization VI.) This week features a true gem: Overcooked, the frenetic co-op cooking game. If you’ve ever played the food prep mini-game from Super Mario Party, it’s basically that, but expanded into a fully realized pressure cooker of fun. It’s free until 11:00 a.m. ET on April 2. To keep the games permanently, you complete the “purchase” option; no need to install.
The good folks at Itch.io, the indie game storefront, are maintaining a list called “Games to help you stay inside.” Most of the games on it are heavily discounted; some are discounted by 100 percent. Right now, the list is a few dozen strong. But you can find even more free games by navigating to Itch.io’s standard sale page. If you filter by “Popular,” you’ll find that the whole first page is loaded with games at the low price of zero dollars (presumably because everyone’s downloading them, since, y’know, they’re free).
GOG is also running a list of free stay-at-home games. It’s a good mix of indies and classics, but the cream of the crop (and we’ll be accepting no dissent on this matter) is Gwent: The Witcher Card Game. Toss a coin to your witcher!
You probably know what a battle royale game is by now. But, hey, just in case you don’t: A staggering amount of players, sometimes more than 100, get dropped onto a single map and gun each other down until there’s one person (or a small team) left standing. If you’ve ever seen the landmark 2000 film Battle Royale, it’s the video game version of that. Many battle royales are free-to-play, and some of the most popular ones are terrifically entertaining time sinks. There’s Apex Legends (PS4, Xbox One, PC), from the folks who made Titanfall. You could play PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Android, iOS). Fans of Call of Duty should check out Warzone (PS4, Xbox One, PC). And, of course, there’s Fortnite (available on basically everything). Pick one and load out.
PlayStation Now may be a $10-monthly service, but your first week is totally free. Sony’s games-on-demand service allows you to stream or download games from a library of more than 800 PS2, PS3, or PS4 titles. And there are some true heavy-hitters on there. Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted: Lost Legacy, for instance, are available until April 7. Control and Shadow of the Tomb Raider are on there through August 31. Don’t forget to turn off the auto-renew before the monthly price kicks in!
Yeah, yeah, it isn’t technically free, but the first month of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is just a dollar. (It’s $15 a month normally. Standard Game Pass is $10 a month.) Not only will you get access to all Microsoft first-party games—including Gears 5, The Outer Worlds, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and this month’s stellar Ori and the Blind Forest—you’ll also have access to more than 100 games from other big publishers. Try it out for a month. A dollar for more than triple-A games than you can conceivably play is a fair trade in our book. But, once again, don’t forget to turn off the auto-renew!
UPDATE 2:00 p.m. 6/5: We’ve removed Lara Croft Go, Total War: Shogun II, and XCOM, and also the PlayStation Play At Home Initiative, which has since wrapped up. In addition, we’ve updated info about free games on the Epic Games Store, GOG, and Chromebook users.
UPDATE 4:00 p.m. 4/24: We’ve removed Assassin’s Creed II and updated info about the free games on the Epic Games Store. We’ve also added XCOM 2 and Total War: Shogun 2.
UPDATE 2:00 p.m. 4/14: We’ve removed Rayman Legends and The Elder Scrolls Online—neither of which are up for grabs any more—and added Assassin’s Creed II. We’ve also updated info about the free games on the Epic Games Store and added info regarding the PlayStation Play At Home Initiative.
UPDATE 5:30 p.m., 4/2: We’ve removed Endless Legend, Mini Metro, and Child of Light—none of which are up for grabs any more—and added The Elder Scrolls Online, Monument Valley 2, Lara Croft GO, and Rayman Legends. We’ve also updated info about the free games on the Epic Games Store.
UPDATE: 1:00 p.m., 3/26: We’ve removed Alto’s Odyssey and added Mini Metro and Endless Legend. We’ve also updated info about the free games on the Epic Games Store.
UPDATE: 5:30 p.m., 3/23: We added directions on how to get Child of Light and removed the entry for Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which costs money now.