Want to play great games without paying a single cent? Then you have two options. You can either take the illegal route and pirate the latest and greatest titles or you can stay within the law and settle for free-to-play games, freebie deals, and giveaways.
This sounds like a massive compromise but it really isn’t. Free games these days can be pretty darn good, and there are enough of them that you won’t run out of games to try any time soon. Not to mention that some AAA games from 5–10 years ago and now available for free as well.
Will you be able to download mainstream games like Civilization VI, Grand Theft Auto V, or Dark Souls III for free? No, probably not. But I guarantee that you’ll find at least one legally-free game using the sites below that you’ll enjoy.
Steam is the go-to destination for digital games. Even though the customer support can be somewhat crappy and you’re banking on the hope that Steam will be around for years to come, many users feel that the massive selection and constantly-updated library are worth the risks.
For free games, stick to the Free to Play section. You can filter by genre, by category, by features, and by operating system. You can also view by New Releases, Most Popular, and Coming Soon. Or you can narrow it down with a search term.
As of this writing, the Free to Play section on Steam has just shy of 1,700 games. Even if you only gave each game one hour of your time, that’d still amount to 70 full days of entertainment! And a lot of these games are fantastic, including Paladins, Brawlhalla, Duelyst, Path of Exile, and Warframe among others.
You can also check out the Demos section of Steam, which currently has over 1,300 demo games that you can try out to see if the full game is worth spending money on.
Up until the renaissance that occured sometime in the late 2000s, indie games had a reputation for being short, buggy, ugly, and not very compelling. They were good as filler games that you’d play to kill time when you couldn’t play “real” games, but that was about it.
Nowadays, indie games are some of the best games around. Think about Undertale, Path of Exile, Braid, Spelunky, and The Binding of Isaac — all games made by single developers or small development teams.
And we’re starting to see more of these kinds of high-quality indie games hit the market, which is why itch.io is such an awesome platform. It specializes in indie games, both paid and free, and has grown quite a bit since its debut in 2013.
The Free section of itch.io has over 47,000 titles. Huge, right? If you’re tired of big game studios killing the industry, these indie games may be perfect for reigniting your love for gaming.
Don’t want to comb through that many games on your own? Check out the Free & Legal PC Games blog, which is basically a curation of the best games on itch.io (with the occasional game from elsewhere).
Website — itch.io
There are many reasons why you might not want to buy games on Steam, but the biggest reason is that Steam games have DRM. If Steam ever decides to shut down or revoke your account for whatever reason, you’ll lose your games.
Which is why a lot of gamers prefer to use GOG over Steam whenever the situation allows for it. GOG is a game distribution platform like Steam, but all of its games are DRM-free — your games aren’t linked to your GOG account, so even if GOG shuts down, you’ll still have the games you downloaded.
Most of the games on GOG are also playable on Linux, which is a nice bonus if you’re into that sort of thing.
The downside is that GOG’s library size doesn’t even come close to what Steam offers: GOG’s total library size is just over 1,800 games. And to make matters worse, its Free section only has 32 games as of this writing. GOG is better if you have a bit of cash to spare because its Under $5 section is a lot bigger.
Website — GOG
Origin is another digital games distribution platform in the vein of Steam and GOG, except this one is run by EA and only contains games that are published by EA. This means that these are all AAA games, but the selection is a bit modest and most of them aren’t available for free.
That being said, there is one section that you should pay attention to: On the House.
The OTH section of Origin provides complete games and expansion packs for free. Once you claim the offer and add it to your library, it’s there forever even after the offer expires and the game or expansion is no longer offered for free. To be clear, these are NOT just demos or trials!
The catch is that only one game is available at a time, and each offer is only good for a set amount of time. For example, Red Alert 2 was made available for only one day while Nox was up there for 129 days. As of this writing, Dungeon Keeper has been on offer for just shy of three months.
To make the most of it, you’ll want to check in once a day to see when the OTH game cycles out.
Website — Origin (On the House)
Other Free and Legal Options
Maybe you aren’t satisfied with the platforms above, and that’s fine. There are a handful of other ways to find high-quality games that won’t cost you a cent to download and play — they just won’t be as straightforward and on-demand as the above.
I recommend starting with the Wikipedia page on commercial games released as freeware. Sort by year to find the ones that are most likely to work on your computer (older games may not be compatible with newer operating systems, for example).
Other noteworthy platforms include Desura (which has a handful of free games like Stalker), IndieDB (database of in-development indie games), and ModDB (database of in-development game mods and indie games).
And lastly, if you’re okay with almost-free-but-not-quite, then you may want to check out the Humble Store, which has a bunch of discounted games. Or you can just opt for the Humble Bundle, which is a pay-what-you-want bundle of games that changes every month.
Hope this helps you find some awesome free games. If you know of any other sites or methods, please share them with us in the comments below!
Originally written by Justin Pot on 24 April 2014.