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Even hardcore gamers might struggle to justify numerous $60 AAA game purchases these days, no matter how many 10/10s, updates, or generally-positive accolades they receive. Countless sales are around, too, but those can be as wallet-draining, when I see five of my most-wanted games on sale for up to 75 percent off, rational thought tends to go out the window.

Fortunately, there are alternatives that won’t break the bank. The free-to-play gaming market, especially on PC, has grown substantially. Even expansive, high-budget gaming experiences can be enjoyed for free. On Steam alone, you’ll find dozens upon dozens of no-cost MMOs, competitive shooters, MOBAs and more. However, wading through all that muck to find the gems can be difficult. There is no shortage of shovelware-tier free-to-play games, even on a platform like Steam.

To help you out with that process, we’ve used our collective experiences and the recommendations of other PC enthusiasts, to narrow your options down a bit.

In the list below, you’ll find a non-comprehensive list of 11 fantastic free (or free-to-play) Steam games across a variety of genres. We haven’t listed them in any particular order, but they’re the kind of titles you won’t regret spending time playing which is the whole idea behind this article, let’s get started!

Brawlhalla

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  • Release Date: April 30, 2014
  • Genre: Fighter
  • Play if you like: Super Smash Bros, platform fighters

If you’re a fan of platform-based fighters like Super Smash Bros but don’t have the money (or interest) to snag yourself a Nintendo Switch, developer Blue Mammoth Games has you covered. The studio has been avidly supporting its ridiculously fun, cartoony battler Brawlhalla since 2014. Since then, the fighter has been completely free-to-play, with no pay-to-win mechanics — its revenue comes through the purchase of character skins, special “KO effects,” and other cosmetic items.

In terms of gameplay, Brawlhalla truly is about as close as any modern, widely-available PC title (well, technically cross-platform now) has come to emulating the style of Super Smash Bros. Like Nintendo’s beloved fighting game, players choose from a massive roster of over 50 unlockable characters (9 of which are always available on a rotating basis) and take their unique skillsets into 1v1, 2v2, or 4-player free-for-all multiplayer matches. Players are dropped into a random map and then must duke it out with their enemies in an effort to come out on top.

There are options for casual play, ranked play, and even more chaotic custom modes, where you and up to 7 friends can participate in everything from 4v4s to 1v3s (if you really want to challenge each other). Though graphics aren’t on the level of more recent SSB entries from Nintendo, Brawlhalla’s art style and character designs are charming, fun, and easy to understand. Since there’s no entry fee of any kind here, it’s tough to ask for more.

Check it out on: Steam, TechSpot Product Finder

Warframe

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  • Release Date: March 2013
  • Genre: Co-op third-person shooter
  • Play if you like: Weird sci-fi worlds, Destiny 2

Warframe is best described as a third-person, pseudo-MMO action game, but even that overview feels insufficient. The amount of content and content variety on offer here is honestly mind-boggling.

Warframe is not the most accessible game for new players, but it’s still considered one of the best examples of a consumer-friendly free-to-play game. There are no predatory loot boxes, and while it has its fair share of grinding, everything that you can pay for in the game can be earned through regular gameplay — and it won’t take you 40,000 hours (we’re looking at you, Star Wars: Battlefront II).

You have your slightly generic (but entertaining) co-op hack-and-shoot missions that you undergo to gather crafting materials or experience the main story, but there are also massive, open-world zones, rideable mounts, craftable pets, PvP action, and player-controlled space combat sequences.

Then, of course, there’s the Warframes themselves: instead of classes, you can collect dozens of these humanoid weapons systems, each with their own unique appearance and powers. With so many options, there will almost certainly be a Warframe that suits your playstyle, whether you prefer sneaking, shooting, or slicing.

Check it out on: Steam, TechSpot Product Finder

RuneScape

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  • Release Date: January 4, 2001
  • Genre: SandboxMMORPG
  • Play if you like: Old-school RPGs, grinding, long-term progression

RuneScape is one of the oldest and longest-running MMORPGs in the world, predating even World of Warcraft by roughly three years. What started as a simple 2D fantasy MMO that could run in a web browser, has evolved into two separate games.

RuneScape 3 is the current main offering. If you used to have an account way back in the day, RuneScape 3 is where you’ll find all your equipment, stats, and friends — it’s the same game, just way more modern than you likely recall, with enhanced graphics, cutscenes, raids, dungeons, and more skills.

Old School RuneScape, on the other hand, launched in 2014, to offer players a separate, WoW Classic-like snapshot of the game’s 2007 state. However, over the years, it’s become a solid competitor to the main game with a dedicated userbase that actually dwarfs RuneScape 3’s. Though its graphics are primitive and the gameplay is old-fashioned, OSRS has an entirely different dev team that creates fresh new content — all using intentionally old-school graphics and design philosophies.

But… what even is RuneScape? In short, it’s a sandbox MMO that won’t push you in any particular direction. There is no main story to follow, and there are no grindy fetch quests to pursue. Every single quest in RuneScape is handcrafted. Though their length and focus will vary, you can think of them as self-contained adventures (with a few exceptions to account for the occasional quest series).

One moment, you might be helping a boy retrieve a rubber ball from a witch’s backyard, but the next you might be saving an entire race from utter annihilation. Unlike WoW, finishing quests doesn’t merely give you a small chunk of gold, XP, or a piece of crappy, low-level gear. Instead, finishing them can unlock entirely new regions of the map, or give you access to fancy new guilds, training areas, and incredibly powerful equipment.

Speaking of skills, RuneScape has an awful lot of them: 23 for OSRS and 28 for RS3. Aside from gear and quests, most of your in-game progression will come from advancing these stats. You’ll level up skills like mining, fishing, hunting, woodcutting, strength, smiting, magic, dungeoneering, and even construction. Some skills are easier to level than others, but almost all of them offer massive boons to players that take the time to master them. Many of the game’s best and most rewarding quests are gated off by high levels in various skills and the rarest gear will require specific skill levels to equip.

If you’re the patient type who wants a rich, astonishingly in-depth game to sink your teeth into (even as a solo player), give either RuneScape a shot. Personally, I love the old school experience and recommend it to just about everyone I meet, but both games are excellent. They share a subscription, so you can jump in-between the two at any time if you don’t feel like committing to one or the other. And since both games are on Steam, now’s the perfect time to drag a few buddies with you and dive straight into the world of Gielinor.

Check it out on: Steam, TechSpot Product Finder

Path of Exile

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  • Release Date: October 2013
  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Play if you like: Diablo series, deep customization

If you’re a fan of top-down action RPGs, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Path of Exile. It’s a free-to-play, spiritual successor to the Diablo franchise, designed for those who have become disillusioned with the design direction of Blizzard’s popular series.

Whereas Diablo has slowly been simplified over the years, Path of Exile revels in its depth and complexity. It offers players hundreds of active skills to choose from (by way of “skill gems” that you attach to various pieces of gear), 7 playable classes, multiple subclasses, over 1,300 passive perks to unlock, and of course, plenty of legendary equipment to strive for.

None of these rewards are handed to you on a silver platter. To earn them, you’ll have to fight off hordes of enemies, big and small, throughout Path of Exile’s lengthy story campaign. Once you’ve geared up, you can test your skills against other players in intense PvP tournaments, or simply kick back, relax, and customize your own personal Hideout.

Best of all, your progress in Path of Exile will carry over to its sequel, Path of Exile 2, when it releases in late 2020 or early 2021.

Check it out on: Steam, TechSpot Product Finder

Crusader Kings 2

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  • Release Date: February 2012
  • Genre: Grand strategy
  • Play if you like: Europa Universalis, Stellaris

Some people prefer solving their problems using their wits instead of their brawn, and if that describes you, there’s no better game for you than Crusader Kings 2.

This grand strategy title lets players take on the role of a famous ruler from medieval European history (or create their own, with the appropriate DLC), and carve out a path for their dynasty over several generations.

You can get married, have children (which you’ll play as when your ruler inevitably kicks the bucket), acquire traits and skills, and manage your kingdom on both a micro and macro level. Get down into the nitty-gritty by keeping ambitious vassals in check and adjusting realm laws, or set your sights on world conquest through realm-spanning alliances and sheer ruthlessness.

Crusader Kings 2 is a reactive and multi-layered sandbox for those that enjoy complex diplomacy, skullduggery (including assassinations and kidnappings), and medieval role-playing.

Check it out on: Steam, TechSpot Product Finder

Smite

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  • Release Date: March 2014
  • Genre: MOBA
  • Play if you like: DOTA 2, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm

Given how long the MOBA market has been around, it can be challenging for developers to come up with something genuinely fresh that still feels like a part of the broader genre. Smite is an excellent example of a game that accomplishes this lofty feat.

In Smite, you and your teammates enter the fray as one of 109 gods from various worldwide mythologies. You can play as Thor and smite your foes using Mjolnir’s power, or take up the mantle of Artemis and pepper the enemy team with rapid-fire arrows.

It’s not just its unique cast of characters that help Smite stand out; the game’s controls are another major selling point. Unlike most other MOBAs, Smite has a third-person camera, which lets you navigate the battlefield using the WASD keys for movement and your mouse for (horizontal) aiming.

This makes the game feel faster and a bit more action-oriented than its competitors, but don’t think that makes the experience any less challenging. In true MOBA fashion, you’ll still be pushing lanes, killing minions for XP, and stalking the jungle for enemy players; all tasks that will require proper communication and teamwork to accomplish.

Smite doesn’t attempt to reinvent the MOBA genre, but it’s a good option for anyone who is just looking for a slightly different experience than they’d get in games like DOTA 2 or League of Legends.

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