Steam is by far and away the largest collective platform of PC games out there, and it gets bigger and bigger every day. Recently, the selection of games available increased drastically with EA adding several of their titles to the Steam library.
There’s something for everyone on the Steam store now, even for those not willing to open their wallets. There is a large amount of games that are free or free-to-play, so we’ve highlighted some of the best and the most popular.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
The iconic tactical shooter has been available on Steam since 2012 but moved to a free-to-play model in December 2018 while introducing its own take on the battle royale mode, titled “Danger Zone.” CS:GO is considered one of the purest tactical shooters on the market: no abilities, no killstreaks, no large battlefields littered with vehicles. Just a focus on gunplay and teamwork.
Counter-Strike as a franchise has been around since 2000 and has consistently increased in popularity every year since. Its latest iteration, CS:GO, has one of the largest player bases of any game and is the most popular game played on Steam. It’s the only game on Steam with a player peak that’s surpassed one million players. CS:GO has several game modes, but its iconic five-vs-five bomb defusal game mode is the foundation for one of the largest esports scenes in the world.
Unlike Counter-Strike, Dota is not a Valve original. The original Dota, or Defense of the Ancients, was a custom game mode of Blizzard’s Warcraft III. From its earliest days in the mid-2000s, the original Dota struck a chord with the competitive gaming community and became the most popular Warcraft III mode. The game pits two teams of five heroes against each other, with each player controlling a hero from a top-down perspective. Players buy items and level up their abilities as they earn experience and gold throughout a game.
In 2009, Valve hired one of the original Dota creators, IceFrog, to create a stand-alone sequel to Dota, and after settling a dispute with Blizzard over the trademark rights, Valve released Dota 2 in July 2013. Alongside League of Legends, Dota 2 is one of the defining games of the MOBA genre, and like League has a large, global esports scene. Unlike CS:GO, Dota 2 has always been free-to-play.
A much newer free-to-play arrival compared to CS:GO and Dota 2, Apex Legends found its way to Steam after an original release on EA’s PC client Origin, as well as on consoles. Apex Legends is developed by Respawn Entertainment, a studio founded by the original co-founders of Infinity Ward who found critical success with their Titanfall series. While not Titanfall 3, Apex is considered part of the Titanfall series, with the game running on the same engine and set in the same universe.
Apex Legends has carved out a spot near the top of the crowded battle royale genre with its unique ability-driven characters and season-based content releases. Its “ping system” that allowed teams of players to communicate non-verbally was well received by the community and is now part of other popular multiplayer games like Fortnite and VALORANT.
Team Fortress 2
The original class-based shooter, Team Fortress dates further back than both Dota and Counter-Strike, as a mod for in 1996’s Quake before a stand-alone Team Fortress Classic release in 1999. Almost a decade later, the sequel Team Fortress 2 released in 2007 as part of Valve’s The Orange Box, a bundle of games including TF2, the original Portal, and Half-Life 2. In 2011, Team Fortress 2 switched to a free-to-play model.
Players select one of nine classes to play in iconic multiplayer modes like capture the flag, team deathmatch, and king of the hill. Like both CS:GO and Dota 2, the cosmetic items are the backbone of a large ecosystem market. While hovering at an average of 50,000 players since 2012, TF2 saw a resurgence starting in early 2020, peaking an average of over 100,000 before the end of the year, while currently sitting at 80,000.
- Destiny 2: The massive MMO shooter from Bungie moved to Steam in early 2019 and added a free-to-play option called New Light later in the year.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic: While it’s certainly no WoW-killer, SWTOR is a deep and well-rounded MMORPG and Star Wars game, with a rich story.
- Path of Exile: A truly free game inspired by Diablo, Path of Exile is a tremendous action RPG that’s only improved after several free expansions after its 2013 release.