There has arguably never been a better time to stay home and play video games than right now, but finding something good can be a little pricey if you're also trying to keep your savings safe in case of an(other) emergency. Don't worry, there's good news for folks in your boat: Steam, the digital storefront for games on the PC, has a large offering of free-to-play titles you can check out without hurting your wallet. All you need is a Steam account and a computer.
Here's a look at some of Mic's most highly recommended free games.
Brawlhalla is a platform-based fighting game with legitimately lovely stages that can host up to eight players, locally or online, at a time. It's a platform fighter, so the gameplay will appear similar to anyone who has played Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. series — in fact, it's practically the same. Each player controls a fighter and beats up other players to build their damage meter. The more an opponent is damaged, the further out they'll fly when hit. Build it up enough and launch them off-screen with a strong attack to defeat them.
Brawlhalla is fun and very easy on the eyes with smooth and colorful graphics that look like something straight from a comic or cartoon. Its online multiplayer mode has an excellent reputation for a fighting game; not only can you typically get good connections, but you can also fight players on different platforms, like the PS4 and Nintendo Switch, as well.
Every now and then guest characters like Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) and Steven Universe (Steven Universe) are also available for folks to try out.
Neverwinter is an action MMORPG that's based on the Dungeons & Dragons universe. This means it's chock full of fantasy themes, adventuring, and a combat system that reviewers on Steam have consistently praised. Although it came out back in 2013, the publishers have consistently released updates and annual events to keep the game alive even now.
MMORPGs like Neverwinter — and World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV — are absolute time sinks that require a bit of patience and grinding to get things going. So these aren't always the best games for a quick, 30-minute round of playing before getting back to errands. But at least with a free game like Neverwinter you can go without playing for a week without worrying about wasting any monthly subscription fees (as you might with other MMORPGs).
3. Gems of War
Match-3 games tend to be associated with casual games for your smartphone and, frankly, Gems of War is not much different in that regard. But this brightly-colored game is unique in the way it uses match-3 mechanics for battle and will start demanding some form of strategy from you pretty quickly if you're not careful. Before you know it, you'll be thinking about how your move could be good/bad to your opponent, what teammate has the better skills, and how to plan moves ahead.
Gems of War is a "time eater," as many Steam reviewers put it, with numerous features that can hook you for much longer than you intended. There's a solo campaign, boss challenges, player vs. player battles, and guild-only content. Between all those game modes are leveling up teammates, choosing weapons, and enhancing skills in an RPG-like way. The game is surprisingly engrossing and highly recommended for folks who prefer puzzle games over action.
Viridi is where players can go to absolutely and completely chill. This isn't a game in the traditional sense; it's a gardening simulator that focuses on raising a pot of succulents in real time. That means it takes days to consistently water, weed, and poke the snail before you begin to see results. And that might seem absurd, but you're okay with that, because it's so chill, the music is so chill, and therefore your life is now so chill.
Honestly, Viridi is perfect to relax with in an almost meditative way. The music instantly puts players in the mood to just quietly watch the little plant buds coming from the dirt. There's no hurry. There's nothing else to focus on but you and the plants. There's a snail slowly moving along the edge of the pot and it's going at about the same speed as your brain.
'Man,' comes the stray thought, 'I want to be that snail.'
5. Bloons Monkey City
Next is the strangely addicting tower defense/city builder game, Bloons Monkey City. This game looks like it's meant for children, but it actually requires a lot more thought and strategy than you'd expect. Players must conquer squares of land by beating enemy balloons in a tower defense combat system using an army of monkeys. Different types of monkeys, like the ninja monkey, have different strengths that can take down the various types of balloons. As players gain plots of land, they go into a city builder mode to build structures that will enhance their monkey army.
Why monkeys and (sentient??) balloons are fighting each other, I have no idea.
The game is a lot of fun and can eat up a ton of spare time if you're not careful. Give it a try if only for the music — there's one battle song in particular that slaps way harder than it has any right to in a game like this.
6. Path of Exile
There is no 'free games on Steam' list that can — or should, in my humble opinion — go without Path of Exile. This is an action RPG that's reminiscent of the Diablo series and features a dark atmosphere with rich lore that can keep you hooked for hours. This game isn't for the faint of heart; it'll likely take a while to get used to as you pick up loot, improve your equipment with gems, and apply stat points to your character to strengthen them in your own, unique way.
Path of Exile can be complex, challenging, and a lot of fun to play online with friends. Expect to die plenty of times and struggle with loot management as you figure out what's worth keeping. The payoff is the massive feeling of satisfaction upon seeing your character go from a washed-up exile to a powerful boss killer.
It's a free game that plays like you paid for a $60 plus game. If you're into action RPGs, definitely don't sleep on this one.