How times change! It used to be that you went to your local video game emporium, took your chosen game to the counter, handed over cold hard cash and raced home to pop it in your console. Not only has digital distribution removed the need to even leave the house, but many games can be downloaded to your console for absolutely nothing. Marvellous!
Of course, free-to-play (F2P) games will have in-game purchases such as cosmetics, Battle Pass subscriptions or certain modes which may be locked behind a paywall until you give the developers some money, but these days many 'freemium' games boast a huge amount of content accessible for exactly $0 - the best possible price!
The following varied list of the best free Switch games can be downloaded from the Nintendo Switch eShop for the princely sum of zero dollars right now, and almost none of them require a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to play, either (except a couple we couldn't resist adding). Perfect if you're looking to save your pennies.
So let's take a look — in no particular order — at the best free games on Switch...
Let’s face it, there's a good chance that Fortnite adorns your Switch dashboard already, and with good reason. Epic delivered the full fat Fortnite (Battle Royale) experience on Nintendo's ‘homeheld’. with steady performance and all the bells and whistles from versions on other platforms, as well as motion controls for those of us that can't live without them ever since Splatoon. With all the costumes, crossovers and seasonal mayhem continuing through the chapters, that just-one-more-round feeling survived the transition to Nintendo's console perfectly intact. Before you know it you’re eyeing the clock at 3:56 am thinking ‘hmm, that’s not a round number’. The heart-pounding suspense of making it to the final two may not be healthy, but it sure is addictive.
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While Digital Extremes hasn’t quite perfected the formula it needs to make Warframe completely accessible - the sheer number of interconnected systems and customisable elements suggests it never quite will - it still offers a co-operative third-person shooter with all the MMORPG elements you never thought you’d see running on Nintendo Switch. From the impressive visual fidelity Panic Button has maintained, to the sheer breadth of content you can access for free, Warframe is a fabulous showcase of what's possible in the F2P space, as well as what the Switch is capable of.
As a standalone game, Super Kirby Clash holds up well to the Kirby series standard with its impressively diverse boss roster, straightforward RPG-lite mechanics, and deep potential for replayability. Though the online multiplayer is an unstable and unreliable mess, this hardly stands as a reason for you to not at least download the game and give it a shot. As a free-to-play release, Super Kirby Clash also manages to smartly handle its monetisation and doesn’t hold back too much, offering you a fair amount of time-gated content relative to how much you feel like paying. We’d give Super Kirby Clash a high recommendation even if it was a low-price budget release at retail, but considering that it literally costs you nothing but your time, do yourself a favour and go download this as soon as you can.
Nintendo Switch is really racking up a decent selection of shooters. Warface isn’t particularly pretty, and its approach to content access means you’ll likely spend most of your time playing with rented items and weapons, but it’s still brought solid asymmetrical online FPS action to Switch in a way no other shooter has managed thus far. It might not have the slickness of the bigger boys in the genre, but with stable performance in both modes and a huge amount of content (both now and in the future) the likes of Payday 2, Paladins, Fortnite and Warframe now have another rival for your online hours.
With a solid netcode, an accessible and enjoyable take on the MOBA template and a free-to-play model, Arena of Valor is a strong entry in the free-to-play space on Switch. While it had a few technical issues at launch, one of the world's biggest games is available on Switch, and that's something to celebrate - especially when it costs absolutely nothing to play.
One of modern gaming's true online multiplayer success stories, Rocket League was an essential addition to the Switch's striking library even before it went free-to-play in September 2020; now there's absolutely no reason it shouldn't be your system. The spirit of the game has been transferred perfectly, with the added benefit of portable play which opens up the chance to host local matches with your Switch owning mates wherever and whenever you fancy. Developer Panic Button has done an utterly fantastic job with this port, but technical wizardry aside, what really matters is that the core game is so addictive, so compelling, so enjoyable and — perhaps above all else — so deep. It rewards skilful play and perseverance, and new tactics and strategies seem to flow from each and every match you partake in. Only the occasional network niggle throws shade on this otherwise sublime release, but it's still an essential online experience.
As a free-to-play game, Paladins: Champions of the Realm is an easy sell. As exciting, tense and rewarding as Overwatch, it brings the cross-platform hero shooter to a new platform without sacrificing the moreish gameplay tenants that’s made it such a hit with both casual and pro gamers. There’s a definitive learning curve for those looking to play competitively, but it’s nonetheless one of the console’s best multiplayer shooters.
Galak-Z: Variant S is a more focused and tighter experience than its forerunner, but one that offers surprising depth thanks to the often staggering upgrade opportunities on offer. By taking the freemium route developer 17-Bit Studios has been forced to introduce timers which can be overridden by spending actual cash, but these are thoughtfully deployed and even if you do decide to dig deep in your pocket, you'll still need considerable shooting skills to overcome the increasingly stern — if somewhat repetitive — challenge.
Phoenix Labs has done a great job with Dauntless, designing a game that takes the better parts of Monster Hunter and pares them down into a rapid-fire and easily accessible action experience that’s sure to demand dozens of hours of your time once it gets its hooks into you. On top of this, you’re never hit over the head with microtransactions and it’s easier than ever to play with friends on other platforms. Though this Switch port mightily struggles from a performance perspective, it’s still enjoyable on a consistent enough basis that such issues can be mostly overlooked. It literally costs you nothing more than time to give Dauntless a try, and we’d highly recommend you give it a shot.
DC Universe Online is one of the older MMOs on the market, so while it’s benefited from quite a few updates and DLC packs, it still looks and plays like a game on PS3. If you can look past the dated visuals and repetitive gameplay, there’s a decent amount of content to be accessed as a free player. The customisation options are deep, although the need for a premium membership does gate some of these options off. However, with a solid server, a high population of players and enough content to keep you flying around Metropolis, Gotham and beyond, this is further proof that practically any genre can work on Nintendo’s latest hardware.
Pokémon Quest is a fun little time waster that will satisfy your collect 'em all urges if you've exhausted everything the Galar region has to offer in Pokémon Sword and Shield. You will have to splash some cash if you want to get the most out of it, but it's far from a money sink. You can get everything you need in a single purchase, or unlock most of it slowly by playing for free. It's one of the most generous freemium systems out there. Overall, it's a great jumping off point for new fans of the series, and the cutesy art style just might win over veterans. Give it a shot.
Ninjala might look like a third-party take on Splatoon and yes, the similarities on an artistic level are pretty striking and plain for all to see. However, spend more than a few cursory moments with GungHo’s free-to-play effort and you’ll find a game that works very differently to the paint-splattered turf wars of the Inklings and Octarians. This is a unique, vibrant and surprisingly strategic multiplayer arena fighter that packs in plenty worth recommending. New seasons have brought updates and content that have kept this arena brawler almost as fresh as the competition, and seeing as it costs nothing to try, you've got nothing to lose. Winning!