18 (mostly) Free and Useful Programs Every PC Gamer Should Have


Accessibility, PC Gaming, Programs
PC Gaming is great. These programs make it better

Hi everyone! Over the years as a predominantly PC gamer, I have needed to make use of several programs to get some games to run properly, or to enable features which the devs should have implemented by default but didn’t.


Other times I have used programs to enhance the games that already worked fine ‘out of the box’.


In most of these cases, I wished I had known about these programs earlier as it would have solved a lot of time, not to mention a lot of headaches. To spare you the same hassle I have compiled a list of them below with info about what they do and the download links needed to get them.



1-to-6: Digital Marketplaces



Steam logo
Steam - pretty much essential for a PC Gamer

If you are new to PC gaming, you may have wondered why brick and mortar stores such as GAME and GameStop have so few PC games on their shelves. The reason is simple - PC gaming has been ‘all-digital’ for over a decade, so there are very few physical copies in existence to place upon those shelves.


The main sites/services where PC gamers obtain their games are Valve’s Steam, GoG.com (short for Good old Games), Epic’s Epic Game Store, Electronic Art’s Origin, Microsoft’s Microsoft Store, and Ubisoft’s Ubisoft Connect.


It is worth keeping an eye on these electronic storefronts for the sales and giveaways they run regularly. For some time now, the Epic Game Store has been giving away free games every Thursday at around 16:00 GMT. Be sure to snap them up before 15:59 GMT the following Thursday, as the offer will expire when the new free game becomes available.


Downloads:


1: Steam

2: GoG.com

3: Epic Games Store

4: Origin

5: Microsoft Store

6: Ubisoft Connect



7 and 8: Zip/unzip programs



Zip File
Zip programs - essential for mods

Mods and patches are often ‘compressed’ or ‘zipped’ to reduce their overall file size for on-line storage and hosting. To play them, they will first need to be ‘extracted’ aka ‘unzipped’ into their constituent folders. The two main programs for this are 7-Zip and WinRAR. 7-Zip is free, whilst WinRAR is ‘nagware’ - i.e. it is free, but it will keep nagging you to buy the full version every time you use it.


Once you have either of these programs you will be able to zip files yourself of course. This is handy if you wish to share large files on-line, and for condensing large files to free up room on your HDD or SSD.


7: 7-Zip Download: https://www.7-zip.org/


8: WinRAR Download: https://www.win-rar.com/start.html?&L=0



9: Borderless Gaming



Borderless Gaming, Crysis, PC Gaming
Borderless Gaming has a wealth of options

Borderless Gaming is a handy program that allows games running in windowed mode to display fullscreen - without those ugly window borders taking up screen space. Its performance impact is minimal and has worked with all the games I have tried using it with.


This could be useful for playing some older games that do not natively support fullscreen display. It is also useful for some relatively recent ones that do feature fullscreen display, but work badly when using it. (The original Crysis and Crysis: Warhead being two notable examples.)


Download: Here



Graphics Enhancement Programs



The next two programs are post-processing programs that can dramatically enhance the look of your games or make them look different to create a different atmosphere.



10: ReShade


ReShade
ReShade can make your games look beautiful, ominous, funny and pretty much anything else you desire

ReShade is a free ‘post-process injector’ that enables users to alter the appearance of their games in many different ways, be it subtle or extreme. As it is a post-process injector that applies its effects after the game has rendered the image it can be used with almost any game that uses DX9 or higher.


The performance impact can vary quite considerably and depends upon which of ReShade’s many effects you choose to use. For example, Bloom and Film Grain have a negligible performance impact, Dynamic Depth of Field and SSAO impacts somewhat more whilst Ray-Tracing is an FPS killer. You are of course free to mix, match and experiment to your heart's content.


User-made pre-sets can be downloaded, used and tweaked which may save you some time too. The only downside to ReShade is that it applies its effects to everything on-screen, including HUDS, menus and the like. Thankfully a simple press of a key can toggle its effects on and off.


ReShade Download: https://reshade.me/



11: ENB



Sky Rim, ENB
Note the bokeh Depth of Field effect

ENB is more complicated, and each ENB tends to be made on a per-game basis. This means that each ENB is generally non-transferable to other games, but the advantage is that it is more powerful and specific, in that it can distinguish between world and HUD elements, menus and the like.


Because ENBs work at a ‘deeper level’ with a game than ReShade, ENBs can alter how a game renders its images in ways ReShade cannot. As with ReShade, user-made ENB pre-sets can be downloaded and applied to specific games if you would rather not create one yourself.


ENB Download: http://enbdev.com/