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Free-to-play games often get a bad reputation. Many of these games intentionally prohibit player progress to make a quick buck, while others allow players to buy their way to success in what have become known as “pay to win” games. However, just because there are examples of free-to-play done poorly doesn’t mean there aren’t numerous examples of free-to-play games that do it right. No longer is a gamer who doesn’t have money to spend out of luck – there are a huge number of free-to-play titles that can hold their own against games bought at retail. If you are looking for some great entertainment and don’t want to pay, you can’t go wrong with any of these stellar games from a variety of genres.
Path of Exile (PC)
Path of Exile is as good a game, if not better, than similar titles in its genre with one major distinction – nearly everything is free. Because of this, Path of Exile blasted onto the free-to-play scene last year and quickly made a name for itself. Heavily inspired by the loot-filled dungeon crawling of Diablo II, Path of Exile is an overhead RPG that nearly drowns the player in customization options. All the classes, difficulties, loot, and player-versus-player options are available to players at no cost, other than time. If you do want to throw down some cash and help the developers pay the bills, a variety of cosmetic effects and pets are on sale. Other than that, it doesn't get much more fun or free than Path of Exile.
League of Legends (PC, Mac)
There is a reason 27 million players log onto to play Riot Games' hit MOBA every day…League of Legends does free to play right. All of the games 100+ playable champions can be purchased either with in-game currency (IP) or with premium currency (RP) bought using real-world dollars. Gamers don’t have to spend either, as a weekly rotation of 10 playable champions keeps the game fresh. This also allows players to essentially test drive champions before purchasing them and adding them permanently to their collection. The only parts of the game requiring real cash are cosmetic only skins or various XP or IP boosts.
If Borderlands and Quake had an outrageous, over-the-top, hyper-violent baby, Loadout would be it. Players jump, roll, and spew rockets every which way in a variety of game modes, all while being blown in half or spewing fountains of blood in a vibrant cartoony art style. The core appeal of the game lies in its extensive loadout and weapon customization options. Loadout could have gone the route of numerous other free-to-play shooters and allowed for players to purchase gun upgrades with real world currency. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. All weapon upgrades can only be purchased using experience points earning from playing matches. After only playing a few games I had more than enough experience points to tweak my weapons in a variety of painful and creative ways and daily XP bonuses coupled with large amounts of XP for leveling up means Loadout rarely feels like a grind. Players who want to stand out from the crowd can buy the game’s premium currency with real world dollars and spend it to customize nearly everything about the game’s current three characters, ranging from wacky hair styles to an assortment of humorous and vulgar taunts.
Dota 2 (PC, Mac)
Much like League of Legends, Valve's successor to the founder of the MOBA genre doesn't require an investment to succeed. Because all the game's heroes are available to players from the start, Valve is a little more creative in regards as to what players can spend their money on. Everything from new HUD skins and announcer voice-overs are on sale, in addition to skins and cosmetics for the game’s numerous heroes. None of the items for sale have any effect on gameplay. It’s for that reason – and of course great gameplay – that Dota 2 came away with three Game Informer Best of 2013 Awards.
Team Fortress 2 (PC, Mac)
This cartoony class-based shooter wasn't always free-to-play. Valve made the decision to change the business model in 2011. TF 2 now has thousands of players and hundreds of items, mostly an assortment of guns and hats, as a result. New players start with the standard weapons the game shipped with, and will quickly notice others running around with much fancier weaponry. But unlike some other games, the various weapons in TF2 aren't necessarily more powerful as they are just different. Each piece of gear comes with some benefits and drawbacks. Thankfully, these new weapons can be earned in a variety of free ways other than being purchased; either by completing a certain number of a specific classes achievements, crafting them from weapons and equipment already owned, or waiting for the item to randomly drop. If you are looking for something specific, waiting for a random drop isn’t much fun, but otherwise frequent players will find themselves with a collection of new weapons in no time.
Head to page 2 for more free-to-play titles ranging from cooperative shooter Warframe to Blizzard's card game, Hearthstone.
Email the author Cameron Koch, or follow on Game Informer.