Great Games That Don't Cost A Dime

by Cameron Koch on Feb 06, 2014 at 10:36 AM

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.

Loadout (PC)

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.

Warframe (PC, PS4)

Warframe is a cooperative shooter where players take on the role of space ninjas. Yes, space ninjas. As you would expect, the combat is fast and fluid with players rolling, jumping and sliding all while firing machine guns and slashing enemies with swords. Completing missions earns credits, XP, and crafting materials used to purchase various upgrades for your character and weapons. That is where the grinding comes in. Getting better gear takes time, and Warframe can be a slow grind. Impatient players can drop a few dollars on the game and progress quicker by purchasing “Platinum,” Warframe’s in-game premium currency, to bypass the need for materials and flat out purchase more powerful gear. This may make the game seem like it could step into the “pay to win” category.  However, due to the game’s cooperative nature, better equipment isn’t being used to put other players down and makes Warframe a solid pick for fans of fast-paced combat.

Neverwinter (PC)

Neverwinter is Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons in video game form. Instances play a key role in Neverwinter, with personalized dungeons lending the feel of a real game of D&D. Staying true to its pen and paper roots, players can create and customize their own dungeon instances for other players to dive into and explore. Many of the game’s microtransactions are of the cosmetic variety, such as special mounts. However, some items available for purchase at a steep price make it easier to create or obtain components used for making powerful end-game items. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if it wasn’t nearly impossible to obtain these items freely. With that in mind, Neverwinter is still a kobold-smashing good time if you are looking for an action-oriented MMO.

World of Warplanes (PC), World of Tanks (PC, Xbox 360 Release 2/12/14)

These are two different games but developed by the same developer with the exact same business model, so I decided to include them both. World of Tanks and World of Warplanes are both great online multiplayer titles that require teamwork, strategic thinking, and deadly precision. The games are fun, but earning the experience necessary to level up and unlocking new vehicles and customization options can be a drag. Real world money buys Gold, an in-game currency, which can be used to speed up the process exponentially by eliminating the need to earn XP by allowing players to simply buy new vehicles at a whim. Gold can also be used to upgrade to a Premium account, which earns players more XP and in-game credits per battle. World of Tanks and World of Warplanes can both be enjoyed without spending a dime, just don't expect to get anywhere fast.

Plants Vs. Zombies 2 (Android, iOS)

When news hit that the sequel to PopCap’s lawn defense game would be a free-to-play title, many gamers were cautious. The final product was nothing to be concerned about – PvZ 2 is still the fun, light- hearted game everybody knows and loves. Pesky areas requiring keys occasionally blocked player progression, and keys were hard to come by without paying for them with an in-app purchase. However, PopCap decided the keys were more trouble than they were worth, eliminating them in a recent update and opening up all previously locked areas.  Now the only aspects of the game requiring money are optional plants and coin packs, which can be used to buy various powerups – both unnecessary to continue progressing through the game. 

Hearthstone (PC, Mac)

You know free-to-play isn’t going away any time soon when gaming heavyweight Blizzard arrives onto the scene with a free-to-play title of its own. Technically still in beta, Hearthstone is a digital collectible card game featuring top-notch animation and production values. Players accumulate gold through winning matches and completing daily quests. Gold can then be used to purchase Booster Packs containing better cards or, if they so choose, use real-world cash to do the same. Players can break down unwanted cards into dust, and use that dust to create the specific cards needed to optimize their decks, making the never ending cycle of “obtain booster packs, break down, craft,” an addictive one for players who want to make sure every card in their deck is just right.

What are some of your favorite free games on console, PC, and mobile? Share your picks in the comments below.