Fantastic And Free-To-Play Games
There are a ton of free-to-play games out there to pick from on PC, but you’re still paying one of the biggest prices to play – Your time. The price model has evolved significantly from the pay-for-power systems that were typically associated with the genre, and in many titles you’ll be sitting on relatively even ground with the whales dishing out hundreds or thousands of dollars for unique skins, mounts, and other cosmetic enhancements. Here are some of the best free-to-play titles that are worth checking out.
Valve’s pricing model for Dota 2 can’t be beat – Anything you can buy has zero effect on gameplay. If you feel like decking out your Sven with some new digs or want to hear GLaDOS talk about how your towers are falling, you can pitch in for some of the extensive cosmetic options. All characters are free, and Dota 2 is one of the most popular MOBA/ARTS titles out there right now. While there is a burden of knowledge/barrier to entry due to the genre itself, Dota 2 is an incredibly rewarding experience, and should be enjoyed with friends if possible. It can take a significant time investment to get going, but the dynamic “no game is ever the same” gameplay and fun alternate game modes like Ability Draft ensure that you’ll be farming creeps and pushing bases for years to come.
Path of Exile
All of the great ARPG action, zero cost. Path of Exile should be commended because it’s quite close to Dota 2’s model, as almost no functional items can be purchased. Storage space can be bought, but many players will find the default bank space ample. The rest of the cash accoutrements are visual, from weapon particle effects to cute pets. Path of Exile offers deep character customization, seasonal game modes, and plenty of creatures to put your hack-and-slash prowess to the test. The skill web allows for an absurd amount of customization, new content continually rejuvenates and enhances the game, and there are various hardcore modes available for players looking for a huge challenge.
Like any other digital card game, packs and “tournament play” are available for purchase, but Hearthstone doesn’t force players to use real money. Between daily quests and a small amount of coin from wins each day, it’s relatively easy to create a collection from scratch. Hearthstone also has plenty of unlockable content and cards for new players to learn with, many of which are staples in competitive decks. Punching out daily quests and taking those funds to the arena can be an extremely effective method for assembling a card base. While certainly there is an advantage to picking up some card packs and turning things into dust to get specific cards you’re looking to assemble for your deck, there’s no pressure to do so, as card back rewards are given to any player who reaches rank 20 in a season. Unless you’re trying to go pro, there’s not a whole lot of incentive to push through to legendary rank – you can work on your collection and go for gold when the time comes.
While the MOBA/ARTS genre continues to bloat under the weight of so many isometric look-alikes, Smite took things into a third-person shooter format drawing upon classic myths and gods. While Smite employs many of the same sale tactics of other similar genre games like character purchases, free character rotation, and special skins, it has an interesting distinction in that a player can “purchase” the game once to get all current and future characters. It’s a great option for players that dive into the free-to-play segment, decide they like the game, and want to get everything in the future for one base cost. Smite’s game modes, particularly Arena, distance it from the rest of the MOBA pack.
Team Fortress 2
After so many years, TF2 remains one of the best options to dive in with friends for a pyro barbeque or soldier rocket. Community-driven content is one of the mainstays of Valve titles, and there’s no shortage of hats and other cosmetic options to acquire as you play or in the cash shop. While weapons and items often are functionally different than the free versions, there’s often a balance to make sure that a new player will be on even ground to someone sporting more specific, niche takes on the classic loadouts.
World of Tanks
Wargaming has the whole “single synchronous session” model down to a science, allowing players to pop in a match with one tank, fight until death, and then saddle up in a new tank and join a new match immediately, with rewards constantly coming in. The recent Stronghold update adds an additional social component, with plenty of incentives for new, returning, and veteran players.
Trion Worlds’ title full of dynamic world events is an excellent option if you’re looking for a classic MMORPG without the cost of say, a World of Warcraft subscription. While many things in the game are available at a price including some of the expansion/niche souls, all content can be enjoyed for free without gating. The new Nightmare Tide expansion is adding a plethora of meaty experiences including the Nightmare Rifts – Rifts with no limit that feature epic bosses and encounters. Since they will be appearing in all zones, the content will be perfect for both new players and wizened veterans looking to top the leaderboards and score some choice rewards.
The action-MMORPG is an often attempted and rarely realized dream, but Neverwinter delivers classic D&D meshed with fast-paced encounters. While the cash shop does offer a slew of pay-for-power offerings, it’s not essential for players looking to dive in and dance with some dragons. With consistent content updates including new classes, dungeons, group treks and zones to explore, this is one worth checking out.
League of Legends
One of the first to popularize the free-to-play model in the West, League of Legends can be played completely free. The MOBA-heavy PC environment we see today owes much to Riot Games’ sole title. You will have to save your in-game currency in order to unlock your favorite heroes to avoid being stuck with the weekly selection, but ostensibly you’ll be having a great time playing those matches anyway. With multiple game modes available including the casual favorite all-random, all middle, League retains its place as one of the best free-to-play games available.
Things were a little rough around the edges when this third-person shooter hit the scene, but it's since developed into a fantastic blend of ninja swordplay, powerful abilities, and fast gunplay. While the cash shop allows players to pick up new loadouts and weapons for a fee, players can grind out these acquisitions as well. And if you're having fun, is it really grinding?