F2P Games is FTW
A growing number of truly good free-to-play games has us giddy
The biggest story in gaming over the last few years has been the rise of the “free‑to‑play” business model, where publishers let gamers access the core game for free, then turn a profit off of optional microtransactions. There are just about a million F2P games available today, but only some of them are worth your time. Here are eight games that can be really, truly fun even if you don’t pay a single penny.
Valve’s flagship team-based shooter went free-to-play just over a year ago, and it has become the perfect example of how to implement the business model. For the low, low price of absolutely nothing, you get the full game, with all characters and all maps. Any server, any game mode. Extra weapons allow for different play styles, but don’t give an advantage, and can be unlocked without paying anything, if you’re patient. If you’ve gone this long without playing Team Fortress 2, you’re missing out—download it today.
You’ve probably heard of League of Legends. It’s the biggest name in the new MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre, and its growth has been nothing short of phenomenal. Recent usage figures from XFire show League of Legends as the most-played online PC game.
Period. By a wide margin. So what’s the secret to LoL’s success? Our money is on the extreme ease with which you can get into the game. At any given time, a balanced subset of the game’s roster of 100‑plus champions is available for free, and more champions can be unlocked by winning games. The competition’s fierce, but you can go all the way to the top without spending any money.
These days, if you look at the total number of MMORPGs, you’ll find that at least 80 percent offer some sort of free-to-play option. Of these, there are two very distinct varieties. On one hand, you’ve got a vast expanse of same-ish Korean and Chinese MMOs with pretty graphics, grindy gameplay, and extortionist microtransactions. On the other, there’s the Western MMO-in-decline—games that once used a traditional subscription business model, but have switched to free-to-play after subscriber numbers dwindled. Everquest 2 is a great example of the latter, with a generous free option (including the original game and six expansion packs), plus a monthly subscription model for those who want full access.
Nexon is the Korean publisher behind a slew of free-to-play games, including eight currently running MMOs in America and tons more overseas. Of all these, we recommend Vindictus as the best Asian-style MMO for a Western audience.
It’s still a bit of a grind, but the combat is fun and fast-paced, and the dark, gritty graphics are absolutely gorgeous.
If you’re dying for a team-based modern military shooter, but don’t want to shell out for the latest Call of Duty game, give Combat Arms a try. With CounterStrike-style action gameplay and a host of character and weapon customization options, this game should hold you over at least until Crytek’s Warface is released in the states. One downside: Combat Arms uses the stingy microtransaction model favored by some Asian F2P games, where most items not purchased with real money disappear from your inventory after a set period of time. Our philosophy: If you work to buy something, you should get to keep it.
Who wasn’t a little surprised when the classic Tribes franchise was relaunched with the free-to-play Ascend? The game’s multiplayer-centric nature makes it a good fit, and the free version has every bit as much running, flying, and exploding-disc-launching as any game in the series. Some important gear and classes have to be unlocked,
and gaining experience is slow going without paying money, but it is perfectly possible to enjoy the game for a long time without paying anything.
Age of Empires Online continues the trend of nearly forgotten, revered gaming franchises coming back as F2P games. The cartoony graphics might make you think that this is a watered-down casual, but the truth is that AoE Online is a full-featured, robust online RTS with great gameplay and a ton of customization options. You can play the full game with two of the four available civilizations for free, though you’ll have to pay for extra civs and some advanced gameplay features.
If you’re looking for a more tactical take on the action genre, check out World of Tanks. By participating in team-based tank battles, you level up your crew and unlock and customize ever-stronger WWII fighting machines. It’s hard to get to the very highest level of tank without purchasing an XP booster, but the gameplay is polished enough that even the low- and mid-level battles are a ton of fun.