There’s no doubt that free-to-play is the most popular business model on mobile app stores. Even companies typically associated with premium experiences, like Nintendo and Bethesda, are getting in on the act lately. If you’re the type of gamer who enjoys paying once and only once for all of the content, you’re likely not a fan of the direction the mobile gaming industry has taken.
That said, while free-to-play is often associated with predatory in-app purchases, that doesn’t always have to be the case. Here are 25 fun free-to-play games that will let players enjoy themselves without having to repeatedly pull out a credit card. Sure, all of these games do have in-app purchases for those who want to throw some money around, but you can download these titles knowing that you won’t be nickel and dimed at every turn.
Fortnite Battle Royale
2018 | Epic Games
Is it still too soon to just go ahead and name Fortnite the 2018 Game of the Year? Yes, it’s mostly the PC version of the game that has grabbed the mainstream attention of everyone, from Drake to athletes in locker rooms everywhere. But Fortnite‘s recent free-to-play mobile release is a surprisingly competent adaptation of the game you know and love.
Developer Epic Games even built in some pretty cool features just for the mobile app, like on-screen indicators that tell you which direction your foes are approaching from, perfect for anyone trying to score a Victory Royale while playing with the sound off during the subway ride home. As for the in-app purchases, the experience from the PC is essentially replicated there as well. So, if you can get by without feeling the need to buy a rainbow pick-axe, you’ll be just fine.
2018 | PUBG Corporation
I say Fortnite, you say PUBG! Yes, the battle between these two kings of the battle royale genre continues unabated on mobile. PUBG Mobile, the game for people who suck at crafting, is also surprisingly competent at replicating the PC experience. There are some nice tweaks here as well, like when your character automatically picks up items, provided you have an empty inventory slot. Like Fortnite, the in-app purchases aren’t going to make a huge difference for you in the middle of a firefight, so download knowing you don’t have to drain your bank account unless you want to.
2014 | Bizzard Entertainment
Truth be told, Hearthstone has taken some flak in recent years for becoming less friendly for free-to-play users. There are more legendaries than ever to collect and it will cost you quite a bit if you actually want to use all of the top decks you see the pros playing on Twitch. But the game does rotate old sets out once per year so new players don’t feel overwhelmed.
If you spend your in-game currency building up your Classic card collection, you’ll have a permanent base of cards you can use to serve as the skeleton of any deck. Blizzard also lets players get one free classic pack every week through Hearthstone‘s Tavern Brawl mode. If you’re OK with just working to build up one or two good decks at a time instead of having something amazing for every class, you’ll find a lot of fun here.
2014 | Super Evil Megacorp
The MOBA bubble popped quite some time ago, but one of the first big heavy hitters in the space on mobile is still alive and kicking. Vainglory is essentially a mobile League of Legends, with a limited but rotating cast of free characters made available every week. Yes, there are plenty of in-app purchases, including characters, skins, and multiple variations of what are essentially loot boxes, but you can still have fun without spending a dime.
Vainglory also dishes out a pretty decent amount of in-game currency for dedicated players who take the time to win a game or three every day. With the recent addition of a 5v5 mode, there’s been no better time to jump in for some mobile MOBA action.
Fire Emblem Heroes
2017 | Nintendo
When Nintendo released Super Mario Run as its first major mobile app not named Miitomo, expectations were sky high. Sadly, Nintendo’s decision to make the game free to download but essentially a premium app after the first few levels rubbed a lot of gamers the wrong way. The Big N seems to have learned its lesson, making this bite-sized Fire Emblem title free-to-play the whole way through.
There’s a big gacha element to this title and you can certainly drop hundreds of dollars if you want to. But the developer has been great at listening to fan concerns and has frequently doled out heaping helpings of in-game currency and other perks through various promotions. If you just want to get a quick strategy RPG fix from time to time, Fire Emblem Heroes hits the spot.
2017 | NetherRealm Studios
Warner Bros.’s mobile adaption of Injustice 2 relies heavily on lessons learned while porting the original Injustice and Mortal Kombat X to mobile in years past. There’s a beefy story mode here that can last for hours and most characters are obtainable over time to those willing to grind out in-game currency. Sure, there are some premium options available for the whales who just have to collect (and level) em’ all but the game is still a great choice for those looking for some beat em up fun.
2016 | Supercell
Ok, hear us out on this one. Yes, it’s true that Clash Royale was almost always one of the Top Grossing apps on the iOS store back when Apple made that information easily available. It’s also true that if you want to play the game at the highest level, you are easily looking at hundreds of dollars if you don’t want to wait half your lifetime to get there. But for those just looking for a quick and easy three-minute gaming session, Clash Royale is the ideal game.
The problem most players have with this game isn’t so much the in-app purchases as it is their inability to play just one match. For those who are willing to throw out some cash, developer Supercell does offer some nice package deals whenever players ascend to a new Arena (competitive level) within the game. The rest of us can level up by joining an in-game guild where players can donate cards to each other.
Super Stickman Golf 3
2016 | Noodlecake Games
The original Super Stickman games were premium, but this third iteration jumps fully into the free-to-play pool. Things aren’t too bad, however, as the game is rather generous, showering the player with a wide and varied collection of characters, power-ups, and 60+ hats that can change the way you play. The game has ads but those can be killed with just one in-app purchase. As for everything else, the game dishes out its in-game currency at a pretty decent clip. If you’re in the mood for some wacky golf on the go, give this one a shot.
2016 | Niantic
We’re far removed from the days when Pokemon Go ruled the world, but developer Niantic has continued to push out content at a regular pace. Pokemon Go remains a fun game to keep installed on your phone just for that occasional weekend road trip that takes you to a new town or city for the first time. If you’ve really gotta try and catch em all, the in-app purchases will always be there for you, but a regular player with all of the Pokestops in his or her area memorized will pretty much never run out of Pokeballs.
Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius
2016 | A-lim
For a while there it felt like Square Enix was going to churn out a new Final Fantasy game on mobile every couple of months. But even with all of the competition from other mobile apps within the same franchise, Brave Exvius has maintained its position as the most popular of the Final Fantasy free-to-play options.
You should know going in that this is another gacha game and it will put you into financial ruin if you let it. That said, Brave Exvius gets a spot on this list thanks to the extremely lengthy amount of story content in the game, most of which can be progressed through with regular play. The game also showers players with enough in-game currency that you can get a decent roster built-up if you are willing to concentrate on a handful of characters.
The Sims Mobile
2018 | Maxis
EA has released a ridiculous number of mobile games for The Sims franchise over the years, but this recent release appears to be the first time the publisher has really gotten it right. Yes, you can spend a ton of money here if you want to speed up the process of building out your Sim’s home, but for those with patience and an ability to deal with timers, this isn’t a half-bad adaptation of the traditional Sims experience. For those looking to live out a virtual life away from their PC, this is the best option available.
2018 | Madfinger Games
Mobile Destiny says hi. Shadowgun Legends is an online shared world shooter with a lengthy campaign that you don’t need to spend a dime on to complete. If you want to play the game long-term, you’ll probably want to drop some coin to flesh out your inventory space and those playing at the highest levels might want to take a few shortcuts to get the best gear. But if you’re just looking to scratch your Destiny itch while sitting on the bus, Shadowgun Legends offers a meaty story and multiple options for multiplayer that are a lot of fun.
Lineage 2: Revolution
2017 | Netmarble
Lineage 2: Revolution is actually a prequel set 100 years prior to the story of Lineage 2 that you know and love. If you’re looking for a MMO-like experience on mobile, you’ll find it in spades here with a vast world to explore and numerous dungeons to crawl. Because it’s designed by developer Netmarble (and licensed by NCSoft), you’ll find a wide selection of expensive trinkets you can drop real money on if you want to. But the game has so much content that you can play for a long time without feeling the need to spend a penny.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
2017 | Nintendo
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp released to somewhat mixed reviews, and it’s still kind of a love it or hate it app today. But if you’re OK with the traditional Animal Crossing experience being shoehorned into a free-to-play design, you’ll find a lot to like here.
As with any other game with timers, patience is a virtue. Those who are willing to log in a couple times a day to tap on their animal friends will accrue more than enough in-game currency to have a good time. Just know that “good time” doesn’t mean getting every best item in the game right away… or at least not without your credit card.
Final Fantasy Record Keeper
2015 | DeNA
We’ve already mentioned Brave Exvius as being the mobile app of choice for many Final Fantasy fans. That’s still true, but don’t sleep on this older effort courtesy of a partnership between Square Enix and DeNA. The game recently celebrated its third anniversary, which means you have three years’ worth of content to progress through if you are coming in fresh.
This game is unique in that all of the characters can actually be acquired for free by simply playing the game and completing levels. The gacha element comes in through the various weapon and armor drops that are used to power up said characters. But if all you want to do is run around with an adorable pixel-art Yuna, Cloud, or Squall while vibing to classic Final Fantasy music and a very traditional turn-based battle system, Record Keeper absolutely deserves a spot on your phone.
Marvel Strike Force
2018 | FoxNext
Launched in March 2018, Marvel Strike Force is the latest hotness to hit the “collect all the characters” genre, hitting the market just in time to take advantage of Avengers: Infinity War hype. Seriously, the current tagline for the game on the App Store is, “Uh oh, Thanos is here!” Yeah, real subtle there, FoxNext Games.
If you’re OK with heaps of fan service being shoved down your throat, the early word is that this team-based RPG allows players to run wild for quite a while before hitting any kind of progression paywall. It will be interesting to see if that remains true once the Thanos hype dies down and the developer needs to keep bringing money in, but for now, we’ll give the title our recommendation.
2015 | Nexon & Big Huge Games
DomiNations is a Clash of Clans clone with a very Clash of Clans-like business plan. Those who want to spend a ton of money are given every opportunity to do so. But this game still gets a nod thanks to its Civilization-lite gameplay. Players progress through different historical “Ages”, like the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and so on. Each age represents a different period in time and has the visuals to match.
Players can even progress into something akin to modern times with Ages like Atomic and Cold War, which are available later on. The game apparently even has a “Space Age” in the works, so it will be interesting to see where developer Big Huge Games decides to go after that. “Super Secret Space?”
At any rate, DomiNations is a fun game for history buffs that will reward you in time… by letting you progress through time. Log in often enough and you’ll have enough in-game currency to progress at a decent pace.
The Elder Scrolls: Legends
2017 | Dire Wolf Digital
The Elder Scrolls: Legends never really became the Hearthstone-killer some thought it might be when it was announced, but publisher Bethesda and developer Dire Wolf Digital have continued to offer great support for the game, with two expansions already out. Legends also offers a full-fledged story mode that should hit the spot for any longtime fan of the franchise. It helps that it can be played to completion without spending a dime.
2017 | Appbox Media
There are a countless number of “build your own town” games out there but Brew Town is definitely the most unique take we’ve seen. Brew Town is a recent release that lets players build their own craft brewery. Beer fans can name their beers and even design the label on the bottles. There are hundreds of upgrades to unlock, and of course, Brew Town loves brewery owners who keep their credit card handy. But the game’s reviews also state that the timers in this title aren’t nearly as bad as what can be found in some other favorites within the genre. It’s the perfect game to sit back and relax with while sipping on your favorite craft beer in real life.
Villagers & Heroes
2014 | Mad Otter Games
We hesitated to put another MMO on this list, but Villagers & Heroes scratches an itch that former World of Warcraft addicts will remember well. There have been other WoW-lite games released on mobile over the years, most notably Gameloft’s two versions of Order & Chaos. But Villagers & Heroes seems to have done a better job of maintaining a core base of players. Currently, the game has a new expansion in the works, Villagers & Heroes: Wellspring, which releases May 2018.
2013 | Rumble Entertainment
Touchscreen Diablo, you say? I’ll take one, please. To be clear, the story and aesthetic aren’t exactly the same, but longtime fans of action RPGs where you repeatedly smash enemies from a top-down view will find a lot to like here.
The game’s code is lightweight enough that it can also be played from any Web browser with a keyboard and mouse if you really want to, but the mobile controls hold up just fine. The in-game currency is best used to expand inventory space, although it can be used to get in extra runs for high-level gear if you want to max out your character as quickly as possible.
2012 | Supercell
If you’d like to take a farm with you on the go, just get Stardew Valley on Nintendo Switch. But if your Mom won’t buy you a Switch because video games are the devil, just secretly download this app from Clash Royale developer Supercell and then make sure your Mom doesn’t figure out your phone’s passcode or you’ll be going to Hell, young man!
Lame Mom jokes aside, this is a fun app for anyone yearning for the days of Farmville. (Remember that?) There are again timers to deal with, and just like with Clash Royale, Supercell will let you give away the farm in the form of your bank account if you really want to. But log in daily for a bit of fun and you’ll never run out of crops to plant or silos to upgrade.
Marvel Puzzle Quest
2013 | Demiurge Studios
The only puzzle game on our list, Marvel Puzzle Quest has the advantage of having five years worth of content for new players to plow through. There’s a bit of a difficulty ramp once you get into the thick of it, but the game allows you to replay old levels for extra loot. There is always one or more special events going on where you’ll have an opportunity to earn special characters.
We recommend saving your in-game currency to buy more roster spots, otherwise you’re going to have to end up ditching all of those fancy new characters you collected. Other than that, Marvel Puzzle Quest is a highly addictive game that won’t ever shut you out from trying just one more game before heading to bed.
2017 | 22Cans
The Trail is part Oregon Trail, part walking simulator, and part city builder from Peter Molyneux’s 22cans. You take control of one character and literally walk a trail out in the wilderness, trying to get to Eden Falls. The Trail features chill music and sound effects mixed with low-poly graphics that offer quite a bit of charm and will keep you coming back for the next stretch of trail. Once you get to the end game, some in-app purchases do rear their ugly heads, but The Trail is worth playing at least until you get to the Falls, as the journey itself is the reward.
2015 | Bethesda
This game was released to great fanfare right in the middle of E3 2015. The part of the announcement that got the biggest applause from the Bethesda faithful was when the company said the game wouldn’t require an internet connection or make you deal with a bunch of long timers or other free-to-play nonsense. In-game currency can be used to buy the franchise’s iconic lunch boxes, which are filled with power-ups, but for the most part, the game has maintained its initial promise to be accessible without being greedy.