For PC owners, the term free-to-play isn’t all that new, and it’s also a breed of videogame. That’s especially so in mobile gaming, and the ‘freemium’ market, where games are free-to-play, but have premium currency and items that are purchased for real money.
Up until recently, free-to-play games were relatively rare in the console world, but this changed, with some games arriving on the PS3 and Xbox 360 as free-to-play releases. This trend grew when the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One arrived on the scene, bringing with them more free to play options for gamers. In particular, Sony’s PlayStation 4 has pushed free-to-play more than other consoles, packing more free titles than its competitors. And it continues this trend, with more titles coming, such as Sony’s own zombie survival title, H1Z1.
Although the selection of free-to-play games on consoles is still rather slim, it’s clear that there’s a lot more interest in the model. Plus, there’s already a good selection of free-to-play games out there for you to download and play. We’re going to look at 13 of the best out there at the moment. Bear in mind, however, that we’re talking actual free-to-play titles, so we’re not including free offers with the likes of PS Plus or Xbox Live Games With Gold, and we’re not going to include free demos. This is purely free-to-play be design. These games may feature microtransactions and premium currency, but these features are optional. So, let’s get started.
Loadout is a promising free-to-play team-based shooter that features weapon customiation, and a Team Fortress-like cartoon aesthetic. It has a raft of game modes, including traditional offerings like deathmatch, capture the flag, and domination, as well as a coop campaign mode.
It’s a fast-paced shooter and the various game modes are great, but sadly it’s very lacking in maps. The weapon customisation is good, though, with plenty of combinations, and there’s no real need to spend real money, as you can earn in-game currency to buy items with.
Loadout is one of the more promising free-to-play releases, as the core game is good, it just needs some more content to help it grow. But despite that, it’s still recommended.
12. Killer Instinct
Killer Instinct has a big fan base that’s been crying out for a new release of the fighter for a long time, so when Microsoft announced it was coming to Xbox One, there was much rejoicing. The fact that it was also going to be available as a free-to-play game alongside the full release was also interesting.
As hoped, the reworking of Killer Instinct for current gen turned out to be a great fighter, delivering the combo-heavy fighting of the original games, and it looks great too, with impressive new designs for the game’s roster of combatants.
The free-to-play mechanic of the game lets players play as a single character, which changes with time, but features the full set of game modes. In order to access the whole roster at any time, you need to buy the game, or the combo breaker pack. Some have said that this isn’t really free-to-play, and is instead more of a demo, and that’s a fair point, but there’s no time limit on the game, and you can play every mode, just with the one fighter, which changes, effectively giving you more than a simple demo.
11. Tekken Revolution
The Tekken series is one of the best fighters out there, and the free-to-play incarnation on PlayStation 3 is a pretty good attempt at taking the series in a different direction, a method Dead or Alive has also recently adopted. It features a large list of fighters, with eight core combatants and plenty of unlockables. The Tekken combat fans love is present, only with the addition of free-to-play levelling and advancement.
At its core, Tekken Revolution is a good fighter, and as a free-to-play option, it’s great. Sadly, it’s let down by an influx of hackers and cheaters, that have damaged the game’s appeal somewhat, as has the pay-to-win nature. If you can find good opponents, though, this is a great online scrapper.
10. Spartacus Legends
Spartacus Legends was a bit of a surprise, as it didn’t look at that promising, being very similar to other games like Real Steel and Pacific Rim. However, this free-to-play blood-letter features a surprisingly deep combat system, and a decent amount of character growth.
Based on, but with little to do with the Spartacus TV series, you have to take your stable of gladiators from lowly unknowns to legends in the arena, and have to take part in all sorts of battles with the aim of becoming more famous, and eventually to best. You start out with limited equipment and abilities, but as you win and earn money, you can outfit your fighters with better gear and tackle more dangerous foes.
The combat itself initially feels clunky when compared to other fighting games, but as you get used to it, you learn to appreciate the weight of the blows, and the more tactical pace of things. Hitting that finishing move with perfect timing is always a thrill, as are the rewards that come with your increased fame.
9. Invokers Tournament
The MOBA genre has become hugely popular, but thus far it’s yet to make major moves on console, and is more PC-centric. So, the free-to-play Invokers Tournament for PlayStation and Vita is very welcome.
It may not be able to topple the genre greats, such as Defense of the Ancients or League of Legends, but Invokers Tournament is a good starting point, at least until other options surface. It features 3v3 matches with a selection of colourful characters to pick as your avatar, and it features the same tower and base domination of most alternatives in the genre. It also features a Diablo-style dungeon crawling mode.
Designed to be played on console, the controls are simple and easy to get to grips with, so you won’t miss the mouse and keyboard too much.
Although it didn’t make the great waves we initially thought it would, this free-to-play FPS for PlayStation 3 is still a very intriguing prospect, as it brings together two very different genres, and ties them into a cohesive unit.
Taking part in the EVE Online universe, Dust514 sees teams fight for control of planets. The outcome of this actually affects the world of EVE Online. What’s more, players of both games can communicate, as EVE Online players can hire Dust players to help change the ownership of a planet, and Dust players can call on EVE users to provide orbital strikes, all in real time.
It’s a brilliant idea, and one that we hope will grow, and become available in more titles. As it stands, Dust514 isn’t the greatest example of a team-based FPS, but it’s still a solid game, and in terms of unique ideas, it’s certainly worth a look. It’d be great if it came to PlayStation 4, though…
Defiance is an open-world shooter MMO tied into the SyFy TV series of the same name, with the unique feature of the game and the show affecting each other. The show returns to SyFy sometime this year for a third season.
The game is an open world shooter where players can roam around undertaking missions, all the time running into, and optionally helping others. As it’s a free-to-play MMO, it features a lot of grind in order to advance your character, and there are plenty of MMO systems in place we’ve come to expect from the genre. Character levelling, weapon levelling, personal vehicles, huge battles and some great environments makes for an enjoyable MMO, which at the moment, sadly looks unlikely to appear on current gen platforms.
6. War Thunder
The Xbox may have landed the exclusivity for World of Tanks, so Sony planned to take on the popular online shooter with its own offering, and bagged the exclusivity for War Thunder, another online combat title. Unlike World of Tanks, though, War Thunder includes air combat alongside ground-based armoured units. In fact, it’s when you take to the skies that the game shines most for many players. Navel elements are to be added too, making it an al-round package.
War Thunder has both sim and arcade elements, with a big emphasis on recreation of historical battles, and its selection of units is impressive. The attention to detail, both visually and in terms of mechaics, is also great, and online battles are filled with realistic destruction.
Everything in the game can be grabbed for free if you don’t want to pump real money into it, and it doesn’t take too long to get new vehicles. As time goes by, however, the grind does become more pronounced.
5. Project Spark
Microsoft could have easily sold Project Spark as a full retail release, and gamers would have probably shelled out for it, as it’s essentially Microsoft’s version of Little Big Planet. It didn’t, however, and Project Spark is available as a free-to-play title on Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC, with full cross platform play.
Using Spark, you can create all sorts of games, from shooters to RPGs, and doing so is easy thanks to the simple tools and onscreen, icon-based programming language. To get the most out of the game, some knowledge of programming will help, just to understand how the core elements of a game work, but even with no coding know-how at all, you can still create a game and share it with others.
Project Spark may not have exploded onto the scene with as big a bang as Microsoft may have hoped, but if you give it a go, you’ll find a great sandbox creation tool. It’s even been used by nu metal band, Linkin Park, to create a music video.
4. Blacklight: Retribution
Probably one of the most successful free-to-play FPS titles around, Blacklight: Retribution is an impressive free alternative to Call of Duty, and although it’s free-to-play, it looks just as good as many full price alternatives. It could even teach is competitors are trick or two.
At heart, Blacklight is a simple FPS with the usual assortment of game modes, such as deathmatch, capture the flag, and so on. However, this is complemented with some great additions. The special vision mode is one of the highlights, and this briefly allows you to see through walls and shows you enemy positions. You can’t fire using it, though, so it adds an interesting tactical dilemma, as using it can make you vulnerable. Score streaks are present, but are handled using a cumulative system, so you don’t lose your progress on death. This means everyone gets chance to use impressive strikes and assists, not just the hardcore experts.
Blacklight also features a great deal of customisability. In fact, it’s a core feature, and you can modify and tailor your character in all sorts of ways. This also carries over to weapons, which are modular, and are customised by adding new scopes, barrels and other components to create stronger firearms. It works well, and although you can spend money to unlock things easily, you can unlock most in-game items using the game’s currency, although you’ll need to do a lot of grinding.
3. World of Tanks
World of Tanks takes the traditional PvP styles of deathmatch and capture the flag, and replaces human fighters with heavily armoured tanks. This may sound like a rather odd decision, and a clunky one at that, but this is far from the result.
What we get is great vehicular combat that packs in a selection of game modes and a range of tanks and classes that make for an addictive online shooter. There’s a large range of different armoured vehicles from all over the world, and it’s all held together by a superb mixture of sim and arcade play.
Deeper than you may think, World of Tanks is both realistic and hardcore, balancing the simple and complex very well. Damage is dished out in a fairly realistic way, such as being able to damage tank treads, but this damage can also be fixed quickly. Advancing slowly over hills and rises to make sure you’re not picked off is important, but the controls are kept simple, with no complex mechanics to get in the way of the arcade play.
The game is easy to pick up, hard to master, and there’s plenty of research to do to unlock new tanks. This can be accelerated by spending real money, but if you don’t mind grinding, you can pay with hard work instead.
2. DC Universe Online
Barring some serious issues with connectivity, and frequent server issues, DC Universe Online is one of the best MMORPGs around, and it’s free-to-play, which makes it even better.
Like its counterparts, such as World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic, DCUO is a traditional online MMO with a large world, tons of quest, guilds, PvP, special events, and raids. The only difference is, you do it all in tight spandex.
You get to create your very own super hero or villain, and work under mentors like Superman, Batman, The Joker, and Lex Luthor as you fight your way through Metropolis and Gotham taking on your foes, and teaming up with others.
It’s a very complex RPG, with deep character creation and advancement, decent crafting, and the ability to start your own league of heroes or villains, with battles between leagues being possible. There’s also a mass of story content, with all sorts of missions involving DC characters both famous and obscure.
Sadly, there’s also a huge amount of content locked behind a paywall with a selection of premium DLC, but even with the free, core game, you’ll have more than enough to keep you busy.
Warframe has to take our top spot here, as it’s one of the most polished, addictive, and rewarding free-to-play games we’ve ever played, and has a huge, strong community, and a constant influx of free updates and expansions.
In two short years, Warframe has evolved into a complex multiplayer shooter that focuses on the acquisition of new weapons, mods, and Warframes, and it’s added a ton of new content, including new game modes, environments, Warframes, weapons, pets, public spaces, and various special events offering unique rewards. There’s more content here than in most triple AAA retail releases, and it’s one of the best online co-op shooters around, with great clan support.
What’s most impressive is the design of the game from a free-to-play standpoint. When you first begin Warframe, you’ll probably find its premium currency far too expensive, as are the items you buy with it. Then, after you’ve sunk several hours into it, you realise that you don’t actually have to spend anything as you can, with time and effort, earn the majority of the items in the game for free, including new Warframes, weapons, and the highly desired ‘Prime’ items. Okay, so you may need to spend a little real world money to buy equipment slots to store your items, but aside from this, and mainly aesthetic items like skins and decorations, everything can be bagged by just playing the game.
Fortunately, this is fun to do, and importantly, Warframe is no basic game shoved out there to suck your wallet dry. Whilst the dev team has clearly put measures into place to tempt people into spending money, it’s done so in a decent manner that doesn’t separate players with differing budgets, and the game, taken on its own merits, is good, with plenty of variety, tons to do, and levels that are randomly generated, so missions are always different. Excellent.