The gaming world is making a dramatic shift towards free to play games. Of course, full price retail titles still make up for a majority of releases on the PC and most other platforms, but playing a quality game without cracking your wallet open is a completely viable option nowadays.
You could argue some free games deserve to be free, as their quality or length is not quite up there with AAA releases, but there are plenty of notable exceptions. In fact, some of them are so good that it’s easy to forget the cost to play is a whopping zero dollars.
Most free video games offer at least some form of in-game purchases, designed to extend the experience and serve as a steady revenue stream for its creators. But a free to play game made right will allow players to enjoy everything it has to offer, while keeping monetary transactions completely optional.
We’ve combed through the Internet to bring you the very best PC games pushing forward the free-to-play model -- and making a good name for it, too. Check them out below:
88 13 Reviews The original DOTA has a rare distinction: it actually gave birth to an entire genre. MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas) did not exist before the first DOTA mod hit the scene in Warcraft 3, and now the genre is absolutely massive. Valve has since stepped in and grabbed the rights to DOTA, releasing a standalone product known as DOTA 2.
DOTA 2 is strikingly similar to its predecessor. And there’s a reason for that. People still playing DOTA years after its release in 2003 were really just looking for an updated version of the game, and that is exactly what Valve delivered.
My favorite thing about DOTA 2, besides the depth of the gameplay, is the fact that everything in the game that costs money is strictly cosmetic. All of the heroes are available without any paywalls, so realistically, there is nothing stopping anyone from enjoying DOTA 2 without ever opening their wallet.
81 18 Reviews The single biggest video game in the world in terms of overall player base is free. Imagine telling someone this during the old NES days and they would have not believed it, but it’s a reality in 2013. Like DOTA 2, League of Legends is a MOBA, and because it did a great deal to modernize the genre before DOTA 2 hit the market, it is substantially more popular PC gaming circles.
I am not going to debate whether League of Legends or DOTA 2 is a better MOBA. All you need to know is these are two of the deepest, most skill intensive games available on PC today, and they are completely free charge. It’s definitely a good time to be a gamer.
Like DOTA 2, League of Legends is the kind of game one can get really hooked on. The learning curve is high, and gamers can expect to have to dedicate some time studying the subtle nuances, but once you figure it out, League of Legends is an incredible experience, one that should be at least tried by all PC players.
78 11 Reviews Free MMOs are not overly uncommon in today's video game landscape. In fact, it seems like World of Warcraft is about the only MMO that can continue to charge customers a subscription with any success. TERA is among those that were forced to go free, and the moment it did, I started playing it. While most MMOs tend to feature a more methodical approach to gameplay, TERA is the closest to an action RPG I've encountered.
For any player who is bored with the MMORPG formula, TERA is worth a look. It still features plenty of fetch quests and simple kill X number of Y creature missions, but the actual fighting is so good that it makes up for it completely.
Another thing that separates TERA from others in the same genre is visuals. While far too many MMOs scrape by with decent graphics, TERA goes out of its way to look as stunning as possible. For anyone bored with the same old MMO, TERA might be the perfect game.
78 11 Reviews The Old Republic is another example of an MMO attempting to compete with World Of Warcraft in the subscription space and failing to take down the juggernaut. Bioware eventually decided to make it free-to-play, which is awesome for gamers looking to enjoy the game without breaking the bank (at first -- as many readers have pointed out, long term they really go their way to make you pay).
Because this game is from Bioware, players can expect a lot more story than is typically found in the MMO space. While not as cut scene driven as Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic, and Dragon Age, it still offers a good bit of the story elements that made Bioware such a beloved developer in the game world. In addition, it’s Star Wars, so you really can’t go wrong.
87 13 Reviews Isometric action RPGs have made something of a comeback thanks in large part to Blizzard's Diablo III. And when gamers hit a wall with the latter’s always online requirement, Path of Exile was ready to swoop in and try to steal the hearts of angry fans.
In terms of gameplay, Path of Exile is very similar to Diablo III, but it comes with one key difference: it's free. Of course, it has micro transactions, but each of them are very fair, and none break the game in the event that the player chooses not to buy into them.
For gamers who love a Diablo-like experience, and prefer not to drop $60 on it, Path of Exile is a fantastic substitute. Heck, even if you love Diablo III and just want to try something a little different, Path of Exile will most certainly scratch that itch.
90 12 Reviews Valve gets mentioned twice on our list with its fantastic squad-based shooter Team Fortress 2. The original Team Fortress, another successful mod turned into a super-successful franchise, was a staple of Valve’s lineup, and gamers continued to play it for many years after its initial release. Not many shooters scratch the same itch as Team Fortress, so realistically, the only thing that could pull players away from the original was a sequel.
Team Fortress 2 offers the same quality gameplay as the first, but it does so in a much more visually polished package. A shooter of such a high quality is just not something you see often in the video game industry, especially without the cost of entry.
If there’s one thing Valve is known for, it’s building goodwill from its customers, and free games like DOTA 2 and Team Fortress 2 are glaring examples of why Valve has such a dedicated following. Anyone who’s never tried TF2 really should. The level of refinement rivals anything you’d see from a $60 game, and other than some optional in-app purchases, there’s no part with your hard earned cash to enjoy it.
Platformers were the most popular genre in the old days, and with the rise of indie games, it has seen a bit of a resurgence. Titles like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV really brought the genre to the forefront, and since then, plenty of awesome new platformers have exploded onto the scene. Gamers looking for a slick alternative in this space should take a look at You Have To Win The Game.
You Have To Win The Game is an example of a free indie release done right. It offers the challenging old school gameplay of the NES days, with a modern twist. And when I say it is challenging, I mean it's brutal. At the same time, it offers a certain level of satisfaction that most modern games just don't deliver.
83 5 Reviews Massively-multiplayer first-person shooter PlanetSide 2 is an astonishing accomplishment for a free-to-play game that was meant to be just that from its inception. PlanetSide 2 is highly regarded for its vast environments and level of polish, but most importantly because during its massive scale battles it doesn't make you feel like you're missing out if you're relying on stock equipment.
94 4 Reviews While most of the items listed here are what would be considered more graphically intense, “AAA” type games, Frog Fractions deserves mention, in spite of it being just a simple browser-based flash experience. What appears to be a simple math game that does nothing in the way of actually teaching is really so much more.
I will not spoil how and where Frog Fractions evolves, but I will say when you play this game, think about directions in which you can move the frog. You will discover an entire new world. Don’t be deterred by what Frog Fractions seems to be, instead, take the time to find out what it really is, and you will be thoroughly impressed.
It's easy to forget Black Mesa is technically a Half-Life mod, however it's so extensive and so good that many (including ourselves) consider it to be a proper full game on its own right. The game reintroduces players as Doctor Gordon Freeman in his journey through the Black Mesa Research Facility, along with the original cast of memorable characters and environments seen in Half-Life.
And... there's a ton more
This list can’t possibly be all encompassing of course, and there are many more free PC games available that deserve mention. Releases like Runescape, Heroes of Newerth, World of Tanks, Tribes: Ascend, Blacklight: Retribution, Warframe and the recently opened Neverwinter, among many others. But they couldn’t all make the cut.
Are there some games you feel we should have mentioned but failed to? What has been your overall experience with free PC games as a whole? Hit the comments section and sound off.
Also read: Most Anticipated PC Games of 2013
Masthead image by Sam Chen, Custom PC Review.