With so many amazing new games being released seemingly every day, it can be hard to keep up and
decide which of the endless flock are worth both your precious time, as well as your money. But luckily
for every gamer on a budget, there also happens to be a boundless supply of absolutely free games;
many of which receive just as much, if not more care and attention than major, AAA games. These are
eleven fun, mechanically impressive games, that can hold your attention for months on end, without
costing you a dime.
Upon its release, this sequel to the criminally under-appreciated Guild Wars (2005) was considered to be
the MMO to overthrow the titan that is World of Warcraft (2004). The game was impressively well
received, not only for being a genuinely fun and interesting game, but for daring to step outside of the
intensely rigid boundaries of the MMO genre. This is the game that challenged the concepts that had
simply come to be expected of games of its age, and at a solid one-time purchase to boot! Not only was
it more unique than the “King of MMOs”, it was more affordable as well.
Today, however, you might be surprised to find the game more affordable than ever. Yes, as if you
couldn’t see it coming, the iconic MMO has been free to play for some time now. The new model instead treating a full purchase as more of an “upgrade” than anything else. Of course, if you were asking “What’s the catch?”… that’s it right there. As a free player, you’ll have certain disadvantages over paying players: less character slots, less inventory space, and small amounts of reduced freedom in trading and exploration.
The entire base game is still open to you; just at a slightly less convenient pace. But if that
isn’t enough to scare you off, you’ll find a fantastic game with a thriving player base, and a gorgeous
world to get lost in for hours, as you fight your way through a legitimately enjoyable story. Give it a
chance, and it really will be a time to remember.
Next up is the superhero “Diablo-like” action game that gets a new coat of paint (along with a new title)
pretty much every year. It was originally released in 2013, but you’d never be able to guess from the new
date they throw on every major update. With all these changes, however, the core gameplay stays the
same, yet the improvements to functionality and quality of life are fantastic, and make the game truly
worthy of revisiting time and time again.
As a Marvel-themed action RPG, you take control of an ever-expanding roster of over 50 playable
characters, both heroes and villains alike, to beat the tar out of whatever supervillain happens to be within
sneezing distance; teaming up with thousands of other active, sociable players, having their own Marvel
With so many characters to choose from, you’re guaranteed to find plenty you love, as well as plenty
you’ve never heard of, to fall in love with for the first time. The grind, both to level up, and unlock new
characters, can be a bit overwhelming at times, but it will fly by if you’re playing as someone you find fun and engaging. And with everyone from Green Goblin to Squirrel Girl, there’s sure to be a hero for you.
Do you remember Super Smash Bros? All the fun times you had with those iconic, lovable characters;
laughing with your friends and siblings? Or if you never played Nintendo, do you remember everyone
else, excitedly yet annoyingly clamoring on about how fantastic it was? Well picture that… but on PC.
That’s about 70% of Brawlhalla right there. And it’s amazing.
Of course, the games aren’t exactly alike; far from it in fact. For one, Brawlhalla has a much larger
emphasis on mobility, with each character having several mid-air jumps, being able to use their recovery
move multiple times without landing, and having an infinite amount of wall-jumps that refresh those
already impressive aerial options. Add that to the fact that movesets are not only tied to your specific
character, but also to whatever weapon you happen to be holding, as each character can grab one of
multiple weapons that fall from the sky, giving you a unique moveset at each point in the game, and you
have a recipe for an exciting and unique brawler.
While the game does certainly cater to the more “casual” crowd, with its comparatively small arsenal of
technical skills, as well as its unavoidable RNG (the bane of all competitive gamers) looming in the
distance, the game does offer plenty of depth, with a surprisingly active competitive crowd, and a very
satisfying ranked mode, to truly test your skills.
Don’t be fooled by its goofy demeanor; Brawlhalla is an epic battle of skill and strategic superiority.
Another game that, at first glance, may remind you of Super Smash Bros, Elsword is in fact more
comparable to Nexon’s Maplestory (2003). Being a side-scrolling MMO with an emphasis on intense
character progression, gorgeous, over the top, anime style attacks, and engaging skill systems that make
every character, even those in the same class, feel completely unique, this is definitely one to keep your
With twelve characters to choose from, each with their own story, and most of them having six different
classes they can change into, with their own specialized playstyle, as well as dozens of skills available to
each one, this is a game that will grab your attention, and have you experimenting for months at a time to find the perfect character for your unique playstyle.
This game, in particular, has a special place in my heart, as a gamer who can never properly decide
whether or not to call himself “hardcore”. By which I am referring to the game’s intense, well balanced,
skill-based PVP, that truly tests your mastery of the game’s mechanics. You can play through the entire
single-player story, not even knowing that these techniques exist, but once you do, a whole new
dimension of the game will open up to you.
Elsword is the perfect game for any fan of the genre, as long as its age doesn’t bother you.
Easily the most recent game on this list, this preemptive spinoff of the (yet to be fully released) Fortnite
(2018) just couldn’t wait to explode onto your computer, having its full, free release, months before the
game on which it was based. Essentially, as the title would suggest, Fortnite is a battle royale game, in
the vein of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (2017) before it. In fact, at first glance, it would be easy to
write this off as a simple knock-off of that exact game; however, you’ll find it has plenty to distinguish
itself if you stick around.
The game starts out as by-the-numbers as a battle royale game can. You and 99 other players are
dropped on a large island in a deserted city, with weapons randomly dropped in every building. The goal
is to get weapons before anyone else, get better weapons than everyone else, and eventually be the last
man standing. Simple, right? Well, there are a few things that make it unique.
Unlike most other games of the genre (or games in general), nearly everything in the world is destructible. Is your opponent hiding out in a house? Shoot that house with a rocket launcher. No more house, no
more enemy. But not only can you destroy; you can build. By destroying buildings, trees, and anything
else you find, you collect resources which you can use to build your own base, or even lay traps, such as
spikes, all over the ground. The amount of creativity you’re allowed in how you approach a situation is
endless, and makes the game feel truly unique when compared to any other game of the genre, and for
that reason, it cannot be passed up.
It’s at this point that I’m beginning to notice a pattern, as this is yet another game that is very easy to
ignore, mocking it as a simple ripoff of a “superior” retail game (in this case, Overwatch (2016)). While it
is, honestly, hard to argue the similarities between the two games, there are plenty of things that Paladins does well; or at least well enough to not be completely eclipsed by its “big brother”.
As most who have heard of both games are already painfully aware, the essential gameplay loop, and
even general character design philosophy, between the two games are remarkably similar. However,
there is the occasional thing that makes Paladins unique enough to give a try. The most obvious example
of this is likely that Paladins, like most games of the MOBA genre, has a relatively simple in-match item
shop that allows for unique character progression.
Do you need more damage? More health? Movement speed? Maybe some extra healing? Buy it, and make your character stronger in whatever
way you deem necessary. This allows for two people playing the same character to have different
effective abilities and may cause one to win out over the other, due to strategy, rather than pure aim.
Due to the more unique stat and ability systems used in Paladins, individual characters can fill
significantly more roles than in Overwatch. However, this is at the cost of Overwatch’s flagship mechanic:
the ability to switch characters at any point in a match. Some people may prefer the instant, drastic shift
in strategy that Overwatch provides, though some may significantly prefer the amount of careful planning, and reliance on a single character, that Paladins demands of its players.
At the end of the day, it’s a completely subjective choice with no wrong answers, so try it out and make
your own decision.
Here it is. The infamous “free to grind”, pay to win game, as you can expect from a trading card game,
made by a major company. But is it really that bad? Surprising, no. The game offers you an extremely
rewarding, consistent flow of new, well-balanced cards, which you can easily combine into a fun,
functional, and competitive deck; with a bit of skill and creativity.
Some may complain about a number of duplicate cards you sometimes receive from random packs, but
those are honestly my favorite sights, as any unwanted cards can be immediately sold, and used to craft
those elusive few cards that would otherwise escape your grasp.
There are few things more satisfying than brainstorming ideas for a new deck theme, collecting each of
those cards, and winning your first game with a brand new army of your own design. This seemingly
simple, but deceptively deep game of wit and strategy truly rewards the player capable of out-thinking his opponent. No card is without counter, and you have to keep every possibility in mind, carefully
maneuvering your creatures and timing your spells to bait and out-last your rivals. The only negative that really must be addressed is the randomness of the game. However, that’s to be expected from card
games, and the best players work hard to minimize chance.
As for the “pay to win” arguments, the game has a very clever, and very rewarding way around that. As
you slowly build up the in-game currency, you’ll eventually have enough to buy new cards. But if you’re
truly skilled, you’ll instead buy an entry ticket to the game’s most interesting mode: the Arena. In the
Arena, you’re tasked with making an entire deck from scratch, using mostly random cards, and are then
allowed to fight against other players who’ve done exactly the same. This creates a gauntlet situation,
where whoever understands the game the most, and is the best at skillfully crafting his deck, will defeat all his opponents, and be rewarded with significantly more gold than they originally used, as well as various other rewards, in a system that allows good players to buy cards indefinitely, for free.
Finally, if all this weren’t good enough for both the casual and hardcore players alike: the entire, fully
functional game, is available on your smartphones, making Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft the perfect
game to play on the go.
Now, if you like to think of yourself as a hardcore, competitive gamer, and find yourself above those
cartoony, Smash-like brawlers, or RNG-ridden card games, this next entry might just perk up your ears.
The simplest way to describe this free to play, sci-fi, first-person shooter would be to picture the board
game Risk and imagine that each and every piece on the board is another player. That would be a pretty
accurate representation of this beloved shooter, as the game starts by asking you to pick between one of three factions, who fight for superiority on one of several continents, ever-shifting in power.
Each continent is broken up into dozens of unique territories, each with a base, governing control of the
segment. The team who captures the base, king of the hill style, controls the territory, and can then
continue their assault on the rest of the continent. The fight rages on, day and night until one faction
controls the entire landscape; possibly taking days or even weeks.
Choose your playstyle: Do you want to play as a stealthy infiltrator, being a thorn in your enemy’s side;
strategically picking off valuable targets, and hacking their technology for your own use? Maybe that’s too quiet for you, and you’d prefer to play as a MAX; a massive, hulking behemoth, behind several inches of powerful armor, capable of wiping out entire squads with a few, well-placed clips. Or maybe any foot soldier is too boring for you, and you’d like to take to the skies as a pilot, bringing death from above, and skillfully taking out enemy aircrafts in high-intensity dogfights.
Whatever playstyle you enjoy, you’re likely to find it in this truly unique hybrid between an FPS and MMO.
Speaking of unique hybrids, this hack and slash/shooter/MMO/RPG throws you into the shoes of a sci-fi
“space ninja”, murdering your way through the galaxy. The game’s slow and grind-heavy nature is
enough to turn many players away, but if you offer Warframe the time and patience it deserves, you’ll
slowly uncover one of the most interesting and satisfying free games on the market.
As a Tenno, you pilot suits of armor known as Warframes, which come custom-built with their own special
abilities and playstyles, tailored specifically to cause as much destruction, as efficiently as possible.
Sprint, slash, and fly through each level, with your choice of countless weapons including bows, sniper
rifles, kunai knives, and massive swords, each wielded by a unique suit of armor, capable of utilizing each
weapon in its own, creatively terrifying ways.
You might feel right at home with Excalibur, the first Warframe used by most players, with his devastating
melee attacks, capable of eliminating entire rooms full of enemies with a few deft swings. Or possibly you
want to stick to the shadows with Ivara, the stealth-focused frame, silently taking out enemies one at a
time; but not before picking their pockets dry. With over thirty artistically crafted frames, and new ones
being added all the time, there’s always plenty to keep you coming back to this galaxy of action and loot.
Honestly speaking, the final entry on this list could be none other than the most popular online game of all
time, League of Legends, or its closest rival, Defense of the Ancients 2. The two games are so
ferociously popular and are so closely intertwined with their intense rivalry, that it’s impossible to mention
one without, or list one before, the other.
As the two largest, most successful, and most competitive games in the popular, competitive genre of
MOBA, or multiplayer online battle arena, the two games have a lot in common, which is the primary
cause for their bittersweet rivalry. Which one is the superior game, however? Well… the disappointing
answer to that is: “It depends on the player”.
DotA 2 is often paraded as the superior competitive game, as it demands more knowledge from the
player to have them become even remotely decent. This means the game has a monstrous learning
curve, which is often used to cite how it’s so much more complex than its rival. However, it can
sometimes be hard to take these claims seriously, as they’re simply referring to game knowledge, rather
than skill. Put bluntly, DotA 2 requires noticeable amounts of studying to play to any remotely decent
level, which can be both a massive positive, or soul-crushing negative, depending on who you ask.
League, however, prides itself on being much more “beginner friendly”, putting much more of an
emphasis on skill, rather than knowledge. Because of this, I’ve seen some members of the community
compare DotA and League to chess and tennis, respectively. An extremely odd comparison, I’ll admit,
but surprisingly fitting, due to the amount of knowledge that chess requires, before skill even becomes a
factor, and conversely, the amount of skill that a fast sport like tennis requires before knowledge makes
much difference at all.
These comparisons become increasingly evident the more you look into the games’ differences, with
DotA 2 having significantly more mechanics, such as creep denying and the courier, while also punishing
you more for mistakes, such as simply facing the wrong direction, or staying in your lane for too long.
League, however, either eliminates or provides ways around these “mistakes”, by removing rotation
speed, and allowing any player to return to their base at any time. Even the mechanics that are slightly
more unique to League of Legends, such as brush that camouflages your character, and unique buffs
from fighting specific monsters in the jungle, require minimum prior knowledge, and are usually more
about thinking on the spot.
In addition, League of Legends gets much more consistent updates, with a more vocal, dedicated
company, as well as more characters and plenty of fun distractions from the basic game mode, with the
subjective downside of there being less to learn for that specific mode.
At the end of the day, despite how similar they are, they’re two very different games, with different goals in
mind. My fondest memories of DotA are of tactically controlling several units at once, collapsing on my
targets, and pushing my APM to the limit; whereas my fondest memories of League are in playing each of
the fun, unique game modes that Riot Games puts out regularly; such as URF, in which your characters
can use abilities five times as often, with infinite resources with which to use them.
Both games are complex and competitive, but they naturally attract different kinds of players, and if you
don’t know which one you are, just try them both and decide for yourself.
With so many games, of so many different genres, there really is something out there for everyone. So
go on and try as many as you want. They’re free, after all.