Gaming has a pretty significant initial investment. You can expect to pay roughly $300 for a current-gen console and if you’re building a PC, you’re probably looking at around $600. The simple reality of it is, you might not have a whole lot of cash on hand after putting up for any of the platforms. But you still want to use the machine. There’s no point in getting the hardware if you don’t have some software to use with it.
Luckily, free gaming is a growing trend, and we’re not just talking stuff for your cell phone. Full-size games that you don’t have to put any money down for are becoming more and more common, with PC leading the pack, but consoles aren’t lagging too far behind. So if you did just drop a bundle of cash on a new gaming system, or are just looking from something to tide you over, here are a few free games we think you’d enjoy. And don’t worry. There will be no pay-to-win titles on this list.
Team Fortress 2
Team Fortress is one of the solid pillars of the PC gaming community. It’s an excellent online shooter that’s well balanced, fun, colorful, and irreverent. But don’t let the fun, accessible art style lull you into a false sense of security. This is one of the most competitive team-based shooters out there. It’s fast-paced and easy to get overwhelmed, and we’ll admit the learning curve on this one is steep, but if you focus on teamwork, you’ll get some hefty rewards. The community’s tight-knit and can be hostile if you’re bringing the Call of Duty lone wolf mentality to it. Put it this way, if you run Spy or Sniper, despite there being a half dozen of those already, no one will like you. But if you run Medic and actually do your job, you’ll be welcomed like the second coming of Gaben himself. PC
There are a lot of different opinions about Minecraft. You might think it’s the most mindless thing humanity’s ever used for entertainment. Maybe you gave it a shot, didn’t quite get it and moved on with your life. It could also be something you assume only appeals to people younger than twelve. But you may also have spent a billion hours building monuments to rival the ancients. Whatever you think, you can’t deny the influence it’s had on pop culture.
It’s only natural that there were going to be imitators. Unturned is one of those, being an online zombie survival horror game in the distinctive pixel art style of Minecraft. Everything you do or build is aimed at surviving a zombie infestation, so you can construct barricades and fortresses, weapons, and tools to help you get through the night. There are also real world locations and scenarios available in main game and its Steam Workshop page, so you and your friends definitely won’t run out of locations to explore. PC
Titanfall made some waves not too long ago and its sequel looks poised to astonish the gaming community. But those are full price games with soldiers running around, so if you’re looking for some exclusively mech warfare, Hawken delivers. These are triple A level graphics in a game with tight, futuristic combat. Reviews are generally positive, even if they’re a little negative for the developer, but the community’s still active and if you’re familiar with other FPS’s, you’ll have a better start than most. The matches are fast paced and the mechs have some weight to them, so it’ll actually play like a mech fighter, not an oversized robotic gymnast. Also, it’s one of the few free titles available on every platform, so no matter who you are, you can jump in on a game. PC | Xbox | PS4
Every couple of years, a new shooter comes along that promises battles on an epic scale, but then ends up blowing it somehow. There are issues with lag or server loads or even the basic game code and what should have been a huge triumph for the ambitious MMOFPS genre end up being a fizzling disappointment. Planetside 2 is not that game. It’s perhaps the only game that actually delivers on promises for full-scale combat with hundreds of players. There are multiple factions and actual frontlines on enormous maps with players battling for control of different strategic sectors. There are six separate classes, none of which feel the same and can impact the battle in very different ways. You’re getting an experience unlike any other game on the market, and you don’t even have to pay for it.
World of Tanks
When you talk about tanks in video games, you have to divorce the reality of tank warfare from the recreational playing of tank warfare. So when we talk about this game, let’s all agree that in no way are we saying actually fighting in a tank is fun.
World of Tanks is a lot of fun. It’s fast-paced tank combat with basically no learning curve and a crazy amount of attention to detail. There are hundreds of tank models you can command and plenty of ways to practice to make sure you’re ready for the online multiplayer modes. The tanks and environments pop on the screen and the explosions are some of the better looking explosions we’ve seen in a game. Pretty much the only complaint we have is that the game’s title doesn’t do a great job of conveying just how much of a crappy, adware game this isn’t. PC | Xbox | PS4
Back to PC exclusive for a minute. Dota 2 is going to be one of the harder games for people to get into if they’re not regular gamers, mostly because of its fantasy setting. We’ve always found that fantasy genre things that aren’t Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones can be alienating and we do our best to stay away from alienation. But if the fantasy elements are something you like, or can at least get past, this is a great game for friends to team up and casually play with each other. There are plenty of characters and play styles to choose from and no match ever plays out the same. It started as a Warcraft mod and got huge after it was acquired by Valve, who polished it up to make it mass-market friendly while keeping the core gameplay the same. It also have VR support, which, while we can’t vouch for it personally, if it’s made by Valve, the quality’s going to be good. PC
War Thunder is similar to World of Tanks in that it’s a vehicle based combat game, but War Thunder goes in a different direction by focusing exclusively on vehicles available during World War II and Korea and by not limiting itself to tanks. You can fly planes and sail battleships in addition to the standard tank combat, adding new dynamics to the fight to make things a little more interesting. It’s also a cross-platform game, so if you have PC and your friend has PS4, that won’t keep you from being able to play together. That’s a rare feature and one that doesn’t get near enough support or attention, so maybe if we start playing games that actually deliver on that, maybe we’ll get even more of them. PC | PS4
Star Wars: The Old Republic
This one’s been out for a few years but just recently made some waves with a new trailer that tugged at the heartstrings of everyone who watched it. Which makes sense, since the developer, Bioware, is known for its devotion to choice based, emotional gameplay. For those of you who may have tried this one years ago, there are some pretty solid reasons to revisit the game, including expansion packs and gameplay tweaks. The free-to-play model of the game is an interesting one too. It doesn’t get you the whole game, but there are hours of content in the class storyline playthrough. If you want the full online game, that’s where you have to pay, but it’s not mandatory at any stage. If you’re satisfied with your single player experience, don’t pay for the game. And that’s not passive aggression or reverse psychology on our or Bioware’s part. That’s the actual policy. PC
The next two entries are more like perks for getting subscription services. You pay for the services and also you get the games. So there’s money going out, but in at least some cases, you probably already have the service.
Games With Gold
There’s a time limit included on this one, but we’re excited about it because there are some big names on the giveaway list. If you subscribe to Xbox Live Gold, Microsoft is hooking you up with serious games. This month has the Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon expansion, which was basically just a big love letter to the 80’s while also being a solid game. Past months have included Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, Halo: Reach, and Tomb Raider, so this service isn’t a slouch. And since you need Xbox Gold to play online, you might already have this option and not even know about it. The problem with it, these aren’t yours to keep. If your Gold subscription lapses or you cancel it, you lose access to the games. So make sure you play them while you have them. Link
For a long time, online gaming on Playstation was free. They changed that, but someone at Sony must have said they’d need to add some perks to the service so people would take paying a little more kindly. Similar to Games with Gold, Playstation Plus gives you access to free games every month. This month there are two games each for PS4, PS3, and PS Vita, though the one that looks most interesting to us is Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. It’s from the same developer that made Dear Esther, and we were big fans of that game, so to get one of theirs for free is a treat. Link