January tends to be a lean long month. After the Christmas festivities and sales become distant memory, many of us come crashing down to Earth as a yawning chasm stares back from where our bank balances used to be.
We and HUKD are on hand to secure you some cheap games deals, but it's perfectly possible to play great games into February and beyond without paying anything at all! To this end, here are what we'd consider to be the hottest free games around at the moment -- whether totally free or F2P -- that will save you a few quid and save you some money to splurge on this year's biggest upcoming titles.
This isn't by any means a comprehensive list (how could it be?), so make sure to share your favourite free games with us and fellow readers in the comments!
Honourable mentions (that you're totally playing already): Team Fortress 2, World Of Tanks, World Of Warplanes, SWTOR, Black Mesa Source, Neverwinter, MINIDAYZ
"I absolutely adore Warframe despite its rough edges and questionable economy. Since 'grind' is just another word for 'annihilating hordes of foes as an awesome space ninja,' featuring plentiful surprises, addictive progression, strong co-op, overlapping gameplay systems and gorgeous art design, I can forgive any number of niggling flaws" - 7/10 Editor's Choice Warframe review
Numerous free updates have massively improved the console versions post-review, but I have to point out that the PS4 and Xbox One player base is incredibly advanced and relatively sparse. As such, you might find it difficult to group for early-game content - so I'd suggest jumping in with three friends from the start!
What more is there to say about DotA 2 and League Of Legends? The two premier MOBAs on the market are a prime example of how to do free to play right, delivering an insane amount of content and depth despite the fearsome reputation of the community as far as newbies are concerned.
So why are these games not higher on the list? Basically because, if you're at all a fan of MOBAs, you're probably already playing them! However, I might suggest trying out a new and much more accessible kind of MOBA that you might not have sampled yet...
8: SMITE [PC, coming to Xbox One]
As mentioned, SMITE is a very different kind of MOBA. Though the basics are present and correct, streamlined controls and an intimate camera angle makes the action feel more like a traditional third-person hack & slasher, opening up the genre to an entirely new audience and making the combat feel even more satisfying. The economy is fair, the graphics are impressive, the art design is surprisingly authentic and we look forward to seeing how the upcoming Xbox One version measures up.
7: The Internet Archive Softare Library [Browser]
"Who doesn't love a spot of retro gaming, eh? Well, if you're a serious retro fan, then this will probably make your year... unless, of course, you end up hopelessly addicted once more to games from your childhood, and ruining everything good and golden in your life thanks to the brilliance of software emulation," gushed Matt earlier this month. "The Internet Archive Software Library has added over 2000 MS-DOS titles to play in-browser, including the likes of Bust-A-Move, Boulder Dash, Commander Keen, Cannon Fodder 2, Metal Gear, Duke Nukem 3D, and a whole lot more."
The service is still in beta, but it's well worth checking out.
6: Steam Bundles With Trading Cards [PC]
This one is technically cheating, since you'll have to pay a little bit to get involved, but it's my list and I'm doing it my way. Many PC gamers enjoy picking up cheap Steam bundles (often from Bundle Stars, who are absolutely crushing it of late) and then making their money back in Steam wallet credit by selling trading cards. Since many bundles grant you games for as little as 10-27p each, you'll only need to flog a few trading cards to balance the books, and it's a surprisingly enjoyable metagame in and of itself!
5: XBL Games With Gold & PS+ Instant Game Collection
If you're paying out for Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus, make sure to take full advantage of the free games on each platform!
On Xbox Live we have deliciously demented adventure game D4 and Worms Battlegrounds for Xbox One, plus MX vs ATV Alive for Xbox 360. Definitely give D4 a whirl at the very least.
Meanwhile PS+ is an embarrassment of lovely free riches, not limited to the brand new Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition on Vita and PS4, the excellent inFamous: First Light on PS4, alongside The Swapper, DuckTales Remastered and more. Get on it - and make sure to queue up the downloads even if you won't have time to play them this month! They'll remain freely downloadable forever, hell, even if you haven't bought a PS4 or Xbox One yet but may do so down the line!
4: Path Of Exile [PC]
I'm still amazed at the number of PC gamers who haven't even heard of Path Of Exile, let alone played it! This excellent free-to-play action RPG is like a much bigger and better version of Diablo III, with one of the most unbelievably generous economies ever. You can play all of it for free, without restrictions, and pay for a few unnecessary or glamour items if you want.
The quality, depth and longevity of the experience is amazing, from the satisfying combat and levelling to the unbelievably deep skill system that resembles no other game out there. Get on it - this will keep you going throughout February too!
" Loadout lets you create the ridiculous bespoke boomstick of your wildest dreams, but is far from a one-trick pony. Manic old-school shooting, tight map design and a superb in-house engine make for a seriously impressive F2P effort that surpasses any number of full-priced downloads." - 8/10 Loadout review
This crass, smooth and satisfying shooter is an absolute blast and incredible value at the bargain price of nothing whatsoever, especially since a new co-op campaign and other features have been added free of charge! Definitely get on it and support a developer who's doing Free To Play right and putting gamers first - whether on PC or PS4.
Hearthstone is an utter delight. As a CCG that's as fun to play as it is to hoard and collect, Blizzard's astonishingly addictive triumph supports players of any skill level and engagement, from casual dabblers to die-hards. It's an absolute blast regardless of what platform you play it on.
Though many players will tell you that you have to pay out to compete at the highest levels, you can have a lot of fun just from taking part and slowly earning new decks as you go.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Planetside 2 will shatter all of your preconceptions about free-to-play. Boasting the production values and visuals (including eyewatering PhysX support) of a AAA shooter, this massively multiplayer FPS offers the biggest battles you can find literally anywhere on the internet. Thousands of simultaneous players vie for control of enormous continents, using numerous classes, tanks, fighters and gunships in engagements that can involve hundreds of combatants. You'll drop from orbit straight down into hell, form squads and push objectives, and always feel like you're contributing to the war effort.
Plus, you know, it's free. Really free. Every class, weapon, faction, vehicle and upgrade are either unlocked from the start or via an experience-based Cert Point system. You can pay out for shortcuts and cosmetics if you want to, which is really rather how F2P is supposed to work.
Planetside 2 is also finally coming to PS4 this year, firstly by way of a closed beta starting later this month. Sign up here!