(Without Spending Any Money!)
Free To Play aren't dirty words any more. In sharp contrast to troublesome social gaming and throwaway apps, we've now got a wealth of fantastic games on multiple platforms, most of which boast sensational production values and gameplay that rivals the biggest AAA blockbusters out there.
Though the Steam sale is looming over our wallets like the sword of Newellcles, you can easily spend the entire summer playing any number of great games without paying a single penny. To that end, here's a list of some of the most outstanding F2P games out there, along with reasons why you can save some serious money over the coming months.
Honourable mentions: Marathon Trilogy (Aleph One), Smite, Wonderputt, Battlestar Galactica, Tyrian 2000, Blacklight Retribution, Tribes Ascend, Super Monday Night Combat, SWTOR, D&D Online, Reprisal, Fallen London, Neptune's Pride, all the iOS and Android stuff (more Mobot's territory, really)
Cryptic's new D&D-flavoured MMO may be rather linear and lacking in deep class builds, but its fun action-oriented combat and wealth of free content makes it a perfect summer fling. Better yet, Neverwinter is easy to digest and understand, meaning that genre newcomers can use it to test the waters and decide whether MMORPGs are right for them without having to pay up front or monthly.
We'll have a full review very soon.
9: Happy Wars
Current-gen consoles haven't really supported the free-to-play model, barring Dust 514 on the PS3 (which, as Carl points out, is a bit of a mess). However, XBLA hides an intriguing little gem in the form of Happy Wars: an accessible big-team MOBA with intuitive gameplay, colourful visuals and impressive depth for Xbox Live Gold Members. If you're looking for something fun to tide you over after completing State Of Decay, you should probably check this out.
Firefall may technically be in open beta, but it's effectively a soft launch that will gradually evolve over the coming months. As a class-based shooter, you've got a selection of varied battleframes to take into enormously fun combat, exploring an open world with jet boots and pleasingly oversized boomsticks.
The obtuse crafting and progression systems need work, though, as new players will find themselves showered in jargon and busywork. Should you be willing to report some bugs to Red 5 and exercise a little patience throughout the beta process, why not get in on the ground floor?
This sprite-based proposition is utterly insane.
Half MMORPG, half bullet hell SHMUP and all roguelike, you'll join ridiculous raids and destroy numerous enemies in split-second combat, the likes of which you'll have never experienced before. It's rare to see permadeath and progression go so well together.
Free to play PvE space ninjas with excellent 3D graphics and insane PhysX support.
Now that you've wiped the drool off your keyboard, go play it.
5: League Of Legends & DotA II
League Of Legends is a bona fide eSport, and a phenomenally deep proposition. If you can acclimatise to the steep learning curve and staggeringly aggressive gameplay, it can easily become an inescapable new addiction. The once-feared community has been cleaning up its act over the last few months, and the visceral yet deep MOBA experience is a masterpiece of balance.
Speaking of MOBAs, DotA 2 has also left beta, though its staggered launch means that you won't be able to get playing right away.
Half-Life. In the Source Engine. For free. Without the terrible Zen platforming.
If you haven't already downloaded it, do so immediately.
3: World Of Tanks
World Of Tanks remains one of the best F2P games out there, offering a glut of real war machines to deploy and destroy, deep team tactics, numerous combat roles and fast-paced gameplay. As a balanced and above all fun experience, there's countless hours of fun to be had here at the bargain price of literally nothing.
World Of Warplanes promises to be equally impressive.
TF2 is still the daddy. Valve have continued to support their superb shooter with free updates, new modes and extra features, but at its core, it's still one of the most finely-balanced and enjoyable team-based shooters on PC. Basically, it's nigh-on perfect even after all these years.
Chances are you'll already have some equippable hats thanks to a few years of Steam promotions.
1: Planetside 2
If you're still gunshy about getting involved with the F2P scene, Planetside 2 will shatter all of your preconceptions. 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.
Better yet, it's free - really free. Everything can be earned through continued play, including weapon and vehicle upgrades that can't actually be bought with premium currency, while skill is still the most important factor. Even a whale who's spent mad money on weaponry can still get taken down by a total newcomer with stock gear, so long as they're quick on the trigger or backed up by a competent team. Having improved considerably over the past few months, Planetside 2 is easily one of the most competent F2P games ever made... and the battle for Auraxis has just begun.
That's your lot, folks, but we've barely scratched the surface of the F2P scene. If you've got a cracking thief of time to share or a game that deserves the limelight, let us know in the comments!