Before we start, let me make on thing abundantly clear – this isn’t some sort of holy, definite list that was drawn up by a gaming deity on stone tablets. This is my opinion, and I’ve probably forgotten something. You probably care about that certain something very deeply, and will feel hurt and offended when you realise I left it out. I’m sorry – it wasn’t personal, so don’t rage. Let me know in the comments. I’d love to find something new!
If you don’t know about this one, then I want to know about what sort of terrifying vast internet-rock you’ve been hiding under for the last couple of years, because it probably contains precious alien metals from your faraway homeworld. League of Legends is staggeringly vast – over 30 million players have registered accounts, and millions of them log on every day to play DOTA’s spiritual successor.
Every gaming company worth their salt seem to be working on a Dota variant of some form or another these days, but League of Legends has struck gold by standing out on every front: it’s fun, accessible, pretty, and perhaps most important of all, does free-to-play right. You’re never forced to shell out – the game stands out like the gaming behemoth it is even if you’re not willing to crack open your wallet – but you’ll want to, because it’s just that damn good. LoL have mixed their F2P mixture with alchemical precision, making a product that’s so wonderful and inviting that you’ll never feel compelled to worry about money – you’ll feel it’s earnt it.
You know those “I’m big in Japan” t-shirts you can buy? The Godzilla ones? Well, I imagine the World of Tank developers all walk arond with “I’m big in Russia” t-shirts, because they’re player-base now exceeds 18 million players, a fair few of which are from the motherland.
Like LoL, World of Tanks has become such a massive phenomenon by being standing out from the competition, and being generous enough to let people see that their money is worth spending. Tank battles don’t exactly sound like the most exciting thing, but WoT’s shrewd mixing of specialised tank classes with some well thought out and inventive map design means that every match is tense, unpredictable, and glorious – like Counter-Strike, but with much bigger guns. It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but at this price, it’s worth a shot!
Unlike the previous two games, this one isn’t ridiculously popular – yet. In fact, Tribes Ascend hasn’t even had a full release yet, but you can gain access to the closed beta simply by liking the game’s facebook page, and if you’re at all interested in shooters, and you’re not already in, then you’ve been missing out.
The shooter trend has only been going in one direction over the last decade or so – slow and realistic. Developers Hi-Rez saw that trend, and Ascend is their gigantic, throbbing middle finger being thrust in its direction – it’s gloriously fast, manic, skill based, and of course, free. Out with realistic shooters and their fragile soldiers dying in foreign deserts – in with power armour clad space marines, zipping through the air on rechargeable jet-packs, firing neon rockets of pain and death. If you yearn for the days where online gaming was all about speed, skill, and avoiding explosive discs, then you owe it to yourself to give this a shot…and even if you are a huge Call of Duty fan, where’s the harm in giving it a go?
Realm of the Mad God
Realm of the Mad God is…well, a tiny bit mad. There are conventions when you create massively multi-player games. There are power-bars and cool-downs, tanks and healers, 5 player parties and 25 player raids. Those are silly conventions, which is why it’s ignored pretty much every single one of them. Instead, it gives everybody a top-down view of the 16-bit world, turns the game into a twin-stick shooter, throws 85 players onto a server with innumerable monsters, and lets them loose.
Even without paying a dime, you can have a world of fun with RofMG – you can play as any of the classes, play of any server, and if you’re good enough, take down the eponymous “Mad God” Oryx. It’s a delightful time waster, whether you’re playing alone or with friends, and now that it’s on Steam, there are no excuses not to try it out.
All of those cheap, Chinese browser MMOs which assault you abominable “Play now, my lord!” to try and convince you to send them your money didn’t come up with the idea by themselves. Browser games have been around for decades at this point, but most of them are unambiguously terrible – and obviously, those that are the best at ripping of their customers are those with the most cash to advertise, meaning that the best games are the hardest to find.
My pick of the lot is Travian – I can’t find any figures, but the game is hugely popular, both at home in Germany and abroad. Intuitive and simple, but if you’re willing to dig a little deeper, there is surprising depth to this browser-based gem – player-crafted alliances duke it out for supremacy, and vying for the top spot isn’t easy, whether you’re a paying player or just trying things out.
Well, we all knew this was going to turn up eventually, or I’d be attacked by the horde of angry internet fanboys. Valve’s multiplayer hat simulator was unparalleled even when they expected you to pay for it, and now it’s free to all the cheap gits on the Internet who wouldn’t shell out the £2 they expected for it back in the day.
Okay, so maybe it isn’t a hat simulator – but it is a top-notch, perfectly balanced multiplayer first-person shooter, and that doesn’t roll of the tongue quite as easily. Originally packaged with Half Life 2: Ep1 and Portal in Valve’s Orange box, and now available entirely for free, in terms of value for money, it’s probably the best game on this list. Now that items can be trade for full-steam games, it’s even possible to make money playing TF2, although that assumes you’re incredibly lucky, or just ridiculously obstinate.
This shouldn’t be free. In my humble opinion, you’ll get more entertainment from TF2 alone than all the Call of Duties of the last five years – but that’s Valve for you. Perfection, wrapped into a wonderful bundle of joy. If you haven’t tried this yet, you’re in for a treat.
Triple A MMOs didn’t used to become free-to-play when subscriptions stopped bringing in the big-money. They just kind of died, consigned to the great internet-ether MMO dump. Free-to-play MMOs were largely grind-fests designed for the Asian market, which were only fun if you were high on something particularly potent.
Then, in a stroke of unexpected genius, Turbine announced that their flagship title, Lord of the Rings online, would be mostly free – and that opened the floodgates to every other MMO that wasn’t doing quite as well as investors expected. From Warhammer to Star Trek, nearly every MMO released in store shelves over the last half-decades or so has some form of F2P option. Which you chose to play is mostly down to personal preference, but to me, in terms of quality and value for money, LoTRO and DCUO still stand out – both of them are great products, but are also exceptionally generous to their free players.
Well, this is a bit of an odd one. Once upon a time, Microsoft’s venerable and much adored Flight Simulator was put down, after some deluded man in a suit decided there simply wasn’t enough interest out there to justify the expense. Well, the Free-to-Play era as changed all that, and the franchise has been kind-of/slight/not-really-but-a-little resurrected in a newer, sexier, free to play mold.
This was only released yesterday, and as far as I can tell, unless you’re willing to shell out £15 or so quid (1600 MS points) for the Hawaii Adventure Pack, you won’t exactly be inundated with content, but an entire, quality flight-sim available for free is nothing to look down at, even if it only has two planes to offer for now.
Most importantly though, this is rather unique in it’s accessibility – it’s playable with a mouse, a Xbox controller, or a joystick, and no matter what you chose, it’ll happily walk you through some well crafted tutorials before throwing you out to the wolves. If you’ve got a £300 flight-stick glued to your table, this probably isn’t for you, but for those of us who’ve been begging for an opportunity to dig out the Thrustmaster from that dark, dusty closet, it doesn’t come any cheaper than free.
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