Gaming On the Cheap: Part 1 - For Free
Gaming, like most hobbies isn't kind to those of us who aren't rolling in moolah but this is the Information Age, not the Dark Age and there's more ways than ever to get quality gaming on the cheap these days. Pixel Judge is here to help. Today we're going to explore plenty of ways to game for free (zoinks!) and I'll give a brief description and a few pros and cons of each suggestion.
Let’s start by addressing the bugbear in the room - free to play. F2P as it's called by the cool kids can often mean free to grind, or free cause it's a bit shit but that's not always true. These days there's a huge amount of quality free to play games just waiting to reel you in like defective stickleback. Below are several suggestions, with links, for free to play games that won't bugger your bank account and run off with the dog.
War Thunder - Also on Steam
War Thunder is a free to play flight and tank combat game where you get to piddle around in various World War 2 era bits of machinery. It's a good looking game and not too punishing on players who don't want to drop a bit of cash for some of the optional premium time (which boosts credits and XP gain) in addition to having various modes and levels of difficulty between arcade and simulator. It might begin to wear thin after a while thanks to the shonky matchmaking at higher tiers and often abrasive community but it's still well worth a look.
World Of Tanks and its sister World Of Warplanes
Similar to War Thunder in that you knock about in tanks and planes but with a more stat oriented combat system that relies on hit-points and view distances and other arcane thingamabobs like camo indices. Gameplay is more arcade focused and both can suffer from grind fatigue at the mid to late game as well as a bit of frustration as faction bias becomes more pronounced as the guns become bigger. Still, it's worth a look but your mileage may vary wildly.
Firefall - Also on Steam
A first-third person shooter set in a chunk of future Brasil populated by burly blokes and twig-like ladies with wonky hair-do's in personal armour/weapon systems called battleframes, which determine class and abilities. Loot is plentiful, ammunition is free and bugs to blast are everywhere. Sadly technical bugs are everywhere too as the game is just out of beta. It's a lot of fun if you can get into it and just want some good ol' fashioned bug mulching marred only by a slight lack of content and some lingering tech problems.
Warframe - Also on Steam
The lore is full of words that'd make H P Lovecraft pop his monocle but the general gist is that you're a space ninja with guns and swords and all manner of other stabby, shooty things killing the bad guys across the solar system for XP, loot, money and fun. There's plenty of it all to be had and even the weapons and warframes in the cash shop are pretty easily attainable for a focused free player. I highly recommend this one, especially if you get a group of friends into it too.
Toribash - Also on Steam
Take turns issuing commands to the flailing limbs of your blocky battler and attempt to knock your opponent down, or boot their noggin off if you're good. I once managed to do a Cossack dance for about 3 steps before I fell down, in the game too. It's a right laugh for an hour or two but only the most dedicated mannequin molesters will stick with it day after day.
Neotokyo - Also on Steam
A Half Life 2 mod that basically lets you play the sweet action bits from Ghost in the Shell, no not the bits where the Major does flips... No not the bits where the Tachikoma blows stuff up. Look, it's the bits where the future swat guys go running in and there's a bunch of shooting and only one cyber-team comes out alive. It's fast and brutal and wears its influences on its sleeve and that's great. Liking Counter Strike and cyberpunk is a bit of a must or you might be a bit put off though.
Ghost Recon: Phantoms - Also on Steam
Following Ubisoft’s latest trend towards futuristic tech in their man-shooty games, Phantoms is no exception. Those familiar with other recent Ghost Recon games know the score, you're a squad of military types with fancy things like invisibility cloaks and EMP jock straps and you shoot at another team of near identical military types because their stupid blue team is stupid and smelly. It's a bit shallow and perhaps should have been included as the multi-player to a full game but there's some fun to be had, just don't be surprised if you walk away after a couple of days.
Hawken - Also on Steam
It's a shiny looking mech piloting game based on relatively quick arcade style matches. Varying designs, weapons and maps mean there's a decent amount to see but the tiny arenas don't really have enough room to swing a Shadowcat and the starter mech looks like a drug addled TV from the '70s. Those who like the aesthetic and can get past the model village maps might find some enjoyment but anyone on the fence, or fans of other mech series, should probably just skip over Hawken.
Loadout - Also on Steam
Loadout is a third person arena game filled with humour and over the top characters and weapons. The gameplay is bland but competent and it all feels a little bit uninspired. Off-brand TF2 with 'tude. Next.
Neverwinter - Also on Steam
"Made by Dungeons and Dragons fans for Dungeons and Dragons fans" the video on the site says, a more accurate interpretation would be "Made by hardcore scat fetishists for the casual pooper." Neverwinter is a cookie-cutter MMO borrowing a few names and places from the Forgotten Realms setting of D&D and worthy of neither those nor your time. Steer clear of this one, especially if you're a D&D fan. That said, it is free on Xbox One too, and far more appealing on the console.
Ragnarok Online - Also on Steam
The classic Korean MMO is akin to a stripped down Diablo with an anime look. It's smooth and has a big world, lots of classes and monsters and a pretty nice community but unless you find a lot of joy in just whacking monsters and levelling up you won't hang around for long. That said, everyone should take a trip to Poring Island at least once, even if just for a flying visit.
Ragnarok Online 2 - Also on Steam
An evolution of the classic Ragnarok, retaining the originals style but slapping it all into a properly three dimensional world strapped haphazardly into a familiar MMO framework. It works and it's friendlier than, say World Of Warcraft but it's still more of the same at the end of the day. You can do far, far worse but MMO veterans looking for a free alternative that offers something new will be disappointed.
Path Of Exile - Also on Steam
Anyone who fondly remembers Diablo 2's battle.net multiplayer will feel right at home here. Path Of Exile is brutal, polished and familiar enough for old hands to jump right in. Any fan of action RPGs can easily see the appeal of Path Of Exile over Blizzard's latest offering but be warned - you still can't play if the servers are down.
PlanetSide 2 - Also on Steam
Sequel to the legendary PlanetSide, number 2 manages to live up to the name with so much new content. It's recently had a fourth continent added too and rewards skill at both tactics and shooting as well as teamwork above an open wallet. Whether you're new to online shooters or just want to get away from the terrible communities most games foster, PlanetSide 2 might be just what you're looking for. Just don't play a purple space gimp, ahem, Vanu.
Those are just games that follow the modern free to play model, there's plenty of other ways to play for free so long as you fancy taking a look at some older games. Let’s start with GOG.com's selection.
While there's a few flubs in the list, GOG are really generous in giving away great games. Two Ultima Worlds games (Savage Empire and Martian Dreams) are fantastic adventures in addition to the phenomenal Ultima 4, my personal favourite of the classic Ultima games. If point and click is more of your thing they also have the excellent Lure Of the Temptress and Beneath A Steel Sky, two of the finest point and click games ever made. If neither of those options tickle your fancy there's also a couple of top notch shoot em ups in the form of Stargunner and Tyrian 2000, the latter of which is a game everyone should play at least once in their life.
An excellent source for old games, they only distribute abandonware and shareware but that doesn't mean there's not a huge selection of great games from the days of yore. Even if they're not distributing the game you're looking for chances are they'll have a listing for it and a review and information on where you can get it or watch it on YouTube.
Text adventures, yum. Infocom generously turned Zork free to run and gallop amongst the internet meadows with its own kind. They didn't even hold its family hostage and the excellent first three entries of the series are available for download on PC and Mac. You are likely to be eaten by a Grue but you'll probably love it anyway. Alternatively just enjoy this brilliant MC Frontalot song about Zork:
A gigantic selection of old DOS games running right in your browser. Well worth a look if only for a trip down memory lane but you'll probably end up staying until you figure out just what the hell is going on in D/Generation. Interestingly enough, this site is one of the few places where you can play EGA Trek, a rather excellent unlicensed Star Trek game.
A HTML5 ZX Spectrum emulator with a gigantic selection of games. Whether you're familiar with the rubber keyed British midget or not there's plenty to love on the system. It's also nice that you don't have to sit through a 2 hour load time while a cassette plays back the sounds or fax machine sex.
Of course there's a boatload of other free games out there and the article could have easily been quadruple this size if I'd included them all but I've not played them all and it'd be unfair to give a false opinion but go take a look at the Steam store's free to play page and there's a boatload of free stuff to check out.
I'll give you a week to get lost in the mire of free stuff and you can check back next week for a look at ways to get games both old and new really cheap.