Participating in this hobby we call video gaming is not unlike dating: You shell out lots and lots of dough to, hopefully, find something with which you can stay up all night. Gaming is an expensive hobby that features escalating prices that no other popular entertainment medium can match. A new movie ticket will set you back, roughly, $5 to $12 depending on location (even more if you’re taking in 3D or IMAX flicks), and a new CD approximately $10-$13 depending on the retailer.
Fresh, retail video games, on the other hand, drain your wallet $40 to $60 at a time. Even if gamers limited themselves to used games (which may not constitute a grand a bargain depending on the title), or download-only titles such as Limbo or Shank, the hobby can still prove quite pricey. Gaming on the super-cheap, however, is still very possible if you dive into the wondrous world of free-to-play online games.
Free-to-play games can encompass single-player browser-based games (such as Farmville), downloadable MMO titles that you play online with others (such as Champions Online), or squad-based shooters (Team Fortress 2). The developers and publishers procure cash by offering premium accounts that give gamers more functionality, delivering in-game advertising, or selling in-game items. Here are some of the more intriguing free online games.
NCSoft’s superhero MMO, the team’s follow-up to City of Heroes and City of Villains, offers aspiring crime-fighters the opportunity to live out their cape-and-tights dreams. Players create superheroes based on any of nine archetypes (ranging from hulking Behemoths to sharpshooting Marksmen), with limited costume customization that opens up as you open your wallet. Level 25 players can create their own Nemesis, an arch-villain who can send his minions after you during the game.
NPLUTP/NHN Corporation/ijji’s open-ended racing MMORPG gives you the freedom to get a little fast, a little furious. Drift City has no set path to follow; you can choose to follow the main story, complete side missions, race in the Battle Zone, or just drive around and explore. Unleash Combo Skills to fill your Booster Gauge, a speed boost that will let you bypass opponents. As you’d expect from a MMO, you can play with others–join up with friends, create a crew, and burn up the asphalt together.
Dungeon Fighter Online
Dungeon Fighter Online, a mash up of the traditional 2D foot-to-face brawler and fantasy MMORPG, sees players adopting one of five character archetypes (Gunner, Priest, Mage, Fighter, Slayer), and scour dungeons to slay a large volume of enemies. You can battle other players in the Player vs. Player (PvP arena), even customize your look and gear through item drops and in-game micro transactions. It’s fast, hard, hitting, and easy to pick up and play–the mark of a well-designed beat ‘em up.
Freestyle Street Basketball
JCE/Game Kiss’ Freestyle Street Basketball brings the free-to-play MMORPG model to a genre that rarely sees its touch–sports. This b-ball game cribs elements from Street Hoops, NBA Jam, and the traditional basketball simulation, and infuses it with anime-style visuals to create a fun, fast-moving, video game title. Level up your baller and obtain sneakers, headbands, wristbands, and other athletic gear that lets your created character execute monster dunks, swift steals, and gargantuan blocks.
Hawken, a mech action-sim that recently received $10 million in funding, is a free-to-play PC game (currently in closed beta) that appeals to the inner pubescent boy who still dreams of piloting lumbering metal machines that rocket around bombed-out environments while delivering Macross-style missile swarm payloads. Featuring tons of customization and a hefty amount of multiplayer modes, Hawken is one to check out when it exits closed beta on 12-12-12. Check out our interview with Adhesive Games’s creative director Khang Le for more tasty details.
League of Legends
Riot Games’s mega-popular real-time strategy games features two “Champions” teams engaged in either three vs. three or five vs. five combat. Each player begins at opposing sides of a map with the mission to destroy the opposing side’s Nexus while plowing through Turrets, monsters, and minions.
Team Fortress 2
Valve’s terrific team-based FPS, Team Fortress 2, made the surprising move to the free-to-play model in 2011, making the classic, humor-filled, spy-and-espionage-themed shooter one of the best free-to-play games available today. It features nine classes which span the offensive, defensive, and support classes. Similar to other free-to-play games, Team Fortress 2 features an in-game store where users can purchase gear, equipment, and other items.