The blog is finally back online! Sorry for the downtime. It put a damper on my submissions and, when it was finally back up, I was catching up on other things that fell to the wayside. Today I’m going to talk a little bit about the explosion of free to play games that are available — or will be available — for Xbox One. This is a piece I pitched to a couple of places as a sort of “comprehensive list,” but nobody wants something this wordy. The majority have or will have a top X list of best free to play options, but I wanted to put something together that outlines the sheer volume that you can play for “nothing”. I wrote this last summer, so some information might be a little off right now. I’m going to run through and update this again soon, but for now I wanted to get it up for you guys.
The gaming landscape is an ever-evolving one and, because game developers and publishers are for-profit companies, successful innovations in gaming are often mimicked. Since the abrupt rise of mobile gaming and the success of the F2P structure, we’ve slowly seen that model working its way into PC, and now, console gaming. While it hasn’t always been successful, there’s no denying that F2P can be enormously profitable, partly due to the mechanics and infrastructure of the games.
Typically, we purchase a game at retail and play the game, in full, until finished. Additional content may be made available via DLC, but you get the game you pay for. With Free to Play, you get a digital version of the game for free and get to experience a large portion of the game without paying a single dollar. Money is made, typically, by putting certain options within the game behind microtransactions.
With no demand for money, oftentimes Free to Play games see an enormous amount of players and, once a community develops, will begin to see a constant stream of income. Instead of the enormous income spike you see when a game releases and is purchased within the first couple of months of availability, Free to Play games make money over time and have sustainability beyond most typical retail releases.
After seeing some success with them on Xbox 360, developers and publishers have begun bringing them to Xbox One. With what’s already available and what’s coming in the future, there has never been a better time to look into purchasing an Xbox One.
Killer Instinct (Available Now)
With Microsoft owning Rare Studios, it was only a matter of time until they brought the beloved fighting game to Xbox One. The game is free to download and play, but you’ll have access to a limited number of characters. To unlock additional characters, you pay $4.99 each, or you can purchase “KI Gold,” an in-game currency used to purchase additional character colors and items without having to earn them.
Neverwinter (Available Now)
It released on PC first, but since coming to Xbox One, Neverwinter has more than 2 million players. There’s very little content hidden behind microtransactions, instead players will purchase items to be used in game. Some items are cosmetic only, some are used to make your character better, while others are entirely necessary to advance certain items to their maximum potential. Like most Free to Play games, players can earn everything on their own, but spending real money cuts the time needed considerably.
Warframe (Available Now)
What happens when you combine parkour, shooting, and aliens? Warframe happens. A brilliant combination of acrobatics and combat, Warframe has seen considerable success on PC and consoles. Co-op gameplay is necessary for certain missions, but players each have their own ship where they can upgrade items, form clans, or make purchases. The developer, Digital Extremes, has done a phenomenal job listening to community feedback and implementing new content to ensure nothing gets stale.
Project Spark (Available Now)
If you’re creative, Project Spark is your game. Though the game features its own storyline, those who play can earn currency (and buy it), can create and share unique, homemade adventures. Project Spark relies on the community to create, share, and rate content, which allows the best to rise to the top. Minigames can be created as well, and those who are seen as the best creators in the community earn in-game currency when people purchase their creations.
Fable Legends (Currently in Beta, release date unknown) – Fablelegends.com
The Fable franchise has seen ups and downs during its time on Xbox consoles, but the developers at Lionhead Studios have never attempted what Fable Legends is rumored to be. While nobody has seen the game outside of game conventions (people in the Beta are not permitted to speak about the game publicly yet), what we know is that Legends follows a 4 vs. 1 formula. Four players take on the role of heroes and set off on an adventure only to be challenged along the way by the villain, another player. The villain’s job is to set traps, ambush the heroes, and command the creatures who are determined to see the heroes fail. Expect certain classes and cosmetics to be hidden behind microtransactions, though nothing has been formally released confirming this.
Gigantic (Currently in Beta, release date unknown) – GoGigantic.com
A unique spin on the world of MOBA games, Gigantic isn’t quite a MOBA, isn’t quite a dungeon raid, and isn’t quite a free-for-all deathmatch. Really, it’s a combination of all three that’s done so well that this should be on your radar. If it’s not, fix your radar. With a beautiful art style, crisp controls, and brilliant level design, the world of eSports is in for a treat when Gigantic is released upon the world. Again, because the game isn’t out, there’s no confirmation of what is going to be hidden behind the pay wall, but you’ll be able to earn almost everything on your own as you play.
Powerstar Golf (Available Now)
Originally launching as an Xbox One launch title priced at $19.99, Powerstar Golf was quickly turned into a Free to Play game to boost popularity, despite positive reviews. For those who bought the game, in-game currency was awarded to make up for the change and fans have been playing the extreme, arcade golf game ever since. You can still pay $19.99 to unlock the full game, including characters, courses, and events, or you can simply enjoy the free content and work towards unlocking the rest.
Pinball FX2 (Available Now)
Getting Pinball FX2 for free earns you a time-limited version of certain pinball tables, meaning if you’re really in love with it, you won’t get to play it for free forever. Still, tables are reasonably priced and can be purchased in larger packs. With access to licensed tables like Star Wars, The Walking Dead, and Marvel or DC comics to name a very few, you’ll never run out of tables to play. You’d think that the team at Zen Studios would run out of ideas for pinball tables, with so many already available, but new tables are released for purchase fairly consistently and are always entertaining.
Xbox Fitness (Available Now)
Fine, technically it’s not a game, but it’s free and it’s available on Xbox One. For those trying to get in shape or stay in shape, you’ll want to see what Xbox Fitness has to offer. There certainly is a lot of content, but prepare yourself: this has some of the most expensive content of anything on this list. Ranging from free to $29.99, there are dozens of options with a variety of workouts. If it sounds like something you want to do, you better act quickly. Lots of the content went through a change in January 2015 and, if reports are correct, will be seeing another change come January 2016.
Magic Duels: Origins (Available Now)
Like Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering is another series that made a name for itself on a table rather than in digital format. Still, after years of annual releases and price tags around $15.00, Magic releases this year as free to play. As you beat opponents, AI or living, you’ll earn gold to purchase new booster packs. Of course, you could always just buy the gold to save some time.
Airmech Arena (Available Now)
This RTS follows many of the ideas appearing in other Free to Play games listed. The game is absolutely free to play, but as you get deeper and want to experience more, you’ll be forced to spend some of your hard earned dinero if you want to experience different mechs, add-ons, or special customizations. Still, the gameplay is fast-paced and fun and your opponents are plentiful.
Smite (Available Now) – SmiteGame.com
What would happen if you took dozens of gods from various religions of old and stuck them in an arena to duke it out? That’s exactly what Smite is. Depending on your gameplay preference, there are options for deathmatch, classic MOBA gameplay, and variations of the two. Each week a few different gods are cycled in to give players a chance to experience different styles, but also to entice players to purchase those gods once they’re no longer free.
APB Reloaded (Coming Soon) – Gamersfirst.com/apb/
Two factions are warring in the city of San Paro, and it’s up to you to decide which side you’re on. By taking and completing missions, you’ll earn cash rewards in order to purchase upgrades, equipment, vehicles, weapons, and custom clothing. Combining the third-person shooting with driving, APB Reloaded is expected to appeal to the console crowd, but any news on the release is nonexistent. Expected to release in June 2015, a window of June-August 2015 has recently been quoted, but expectations are low that window will be hit.
World of Tanks (Available Now)
It’s not your typical shooter, but there’s something lovely about driving around in history’s most powerful tanks, laying waste to opponents, and witnessing gorgeous landscapes. Wargaming.net’s newest release on Xbox One was available on Xbox 360 and has been a massive hit on PC. Players are required to maintain and repair their tanks, restock ammunition, and upgrade them, all at the cost of in-game currency. Because of that, World of Tanks has a consistent revenue stream and those who enjoy the game have no problem supporting it financially.
Happy Wars (Available Now)
Another in the MOBA genre, Happy Wars adds a cute, cartoon-esque spin on violence. The objective is to destroy the enemy’s castle while protecting your own. Classes are limited to the typical offensive, defensive, and support roles, though the biggest issue right now is the lack of players. The community, while passionate, isn’t particularly large and, because of the microtransactions, those who have played the longest or spent the most money seem to have quite the advantage.
Battlecry (Coming Soon) – BattlecrytheGame.com
When game studios like Bethesda (Elder Scrolls Series, Fallout Series) get involved in the Free to Play market, it’s noteworthy. Battlecry takes three factions and pits them against each other in 12 vs. 12 or 6 vs. 6 combat. Each character is highly customizable, indicating that cosmetic changes may be purchasable. There are a number of different classes, but within those classes there is nothing hinting at variations, so the cosmetic changes might be the only difference between you and someone else. It seems silly to spend money on a new hat or a colorful shirt, but you’ll realize quickly that the urge to feel different is something people will gladly spend money on.
Onigiri (Coming Soon) – Onigiri.cyberstep.com
Fantasy meets Japanese mythology with this fantasy MMO game, set to release sometime in 2015. Similar to Neverwinter, expect most of the content available to be free, with high-end items and equipment requiring massive amounts of time or a few dollars to experience. Brilliant colors and beautiful landscapes will be plentiful, as you can see in some early videos. When you inevitably fall in battle, you’ll have items at your disposal that can resurrect you, though some of those items will cost money, as will maintaining your weapons and armor.
Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade (Closed Beta Coming Soon) – EternalCrusade.com
Another recognizable property, Warhammer 40K has an enormous following in tabletop gaming, novels, and lately, in the digital space. Though Free to Play, unless you purchase the full game, you’ll be limited to playing just one class, the Ork Boyz, the basic soldiers of the Orks. If you spend money and purchase the game, you’ll have all classes and races available to play. While this is technically considered Free to Play, the limitations imposed on those who don’t spend money are gratuitous, but those responsible for the game must firmly believe that if you play it, you’ll want to spend money. So that’s something.
Sea of Thieves (Unknown Release Date) – SeaofThieves.com
Famed game developer Rare announced Sea of Thieves at E3 2015 to wide-eyed hopefuls. Set on the open seas, you’ll be playing the role of a pirate, plundering and pillaging an open-world with friends and enemies alike. As it stands, there’s very little know about Sea of Thieves, but according to the trailer, everything shown was captured in real-time. What that means is that you can expect to fight undead, discover hidden treasure, and captain your own ship, should your friends wish to join you. Assuming you have enough friends to man the ship, you’ll even be able to challenge other pirate ships for rule on the high seas. There may even be a Kraken sighting or two. Until more information is released, we’ll have to sit and wait, but we do know that it will be free to play.
Happy Dungeons (Coming 2016) – HappyDungeons.net
Another title announced at E3 this year is from the developers behind Happy Wars, also on this list. Happy Dungeons will be releasing in 2016 and, though we’re short on information for this title as well, the trailer indicates that it will be more arena-based and may feature a more co-op experience. Player vs. player is sure to exist, but with nothing further being announced, everything so far is hearsay. Still, a co-op experience with the same style and humor can be expected, along with a price tag of $0.00 until microtransactions are introduced, of course.
DC Universe Online (Coming Spring 2016)
The popular superhero-based MMO that has been available on Playstation for 5 years is finally coming to Xbox One, an announcement made recently. It’s not clear why it took so long — other than an exclusivity contract — but I’ve spent some time with the game and it’s worth a look. Granted, it’s been a few years since I donned my tights and fought villains, but based on the information they released (below), the game is successful and only looks to gain ground.
You’re going to need a subscription to Xbox Live Gold in order to play these games, but that’s a small price to play for the amount of content you have access to. This list doesn’t even include the app-style games that are available on mobile devices, either — of which, there are a handful already. Of the games I’ve been playing personally, I think that Marvel Future Fight is the game that would best fit the console, but Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes could make an enormous splash because of the simplicity and license.
This is a trend that will not be leaving … ever. We’re stuck with free to play games and, as the landscape of gaming evolves, the games will adapt and evolve with it. That’s a great thing for all of us, but, like with the retail market, we’re inevitably going to have to live through a few stinkers. Thankfully these games require zero investment, so the only thing you’ll lose is your time. The downside is that, in games where player skill allows the best to rise, we might be stuck with people who pay to keep their top spots rather than earn them. Once that problem gets solved though, F2P will become a welcomed part of gaming culture.