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Ubisoft’s free-to-play ‘Roller Champions’ heads to PC and consoles on May 25th

After it first unveiled the game at E3 2019, Ubisoft will finally release Roller Champions on May 25th, the publisher . The free-to-play title will be available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – as well as Xbox Series X/S and PS5 through backward compatibility – to start, with availability on Nintendo Switch, Stadia and Amazon Luna to follow later. Roller Champions supports both cross-platform play and progression, so you can not only group up with your friends no matter where they download the game, but your progress will also carry over between systems.

Roller Champions pits you and two other players against a competing team of three in a variation on classic roller derby. Going into each match, your goal is to be the first team to score five points. You earn a single point or more by skating around an oval track and maintaining control of a ball before taking a shot at the goal. Complicating things is the fact that the players on the opposing team can tackle you to take possession of the ball. Each match lasts about seven minutes, and there’s an external progression system where you can earn gear for your in-game avatar. Ubisoft will sell premium passes players can complete to earn cosmetics that aren’t available through the game’s item shop.

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Is free-to-play the future of fighting games?

When it comes to video game genres, fighting games tend to be a step behind the curve. The fact that it took an entire pandemic for developers to finally look into better netcode for fighters speaks volumes.

At an even more basic level, the way fighting games operate has been called “archaic” by players who feel that the genre is in need of a switch-up to make them more accessible to modern, mainstream audiences. One of the fighting game community’s main talking points at the moment is free-to-play (FTP), a popular business model that fighting games have largely shied away from, even as games like shooters find success with the practice. If the genre wants to remain competitive in today’s modern landscape, it may need to make that pivot soon — but it’s not as simple as it sounds.

The barriers of the genre

A part of the perceived “need” for the change comes from the sheer number of fighting games out there right now and on the horizon. Maximilian “Dood” Christiansen, a high-profile fighting game content creator, has studied and enjoyed the genre for decades and follows this mindset.

Christiansen has previously noted that older fighting games were able to stay relevant due to a lack of options in the past, which meant one game could hold a player’s attention more easily. Today, there’s a larger variety of quality titles to choose from. However, each brings its own extra costs, from the price of the game itself to DLC to subscriptions that allow players to fight online. Fighting games are expensive enough as is, so your average player isn’t likely to invest in several games simply out of curiosity.

“Most fighting games are gonna result in the same problem until there’s big sales, expansions, or a reason to check out an old thing, because a new thing is really cool,” Christiansen states in a video titled “Please make fighting games free to play“. “But there’s always the barrier, right? You have to pull out your wallet and spend money. If you didn’t have to do that and shit was just free and you can just fire it up and try it, then of course you’re going to find people. That game will always have people playing.”

That paralysis of choice leads to another major problem that Max also brings up: Massive skill gaps. If you’ve ever gone online with older fighting games as a new player, there’s a 90% chance you’ll run into a veteran who can destroy you as they make a sandwich, brush their teeth, and update their LinkedIn account at the same time. For many, it can make games feel “unfair” for new players, creating a barrier to entry.

That’s not to say this issue wouldn’t be a thing with free-to-play fighters as well. However, the nature of this “try before you buy” model would lead to a greatly diverse and potentially ever-growing pool of players at different skill levels. This means more beginners can match up with other beginners instead of being pitted against veterans of the game.

The future of fighters?

A free-to-play model is a proposed solution to those hurdles. Players like Christiansen see going free-to-play as a way to not only keep the initial investing audience around, but to welcome in new players too. That could theoretically reduce the dramatic difference in skill level that new players experience.

Fighting games are expensive compared to a lot of modern multiplayer games (many of which are free-to-play in some way). There’s a chance a new player won’t enjoy the game, but not find out until spending hours learning. One might have the only character they enjoy locked behind DLC, meaning not just paying for the game, but additional content as well. All these barriers are pushed to the sidelines with the FTP model.

While not the most popular with the fighting game community, there are titles that have gone this route. Killer Instinct and the Smash Bros-esque platform fighter Brawlhalla embraced a FTP model. I personally have invested tons of hours into Killer Instinct and found that I love how it handles its model.

When I booted up Killer Instinct for the first time in years, I knew there were only a few characters I was interested in. After researching them, I bought those characters and quickly found my main at a much lower price than purchasing a full fighting game and its DLC. Killer Instinct even allows players to access non-purchased characters as training dummies, which is an ingenious move and something I wish all fighting games would do. It means I don’t have to waste money buying characters I don’t want to use, but need to practice against if I want to stand a chance online.

While it seems similar to the standard fighting game DLC practices, it stands out in an honest manner by allowing curious players to test out two characters for free to learn and find out if they like the game’s engine and mechanics. There’s also a third free-to-use character that rotates throughout the roster on a weekly basis. Implementation such as this gives players the ability to try before they buy. Instead of purchasing an entire package, they can buy the pieces they want. It’s a smart formula for a genre where many only want to play as three or four different characters.

Good implementation of FTP in fighting games can be seen in Brawlhalla, which still boasts 10,000 players online daily, according to Steamcharts. With the upcoming Warner Bros. crossover fighter Multiversus being an FTP fighter with mainstream characters, it may even break those numbers and more records of the genre.

Free-to-play, but not flawless

It all sounds like a slam dunk in theory, but the reality isn’t so simple. Traditional fighting games like Killer InstinctFantasy Strike, and Dead or Alive 6 that have gone FTP still haven’t been able to hold on to a consistent player base despite the model. Brawlhalla has found more success, but it features a more casual playstyle akin to Super Smash Bros. rather than something “hardcore” like Street Fighter.

Free-to-play could introduce new issues for the genre too. Professional fighting game analyst, commentator, and once competitor Sajam talks about how games like Fortnite seemingly drop a never-ending well of skins, wraps, effects, emotes, and more to keep players in their wallets and spending in the item shop. While not the case for every fighter, certain fighting game studios just don’t generate the revenue needed to keep up with such a model. The FTP model has also been poisoned by games that tried, and failed, to make the model work.

Wasn’t Tekken Revolution Free to Play In a screwed up way? We had stats that we can improve which changed the gameplay. We also had randomly occurring critical hits that we had no control over

— Rauschka (@Rauschka_tk) April 5, 2022

Games like Tekken Revolution and Dead or Alive 6: Core Fighters left sour tastes in the mouths of community members when they exposed how scummy the model can feel. Tekken Revolution featured pay-to-win stat boosts and only allowed players to fight in five matches at a time unless they bought a ticket to continue. A general lack of content and support for DoA:6 led to its quick death.

There’s also the fact that fighting games tend to be harder than the other competitive games out there. They aren’t made to be easily digestible to a casual audience like Smash Bros. and its clones like Brawlhalla and Multiversus. Just because you make it free to pick up and learn how to do a quarter-circle forward to half-circle back motion, doesn’t mean many will still want to do so. The genre just isn’t as approachable as, say, a shooter — and that’s another hurdle that many fans used to write off FTP.

While there are issues that can come with going free-to-play, it’s still an approach worth exploring. The positives outweigh the negatives and many community members are on board for a game like Street Fighter 6 taking a Fortnite-like approach. Will developers be willing to upend a classic genre so easily? If the long-archaic past and present of fighting games is anything to go by, probably not. But if a major release ever did, it’s possible that others could follow suit.

Many are looking to Riot’s upcoming fighting game, Project L, as the litmus test of the model in the genre thanks to the company’s past with FTP. With its reach, knowledge, and possible support from the fighting game community, it could easily be the game to revolutionize fighters going forward. However, there are a lot of “ifs” in that argument, so we’ll have to see if it can win over the skeptics.

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‘Assassin’s Creed Infinity’ game won’t be free-to-play

Assassin’s Creed Infinity won’t be a free-to-play online game, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot has confirmed during the developer’s latest earnings call. Bloomberg first reported about the project’s existence back in July, and the company has shared details about it bit by bit since then. The publication said that AC Infinity, which is the project’s name that could change upon release, will be a live online service similar to Grand Theft Auto Online that requires you to own the base game. According to Gamespot, Guillemot also said:

“This game is going to have a lot of narrative elements in it. It’s going to be very innovative game, but it will have what players already have in all the other Assassin’s Creed games, all the elements that they love… right from the start. So it’s going to be a huge game. But with lots of elements that already exist in the games that we published in the past.”

Unlike other Assassin’s Creed games with a single narrative story, Infinity will reportedly have multiple settings that will feel and look different from each other but will still be connected in some way. That means Infinity could have several games in one package, though how that will resonate with long-time fans remains to be seen. The original Bloomberg report also called it a massive online platform with room to expand in the months and years after its launch, so we may see new content hit the service as campaigns or seasons. 

Ubisoft pooled its resources and unified the Montreal and Quebec teams, which previously worked on separate Assassin’s Creed titles, to develop Infinity. Guillemot said it’s still in its very early stages, however, and previous reports said its soonest possible release won’t be until 2024.

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PUBG’s latest free-to-play promo lets you really sink your teeth in

PUBG is rather unique among battle royale titles, perhaps because it sparked the whole frenzy that led to rise of games like Fortnite and Apex Legends. While many battle royale games are free-to-play, PUBG actually asks for money upfront, potentially prompting some battle royale fans to give it a pass. This week, the developers behind PUBG are giving those holdouts a chance to try the game without plopping down cash first.

PUBG has gone free-to-play for the next week, giving (mostly) complete access to the game to anyone who wants it. Normally, PUBG runs $30, but from now until August 16th, it costs nothing to download and play. Krafton, the studio that makes PUBG, is even giving players some rewards for trying the game out during this promotion.

In a post to Steam, Kraton reveals several missions that will grant players a collection of in-game items upon completion. Most of these quests are ones that will be completed just by playing the game. For instance, one of the quests has you traveling 600m total in a parachute, while another tasks you with looting 300 items in total across all of your matches. Additionally, Krafton says that players who create a Global Account through the PUBG website and then link it to their Steam accounts during the free PUBG week will also get a free in-game item: Traditional Glasses (Round).

During this free-play week, all rewards – whether those are Pass, Mission, XP, or BP rewards – can be collected normally. In addition, mission progress and gameplay statistics will be recorded and put toward achievement progress if players wind up buying the full game. It seems that the store won’t be available to free players, but it will unlock as soon as those free players purchase the game.

Sadly, it doesn’t seem like there’s a sale associated with this free-play week, as PUBG is still listed at its normal price. The weeklong promotion is only available on Steam, which means console players will have to sit this one out. PUBG‘s free-play week wraps up on August 16th at 2 PM PDT/5 PM EDT.

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Two Point Hospital gets Sonic the Hedgehog items alongside free-to-play weekend

Sega has revealed that two big promos are launching in Two Point Hospital today. With the first one, we’ll see a variety of Sonic the Hedgehog items go live in the game in celebration of Sonic‘s 30th anniversary. The second is a free-to-play promo that will allow newcomers to the game to check it out without paying for the privilege first.

As you can see from the trailer we’ve embedded below, probably the biggest draw of these free Sonic items is that you can now dress your staff up as Knuckles, Tails, Sonic, and Amy. The costumes aren’t all that’s included in this free pack, as there are also several decorative items for your hospital, whether that’s a Sonic statue of the palm trees from Green Hill Zone.

The game is also going free-to-play this weekend on a number of different platforms. On Steam and Xbox, Two Point Hospital will be free-to-play until Monday, August 2nd. On Nintendo Switch, the free-to-play promotion will last until Tuesday, August 3rd, so Switch owners are getting even more time to play the game before they have to pony up some cash.

Sadly, it seems that PlayStation 4 owners are being left out in the cold with this promotion, though they are still getting the free Sonic the Hedgehog items. On the platforms where Two Point Hospital is free-to-play, the game has also been discounted. On Xbox, the Jumbo Edition is down to $27.99 (compared to $39.99 on PS4). The Switch version hasn’t been discounted at the time of this writing, but we expect it to get the same discount that we see on Xbox.

On Steam, things work a bit differently. The base game is discounted to $8.74, while most of the DLC packs have been discounted by 50%. However, some DLC packs haven’t been discounted quite that much, such as the more recent Culture Shock and A Stitch in Time DLCs, but those are still discounted by 33% and 20% respectively. These sales will all be wrapping up next week, so if you’ve been thinking of picking up Two Point Hospital, it looks like now is the time to buy.

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Pro Evolution Soccer will become ‘eFootball’ in free-to-play shift

Konami’s cult Pro Evolution Soccer series is trying a new tactic in its endless duel against FIFA. To stand out from its bigger rival, the soccer franchise is adopting a new name, eFootball, and going free-to-play on consoles, PC and mobile. 

Clearly, this isn’t a one-off. Konami has rebuilt the game using Unreal engine as part of the shift to providing a digital service. The biggest change to gameplay is the new “motion matching” technology designed to make player animations more realistic. Gamers will choose from different movements in real-time during matches. Seeing as the original Pro Evo’s gameplay is what helped to distinguish it from FIFA, motion matching could prove a make or break feature.

As you’d expect from an F2P title, eFootball will regularly receive new updates after its launch this fall. Konami will have to tread with care, however. Free-to-play games have attracted the ire of players and regulators alike due to their exploitative nature, best summed up by loot boxes that cost real money to obtain. The last thing the storied developer wants is to sully Pro Evo’s name. Maybe, that’s why it’s changing it. 

But, the news will probably raise alarm bells for fans. Konami said that only “local matches” featuring FC Barcelona, Juventus, FC Bayern, Manchester United “and others” will be available for free at launch. While, certain game modes will later be sold as optional DLC, “giving players the freedom to build an experience” that matches their interests. It’s a major risk that Konami is banking on to restore the franchise as a regular feature in dorms and living rooms around the world. 

The game will land in early fall with cross-generation matchmaking between current and last-gen PlayStation and Xbox consoles. Later in the fall, you can expect a managerial-style team building mode, online leagues, and a match pass system that rewards you with items and players. At the same time, cross-platform play will be introduced between consoles and PC. The winter will see the release of mobile controller support, full cross-play including mobile and the launch of professional and amateur eSports tournaments.

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Pro Evolution Soccer becomes eFootball and adopts a free-to-play model

There is no shortage of football, a.k.a. soccer in some countries, video games, but very few actually manage to stand out and stay on top of the others. Of these games, EA’s FIFA and Konami’s PES are probably the most renowned and purchased titles. That said, Pro Evolution Soccer or PES will be no more, at least not in the way we know it. Not only is Konami renaming it into a more generic “eFootball” brand, but it is also switching to a somewhat controversial free-to-play or freemium business model.

Konami defends its surprising decision by narrating how a change in the game engine changed more than just the visuals or the performance. It says that the new engine has gone beyond PES and has become a true virtual football environment, hence the unexciting name of eFootball. That game engine change, however, also opened new opportunities to unify the old PES into a single experience across all supported platforms.

eFootball will be available mostly in the same form on the PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows, iOS, and Android. More than just availability, however, the new game will also offer cross-platform matches, but not immediately. Konami shares a roadmap where those matches will open up slowly between generations of the same console platform, between consoles and PC, and finally between all devices.

The bigger news, however, is the switch away from a paid release to free-to-play. That term often makes some players and regulators uncomfortable, especially given the recent controversy around loot boxes. Of course, Konami promises a fair ecosystem where most of the game is available for free and only optional modes are sold as DLCs.

It remains to be seen how successful Konami will be in that balancing act, and it might be a long wait before that happens. Konami’s eFootball will land in early Fall with basic features like local matches using famous clubs. It won’t be until Winter where the full promise of the next-gen PES will be available for all football/soccer fans to try out.

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Tom Clancy’s XDefiant is a free-to-play, team-based FPS

Ubisoft is delving deeper into the Clancyverse with Tom Clancy’s XDefiant, a free-to-play game it revealed on Monday. The first-person multiplayer shooter will pit teams of six characters (or Defiants) against each other across several game modes. There’s a focus on gunplay, though you’ll also be able to harness traits, abilities and “ultras” — which seem similar to ultimates in other games — based on the faction you’re using.

XDefiant is a bit of a crossover between Ubisoft’s various Clancy franchises. The initial set of factions include the Wolves (inspired by Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon), Echelon (Splinter Cell) and the Outcasts and Cleaners (The Division). More Defiants will be added to the game later, and will draw from a variety of characters and abilities “from the Tom Clancy universe … and beyond,” Ubisoft said.

Ubisoft San Francisco is developing XDefant, which the creative leads said features “fast-paced firefights meet punk rock moshpits.” You can customize your Defiant’s loadout (including a primary and secondary weapons, attachments and device). You’ll be able to modify your setup when you respawn to help you adjust to what’s happening in a match. It sounds like there will be ways for both casual and competitive players to get the most out of the game too.

There are clear echoes of Overwatch and Valorant here, with plenty Clancyverse flavor thrown in. Executive producer Mark Rubin previously worked on Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty games, and there’s some obvious DNA from that franchise in XDefiant as well.

XDefiant is coming to Xbox One, PlayStation, Xbox Series X/S, PS5, PC, Google Stadia, Amazon Luna and Ubisoft Connect with full cross-play expected at the outset. The game’s still fairly early in development, but Ubisoft’s already inviting the public to try it. The first public PC test starts on August 5th, and you can sign up through the XDefiant website for a chance to take part.

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Tom Clancy’s XDefiant is a New Free-To-Play Ubisoft Shooter

Ubisoft revealed a new entry in the Tom Clancy franchise today, and no, it wasn’t a new Splinter Cell game. Instead, it’s a new free-to-play first-person shooter titled Tom Clancy’s XDefiant. The game is currently still in development, but a closed beta is set to launch in early August.

Developed by Ubisoft San Francisco, Tom Clancy’s XDefiant is “fast-paced firefights meets punk rock mosh pit” according to the game’s executive producer Mark Rubin and its creative director Jason Schroeder.

In Tom Clancy’s XDefiant, players will clash against each other with personalized classes, represented through different factions. Wolves make up the game’s tanks and sport large guns, as well as circular shields that can soak up damage. Cleaners fill the assault role and can wield flamethrowers. Support characters fit into the Echelon faction and come with SMGs and a set of goggles that let them see enemies through walls. Finally, healers are represented by the Outcasts, who can create a healing aura around themselves. Each faction also has its own extra abilities and an ultimate power.

Matches in Tom Clancy’s XDefiant will be 6-v-6, and include both arena style and linear modes, with domination and escort modes being revealed by a press release. The game will also feature “a large pool of uniquely designed maps,” although it doesn’t say how many maps players will be able to expect once the game launches.

A release date for Tom Clancy’s XDefiant hasn’t been revealed yet, but anyone that’s interested can try to get into one of the game’s betas. Players can register for the game’s first beta, slated for August 5, on its website.

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The Best Free-to-Play Games Available on Steam

With consistently lower title costs and regular deep-discount sales, Steam is a bargain-gamer’s paradise of free-to-play games. Sales are great, but aren’t completely free games even better? Before you try and snag a blockbuster game on sale, check out the store’s extensive free-to-play selection for some great gaming experiences that you can jump into without paying a dime.

From cartoon brawlers and Fallout spinoffs to the most popular multiplayer games on PC and tactical first-person shooters, the free-to-play market has hit the point where there’s something for everyone. Most of these titles are built for great multiplayer experiences (and a handful are cross-platform-enabled) — perfect options for groups of friends looking to test out a new game without breaking open their wallets.

We’ve rounded up the best free games on Steam for you so you can jump into a new game without slogging through reviews.

Further reading

Battlerite and Battlerite Royale

Battlerite​ ​is​ ​a​ top-down MOBA-style​ ​brawler​ where fantastical champions battle it out in front of a roaring crowd. The base Arena mode offers fast-paced action 2v2 and 3v3 battles where teams must strategize and plan their champions’ choices wisely to complement each other. Think your team is holding you back and you’d be better off solo? Try the game’s battle royale counterpart — Battlerite Royale. Take your favorite champion from the team arena and see how you stack up when you’re all alone. Like most battle royale games, this mode features a shrinking safe zone, plenty of looting, and being booted back to the menu after a death.

If you’re bouncing back and forth between both games, there’s a battle pass system that allows you to collect cosmetics and virtual currency to be used in either.

Brawlhalla

For fans of the Super Smash Bros. series that want to give another platform fighter a shot, Brawlhalla is a similar game with a whimsical art style and a rotating cast of lovable characters. The goal of each match is clear: Knock your opponent off the map, either off the platform or into the atmosphere, to claim victory. Any strategies and habits learned over on Super Smash Bros. will come in handy here — the same combination of tactful dodges, light attacks, and power hits will land you on top.

Each week, a batch of six fighters are playable without spending any money. Or, if you find a favorite fighter to main or want to try them out all at once, you can pay $20 to gain access to all 40-plus characters. Brawlhalla is a completely cross-platform game, too, so you can battle it out with friends who have also snagged the game for free on Switch, PS4, or Xbox One.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

The latest entry in Valve’s popular Counter-Strike series, CS: GO is a free-to-play first-person shooter that pits teams of terrorists and counter-terrorists against each other in a series of objective-based matches. Terrorists are typically tasked with either planting a bomb or defending hostages, while the counter-terrorists have to defend bombsites (and defuse bombs if they fail) or rescue the captives. CS: GO has nine main game modes for both competitive and casual gamers, including Danger Zone, the series’ take on a battle royale mode.

Despite first being released back in 2012, CS: GO has a very active and loyal fanbase. The Counter-Strike series has always been a big player in the competitive gaming scene, so expect some fierce battles with players who have been around for a while — they weren’t exactly happy when the game went free-to-play in 2018.

Crusader Kings II

Crusader Kings II is a grand strategy game with role-playing game (RPG) elements set in Europe at the close of the Dark Ages. Players pick a ruler and make sure his dynasty survives as you play a succession of his descendants through the ages, fighting other lords for territory, investigating treasonous plots, and managing resources. When playing as a specific ruler instead of a God-like controller of a civilization, each turn is a bit more personal than a typical historical strategy game. You can customize your character’s skills and appearance and control their individual actions — you can get married and have kids, become a warlord, go hunting, and more. There’s so much you can do, and every decision affects the game.

You can take this game on solo or build a wild multiplayer game with up to 32 other players, forming alliances or doing a little backstabbing with friends. A third installment in the Crusader Kings series is also available, although you’ll have to drop $50 to check out the action.

Destiny 2

Destiny 2 Trials of Osiris

Destiny 2 is a sci-fi, open-world, first-person shooter developed by Bungie. The game takes place in the distant future, when a conglomerate of alien armies have invaded the solar system and threaten the last vestiges of humanity. Players can keep busy in a variety of ways through the story, adventures, and quests, and in competitive multiplayer modes like the Crucible and Trials of Osiris. Destiny 2  is a game of serious depth that has only expanded since its launch. Whether you’re planning on gearing up solo and finding a team to play with online or jumping in with some friends, it’s a stellar free-to-play shooter. We’ve even found the best weapons in Destiny 2 as well as where to find Xur for legendary gear.

Read the full Destiny 2 review

Dota 2

Dota 2 is one of the biggest titles in all of esports. Combining elements of real-time strategy games and tower defense games, this popular MOBA pits two teams of five players against each other to destroy the core of the other team’s base. With regular updates, including gameplay changes and new characters that change the meta, Dota 2 is one of those games you have to log on to regularly to remain competitive.

With over a hundred heroes to choose from and nearly unlimited combinations and strategies, it can take some serious gaming hours to figure out how you like to play the game.

Fallout Shelter

Fallout Shelter puts players in control of a state-of-the-art underground vault from Vault-Tec and tasks them with keeping the underground safe haven functioning properly. A standard resource management game with a post-apocalypse spin, gameplay revolves around keeping the vault’s dwellers happy; making sure the shelter has enough food, water, and electricity; and defending the base from murderous raiders. You can also send adventurers out into the wasteland to collect supplies, send radio broadcasts to recruit more settlers, and pair off your settlers to produce new residents in-house.

If you’re a fan of the Fallout series and have ever imagined how well you’d run a vault, this is the simulator for you. Learning how to best utilize vault dwellers with different skills and knowing when to ship out a settler takes some time, but it’s good fun watching your vault grow when you figure it out. Take a look at our Fallout Shelter guide for some assistance.

Neverwinter

BioWare’s stellar Neverwinter Nights series brought Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) game mechanics to life in an immersive fantasy RPG. In the free-to-play MMORPG, Neverwinter, players can choose one of eight D&D character classes and team up with friends to defend the city of New Neverwinter from the Lich Queen Valindra. This isn’t a typical MMO — there generally aren’t zones with hordes of players fighting to grind certain spawns, and the story is surprisingly in-depth for the genre.

As with any MMO, there are loyal fans of the game who have been around since its initial 2013 who are terrifyingly decked out with rare armor, weapons, and skills. Don’t be afraid — this is a nice entry-level game for anyone trying to get a feel for D&D combat systems and have some fun hunting down evil creatures.

Paladins: Champions of the Realm

Paladins: Champions of the Realm art

Blizzard’s Overwatch remains the king of the “hero shooter” multiplayer genre, but Paladins is a worthwhile alternative and is completely free. Before battling it out with another team, players choose from a roster of champions divided into four tactical categories: Front Line, Damage, Support, and Flank. Like Overwatch, each character has a set of unique abilities and a charged “Ultimate.” All players have free access to six default champions and a rotating roster of four others — other characters can be unlocked by purchasing them or grinding for in-game currency.

No matter where you stand on the issue of whether or not Paladins is an Overwatch copycat, it’s worth checking out at no cost to your gaming budget.

Path of Exile

Heavily inspired by the Diablo series, Path of Exile is an online action RPG set in a dark fantasy realm. Banished for your misdeeds to the dark, you are an exile struggling to survive on the continent of Wraeclast and seeking revenge on those who have wronged you. Players pick between one of six classes — Witch, Shadow, Ranger, Marauder, Duelist, Templar — each of which has their own movesets, strengths, and weaknesses. Combining skills, armor, and weapons, you can carefully customize your character to suit your preferred playstyle.

While exploring the world through the main storyline is plenty engaging, you can always take part in some competitive online player versus player (PvP) gaming. Developer Grinding Gear Games has a strict mission in terms of its free-to-play world, too — no pay-to-win options here, so don’t fear jumping in.

Ring of Elysium

While Fornite and Apex Legends generally dominate the battle royale shooter category, Ring of Elysium is a hidden gem. In a world wrecked by a sudden volcanic eruption, the air is filling with deadly volcanic ash, and the only means of escape is a single rescue helicopter. Unlike most battle royales that feature a safe zone that slowly shrinks inward, players must stay within a constantly moving Ashen Eye and collect oxygen to assure survival.

Ring of Elysium’s development team remains committed to improving the game as it progresses past the early access period, with patches coming on an almost daily basis to add features and address feedback. If you’re looking to expand your battle royale experience past the most popular titles, give this a shot.

Smite

Smite is another game from Hi-Rez Studios, the same developer behind Paladins, but it’s a straight-up MOBA. Smite features five versus five online battles on a large map, where you must push past your opponent’s defenses to defeat the Titan. You play as one of 108 playable deities, immortals, heroes, and mythical creatures from ancient mythology that each belong to one of five classes: Guardian, Mage, Hunter, Warrior, or Assassin.

The only issue with picking up Smite is that it’s a highly competitive game — expect no mercy from elite players and no way to hide from them in casual game modes.

War Thunder

War Thunder is a military MMO that puts players in control of the armies of World War II nations (United States, Germany, Britain, U.S.S.R., and Japan). Players can take part in major battles on land, in the air, and at sea, fighting with millions of players from all over the world in an ever-evolving environment. With over 1,500 vehicles in play and a dedication to historical accuracy, strategizing and picking the correct combination of war machines is the key to victory. War Thunder is a versatile game with challenging multiplayer deathmatches and single-player campaigns. The game will keep you busy with its different modes and provide different experiences.

War Thunder is a game that works under the “freemium” model — essentially, it’s free to play, but if you want premium items, you need to spend real money to get them. Despite that, as long as you’re fine with going without these premium goods, the game is highly enjoyable, even without paying a single cent. History buffs, especially, will get a lot of fun out of the game. 

Warframe

Warframe has always gone above and beyond. This game has garnered gameplay from more than 26 million people, with newcomers joining the masses every day to try it out at no cost. Offering a game for free is an excellent marketing strategy to familiarize gamers with their brand, expanding their fan base. There’s not a more exhilarating free game to play with a group of friends, combining the Halo series’s sci-fi aesthetic with the gameplay and fighting mechanics of Destiny 2.

 “Warframes” are essentially exoskeletal armors that give players unique abilities when worn. Warframes get a lot of acclaim from players because you can customize them, and they are entertaining to use. Find strategies that best utilize your armor’s unique abilities to help you to fight the entire armies that appear in the game’s open-world terrains.

Warframe is especially well suited for gamers who want to customize every aspect of their gaming experience. The plotline isn’t anything to write home about because you’ll see the same tasks over and over. What brings players back for more gameplay is improving their armor and gaining different advantage options.

$ FROM STEAM

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 Medic healing Heavy.

It may have launched way back in 2017, but there’s no denying the staying power of Team Fortress 2. A class-based shooter with nine radically different characters to choose from, Team Fortress 2 has stayed relevant with constant updates, new hats to unlock, and a variety of in-game events.

Updates have slowed a bit over the past few years, but it still manages to pull in some of the best player counts across all of Steam. If you’re looking for a change of pace from your battle royale of choice, consider giving Team Fortress 2 a free download.

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Apex Legends

Apex Legends characters posing.
Apex Legends

Speaking of battle royales, Respawn’s popular Apex Legends has officially landed on Steam. Featuring the tightest shooting mechanics of the genre — and a flexible and fluid movement system — Apex Legends had no problem establishing itself as one of the best free games on Steam.

Even if you’re not a battle royale fan, Respawn recently brought a more traditional PvP experience to Apex Legends with the introduction of Arenas. This pits two teams of three against each other, with the only goal being the elimination of your opponents. Not only is it a great way to practice your combat skills, but Arenas has enough depth to stand alone as something completely separate from the core Apex gameplay loop.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star Wars The Old Republic squad facing off against boss.

Avid Star Wars fans will find plenty to love with The Old Republic, but so too will anyone seeking a deep, engaging RPG. Since launching in 2011, the decade-old MMO has seen radical improvements, turning it into one of the most popular MMORPGs on Steam.

A sprawling storyline driven by player choice is only the start of things, with a deep combat system, eight playable classes, and numerous planets to explore — including the iconic Hoth and Tatooine — giving you hundreds of hours of content to work through.

Steam

Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis

Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis player in combat.

Although it wasn’t as dramatic as the turnaround seen by Final Fantasy XIV, Phantasy Star Online 2 has come a long way since its launch. New Genesis is halfway between an expansion and a revamp, offering a radically different game than was around in 2020.

Enhanced character models, a new graphics engine, new locations, new enemies — the list of improvements could go on forever. In short, PSO2: New Genesis has cemented itself as one of the standout MMOs of its time.

Steam

RuneScape

RuneScape players gathered in a crowd.

Whether you’re interested in taking a trip down memory lane with Old School RuneScape or checking out all the improvements made in RuneScape 3, both MMOs are available for free on Steam. Monthly subscribers will gain access to a larger world and more skills, but free users can still get up to plenty of mischief in the massive world of Gielinor.

Whether you want to become a billionaire on the Grand Exchange or team up for some high-stakes PvP, the options at your disposal are almost limitless. Old School RuneScape is a perennial favorite, while the upgrades made to RuneScape 3 are quickly winning over legions of new fans.

Steam

PlanetSide 2

PlanetSide 2 player caught in a shootout.

As far as large-scale shooters go, it’s hard to beat PlanetSide 2. Rogue Planet Games has done an excellent job of making it feel that your individual contributions matter without turning PlanetSide 2 into a game filled with hundreds of lone wolves doing their own thing.

From piloting deadly vehicles to sneaking behind enemy lines with your squad, gameplay in PlanetSide 2 varies wildly from one moment to the next. The keys to victory? Working with your team, being flexible, and understanding when it’s time to retreat and regroup for a second assault.

Steam

GWENT

Gwent card explanations

Hearthstone might gather all the fanfare, but don’t sleep on CD Projekt Red’s stand-alone CCG GWENT. Constantly updated and reworked, GWENT has become one of the best card games available on Steam. Not only does it draw from the deep Witcher lore, but it features some impressive special effects and playing fields that will keep you engaged beyond the strategic gameplay.

Despite CD Projekt Red’s busy update schedule for Cyberpunk 2077, GWENT has managed to receive multiple patches throughout the year. New cards, new rules, and new unlockables keep the CCG exciting month after month, and we don’t expect the fun to end any time soon.

Steam

Spellbreak

Spellbreak archer attacking player.

As far as battle royale games go, Spellbreak is the outlier. Ditching guns and vehicles for gauntlets and spells, think of Spellbreak as “Harry Potter: The Battle Royale.” Combat quickly evolves into an explosion of colors, with tornados, firewalls, and flying boulders becoming staples of a typical encounter.

The longer you manage to last in each round, the more your skills will grow — meaning the final ring is filled with high-end players with the strongest spells in the game. If you thought the last few minutes of Fortnite were difficult, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve stepped into Spellbreak. It takes a while to get used to, but Spellbreak offers one of the most thrilling takes on the battle royale genre in recent memory.

Steam

Editors’ Choice




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