Path of Exile
Love action RPGs but don’t have the sixty bucks to shell out for a copy of Diablo III? Path of Exile has you covered. On top of its excellent, addictive combat, Path of Exile features some of the deepest character building options in genre history. The passive skill tree available to every character is so staggeringly huge it’s difficult to imagine ever exhausting every option.
Path of Exile also has an interesting active skill system, where you acquire new abilities by picking up and slotting skill gems into your weapons, and is unique among its peers in that there is no monetary currency: all of the buying and selling is done by way of barter. Great action, crazy deep mechanics, and a gorgeous dark-gothic world, all for the low, low price of absolutely nothing.
There have been a number of MMO shooters in recent years all looking to fill the shoes (or combat boots) of the original Planetside, the granddaddy of the genre, but appropriately enough, the only game that’s been able to adequately scratch that territory controlling, persistent shooting itch is its sequel. The responsive combat and array of awesome vehicles, character progression, and overarching metagame combine to elevate Planetside 2 above it’s contemporaries. The scale of the game, with hundreds or even thousands of players participating in pitched battles across huge continents, and the incentive to capture strategic installations or resources, make Planetside 2 engaging in ways that more traditional shooters can’t match. It’s the sort of game that’s so consistently engaging and uniformly high quality that it’s almost shocking that it’s also entirely free.
MOBAs have one of the strangest histories in gaming: the original DotA, the founder of the genre, was a mod for Warcraft 3 that gained immense popularity on the strength of its addictive, competitive multiplayer. Hot on its heels were a glut of clones, imitators, and evolutionary successors, crowding the genre until League of Legends emerged as the dominant genre standard.
The fact that Dota 2 was able to muscle it’s way into this incredibly difficult market and stake a claim as LoL’s only real competition is testament to its high quality, Valve’s dedication to supporting it, and the depth and complexity of what on the surface seems like a fairly simple game. Building on the legacy of the original DotA, Dota 2 distinguishes itself from other MOBAs by focusing intensely on balance at the highest level of play, and giving players access to the Steam Workshop to create custom items that can then be bought and sold on the Steam marketplace.
It’s a deep, intense, often frustrating game that nonetheless rewards players who are willing to invest their time into mastering the breadth and depth of its systems, and as far as time-to-money ratios are concerned, it’s almost unparalleled. It’s completely free, and you could easily play a hundred or more matches and still not feel like you’d truly grasped all of it’s mechanics, match-ups, and scenarios.
One of the most recent conversions to the free-to-play model, Rift is a fully-featured MMORPG that targets veterans of the genre who have grown tired of World of Warcraft or its brood of clones. It features an interesting character development system where, after you’ve selected a more traditional archetype (like warrior or mage), you choose from an array of 36 “souls” to tailor your character to your play style. Add the six playable races to the mix, and the possible character cocktails are seemingly endless.
Rift also has some of the coolest, most robust player housing of any game anywhere, online or off, putting the tools to build incredible structures, castles, or towers directly into players’ hands. Toss in diversions like the signature invasions through dimensional rifts, collectible orbs, and hidden treasure hordes, and you’ve got a massive experience that even jaded MMO players will enjoy.
On the brink of ending its open beta phase and properly launching, Neverwinter continues to be one of the best free online experiences on the market. The development team has done a solid job of keeping the Dungeons and Dragons action MMO running smoothly and relatively bug free, and have responded to player feedback in a number of areas. Price reductions, combat tweaks, and a steady stream of bug fixes have continually improved what was already a solid product, an MMO that does third-person combat right and without sacrificing the depth of its tab-targeting counterparts.
It’s also a remarkably pretty game, and the strength of the Forgotten Realms setting is leveraged to provide fantastical backdrops and iconic monsters like beholders, pit fiends, and massive dragons. Neverwinter adeptly pulls off the balance so many MMOs strive for: it’s accessible to new players but with layers of depth to appeal to veterans. With more content promised and a sturdy community, Neverwinter is one of the most solid online games available, and free to play all the way to the level cap.