Gone are the days when free games equated to ropey puzzle games and knock-off clones of new games that had a price tag. These days, courtesy of in-app payments and the ease of offering both a sample of a title alongside its full-fat version, there are actually plenty of great games to play without spending a dime. Following the continued success of titles like Fortnite, the level of quality across mobile, PC and consoles has never been higher. Put your card away, and consider this your starting point.
Fortnite Battle Royale
Call of Duty: Warzone
When it was a new game, many of us assumed Genshin Impact was a tenuous Zelda: Breath of the Wild copy with impressive anime graphics and not much else. But this turned out to be a very different game, Nintendo’s action RPG, with over 50 characters, at this point, to play as. The world is rich and varied. It’s also a huge accomplishment for a free game that’s found a huge chunk of its audience on smartphones.
While battles with foes form a major part of the game, a lot of the joy and satisfaction comes from customizing that army of characters, building up a collection of loot and strengthening them further. While there is an entire microtransaction system baked into the game, much of the game is playable (and enjoyable) without having to spend a dime. Did we mention it’s totally gorgeous?
Even though Blizzard has improved the onramp for new players this time around, Overwatch 2 still has a steep learning curve. Stick with it, though, and you’ll get to indulge in perhaps the best team shooter around. Overwatch 2 has a deceptively simple goal — stand on or near an objective and keep the other team away long enough to win. It’s much more complex in practice. To the untrained eye, matches may seem like colorful chaos, but Overwatch 2 has a deceptively simple goal — stand on or near an objective and keep the other team away long enough to win.
It’s much more complex in practice. Blizzard reduced the number of players on each team from six to five. That, along with across-the-board character tweaks, has made gameplay faster-paced and more enjoyable than the original Overwatch. There's a greater emphasis on individual impact, but you'll still need to work well with your teammates to secure a victory.
Now featuring a cast of more than 30 heroes, each with distinct abilities and playstyles, you’ll surely find a few Overwatch 2 characters that you can connect with. The first batch of new heroes are all a blast to play. There are many great (though often fairly expensive) new skins to kit them out with too. The game looks and sounds terrific too, thanks to Blizzard’s trademark level of polish. At least until you figure out how to play Overwatch 2, you can marvel at how good it looks.
Fortnite Battle Royale
Fortnite is a social space as much as it is a game. Where else can you see Spider-Man doing John Cena's "You Can't See Me" taunt next to Indiana Jones dancing to a Dua Lipa song, or Ariana Grande hanging out with Goku while you catch up with friends in voice chat? It also happens to be a great video game with a clear path to victory. Drop onto the island, grab some weapons and gear and try to be the last player or team standing as a storm pushes survivors closer to each other.
Epic made Fortnite far more approachable earlier this year when it introduced a Zero Build mode, which prevents players from building structures for cover. If you have the skills to box an opponent into a skyscraper in mere seconds, by all means, go for it in the other modes, but Zero Build levels the playing field for new players.
Fall Guys is a different flavor of battle royale. Sure, there can still only be one player or squad standing tall at the end, but there are no guns in sight here. It's essentially a platformer in the vein of MXC or Takeshi’s Castle, in which only a certain number of players will qualify from each obstacle-laden round.
It’s also maybe the goofiest and purely enjoyable multiplayer game around. You don’t necessarily need to win to have a good time. It’s hard to feel aggrieved, even when another player shoves you off a ledge to knock you out. It rarely feels mean-spirited even when another player messes with you.
With developer Mediatonic adding more levels and cute cosmetics fairly frequently, the game rarely feels stale. Whenever you return to Fall Guys after a break, you’ll probably run into a new type of bedlam.
From the studio that brought you Titanfall, Apex is a 60-player deathmatch with teams consisting of three people each. The goal is for your team to be the last one standing in Kings Canyon, where you’ll have to loot and fight your way to survival using characters like Octane, an adrenaline junkie whose ultimate move is deploying a jump pad that catapults you into the air for sneak attacks.
You can download it and use the majority of Apex’s characters without having to spend any money. That said, you will have to shell out some cash to access to certain content, including weapon skins and new characters such as Wattson. If you don’t like the cartoonish aspect of Fortnite, and if you’re a fan of the action-packed Titanfall gameplay, it doesn’t get much better than Apex.
Dota 2 has one of the steepest learning curves of any game. Only after sinking hundreds upon hundreds of hours into the five-on-five MOBA can you even begin to understand the deep game mechanics, 100+ unique characters and team strategies. But the fact Dota 2 is so challenging makes those big plays and hard-fought victories all the more satisfying. The sky-high skill ceiling means there's always something to learn, and if you eventually make it into the pro ranks, one tournament win can turn you into an overnight millionaire.
When Pokémon Go launched in 2016, there were some obvious omissions, such as trading and player-versus-player trainer battles. Now, almost every problem and missing feature has been addressed. The game isn't perfect, but the fundamentals — walking around outside, spinning Pokéstop signs and catching critters — make this a truly unique and health-beneficial experience for Pokemon fans. The daily "research" quests and timed events, which boost the appearance of certain monsters, are a great excuse to log in every day. Niantic continues to expand the Pokédex, too, so that your collection is never quite finished.
Call of Duty: Warzone
For years, Fortnite was the battle royale of choice for younger players, until Call of Duty: Warzone came along. Boosting by interest during the pandemic, the free-to-play battle royale has persisted through numerous iterations of the Call of Duty franchise, with new maps, game modes and weapons helping to push the player base above the 100 million mark. The core game requires you to either drop in solo or as part of a team and duke it out with up to 149 other players, running between different points of interest to forage for weapons, tactical items and vehicles. If that wasn’t enough, a wall of gas will force you into increasingly tight areas.
Warzone offers some fresh takes on the traditional battle royale formula. For example, if you die, you will be sent to the ‘Gulag’ to fight with other downed players for a one-time chance to redeploy back into the game. Should you lose, teammates can still ‘buy’ your return, but requires them to first earn enough in-game money to afford it. Following the release of Modern Warfare 2, Warzone was overhauled. It got a new map, Al Mazrah, which is the largest playzone in the game’s history. Loadouts – a system that allowed players to customize a Primary and Secondary Weapon, Tacticals, Lethals and three Perks before the game – have been changed too.
Rocket League couldn’t be simpler: You are a car and there is a ball. Put the ball in the other team’s goal and keep it out of yours. Yet its basic rule set does more than most games can with mountains of dialogue and gameplay systems. Each match is pure contingency: a group of players improvising in response to one another until time runs out. You’ll find yourself making calculations in real time, mapping out potential trajectories by sight, revising the angles and velocity required to just get the damn ball in the net as you move. Controlling the car never feels natural, so everyone is always missing and slamming into each other. But when all the math and movement lines up just right, and you pull off something resembling grace, it’s like a small revelation. Eight years into Rocket League’s life, it’s still thrilling.