Before games like Fortnite and Apex Legends hit the scene, “free-to-play” was kind of a dirty word. Marred by an overabundance of titles eager to strip players of real-world cash through manipulative in-game systems or absurd, abrasive amounts of grinding, worthwhile F2P games felt like small diamonds in an extremely expansive, unforgiving rough.
While they were far from the first free-to-play to do it right, Electronic Arts and Respawn Entertainment helped change the perception surrounding the no-investment-needed monetization model. Yet, that doesn’t mean Apex Legends is the be-all-end-all in the category, and there are tons of other free games out there worthy of everyone’s attention.
10 Cuisine Royale
Released in June of 2018, Cuisine Royale quite literally started out as a joke. Much in the vein of something like Landfall’s Totally Accurate Battlegrounds, what seems to be a desperate PUBG clone actually revealed itself to be a surprisingly unique experience.
The main conceit of the game revolves around the fact that, rather than scrambling to loot armor and survival equipment from a bunch of abandoned buildings, Cuisine Royale has players looting kitchens and wearing pots, pans, and colanders for protection. At the end of the day, this free-to-play title is a tongue-in-cheek take on the often far too serious battle royale genre.
Argo is a stripped down version of Arma III tailor-made for those who were too impatient to play the original game. Developed by Bohemia Interactive—the same team behind the Arma series and everyone’s zombie survival sim Day Z—Argo takes the core mechanics of their aforementioned hyper-realistic military shooter and dramatically speeds up the gameplay.
With maps sharing more in common with Call of Duty than PUBG, players can enjoy the tense action of this well-respected combat sim without trekking across the map for 45 minutes on foot in between firefights. While Arma III is a more niche title, Argo carries a bit of a broader appeal.
Ridiculous name aside, Warface is a surprisingly engaging shooter originally developed by Crysis developer Crytek. Though it has since been picked up by the controversial publisher My.com, the game retains many of the elements which make it so addicting. With a generous amount of weapons, maps, game modes, and a surprisingly sizeable player base for a game first launched in 2013, Warface definitely deserves a look for those eager for some Call of Duty-esque action sans the tiered progression system and underwhelming content updates. It may be a bit rough around the edges, but it’s a game that shouldn’t be immediately written off.
7 The Culling
Though the brand is now irrevocably associated with the utterly awful launch of its ill-fated sequel, developers Xaviant Games have gone back to the drawing board and returned to their original release.
Launched long before games like Fortnite and Apex Legends hit the scene, The Culling was a true pioneer in the overdone battle royale genre. Taking clear inspiration from the Hunger Games movies, this title takes that now-classic formula and distills it into something that, while not looking quite as flashy as some of its competitors, is every bit as deep and engaging. The development team hasn’t exactly fostered the greatest relationship with the community, but the game is still worth playing in 2019.
6 Ring Of Elysium
Published in the latter half of 2018 and backed by Chinese megacorporation Tencent, Ring of Elysium released as an extremely competent early access battle royale shooter. Though ostensibly similar to something like PUBG, this title mixes it up by introducing several winter-themed mechanics and modes of transportation. If Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds had a baby with Ubisoft’s Steep, this would undoubtedly be the result.
Players will ride chairlifts and blast at each other while snowboarding down a mountain like something out of a James Bond movie, and it’s all more technically polished and stable than its direct competitor could ever hope to be.
5 Quake Champions
Developed by Quake originators id Software and published by nonother than Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim developers Bethesda, Quake Champions is an epic free-to-play twitch shooter which hearkens back to the old days of Quake III Arena.
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Though the franchise’s once-sterling reputation has been sullied a bit by some of the publishers' ill-advised decisions, the core gameplay remains as solid as ever. Few titles in the modern era feature such a high skill ceiling as Quake Champions, and it definitely caters the audience desperately tired of the deluge of Call of Duty and Fortnight wannabes. It’s far from a perfect experience, and it asks players to grit their teeth as they trudge through the skill gap, but it all feels adequately rewarding at the end of the day.
If John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic The Thing were somehow converted into an online-only battle royale experience, this would be the outcome. Deceit isn’t a particularly new idea; in fact, the concept has been explored to much greater viral acclaim by titles like SCP: Secret Laboratory. That said, it’s hard to undermine the fact that this is a game in which words are often more effective than bullets. As the name implies, it’s all about a select few infected deviously taking out a handful of survivors without revealing their intentions, and it boasts a strange appeal which few games could claim to replicate. Although a bit simplistic visually, Deceit is a much more invigorating experience than many of today’s dime-a-dozen BR shooters.
3 Black Squad
It would be easy to browse the Steam store page for Black Squad, write it off as nothing more than a cheap CS:GO clone, and forget about it en route to your next Apex Legends match, but there’s more here than meets the eye.
While the two games are incredibly easy to compare, Black Squad excels thanks to the attention the developers have paid to the game’s core mechanics. Movement and weapon handling all feel just a bit more balanced than what’s present in Valve’s title, and the extremely high skill ceiling make this a must play for those who have spent hours upon hours in ultra-sweaty CS:GO lobbies. It may be slightly lacking in graphical fidelity, but Black Squad is absolutely worth your time.
2 Paladins: Champions Of The Realm
A team-focused hero shooter with a bright, saturated aesthetic and a suite of unique, role-specific characters. Yeah, sounds quite a bit like Blizzard’s Overwatch. Of course, while the hero shooter craze was quickly snuffed out in favor of battle royale, Paladins: Champions of the Realm has managed to remain one of the most compelling free-to-play titles available in 2019. The sticking point here is that players aren’t automatically pigeonholed into their hero’s specific roles as a robust and deep card system allows for an intense amount of customization. The developers tried to pull some EA-esque pay-to-win garbage with the ironically titled Cards Unbound update, but that issue has since been amended.
Developed by Digital Extremes and originally published back in 2013, Warframe is essentially Destiny for people who actually care about their money. That’s not to disparage any Bungie fans out there, but there’s no denying that without the greedy, cloying hand of a major publisher holding them back, Digital Extremes has evolved Warframe into one of the most rewarding free-to-play titles of all time.
What started out as a relatively simple sci-fi looter shooter has blossomed into something so detailed and complex that it could very well be the last game you’ll ever need to buy… and you don’t even need to buy it. The tried and true tenacity of this game puts it leaps-and-bounds ahead of EA’s battle royale newcomer.