When it comes to games, the best things in life are rarely free. In fact, there’s a direct causal link between games that apparently cost nothing, and the sort of freemium guff you wouldn’t force your greatest nemesis to play. That isn’t the case here, though.
Dig around the Xbox Store and you’ll find a selection of absorbing free-to-play titles, all with depth, action and astonishing degrees of depth. Actually, don’t do that, because we’ve done it for you. Below you’ll find a list of 10 essential free-to-play games for Xbox One, all of which are worth your time, and the zero money you’ll spend buying them.
Thanks to regular updates, Warframe has attracted a hardcore community, and the game’s blend of gravity-defying melee attacks and boisterous sci-fi blasting are unlike anything else out there. Best of all, despite being free-to-play, even the most frugal firefight fans can enjoy breakneck multiplayer without ever prying open their change purses. If you’re feeling flush you can buy some Platinum on the Xbox Store, but you don’t spend all your pennies on sci-fi bling to enjoy Warframe - the pleasure of zipping about with its somersaulting stars is gratifying enough as is. Whether diving into quest-driven PVE action or dabbling in competitive deathmatches, Warframe always feels like its own unique entity. The maps are also brilliantly varied, including Pluto, the Moon, the dwarf planets of Ceres and Sedna. With so many different types of Warframe armour and weapons to pick from, plus numerous ways to slice and dice foes, there are hundreds of hours of entertainment here for the grand price of absolutely nothing.
The revival of classic fighting franchise Killer Instinct was a pleasant surprise when it was revealed by Microsoft prior to the Xbox One launch. The fact it also happens to be a rock-solid fighting game that manages to stand apart from its competition thanks to its unique handling of c-c-c-c-combos is nothing short of astounding.
Throughout the years, Killer Instinct has continued to evolve and be refined, with balance tweaks and an influx of new fighters making it feel like a living experience where you can always find something worth checking out. And while the full experience will cost you some dough, you can still enjoy unlimited bouts with a selection of free fighters, who are rotated in and out on a regular basis.
This unfussy MMO/RPG hybrid ticks many essential boxes. Firstly, it’s free - otherwise it wouldn’t be on this list. Secondly, it lets you ride a gigantic beetle as a mount… though admittedly, you have to pay for that privilege with Zen, Neverwinter’s in-game currency that costs real money. If you’re not overly precious about buying cosmetic upgrades, however, or proudly sitting on the back of an massive crab, this online fantasy is charming. Controls work well on a pad, and combat wisely focuses on arcadey slashing, rather than restrained, turn-based battles. The world won’t amaze you with its sprawl – at times, Neverwinter feels a little boxy and linear – and the community isn’t exactly that lively, but its fantasy fisticuffs are endearing nonetheless. Getting to the level-60 cap will also take ages, meaning you’re getting a whole lot of bang for precisely zero bucks.
You may already think you're a god at highly competitive multiplayer games - but what kind of god? Greek? Egyptian? Norse? These are but a few of the mythologies represented by the gigantic roster in Smite, a MOBA played from a behind-the-back third-person perspective that puts you at ground level for all that sweet minion-slaying, kill-spreeing action. The primary mode is the classic 5v5 on a three-lane map, but there a wealth of additional modes and maps to try out.
Like any MOBA, Smite comes with a cycling rotation of free-to-try heroes, and earning your favorites for keeps is simply a matter of some moderate time invested. Smite's cartoony visual style and often flashy, sometimes goofy animations are certainly appealing, and the sheer variety of its deity selections ensures that you'll find a god of your own to master and/or worship. If you do feel like plunking money down, there's even an option to buy every god, now and forever, that has been and ever will be added to the game.
Airmech Arena ticks all the transformers boxes by letting you play as a massive robot that can seamlessly contort itself into a tank. A good start. This weird little MOBA/tower defence title boasts admirably flexible robot warriors and some of the most darling support units you’ll find on Xbox – even the T45 turrets are cute. With a reasonably beefy 15-level single-player offering, and tactically sharp 3v3 online encounters, there’s a lot of free fuel in AirMech’s tanks. Any mech or unit that can affect gameplay can be unlocked by grinding for in-game Kudos, with developer Carbon Games sensibly deciding cosmetic upgrades should be the only items that must be bought with the premium Diamonds currency. It’s a decision that means this likable MOBA never feels like a seedy ‘pay-to-win’ game, and all players have an even chance, regardless of how much they’ve spent.
World of Tanks
Subtlety is so overrated. Especially when it comes to tanks. Who needs nuanced scuffles when you could be taking part in 15v15 Panzer battles? World Of Tanks is an uncomplicated, furious multiplayer concoction. With more than 400 armoured vehicles and six game types, there’s an outrageous amount of content here for the princely sum of nothing. Is Wargaming’s online blast-‘em-up intimidating at first? Well, yes. But
persist and you’ll be rewarded with muscular vehicular slaughter that’s never short on spectacle. You can pay for the Premium Starter Pack, giving you a million in Silver to splurge on new tanks, but really, you can enjoy World Of Tanks without spending a single dime. If you’re short on funds and want to know what would prevail in a battle between Poland’s proud T-34-85 and the Hungarian might of the Turán III prototípus - and hey, we won’t judge if you are - this is your game.
DC Universe Online
DC Universe Online spent much of its early days as a PS3 and PS4 exclusive. After Sony Online Entertainment became Daybreak Game Company, this highly-acclaimed MMORPG made its way over to Xbox One, and it brought with it years of additional story content, quests, and more.
You'll create your own superhero or villain, developing your background, costume, fighting style, mentor, and other options during the character creation process. Once you finish the tutorial, you're loosed into the world where you can explore Gotham City, Metropolis, and Central City, join the Justice League or The Society, and take on quests dished out by your favorite DC Universe characters. Combat is far more dynamic than your typical toolbar-laden MMO, too, often feeling more like an honest-to-God action game. If you're a fan of DC Comics and you're looking for a way to immerse yourself in its world, DC Universe Online is easily one of the best options out there.
Think all Mech games are slow and cumbersome? Oh, and do you think they cost money? Nah, they don't. Hawken is a brutally fast, aggressive shooter, and free-to-play on Xbox One. Sure, it may not be quite as slick as Titanfall 2, but it's pure focus on mech-on-mech war makes it a very different proposition most of the time. Sure, there are free-to-play elements, which allow you to customise and enhance your towering metal exoskeleton, but its entirely possible to be competitive without it. See, Hawken uses a 'free-to-not-grind' system - you can choose to unlock all the game's content for a fee, or you can play for hours to unlock it for nothing. The only stuff you can't get through playing is cosmetic items. It's one of the better, livelier free games on Xbox, so well worth a (giant robot) punt.
This is the Grand Cru Classe of knocking metal balls about with flippers. This free-to-play sleeper hit features a ridiculous number of tables to play on, but it’s also a true great when it comes to smashing tiny balls about. While the core game won’t cost you anything, your wallet will get lighter if you decide to buy any of the premium tables Zen Studios, which include the Star Wars Pinball Season One, with tables that offer everything from Ewok-slaughtering action on Endor to frosty fun on Hoth. If you’d rather play on tables focused on Nikola Tesla than lovable rogue Han Solo, there are cheaper, more vanilla packs available, too.
Dead or Alive 5
Dead or Alive 5 is a bummer conceptually speaking. When you look at the in-game store and realize it would take well over $1000 to purchase a complete version of the game with every costume, character, and feature unlocked, it can feel like the absolute nadir of free-to-play game making. Play just the free version of the game, though, and you'll realize that Dead or Alive 5 doesn't need to be a complete game to actually be a good one. The simple but deep rock-paper-scissor structure of DOA's fights, where blocks counter strikes and throws counter blocks, creates a delicious base for the pyrotechnics layered on top of them. All of DOA's base characters are fun to swing around an arena on their own, no ridiculous and overpriced downloadable Christmas bikinis necessary.