Mobile free-to-play games often get a bad rap by those accustomed to a decade of microtransactions, gambling mechanics, and pay-to-win multiplayer design, but don’t let that stigma deprive you of the no-cost gems fighting the good fight on the Android store. These top free Android games offer honest-to-goodness gaming for the price of a free hug, using the brands you love to make quality experiences that do justice to the world's they’re set in.
You’ll still find premium economies (and all that comes with them) in most of these titles, but they’re either non-obtrusive appendages to the core experience, or overshadowed by the primordial appeal of the gameplay itself. So here they are, the best Android games that you can download and play on your smartphone for nothing as of right now.
Plants vs. Zombies 2
An oldie but a goldie, the sequel to Popcap’s breakout tower defense title of 2009 (nearly ten years ago!) remains a perennial delight for casual mobile gamers, young and old. The conceit of defending your garden from the undead sounded ludicrous at first, but it’s the perfect platform for a taught strategy system of resource management, spatial tactics, and lots of horticultural laughs. Meanwhile, Plants vs Zombies 2’s simple but effective art style keeps the senses engaged, while its expanded variety of settings, characters, and assets over the first offer hours’ worth of solid entertainment, all without the need to invest in its relatively harmless micro-economy of extra content.
When Bethesda stealth launched its first ever mobile game in 2014, few could have predicted the result would be Fallout Shelter; a management sim in which, as overseer of a vault of your making, players can grow, diversify, and rule their own micro society of dwellers and wanderers in nuclear America. It’s a surprisingly deep and interactive experience, featuring quests, combat, and even mini quizzes on Fallout trivia, with microtransactions that are nevertheless generously handed out for those not willing to pay an extra dime. Better yet, it’s probably Bethesda Softworks’ least buggiest, most polished game to date, though I get that that’s not really saying much. Every nuclear cloud, aye?
Fortnite: Battle Royale
Fortnite’s taking over the world, so of course it’s taking over this list too, and who can argue against it? Epic Games’ sprightly battle royale has all the makings of a winner, from its accessible, ebullient tone to the ever evolving meta of its competitive design.
Fortnite: Battle Royale also boasts an innovative and genuinely fair premium economy system, where the in-game V-Bucks can be used to purchase a new Battle Pass every season, letting players nab tons of new costumes and items solely just by playing the game itself. All of these assets are purely cosmetic, too, so no battle royale contenders have to worry about being overwhelmed by Fortnite’s more affluent players. Pray to the Durr Burger that it remains that way for the game’s foreseeable future.
Speaking of battle royale, how about Fortnite’s older, harder boiled cousin? PUBG Mobile is the miniaturised adaptation of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, the massive battle royale PC game that became so popular, it accidentally created a whole new genre of multiplayer gaming in the process.
PUBG Mobile is pretty much the Battlegrounds that fans will know and love, albeit with slightly lesser graphical horsepower to run at a consistent pace and framerate on Android and iOS devices. Don’t worry, there’s still tense shootouts, epic victories, and plenty of team camaraderie to be enjoyed with friends, alongside a commitment to free updates of Chinese developer Tencent that continue to improve the game’s quality of life over time.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
“Deceptively simple. Insanely Fun.” reads Blizzard’s long brandished motto for Hearthstone and, truth be told, we couldn’t have put it better ourselves. A digital card game so good that it single handedly revived and repopularised the entire digital card game genre, Hearthstone reminded us why we loved these kind of experiences in the first place, much to the celebration of those who remember classic rounds of Magic: The Gathering on PC.
Hearthstone does a lot with very little, using basic board game concepts as the springboard for deep strategy and deck customisation. It runs perfectly on Android, too, and those fast paced matches are ideal for getting quick games in during daily commutes or boring table conversations. Download it on your phone now, and you’ll be a card magician in no time.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite
Niantic took its game-changing Pokemon GO geo-locational AR tech and imbued it with the magic of Hogwarts to release Harry Potter: Wizards Unite earlier this year, and the game has already gone down as a mobile hit for fans and newcomers alike. The authenticity to the Potter-verse is easily identifiable in Wizards Unite, from the sheer variety of creatures inspired by the recent Fantastic Beasts movies to that inimitable soundtrack, but Niantic has also gamified that world without losing any of its charm.
As a wizard on the go, you'll be casting spells, capturing beasts, fighting off Dementors, and representing your Hogwarts House with pride, as Wizard Unite deploys a multitude of gameplay activities that keeps the game feeling fresh even despite its inherent reliance on reward through repetition. Niantic has clearly learned from Pokemon Go's mistakes too, creating an experience that's more user friendly, better connected, and constantly updated with new tools and tricks, making Wizards Unite a spellbinding treat for the Potter community and beyond.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
Enough jokes have been made about Tom Nook’s ironically predatory nature in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, but the truth is, we can’t stop playing it regardless of his invasive pleas for more money.
Not because of its rote adherence to mobile gaming conventions, but because that inimitable Animal Crossing atmosphere and gameplay style has been captured perfectly in Nintendo’s second mobile title after Super Mario Run. It may have its flaws, but until Animal Crossing: New Horizons releases on Switch, Pocket Camp is the closest thing we have to a sequel to New Leaf.
Its 2016 launch wasn’t pretty, there’s no denying that, but Pokemon GO has risen out of the ashes of controversy to become a truly game-changing mobile title. It was one of the first real alternate reality games to prove the potential of the concept, capturing the hearts and minds of millions, and making perfect sense as a new gaming format for the beloved Pokemon brand.
Niantic’s fervent support for the game has led to hundreds of new Pokemon, improved game mechanics, and community events that have only been additive to its already alluring nature. Pokemon Go is one of those games that is hard to picture dying out in the next half decade or even beyond, which isn’t something you can say for many other free to play mobile titles.
The Elder Scrolls: Blades
While Bethesda's had its fair share of criticism regarding The Elder Scrolls: Blades, and its monetisation system of micro-transactions and loot boxes in particular, the mobile RPG set in the world of Tamriel is - technically - the first new Elder Scrolls game we've had since 2011's Skyrim, and that makes it worth a try at the very least.
To its credit, Blades is an authentic Elder Scrolls experience on a moment to moment level, with impressive visuals endowing its dungeons that play home to familiar first-person swords and sorcery combat, punctuated with puzzles and exploration as players take on the role of a exiled royal bodyguard, the titular Blade, looking to restore their hometown back to its former glory. Don't go in expecting anything close to Skyrim or Oblivion, but accept Blades for what it is, and you're bound to have a good time.
Stranger Things: The Game
This is an unusual one, and probably something only fans of the show can really appreciate, but then again, who hasn’t seen Stranger Things at this point? BonusXP’s mobile game adaptation takes inspiration from the same 1980’s atmosphere of the show’s setting to create a breezy but easily enjoyed adventure that pays great service to Netflix’s horror hit.
Not only does it look the part, but the light puzzling and exploration gameplay can while the hours away without you even realising, even if it does ride on the same nostalgia that Stranger Things has been exploiting since 2015. Hey, if it ain’t broke...