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Free to Play in Isolation

Times are tight and games can be expensive, but not all interactive experiences will cost a king's ransom.

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The world is at an impasse right now and many a gamer is either out-of-work, stuck at home, or both. However, if we're looking for silver linings, for many, being isolated in your own home or room is the perfect chance to catch up on some lost gaming time.

Esports and the gaming community in general have seen a spike in traffic since the majority of the world has gone into lockdown. Millions of people are picking up their controllers, keyboards, and touch screen devices and logging into the online world to forget about the real.

With that being the case, we've gone to the trouble of picking out some of the best free-to-play games out there, to get you started if you're on a tight budget:

Have a Massive Adventure

Where better to lose yourself than in a massively multiplayer world? For older readers, a trip down memory lane might be in order, specifically a trip to Varrock in Old School RuneScape, one of the most popular MMORPGs of its time and a game that many still play today.

Moving forward a touch, Neverwinter is another favourite MMO with a free-to-play entry point. Based on tabletop sensation Dungeons & Dragons, Neverwinter offers a peek into a dark and mysterious world that's bound to leave you wanting more of the mystery.

Then there's Final Fantasy XIV, and DC Universe. FFXIV (like World of Warcraft, another game we could have mentioned here) is only free up to a certain point in the game but it remains one of the most well-liked FF games and it's probably one of the top three MMORPGs out there right now. DC, on the other hand, is a more easy-going experience, bringing a host of playable characters to the table as you fight and claw your way through online heroes and villains.

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Enter the Battle Arena

If you're after a major project, perhaps consider diving into the wonderful world of MOBAs. There are three main candidates to choose from, and they're all free, at least to an extent.

The first one on the scene was League of Legends, so let's start there. There's still a huge community ready to welcome you with (mostly) loving arms, and there are plenty of esports events out there if you want to watch the best of the best and get some tips.

Similarly straight-faced and serious is Valve's offering, Dota 2, which is very well supported by the Steam-studio and has an impressive competitive scene, with The International always a high note in the annual esports calendar thanks to its generous prize pool.

Finally, there's Blizzard's offering, Heroes of the Storm, which brings together characters from titles like Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo to give you characterful all-or-nothing team battles. If we had to pick one of the three for a starting point, despite it not being the popular choice, we'd go with HotS.

Recommendations aside, all three games boast extensive line-ups that would take a while to learn properly, and if MOBAs haven't been your thing in the past, now's a great time to check the genre out.

Free to Play in Isolation

Make Mine a Royale with Cheese

As you no doubt know, battle royale games are the craze right now. While you could argue that it was PUBG that started the movement, it was Fortnite that took it to the next level and became one of the biggest and best games of the 21st Century, and in such a short space of time. Best of all though, Fortnite is still free-to-play.

Rivalling Fortnite is Apex Legends. Respawn's first-person shooter is a perfect mash-up of ideas and one of our favourite games of last year. If you like the first-person perspective but prefer your boots on the ground, Call of Duty: Warzone, which came out last month and has proven extremely popular, is a great option.

Another one that's playable on PC, PS4, and Xbox One is Cuisine Royale. This 2018 title is arguably one of the more underrated battle royale shooters out there, but it's wacky, funny, and it doesn't take long to get back into a match if you bite the bullet.

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Shoot the Sh!t

Few games split opinion as Destiny did. Whilst the majority of players enjoyed their time with the shared-world shooter, a number of people slated the 2014 title. By the time of Destiny 2's 2017 release, many were sceptical, but it's proved to be a blast thanks to the constant iteration by Bungie. What's more, this online world has since gone totally free-to-play since the studio parted company with old publishing partner Activision.

If Destiny isn't your cup of tea and you prefer a third-person perspective, Warframe is often overlooked, but over the years the game's devs have built up a dedicated community by taking care of the basics and there's a bunch of stuff for you to see and do in this expansive sci-fi adventure.

If you prefer your combat vehicle-based and free, there are two obvious candidates: War Thunder and World of Tanks (or Warplanes/Warships). They're both great and they're both free-to-play, so we'd recommend downloading both and seeing which one you prefer - the proof is in the pudding after all. Either way, you'll be able to get behind the wheel of some of history's most iconic war machines and go up against online rivals.

Free to Play in Isolation

Sport and Racing

For a lot of people, not having any live sport to watch or argue on Twitter about is the biggest challenge of this lockdown. Thankfully though, we can feed our football fix with a number of free-to-play games.

Top Eleven Football Manager needs a mention. The free-to-play rival to the evermore expensive Football Manager franchise is quickly garnering more players. Something a bit different from your more typical management games is Score! This game first popped up in 2014 and proved a palpable hit, leading to this latest version - Score! Hero - to become an even more popular download.

Neither gives the gamer a very realistic footballing experience though, and that's where the Lite version of eFootball PES 2020 comes into play. A unique football sim, this 2019 title is available on both consoles and mobile.

Free to Play in Isolation

Aside from kicking a virtual football around, racing games also offer clean, competitive, non-violent fun. On mobile, there's two that go head-to-head - CSR Racing and Asphalt 9: Legends. Each one the most recent instalment in its respective franchise, CSR has a more Need For Speed feel to it while Asphalt gives off a Forza-type vibe.

Finally, while it's neither sporty or a racer, sometimes all you want to do is button-mash. If crazy combo attacks and flying swordsmanship is your thing, then Brawlhalla could be your game, it's a hectic, free-to-play fighter that has developed a cult following thanks to its unique characters and arenas.

Play Your Cards Right

Obviously the list isn't complete without some strategy. One game that's increasingly popular is Gwent. The popular card game was part of The Witcher franchise, which has enjoyed a spike in numbers - the Netflix series recently released, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is currently on Xbox Game Pass. Gwent can be played on a desktop for free.

Hearthstone is another hugely popular card game. Published by Blizzard, this Warcraft-themed card battler has garnered a hardcore following since its 2014 release. Less about cards but just as tactical (and from the same publisher) is StarCraft II, which is also available to play for free.

Free to Play in Isolation

Mobile gaming continues to appeal to a huge audience, and the best thing is that many games are free-to-play. Clash Royale proved a hugely successful spin-off of hit-game Clash of Clans, and it still boasts a strong following today.

Forge of Empires is another strategy game worth a look. This Age of Empires-inspired title takes a while to get going, and there's a lot of waiting around for supplies and construction to complete, however, it's well worth a download, even if you only check-in to your humble settlement once or twice a day.

Finally, if you're feeling like building something, look no further than SimCity BuildIt, a free remix of a classic setup that lets players build vast metropolises, with quirky add-ons to keep you hooked.

Head Down the Arcade

One of the most widely played mobile puzzle games of all-time is Candy Crush Saga, so let's open with that. People of all ages have played this one, and eight years after its initial release, this sweet-toothed match-3 puzzler still passes the time.

Similar to Candy Crush Saga in that it briefly took over people's mobile phones is Pokémon Go. Admittedly, the mass appeal that Pokémon Go first enjoyed is dwindling, but it still holds a core following and the developer is doing all it can to keep the party going with some new stay-at-home friendly Community Days.

A Nintendo Switch exclusive here: Tetris 99 received huge praise from gamers last year. Who'd have thought that one day we'd be playing Tetris online against dozens of people from all over the world? Well, we are, and it's a whole lot of fun (although, we should point out that it's only free if you've got a sub for Nintendo's online service).

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Board games or board-like games are coming into fashion again, too. There's a host of word games on various app stores that are available for free download, but Words with Friends 2 is probably the one worth going with. It too boasts millions of players worldwide and comes with an educational factor for those playing on a phone or tablet.

Another highly-rated strategy-type arcade game that the team wanted to recommend is Archero, a neatly designed action-adventure developed by Habby (easily mistaken with the Habbo Hotel games that it's not a part of) that offers character customisation and more to keep you entertained.

And that just about wraps it up. Of course, there are plenty more great free-to-play games out there, and during these days of lockdown, plenty of developers and publishers are sharing their games for free, too (we're rounding them up regularly here on Gamereactor so keep an eye on the news feed for all the latest updates on that front).

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What's more, there are promotions that let you access subscription services - such as Xbox Game Pass, for example - for a fraction of the usual monthly cost. In short, you don't have to spend a fortune to keep busy and there are some fantastic experiences out there just waiting for you even if you're playing on a shoestring budget. Get downloading and stay safe!



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