O XM INVESTIGATES: THE TEN BEST FREE-TO-PLAY XBOX GAMES
Put your wallets away, readers, this round is on us
When it comes to games, the best things in life are rarely gratis. Keeping up with this fine hobby can be cruel to your wallet/purse/fanny pack, with most big-budget, triple-A titles retailing for £50 or more. But not every Xbox One game worth your time demands hardearned cash. A little digging around the Xbox Store reveals a clutch of absorbing free-to-play titles that all dodge that dreaded pay-to-win tag through their depth, production values and sheer amount of content on offer. Over the next few pages, we’ve ranked the best free games you can play on Xbox One right now, and while all have varying degrees of microtransactions (which we’ve handily summarised for you, too) each one can still be enjoyed without spending any money whatsoever.
10 POWERSTAR GOLF PUB MICROSOFT STUDIOS / DEV ZOË MODE
We’ve not been this impressed watching teeny balls trickling into equally teeny holes since Martin Kaymer sunk that five-foot putt on the 18th during 2012’s Ryder Cup. Man, that miracle in Medinah was something else. As for this generous, sparky golf sim, developer Zoë Mode has done a lovely job imbuing the action with disarming warmth. Whether you’re trying to make the fairway as a volcano spews lava all around you on Coyote Canyon or using a power-up that creates four duplicates of your ball, Powerstar Golf constantly revels in a silly sense of fun. Unlike most free-to-play titles, it’s not overly money-grabbing, either. It’s actually more rewarding to gradually unlock new golfers and courses through prolonged natural play, rather than splurge on the time-saving game unlock that costs £15.99. Generously, almost every piece of content in Powerstar can be earned without spending a single penny. Par excellence, indeed.
With a little patience, everything in-game can pretty much be unlocked for free. It’s more fun this way, too.
09 PINBALL FX2 PUB MICROSOFT STUDIOS / DEV ZEN STUDIOS
Talk about the Babe Ruth of virtual pinball games. This free-to-play sleeper hit isn’t just heftily proportioned – there are a frankly ridiculous number of tables to play on – 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 the variety of premium tables Zen Studios has cooked up. Which one’s the most desirable, you ask? It has to be the pack that’s focused on a certain Far, Far Away galaxy. The Star Wars Pinball Season One pack may cost £23.99, but with tables that offer everything from Ewok-slaughtering action on Endor to frosty fun on Hoth, there’s some seriously appealing Force-tinged fan service going on here. But if you’d rather play on tables focused on Nikola Tesla than lovable rogue Han Solo, Zen’s more vanilla packs are priced at a more reasonable £7.99 and £11.99… you big Star Wars-hating mutant, you.
The game’s free tables won’t tide you over for long. When you feel the Force calling, your cash may embrace it.
08 hawkenPub 505 Games / Dev Adhesive games, K2 Network
There’s nothing quite like a little mech-on-mech murder to brighten one’s day, wouldn’t you agree? There’s a tonne of free robot slaughter on display here, with six modes and three very distinct types of mech on offer. Hawken has enough variety to keep its online scuffles fresh, but is it Titanfall good? Not quite, though there’s something to be said for the clunkier, more meaty feel of its mechs over Respawn’s free-flowing fights. Regardless, firing hails of rockets with reckless abandon is always good for a hoot. Provided you’re dedicated (and have a whole lot of spare time) you can earn most of the game’s worthwhile unlockables without spending any actual human currency. Of course, if you’re time-poor you may want to stump up for Meteor Coins – 1,870 cost £15.99 – to quickly unlock the superior Brawler and Bruiser mechs, or to buy fancy new skins. Whether you part with cash or not, Hawken’s robotic action satisfies.
The starting free Assault class will leave you at a disadvantage against the premium Brawler and Bruiser units.
07 SMITEPUB HI-RE Z STUDIOS / DEV HI-REZ STUDIOS
Porting a PC MOBA successfully over to console is roughly as simple as reciting the Saint Crispin’s Day speech… backwards… while juggling acid-filled syringes. That’s part of the reason Smite is so likable: it not only serves up interesting slices of strategy-laced combat between mythological gods, it actually works well on a controller. Thanks should go to the game’s largely customisable controls, which help Smite play far better on an Xbox One pad than many other PC strategy ports. This is also a free-to-play title that, refreshingly, doesn’t try to fleece you at every turn. The vast majority of the game is completely open from the off, and if you really want to own every one of its Greek and Roman deities, you can buy all 80 characters for a pretty reasonable £23.99. Seeing Hercules whale on Cupid, or Zeus and Medusa batter each other, really is a campy delight.
Microtransactions mainly focus on characters and cosmetic items. Keep those purse strings drawn.
06 DCPUB DAYBREAK UNIVERSE/ DEV DAYBREAK ONLINE
Team OXM may be rather heroic when it comes to fixing typos, but we doubt that’ll get the Justice League recruiters on the phone. At least we have DC Universe Online to act out our cape-donning fantasies. Daybreak’s more-than-serviceable MMO has been around for years, but it still offers plenty of snappy (albeit grindy) superhero action, even if its spandex is a little out of date. Its real-time combat offers punchy, throwaway fun, while taking on missions for the sadistic Joker, or going out on dungeon crawls where you prune Poison Ivy for goods, offer spinetingling thrills for comic-book fans. Sure, buying Marketplace Cash for real money can be costly. But provided you’re not desperate to buy loads of kit for your custom hero or villain (the character creator here is seriously good), there’s plenty of free fun to be had in DC’s invigorating online playground.
The vast majority of DCUO can be enjoyed for free, but iconic costume goodies may entice your wallet so beware.
05 AIRMECH ARENA PUB CARBON GAMES / DEV CARBON GAMES
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No wait… it’s actually a massive robot that can seamlessly contort itself into a tank, Transformers- style. Hey, we won’t complain. This weird little MOBA/ tower defence title boasts not only admirably flexible robot warriors, but also 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 meat on AirMech’s bones. Any mech or unit that can affect gameplay can be unlocked through 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 – a standard bundle costs £15.99. It’s a decision that means this likable MOBA never crosses that seedy ‘pay-to-win’ line, ensuring all players have a chance on these cartoon battlegrounds, regardless of how much they spend throughout the game.
All mission-critical items here are free, and you can easily stay competitive without stumping up your dough.
04 WORLDPUB WARGAMING / OFDEV WARGAMING TANKS
Sometimes, subtlety is so overrated. Who needs strategic online scuffles when you could be taking part in 15v15 Panzer battles? WorldOfTanks is an uncomplicated, delightfully 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-‘emup intimidating at first? A little, we’ll readily admit. Persist though, and you’ll be rewarded with frenetic vehicular slaughter that’s rarely short on spectacle. You can stump up £15.99 for the Premium Starter Pack, giving you a million in Silver to splurge on new tanks, but really, you can enjoy WorldOfTanks without spending a single red cent. So 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, this is your game.
Pretty much every tank in the game can be snagged if you embrace the grind. Put that money away!
03 NEVERWINTERPUB PERFECT WORLD / DEV CRYPTIC STUDIOS
This unfussy MMO/RPG hybrid ticks a good few boxes. First, it’s free. Second, 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). Still, if you’re not overly precious about buying cosmetic upgrades or sitting resplendent on the back of an oversized crab, this online fantasy proves charming. Controls work better on a pad than you might expect, while combat wisely focuses on arcadey slashing over restrained turn-based battles. Cryptic Studios hasn’t crafted a world that will floor you with its sprawl – Neverwinter feels a little boxy and linear – and the community isn’t exactly that lively, but its fantasy fisticuffs remain endearing. Getting to the level-60 cap will also take ages, meaning you’re getting a whole lot of bang for precisely no bucks.
Grinding to level 60 takes an age, and you could well be tempted to pay for those oh-so-fancy mounts along the way.
02 KILLER INSTINCT PUB MICROSOFT STUDIOS / DEV IRON GALAXY STUDIOS, RARE, DOUBLE HELIX GAMES
On the surface, this has absolutely no business being good. A resurrected Rare IP no one had seen in two generations, developed primarily by a studio with such ‘hits’ as G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra and the not exactly beloved Silent Hill: Home coming to its name. And yet, against all odds, Double Helix’s launch hit remains one of Xbox One’s most beloved beat-‘em-ups. Yes you have to buy fighters, but the game’s ever-expanding roster has been generously padded over the course of three seasons, so it’s hard to grumble. Killer Instinct also benefits from being tremendously accessible, and its unpretentious movesets and flashy C-CC-Combo Breakers have helped it foster a dedicated (and unified) cross-platform community on Xbox One and PC. Oh, and it lets you pit Gears Of War’s General RAAM against a Battle toad. We approve.
You’ll want to pay for the game’s coolest combatants. Season Two characters are free if you have Xbox Live Gold, though.
01 warframe Pub dIGI TAL eXTREMES / Dev dIGI TAL eXTREMES
Digital Extremes’ athletic, supremely stabby online action title has been in pretty rude health these past couple of years since launching on Xbox One. Thanks to regular updates, Warframe has attracted a dedicated community, and the game’s blend of gravitydefying melee manoeuvres and crunchy sci-fi blasting are unlike anything else out there. Crucially, despite being free-to-play, even the stingiest shooter fans can enjoy its frantic multiplayer encounters without ever prying open their dusty change purses.
Feeling flush? Then by all means buy some Platinum on the Xbox Store. 170 coins of this in-game currency will set you back £7.99, and can subsequently be spent on all manner of cosmetic upgrades, such as sigils, custom animations and Syandana scarves for the titular exoskeletons – and yes, do they flutter in ultraalluring style. You really don’t have to pimp out your Tenno with sci-fi bling to enjoy Warframe, though. The altogether free pleasures of zipping about with its somersaulting stars is gratifying enough. In it best bullet-dodging moments it even recalls a little of Sega’s sublime Vanquish.
Whether diving into quest-driven PVE action or dabbling in competitive deathmatches, Warframe always feels like its own unique entity. It helps that maps offer such varied intergalactic sights to savour. Pluto, the Moon, the dwarf planets of Ceres and Sedna; it’s enough to make even George Jetson’s planet-hopping head spin. With so many different types of Warframe armour and weapons to pick from, and numerous ways to slice and dice foes – do you go for close-range katana kills or the sniping subtlety of plunging arrows into enemies from half a map away? – there are hundreds of hours of entertainment here for the grand price of absolutely nothing. Well, if you can resist the urge to splurge on microtransactions, that is. Clearly, war really isn’t hell after all.
Core killing is strong enough you really don’t have to offer your hard-earned unless you really want kit your Tenno out.