If you’ve been very good this year, there’s a chance that Santa may have slipped a PS4, Xbox One or 3DS into your bulging stocking. But how many games did he stuff in there as well? I doubt there’d be room for more than one or two.
But fear not, there are plenty of ways to expand your currently skimpy game library for exactly zero pence, thanks to the grasping joys of free-to-play games. Let us raise our monetization shields and plough onwards!
Warframe (PS4/Xbox One)
Warframe has been around since 2013, but it’s still one of the best free-to-play games out there. Encased in wonderfully lethal technology – these warframes we’ve all heard so much about - you play as a space ninja dealing out all sorts of badassery to evil doers across the Solar System. It’s ludicrously OTT and you’re seriously overpowered, which makes it an absolute blast.
World of Tanks (PS4/Xbox One)
My favourite fact about World of Tanks is that it holds the record for the most players online simultaneously on one server - an astonishing 190,541. That stat alone should give you an idea of the game’s popularity. The gameplay is simple - hop in a tank and blow up people in other tanks. Then collect more tanks. And more. And more. The thirst for more tanks soon becomes unquenchable. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Let It Die (PS4)
Let It Die is a newcomer on the scene, only being birthed into the bloodbath that is the free-to-play market in December. Helpfully, it brought its own bloodbath with it - there are great fountains of the red stuff spurting hither and thither, as you’d expect from a game by the author of Killer7 and Lollipop Chainsaw. It’s been described as a free-to-play Dark Souls, but the cast of bizarre characters shows that it’s cut from a somewhat different cloth: fans of the surreal have been lapping up the game’s skateboarding, sunglasses-wearing Grim Reaper, aka ‘Uncle Death’.
Hustle Kings (PS4)
Hustle Kings has been knocking around since 2010, but it still plays a mean game of pool - nagging microtransaction requests aside. The music is dreadful, and it’s often clear it’s an updated PS3 game, but the core game is solid. And there’s even a VR version if you fancy turning your living room into a virtual pool hall.
SMITE (PS4/Xbox One)
Gods smacking the living daylights out of each other. It’s an exciting pitch and SMITE makes the most of it, featuring more than 50 gods, from Zeus to Thor, all ready to punch the bejesus out of their rivals. The third-person viewpoint is what really sets this MOBA apart from its brethren - it gets you right into the action and makes map management just that bit more challenging. Wonderful stuff. Great name, too.
Hawken (PS4/Xbox One)
Hawken has been around on PC since 2012, but it only launched on consoles in 2016 after a lengthy porting process. It’s a team-based first-person shooter in which you pilot some beautifully designed mechs, all of which are customisable. Boosting around in a giant robot while firing off an enormous machine gun is just as much fun as it sounds. On the downside there’s an awful lot of grinding if you don’t want to pony up any cash, and there are a few frame-rate issues on console, but for a free game it’s pretty damn classy.
Zen Pinball 2 (PS4)/Pinball FX 2 (Xbox One)
Confusingly, both of these titles are made by Zen Studios and are pretty much the same game, but they go by different names on Xbox One and PS4. There’s a huge range of tables available based on everything from The Walking Dead to Plants vs. Zombies, and they can all be demoed for free. There’s also a version for the 3DS in the works.
Killer Instinct (Xbox One)
Killer Instinct has been getting better and better in the three years since its release on Xbox One. The beat ‘em up was criticised for its lack of characters at the start, but after years of updates it now it offers 26 playable characters, including the Arbiter from Halo. One character is always free to play, and the free character changes each week, but you can pay to unlock the full character list.
Powerstar Golf (Xbox One)
Powerstar Golf is a bit like a mix between a traditional golf game and an RPG. You have the usual three-touch swing meter, but there’s also a plethora of power-ups and boosts to be gained (which you can pay for as well as earn by playing), along with perks from different caddies. In a nice touch, you can see your friends’ shots as you play, so you can laugh at their piffling efforts to reach the green. Or lament their superhuman golf skills.
Neverwinter (PS4/Xbox One)
It’s Dungeons and Dragons! Whether that phrase makes you roll your eyes or sit upright with a grin and start daydreaming about muscled warriors with dirty great big swords will determine your affinity towards this game. Neverwinter does a pretty decent job of recreating a PC-style MMORPG on console, and its weighty combat is a joy, plus there’s also a decent amount of content on offer for absolutely nothing.
Pokémon Shuffle (3DS)
Many feared that Nintendo going free-to-play signalled the end of the world as we know it, but Pokémon Shuffle is a rather benign and undeniably cute harbinger of the apocalypse. There’s seemingly little to this match-three puzzler to begin with, but the lust to collect ‘em all soon sets in, and the unique abilities of your Pokémon come into play at higher levels. Perfect for a quick 15-minute game break now and then.
Nintendo Badge Arcade (3DS)
Nintendo Badge Arcade is basically one of those crane machines you see in washed-up beachfront arcades, but here you get badges to decorate your 3DS home screen. What seems innocuous at first quickly becomes an obsession as the urge to get a complete set of Animal Crossing badges becomes overwhelming. Free plays are offered regularly, but you’ll have to drop real money to keep playing - and Nintendo asks for your cash in the most Nintendo way possible.
This is a free-to-play version of the excellent puzzler Pullblox (Pushmo in the US), where you have to push and pull blocks to solve the route to the exit. It starts off simply, but pretty soon you’ll come across some real head-scratchers. Only a few levels are included for free - you’ll have to pay to download the rest.
Pokémon Picross (3DS)
If you’re new to Picross, prepare to become addicted. The concept is similar to sudoku, in that you’re adding up numbers to work out which parts of the picture should be shaded and which should be blank, and the crossover with Pokémon is pretty much perfect. Later levels are unlocked with Picrites, which can be accrued by completing challenges - or simply paying cash.
Monster Hunter Generations Demo (3DS)
Admittedly this is a demo and not a full game, but it’s brilliantly fun to play, and the fact that it has local or online multiplayer gives it some longevity. Three quests are included at beginner, intermediate and advanced level, where you slay the Great Maccao, Malfestio and Nargacuga, respectively, with the latter providing a stiff challenge.
That’s our rundown of the best free to play games on PS4, Xbox One and 3DS. Have we missed any of your favourites? Let us know in the comments.