Everybody loves free stuff, right? And free games are no different, even if they aren’t really free. Well they are, but then nothing really is. Free-to-play games, for the uninitiated, are available to download and play for free, but usually feature micro-transactions. Developers essentially create a game, release it for free, and build in certain features which players must pay to use. These can range from items, vehicles, and characters, to in-game currency and special outfits.

There are seemingly thousands of free-to-play games out there. Most of them are crap, but there is more than a handful of great free-to-play games as well, including the likes of Team Fortress 2 and Star Trek Online, neither of which made my list because I actually paid for those games when they were released, so they don’t count as free-to-play in my books. Also, don’t cry because League of Legends didn’t make my list. No game going by the acronym “LOL” deserves a place on my hard drive.

Without further ado then, these are my five favourite free-to-play games:

1.    World of Tanks 

Developed by Wargaming.net, World of Tanks is the free-to-play game which I have ended up spending the most money on. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I have spent about R500 on in-game items, but I don’t regret a single cent.

World of Tanks is a slow-paced army tank battle simulator. Players take to a massive battlefield in a team deathmatch format. You earn money and XP in each battle, depending on how you performed, and that XP and money can then be used to buy new tanks and tank upgrades. Check it out here.

2.    Stronghold Kingdoms

I love Stronghold Kingdoms because it closely resembles the original Stronghold, which I fell in love with over ten years ago. Players have to manage resources, build a city with fortifications, and manage an army.

You start out with a small village in a single parish, and steadily grow it into a thriving city, complete with complex defences defending a variety of industrial buildings. Players can aquire Honor points peacefully, by quietly turtling themselves in  and throwing banquets, or they can be more aggressive and attack wolf lairs, bandit camps and AI castles. Basically, it’s awesome, and it’s available on Steam right now.

3.    Fallen Earth

Fallen Earth [read nic’s review of it here – Ed] is a post-apocalyptic, first-person action RPG that more than just a little bit resembles Fallout 3. It’s an MMO set in the American Southwest in the year 2156 following the outbreak of something called the Shiva Virus.

The combat is solid, and the RPG component is well thought out for the most part, but my favourite thing about Fallen Earth is the survival element. You have to feed your horse and refuel your motorcycle, and the crafting system and dynamic economy will be appreciated by any MMO aficionado. Fallen Earth is available on Steam.

4.    Age Of Empires Online

I reviewed Age of Empires Online just last week, and here it is again, popping its head into my weekly 600-word cluster-bomb.

In case you missed my review, Age of Empires Online is a surprisingly compelling MMROPG-RTS hybrid. It takes fundamental Age of Empires gameplay mechanics, and builds them into a familiar MMORPG structure, complete with gear, quests and PvP. My only gripe is that it pushes players a little harder than I’d like to pay for content. Other than that, it’s well worth trying out. Age of Empires Online is also on Steam [I’m noticing an ever-so-slight pattern emerging here – Ed].

5.    Microsoft Flight

Microsoft’s latest in a long heritage of flight simulators is free-to-play, although there are regular reminders that you should be paying for a bunch of stuff you’re missing out on.

I’m not a flight-sim enthusiast though, so I’m totally comfortable with not being able to fly the “Maule M-70260C” ($14.99), or the North American P-51 Mustang ($7.99).

If you want a solid flight simulator to play around with, but you’re unlikely to get too heavily involved in it, then Microsoft Flight is for you. Get it on Steam now.

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