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Well, it seems to be that time again: summer. You know what I’m talking about; when the excitement of getting out of school and having no responsibilities wears off and all you’re left with is boredom and an empty wallet. Well, don’t fret. Your buddy Alex is here with the first piece in what I hope will be  a long series of articles listing free-to-play games that will help you pass the rest of the season.

I know what you’re thinking. “Free to play? There are tons of free to play games… and they all suck.” Well, lately there has been a major push from studios like Turbine Entertainment and Valve to get some AAA free-to-play games on the market. I’ve done my very best to ween out all the crap games so that you have a concise, organized list of decent titles that are actually worth your time.

D&D Online

Some of you may recall a point in the past when D&D Online was a subscription based MMO in direct competition with the unstoppable force that is World of Warcraft. Well, since then, Turbine Entertainment has switched things up a bit to provide gamers with a pretty robust free-to-play MMORPG. While you may not get access to tons of character slots, all the player classes, or all the regions and adventures, there is still plenty of content there to warrant checking the game out.

What’s pretty cool about DDO is that Turbine allows you to buy specific content packs from the DDO Store. This means that instead of paying a monthly fee to have access to everything, you can pick and choose content à la carte. Not only does this save you money in the long run but it also lets you gauge how much time (and money) you are willing to sink into the game. Another cool thing Turbine did with DDO is it set up a referral system where you receive DDO Store credit (which can be used to unlock adventures, regions, etc.) for getting your friends to sign up (which you were probably going to do anyway).

In terms of gameplay, DDO is what you would expect from your standard fantasy MMO. You make a character, kill monsters, and complete quests for money & XP. The game runs on a system similar to Guild Wars, with players interacting in towns and all other locations being instanced. Combat has a distinct action-RPG feel with left-click triggering your attack. At one point while playing the game, my girlfriend came in asking if I was playing Diablo II on account of all the clicking.

Where DDO really shines is with its character progression. You see, DDO is pretty faithful to D&D tabletop’s 3.5 edition rules. That means you’ll be picking feats, landing critical hits, and rolling skill checks throughout your adventures. While it may not be a direct transfer of D&D tabletop rules, it’s close enough that I didn’t mind (and I’m pretty hardcore about my D&D tabletop).

My only complaint about D&D Online is that there is an annoying in-game pop-up that appears every so often (I saw it maybe three times in a 2 hour session) telling you that you that you should check out the DDO store. By no means is this pop-up game breaking or overly obnoxious (I mean Turbine has to make a buck at the end of the day), but it does bear mentioning.

While the story may not be as gripping or epic as WoW’s (but whose is?), Turbine has provided enough content and information about their Eberron world that gamers who are into the whole RPG thing can sink their teeth into it. If you are a fan of MMOs, or are looking to try one out to see if it’s your kind of thing, you should definitely check out DDO. For a free game, you could do a lot worse.

Lord of the Rings: Online

I’m going to go ahead and cheat a little. You see, LOTRO isn’t exactly free to play yet. Run by the same great people who handle DDO (Turbine Entertainment), LOTRO is currently in free-to-play beta (with the official launch scheduled for sometime in September). The folks over at Turbine were nice enough to hook me up with beta access to help me out with this article.

Anyway, LOTRO is by far the best free-to-play MMO I’ve gotten my hands on. Basically running on the same system DDO works on (most content is free with additional content added though microtransactions or subscription), LOTRO offers a fantastic alternative to subscription-based MMOs like WoW.

Like DDO, LOTRO features an in-game store where you can purchase items, buffs, skills, character slots, and new adventures. Also along the lines of DDO, LOTRO has ways for you to earn in-store credit though in-game achievements and referrals. Sure, grinding out 60 bandit kills may be tedious, but it beats breaking out the old wallet.

When you sign up for the free version of LOTRO, you will have access to the three main zones (Ered Luin, Shire and Bree Land). These three zones feature 800 quests and enough content to get your character up to level 22 (without grinding). I should also mention that a free subscription has no limit on level, meaning you are able to hit the level cap (65) without paying for a subscription. Once you are done with these three zones, you will be able to continue the main storyline quest into other regions. Any peripheral quest givers, however, will need to be unlocked via microtransaction. According to LOTRO Executive Producer Kate Paiz, there is about 300 hours worth of gameplay available to free players.

In terms of combat, LOTRO is very similar to WoW. You click on an enemy to target it and your character will automatically move in and attack. As you unlock new spells and skills, they will be stored on your hotbar. Just press the corresponding number and you’ll execute your special attack.

One thing that Turbine is holding back for non-subscribing users is the “Monster Play” feature. Basically functioning as PvP, Monster Play puts you in a special realm where you can play as one of five classes of monsters. Since this article is about what you get with a free account, I’ll leave researching Monster Play to you guys.

While it may not have all the bells and whistles that a subscription-based MMO features, LOTRO is by far the most robust free-to-play MMORPG I’ve seen. When the free-to-play mode hits this September, do yourself a favor and check it out. You just might be surprised by all that is available to you without spending a dime.

Alien Swarm

It should come as no surprise to you guys that I am a complete and utter Valve fanboy. It’s hard not to be one when they give away games with as much depth and replayability as Alien Swarm.

For those of you who haven’t had a chance to play AS, let me break it down for you. Built on the Source Engine, AS put gamers in a squad of four space marines who must work their way though an infested colony. There are 8 characters to choose from, two from each class: Medic, Officer, Special Weapons, and Tech. Each class has its own special abilities, weapons and uses. For example, the Officer class doesn’t really pack much fire power, but radiates passive damage buffs to his squadmates.

In terms of bad guys, Alien Swarm features a pretty wide variety. You can really see how Left 4 Dead influenced the enemy design. Each alien is designed to exploit a particular weakness in your squad. For example, there are parasites that can infect you, which deals constant damage over time until you die. The only way to combat this type of alien, aside from not getting grabbed by it, is to have a medic heal your infection. If you medic isn’t on the ball, there’s a good chance you’ll be six feet under before he’s aware you need help.

While there is only one campaign (consisting of 8 maps, each map will run you 10-15 minutes), there is plenty of replayablity thanks to unlockable weapons and upgrades. On top of that, Valve gave away the SDK, meaning that right now gamers are hard at work making custom maps and game modes. Just one week after the game was released, there is already a fan-made survival mode which works wonderfully.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out Alien Swarm, you can get it off of Steam, or just click here. You won’t regret it.

Well, that’s all I have for you guys… for now. As more and more companies adopt the free-to-play system for their games, expect more articles as the year wears on.

  1. Great writeup Alex! I’ve been endulging in the closed beta for LOTRO and I am really enjoying their free-to-play model. I’ve found myself purchasing things mostly because they have sent me free tokens to use but I could definitely see myself having more than enough to play through without spending any $. In my opinion, once it is released to the public, it will be the best free to play MMO out there.

  2. avatar Ferahtsu

    It’s fun playing AS with a squad mate in the same room as you. I’m surprised my five year old custom rig is able to run AS. Valve really does love us

  3. Considering I used to actually pay to play LoTRO I will definitely check out the FTP model in September. I am glad to see they don’t plan to restrict your level which is a cheesy move alot of FTP’s tend to do.

    • avatar Maurizio

      You are quite good with your words. This article is smart, inarimftove and well-written. I agree with the validity of your content and have a great respect for your work.

  4. Hey guys, I just got word from Turbine that LotR:O will launch it’s free to play service on September 10, 2010.

    • avatar Raihan

      Yes Yak,Perma Death vs Human Nature.When dealing with a tchuoy subject like Perma death in any game you have to look at human nature. People will be spending time creating and making the Avatars. People get attached to them, subconsciously the avatar becomes part of the player and that is when the rule bending begins. That is why I would suggest the option for the Perma Death (Debuff/Option) would have to be chosen early on. You could make it a permanent debuff (my choice) or a group voted debuff before you started an instance.That is why Diablo is my favorite example of Perma death in Hardcore mode is and always will be the best example. The rules are that you choose Hardcore-mode while you are creating the character. From that point on if you die for any reason whatsoever your character is dead. There are no excuses such as server reset, lag, mobs killing you, you AfKe2€™ed and got eaten by a pack of land dwelling clown fish. Although I think that would be awesome to watch.No special rules, simply dead or not dead.

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