We live in an age of Free to Play, and the future is looking good
I remember the first time I heard that the original Guild Wars wasn't going to require an online subscription fee. I nearly went ballistic as I couldn't imagine a big budget MMO title allowing me to play unrestricted without any payments. Especially since it was not even a year since I've purchased World of Warcraft and was happily paying $15 a month to keep playing, and Everquest II before that.
The Free 2 Play model, or F2P, wasn't exactly new. There were myriads of other MMOs that were free to download and free to play. It was around that year of 2005, where I was trying to find as many as I could (since it was such a new thing to me) and play them at my liesure since none of them pressured me to get in as much play time as I could in a given month, until I had to once again pay that monthly fee.
The problem was that those games were bad. MU Online, Kal Online, Fly For Fun, Conquer Online, even Perfect World International all weren't stellar games. Not to mention a lot of them had cash shops which sold pay to win items, allowing people to deck themselves out in the best gear, with little effort. No one ever expected major MMOs would ever switch to a F2P model, when out of nowehere, Dungeons & Dragons Online did the unthinkable. Turns out, the F2P market turned out to be way more successful, and in turn made a lot more money with Microtransactions. It wasn't long until other games followed suit. Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, Champions Online, Star Trek Online; all of these eventually left their subscription model and went free.
Attending trade shows for the past two years has made it more apparent than ever that the F2P model is not only here to stay, but that it will offer triple A experiences, without the need to pay a single dollar every month. Let's take a look at some of the heavy hitters that are sure to make it on your radar.
The team over at Red 5 Studios has truly made something special with Firefall. On the surface, it has cartoony, almost Borderlands look to it. Dig a little deeper, and you'll find that beneath the surface lies a shooting game that both emphasizes teamwork, but also offers some great PVP modes.
Firefall's fast paced nature, coupled with some truly customizable loadouts and some truly impressive crafting mechanics should have both MMO and FPS fans excited. What's more is that the world around you is constantly changing, which is an already impressive feat for an MMO.
One of the biggest features, which is yet to be fully implemented is the melding. Not a lot is known about this alien entity which looks like a giant, purple cloud, except that it took over most of the land. Players will have to fight back the melding to take back key locations and slowly uncover more and more of the map.
Firefall is still in Beta but you can request access here.
Neverwinter / RaiderZ
Even though these two come from two completely different studios, they're both published by Perfect World, which is why I've decided to bundle them together.
Neverwinter comes to us from the fine folks at Cryptic, who have been behind games such as Champions Online and Star Trek Online. It's great to see a return of Neverwinter in MMO form, because it not only looks great, but plays great. In true D&D fashion, you'll be able to play as iconic races such as Elves and Half-Elves, and take on professions such as wizards and thieves.
While I can go on about how fast and fluid the combat is for an MMO, I think the biggest draw to Neverwinter is the Foundry. I go a little more in depth about the Foundry here, but to sum it up, it will essentially feature endless amounts of content, since it opens up quest development tools to anyone with the game installed, which is something truly remarkable.
If you fancy yourself a fan of games like Monster Hunter, then RaiderZ has to be on your radar. Like Neverwinter, it also features fast paced, real time combat. Like Monster Hunter however, you can expect the difficulty to be quite high, and will require you to team up with other players to take down powerful boss monsters.
The combat will also rely on utilizing weapons dropped by enemies, which allow you to use completely different skill sets, and will also feature a hybrid class system, that will let you customize you character in a multitude of ways to fit your playstyle. RaiderZ looks very impressive as well, boasting some rich, colorful environments, and stunning monster and character design.
Phantasy Star Online 2
I admit that I never really played Phantasy Star Online back on the Dreamcast. I tried it a few times, but it never really grabbed my attention. Phantasy Star Universe was mildly entertaining if not extremely limited in scope when it came to its online play. I was intrigued by Phantasy Star Online 2, its gorgeous graphics and fast paced gameplay, that I had to know what system I could get it for, and how much will I have to dish out for it. To my surprise, it's a PC title and completely Free!
I've had the chance to get some hands on time with the game at PAX, and I can tell you in confidence that PSO2 is kick ass. It hasn't hit all the right notes with hardcore fans, but for a free to play game, you really can't complain.
What's more, Phantasy Star Online 2 will have a Vita port as well that allows you to continue your game on the go, given that you have some 3G or WiFi capabilities. It will also have an iPhone port, though I was told that it's better to just manage your inventory and room with it, rather than trying to play it.
Phantasy Star Online 2 is scheduled to release January 2013.
End of Nations
Free to play MMOs aren't relegated to only RPG games. End of Nations breaks that mold by being labeled as an MMORTS. Our resident Andrew Clouther has had a lot of time with the game, and loves what it has to offer.
Players will be able to join up two different factions in a persistent battle over territories. Instead of worrying about base building and base management, the game strips that out completely, having you only worry about your units, and call in support units given that you have enough credits.
What's great about End of Nations is that it caters to any type of player. If you feel like just taking on AI opponents, you have that choice. Want to duke it out in huge multiplayer matches? You can do that as well. The game allows you truly customize it to your liking. Speaking of customization, you can not only upgrade your units to be bigger and better, but you can also customize them with various skins.
End of Nations doesn't have a set release date, but is currently doing Closed Beta events.
SOE really stepped it up with Planetside 2. At first, I was not entirely sold on the premise, but once I saw the emphasis 'bigger and better' put into action, I was a believer. Planetside 2 will feature a large open world with a heavy focus on territory control. Of course to take over these territories, you're not only going to need a lot of people, but some heavy machinery. These battles will pit up to 2000 players against each other, whether they're taking on their enemies on foot, land or air.
Allowing to pick from six different classes, ranging from infiltrator (cloaked sniper) to the hulking MAX (exoskeleton / mech-like troops), you'll have a multitude of ways to help out your fellow troops on the battlefield.
Planetside 2 is also heavy on customization, which will allow you to customize your character in numerous ways, ranging from the way they look, to their loadouts. Want to deck out your vehicles in giraffe print? You can do that too!
The game is currently in Beta, however if you buy Alpha pack for $39.99, you can get instant access, as well as $40s worth of in game currency. Not too shabby!
It takes a certain type of player to enjoy EvE Online. Myself, I can't get into it, due to its slow paced gameplay. Thankfully, for us more action based players, we can still get in on the EvE universe and even affect it, right from our PS3's. Dust 514 is an extremely ambitious title that will allow players to become mercenaries in the universe of EvE, and take on assigned territory battles either given by NPCs or actual players on EvE Online.
Looking at Dust 514, you'd hardly believe that it was a free to play game. The fact that it's on the PlayStation 3 makes it even harder to believe. While the gameplay is fast paced, it doesn't stray far from general FPS conventions. However the draw is the game's ambitions like I've stated previously.
Taking on missions or bounties given by EvE Online players sounds awesome, not to mention you can decide whether you want help them out, or go against them and accepts someones counter-bounty. It all sounds great on paper, but does it work? Well it turns out that this feature won't be in the game just yet, as it needs extensive testing, but it definitely is something to look forward to.
The game is currently in beta, and if you buy the Mercs Pack, you can get in on the fun!
Marvel: War of Heroes / Transformers Battle
If you thought the F2P scene belonged to MMOs, you'd be dead wrong. Quality free games can now be found even on your smart phone! This wasn't always the case however. Whenever I'd see that little free icon next to a mobile game, I'd generally avoid it, as they tended to be low quality, and generally not enjoyable. Ngmoco is preparing not one, but two downloadable card battle games, that will be completely free of charge.
What separates these two from other card games is that you don't actually play it as a card game, instead battles are more interactive. In each game you'll face numerous enemies that will either require you to shoot them down, use your powers on appearing enemies or block robots from shooting missiles at you.
Probably the best thing about these is the artwork. If you're a fan of either universes, you'll love the illustrations.
Both of these are coming out on both iOS and Android devices later this fall.
We just scratched the surface when it comes to F2P games. However you can rest assured that we'll be seeing a lot more F2P titles with years to come. If it stays as profitable as it is now, it might just mean the death of subscription based MMOs, which wouldn't be a bad thing at all.