My top five free-to-play FPS
Note: This is strictly for FPS titles. I might have my own personal lists for third-person shooters or role-playing games down the line.
[5. Blacklight: Retribution]
- Lots of customization, down to individual gun parts
- Enemies are easy to distinguish compared to many other modern shooters, and various parts of the UI are tweakable (HUD, crosshair color/style, etc. for free)
- HRV (temporary wallhack available to everyone) balanced very well
- Fast-paced gameplay in a futuristic cyberpunk/dystopian setting
If you’re craving a fast-paced modern FPS experience with a more futuristic feel, Blacklight: Retribution is right up your alley. Gameplay speed is on par with COD, but without the game-breaking killstreaks. HRV allows players to invoke a temporary wallhack, at the expense of being unable to shoot; it’s very well-balanced and has a cooldown that will encourage smart use of the mechanic. There is a huge variety of customization with a number of different gun “bases” (stocks) as well, meaning that there is something for everyone. The game includes a co-op horde mode as well (Onslaught).
Free player experience: The default assault rifle is very powerful; there is no need to buy additional primary stocks, as simply upgrading your existing gun parts will make you a ruthless killing machine. In fact, it’s outright banned in many community scrims.
There is definitely a GP (in-game currency) grind in the earlier levels if you’re aiming for specific parts or equipment, but everything that matters are unlockable with GP. This is a pay-for-early-access F2P title.
- A decently-paced mech FPS that isn’t the snoozefest that MechWarrior Online is
- Arena-style FPS without the breakneck speed of its cousins (UT, Quake)
- Matchmaking that places you with others around your skill level based on a hidden ELO value
If you’re an avid multiplayer FPS player that likes mechs, Hawken’s here for you. Since the Steam transition update, the game’s pace has sped up a bit, but it’s still slower than most contemporary shooters. It’s definitely more of an arena FPS (albeit heavier) than a mech simulator, but this is probably something that has a wider appeal. Aside from the usual team deathmatch and co-op modes, Hawken has two objective-based modes as well, including the unique Siege mode, where your team will attempt to launch ships to defeat the enemy while defending your own anti-air.
Free player experience: The starter mech, the CR-T Recruit, may not earn any points for style, but it’s a very viable mech that is very well-rounded and can fulfill many roles. It’s a personal favorite of mine as well, and I use it on a regular basis against other players that uses other types of mechs.
Similar to Blacklight: Retribution, the in-game currency grind can take awhile sometimes, but it’s far more bearable in Hawken. This is a pay-for-early-access F2P title, where everything that matters is accessible for free players.
[3. Team Fortress 2]
- Team-based FPS with a great sense of style and humor
- With nine different classes, there’s something for everyone
- Hat simulator
At this point, Team Fortress 2 is no stranger to the F2P scene. The team-based gameplay has the polish that you’d expect from a Valve title, and it’s one of those games that simply feels fun from its design and aesthetics. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s also driven heavily by the community, which helps with the longevity of the game. If you’re looking for a fun and accessible team-based FPS, look no further.
Free player experience: All classes are unlocked from the start, and free players earn additional equipment by simply playing the game. Cosmetics play a heavy part of the microtransactions.
While the option to directly purchase weaponry is available, it’s also easy enough to earn and trade for them that this form of pay-for-early-access isn’t a huge deal.
[2. PlanetSide 2]
- A true MMOFPS, a rare breed within its sub-genre
- Engage in large-scale warfare on persistent servers
- Combined arms combat puts Battlefield to shame
- Player-driven gameplay can produce many memorable moments
This is the game that I’ve always dreamed about when I was a kid, and it was the sort of thing that I always envisioned in an MMO. Looking at many of the MMORPGs on the market today, I always wondered one simple question: why bother having an MMO structure at all, if everyone can simply solo through the game’s content? Besides, large-scale warfare was definitely up my alley, too.
While the game is not perfect and that there are many things that needs fixing, I still applaud Sony Online Entertainment for making this possible. Combined arms combat on a large scale was finally realized with PlanetSide 2. It’s a unique experience that you simply won’t find in any other game - every FPS player ought to experience these large-scale battles at least once in their lifetime.
Free player experience: Like many other F2P titles, this game is pay-for-early-access. The default weaponry are very competitive with the other weapons that are available (and they are mostly sidegrades), and the passive abilities and bonuses on your classes and vehicles are only obtainable with the in-game currency. You also earn a small amount of them even when you are not logged in, similar to how EVE Online functions.
Of course, like the other games I have mentioned, you can obtain everything that matters with the in-game currency. It can be a bit grindy in the beginning, but once you start to understand the game’s flow, anyone can maximize their currency gains by being a better player.
[1. America’s Army: Proving Grounds]
- Modern military FPS with a very strong emphasis on teamwork and communication
- Harder gun handling characteristics than most modern shooters; medium to slow-paced game flow; features both a Standard and a more tactical Hardcore mode
- Mature gaming community
- Anyone can host their own third-party servers
Wasn’t expecting this one, eh? This game is the latest iteration of America’s Army, and it’s currently in beta. Proving Grounds is a very solid modern FPS that heavily encourages proper teamwork; teammates can revive each other (in limited amounts) and can “secure” enemies, which will permanently remove them from the battlefield. Recoil is also heavier than most modern shooters, encouraging players to practice proper trigger discipline. There is no deathmatch mode; once you’re down, you’re down (akin to Counter-Strike). The community is also a very mature one, and community competitions are also fairly frequent.
Free player experience: Above all, this is simply a very polished modern FPS that is truly free. There are zero microtransactions, and all players have everything unlocked in their disposal. The game runs on a client-server architecture, and you can even run your own servers if you want to.
In terms of its existence as a F2P title, Proving Grounds is the pinnacle of the F2P ideal. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the developers don’t have to worry about their balance sheets, as the game is funded by the U.S. Army.