It has been a few weeks since holiday gift-giving and Steam sale wallet-pillaging concluded. Bank accounts around the world could use a bit of a break from all of the monetary torment that they've been through. With most games back at full price, I couldn't help but think that a list of some of the best free games around might be appreciated. Even if you still have plenty of video games in your backlog, these ten are certainly worth checking out for the low cost of $0.
10. Dwarf Fortress
In development since 2002, Dwarf Fortress is… well, it’s something. Basically, each game randomly generates a world, full of its own history, legends, and civilizations and then tasks the player with guiding a group of dwarves to glory. There are numerous adventures that await those who have the persistence necessary to comprehend Dwarf Fortress. The reason that many of you might have never heard of Dwarf Fortress is that the interface comes across as a bit esoteric.
The game world, creatures, terrain, buildings, all are represented by letters and symbols that you won’t readily recognize without putting in a lot of effort. Combine that with having little to no knowledge about how any of the controls work and the first several dozen attempts to create a viable dwarven outpost will result in disaster. If the game is so hard to understand, why is it on this list?
When I say that Dwarf Fortress randomly generates history for each game world, I really do mean a history. Every character has its own history that is then built upon by the player’s actions. Players give the dwarves orders and the dwarves do their best to carry out those orders, interacting with the world as they must to accomplish those orders. That means plenty of unexpected events occur and stories emerge from the most unlikely of places. I kid you not, there is an entire website dedicated to Dwarf Fortress stories (my personal favorite is the tale of the Hamlet of Tyranny). If you are intrigued, give it a download! After all, it’s free.
Stark and pristine, then destroyed and falling apart, the world of Env manages to convey an unnerving sense of loss while also bringing to the surface the instinctive need to survive. The premise is simple: Survive for six minutes. As soon as the game begins, your character’s food meter begins to drop and giant machines in the sky start to rip apart the world. Tiny devices sweep around the map, dropping food canisters that you will need to live longer and technology that enables higher and longer jumps. As the world becomes more and more fragmented, players will have to jump to greater and greater heights to avoid plummeting to their deaths while also obtaining food to avoid starvation. I didn’t go into Env expecting much, but it ends up being a beautiful and abstract game about survival.
8. Ben There, Dan That!
Do you like silly adventure games with stick figure cartoon aesthetics? Ben There, Dan That might just be the game for you. A comedic point and click adventure title, Ben There, Dan That is a fun romp through the absurd adventures of Ben and Dan, the two developers of the game. The two lazy nerds wind up aboard an alien spaceship and have to find their way home through a variety of bizarre dimensions.
The Adventure Game Studio, the software with which Ben There, Dan That was created, distributes a free version through their website. A newer, slightly better looking version of Ben There, Dan That and the sequel, Time Gentlemen, Please! are also available either here or on Steam for people who wish to support the developers.
7. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
A long time ago, before the days of Skyrim or Morrowind, Bethesda made a game called The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. It was very well received and introduced many of the series’ signature elements like open world exploration, ridiculous numbers of NPCs, and a mind-numbing amount of sidequests. In fact, Daggerfall has the largest game world in Elder Scrolls’ history; approximately 62,394 square miles with around 15,000 towns, cities, and dungeons that are populated by upwards of 750,000 NPCs. Granted, a lot of it was randomly generated, but that is still a staggering amount of content for a game released in 1996.
To commemorate their 15th anniversary, Bethesda made Daggerfall available on their website. Definitely worth checking out if you have the time.
6. Age of Conan: Unchained
Three years ago, Age of Conan released to the public as a jumbled mess of bugs masquerading as an MMO. It was so bad that entire zones were missing and pivotal encounters were broken. In the years since, Funcom took steps to fix their game. The bugs have been fixed, the graphics received a bit of an overhaul, the music is great, and the game switched to a free-to-play model. Yes, there are in-game transactions and the option to pay for a premium subscription, but a sizable chunk of Age of Conan can be played for free.
If you’ve ever had an itch to adventure during the Hyborian Age, the barrier to entry will never be lower.
5. Flight of the Amazon Queen
Fun fact: Good Old Games is a small treasure trove of free games. No, really! Just go to their website and search their library for the titles marked free. There are a number of awesome games available, Beneath A Steel Sky and Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar are particularly great, but I recommend Flight of the Amazon Queen. An old school adventure game, Flight of the Amazon Queen puts players in the shoes of aviator Joe Kidd tasked with the deceptively simple task of flying an actress to her next gig. If you played and loved the Space/King’s/Police Quest series, you should give Flight of the Amazon Queen a look.
4. The Very Organized Thief
Ever wondered how tense it must be to break into somebody’s house? The Very Organized Thief gives players a brief taste of what that would be like by thrusting players into the middle of a robbery with nothing but a list of items to steal and a flashlight. Steal all the items on the list and escape before you’re caught by the homeowner or the cops. Also, sometimes you get punched out by a kangaroo. It is a great little game that is completely free! To top it off, the developers are attempting to fund an expanded retail game based on the same idea through pre-orders of their game.
3. Quest for Glory II
Remember those old adventure/RPG hybrid titles made by Sierra On-Line? Remember how Quest for Glory II was the only game in that entire series that wasn’t remade in a prettier graphics engine? Even though Sierra isn’t the same adventure gaming company it once was, a group of fans decided that they wouldn’t let Quest for Glory II languish in obscurity. AGD Interactive formed specifically to bring back old Sierra adventure titles with better graphics and more intuitive controls. To date, they’ve remade Kings Quest 1-3 and Quest for Glory II. All of these remakes are free and definitely worth checking out, but AGDI’s work on Quest for Glory II impressed me the most. They also have two of their own adventure games that might be worth your time and money, but this list is about free games!
2. Star Stealing Prince
I’ve written about Star Stealing Prince before. It is one of my absolute favorite RPGs and no one I know seems to have ever heard of it. Star Stealing Prince is a delightful, storybook journey following the adventures of a young prince named Snowe as he learns about the darker parts of his kingdom’s history and why the land is covered in perpetual snow. I don’t want to go much further into the story’s details because that would ruin part of the joy in playing it.
A great throwback to an older era of RPGs, Star Stealing Prince was created primarily by one developer in RPG Maker software. Despite those despite massive limitations, it still manages to be an engaging and interesting work of art. Do yourself a favor and download it as soon as possible.
1. Frog Fractions
There are works of genius, there are works that surpass genius, and then there is Frog Fractions. It’s an educational game to teach you about fractions! And frogs! And sometimes bugs? It might seem a little simplistic at first, but trust me, you’ll have only seen a small fraction of what the game has to offer if you immediately dismiss it.
Due to the resounding success in fraction teaching, Frog Fractions 2 successfully reached 10/10 of its Kickstarter funding goal last April. Hooray for fractions!