There are two things in this life that I love: Great games and free things. Usually the two don’t coincide with each other. Most great games come with a price tag and those that don’t eventually sucker you into microtransactions or a subscription. It is incredibly rare to find worthwhile games that are completely free that provide a full gaming experience that you can sink hours into and feel satisfied. As a service to those of you who are strapped for cash or just looking for a great game to play, I scoured the corners of the internet for fantastic free games. I sorted through all kinds of shovelware and viruses, but emerged with a precious handful of gems. Here are the unsung wonders that I found, enjoyed, and whole-heartedly recommend.
The first of two games on this list that spawned as a result of tinkering with RPG Maker software, Exit Fate, created by Dutch indie game developer SCF, is a gigantic love letter to old-school RPGs like Suikoden II. Random encounters with enemies make up the bulk of this title’s gameplay. Combat takes place in a traditional, turn-based style with the player’s party consisting of up to six characters arranged tactically over a 3x3 grid. To spice up the combat, SCF included a relationship system where characters have certain attitudes toward one another that affect their stats in combat if they are both in the party at the same time.
There are 75 recruitable party members each with their own sidequests, personalities, relationships, and abilities.
There is more to Exit Fate than grinding through enemies for experience. Occasionally the game will allow players to flex their strategic muscles by presenting them with large-scale battles. These play out over sweeping grids as armies take turns maneuvering troops. The player’s army can be customized depending on which characters have been recruited. There are several different kinds of troop units to master including: infantry, cavalry, scouts, and sorcery. These sequences serve as a welcome interlude between missions and offer a nice challenge for even veteran strategy gamers.
However, no RPG can stand on its own without a compelling storyline to keep players interested. On this front, Exit Fate delivers one of the more original RPG stories I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Players are put in the role of Daniel Vinyard, a Colonel in the Kirkgard Army. Kirkgard and the nearby Zelmony Union, though technically at peace, have been at odds with each other for years over the ownership of Helman Island, a point neatly between the two nations. Kirkgard has assembled an army in secret and plans to take Helman Island and use it to stage an invasion of Zelmony. As the fighting begins, something goes horribly wrong and a twist of fate places Daniel on a course to meet his destiny.
The fact that this incredibly solid game was crafted by one person should intrigue anyone interested in game development or indie games. The amount of time and detail that went into creating Exit Fate is staggering. The average runtime of a full playthrough of Exit Fate clocks in at around 40 hours. You are never left without something to do, there is always one more party member to recruit or secret boss to defeat, and the story keeps throwing out enough political intrigue, memorable characters, and plot twists to keep the average player engrossed for its entirety. Exit Fate is truly excellent and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to play a refreshing old-style RPG.
Note: This is an RPG from a bygone age. Bosses are difficult and there can be long stretches without a save point. If you find that you have gone a significant period of time between saves, go out of your way to save your game and always have a backup save so you don’t get stuck in an impossible area.
Wing Commander Saga
For people unfamiliar with the Wing Commander series, this will be a bit of a gaming history lesson. The original Wing Commander released in 1990 for the PC and focused on a conflict in the 27th century between the human race and a cat-like alien species known as the Kilrathi. Players took on the role of a starship pilot using a variety of space fighters to engage the Kilrathi in large-scale space wars. It turns out that this kind of thing appealed to gamers (who would have guessed?) and the game was a huge success, eventually getting ports to several other systems.
Wing Commander proved incredibly popular from 1990 until 1996 when the series went dormant. The core Wing Commander entries are famous for their extensive use of FMV cutscenes to convey their stories with well-known actors such as Mark Hamill, Christopher Walken, and John Rhys-Davies.
Though Wing Commander has been gone for nearly seventeen years, fans of the series have by no means forgotten it. A group of enterprising and talented people who had enjoyed it during its heyday got together in 2001 to begin working on a tribute to the games they loved. After developing Wing Commander Saga for more than a decade, the team finally released their labor of love in 2012.
Wing Commander Saga stands as fully-fledged campaign called Darkest Dawn which takes place during the events of Wing Commander III. This amazing product of dedication contains fully voiced dialogue, beautifully rendered cutscenes, and engaging in-game squad chatter. Players take on the role of a fighter pilot, call sign Sandman, stationed on the carrier-class starship Hermes. Gamers will be treated to lengthy missions involving eliminating Kilrathi fighters, bombers, capital ships, enemy carriers, defending human vessels, and general awesome space-shooting-explosions kind of stuff.
A word of warning for new Wing Commander Saga players: plug in a controller or joystick and tailor the controls to be a bit more playable. The keyboard control scheme is convoluted at best and extremely unintuitive for newcomers. Mapping the controls to a controller feels much more familiar.
You can download Wing Commander Saga from the official website.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a space marine fighting the forces of evil from a top-down perspective with randomly generated levels and turn-based movement? If you answered yes, you’re in luck! Doom Roguelike is a remake of the original Doom, but placing it within the wildly different roguelike genre. Players select one of three initial classes: marine, technician, or scout. Each class has different starting stats and abilities that affect the way players can best approach the challenges that await them. Movement through levels occurs one tile at a time, slowly revealing darkened areas that are out of the character’s line of sight. Monsters that appear within character’s visual range begin attacking, either by closing in for melee attacks or by firing lethal projectiles. With each enemy neutralized, characters receive experience points which go toward unlocking new skills that will help players progress further. Numerous secret arenas are scattered throughout the 25 levels of the game world that push player abilities to the limit, but provide new weapons, upgrades, and healthy chunks of experience. The main hook of Doom Roguelike is the implementation of permadeath; if the player’s character dies, the game restarts at the beginning. Permadeath and the randomized elements in each of the levels result in a unique experience every play session.
As a nice treat for fans of the classic Doom, enemies retain their original artwork and sound effects.
Overall, Doom Roguelike isn’t a terribly nuanced game. However, it succeeds in providing an original twist on a classic gaming formula. Doom Roguelike feels like a well-designed breath of fresh air. As a free game that can run on practically anything, Doom Roguelike is definitely worth your time.
You can download the full game on chaosforge.org.
Star Stealing Prince
Using RPG Maker VX, a person under the name Ronove created a surprisingly refreshing RPG experience. Clocking in at about ten hours in length, the mechanics, puzzles, beautiful hand-drawn artwork, and most of all the story never once left me bored or unsatisfied.
In terms of gameplay, there is more depth than you would expect. Combat occurs in a traditional turn-based fashion, with characters gaining experience and leveling up to increase their stats. New skills are learned by finding magic tomes and determined by the weapons and armor characters have equipped. While magic skills use MP, skills that come from your equipped gear can be accessed when a character has built up enough TP by attacking or being hit by enemies. Outside of combat, exploration is almost always rewarded with a new piece of armor, weapon, or useful item. The crafty and entertaining puzzles that crop up from time to time were an unexpected pleasure. One riddle in particular takes place during a tense boss battle and requires you to brush up a bit on your astrology knowledge.
The best way to describe the story of Star Stealing Prince is to equate it with a fairy tale. Like a fairy tale, Star Stealing Prince isn’t overly complex and there isn’t an overabundance of characters, but it doesn’t need those things to tell the story it wants to convey. To sum up the basic premise of this indie gem: On a remote island there is a kingdom shrouded in perpetual winter ruled by a prince named Snowe. The prince’s parents died when he was small, but they left behind a great many pieces of magic. One of their most powerful spells binds all of the citizens of the kingdom to the prince, making them feel what he feels. If he is happy, they are happy. The spell also shields the people from the cold, keeping them warm and dry in a land of harsh winter. After being wracked by a strange nightmare, Snowe discovers his parents trapped a girl within a tower for an unknown purpose… And so begins the gripping adventure of Star Stealing Prince.
If I could only recommend one game out of these four, it would be Star Stealing Prince. It is a short, rewarding and game that has a lot to offer if you take the time to download and play it. It feels intensely personal and real. When you play Star Stealing Prince you just know that someone was putting a part of themselves into it, which isn’t a feeling you get from many AAA experiences. Since this game is free, you have no excuse not to play it.
Do yourself a favor and download Star Stealing Prince over on the official site. I suggest that you download it with RTP if you want it to function properly on your computer.
Honorable Mention: Candy Box
I can’t really explain Candy Box without ruining what makes it so great. Just follow this link, leave it open in a tab for a few minutes, forget about it, and come back. Then your descent into obsession epic quest for glory can truly begin.