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You Don't Have to Pay to Play
There is little doubt that PC games are no longer considered to be as commercially viable as console products. Making a PC game often requires more effort but results in fewer sales. Many game companies who began life on the PC (Bungie is a good example) are now focusing their efforts entirely on consoles.
Is that such a bad thing? As the big money moves away from PC gaming, new projects have been popping up fueled by alternative business models or by the passion of gamers who haven't found the perfect game for them. As a result, there are plenty of games available that are free to play. The three listed here are among the best.
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Total Annihilation was a cult strategy gaming hit which became popular because it was, well, really, really big. While Starcraft was tooling around with 12-unit selection limits, Total Annihilation was allowing users to command hundreds of units at once. The result was a strategy game like no other.The mod community flourished, resulting in a number of mods which evolved over time into their own game engine, known as the Spring engine. This engine has been the home of several projects, and Complete Annihilation is one of them.
Despite being free, it is quite arguable that Complete Annihilation is a better game than Supreme Commander, the official spiritual successor to Total Annihilation. Spring's graphics are not as good, but it certainly seems to run smoother. Complete Annihilation also benefits from years and years of balancing, which make it a good game for competitive types as well as for those who just want to command a huge army and blow things to hell. There are a lot of ways to blow things away, too, as Complete Annihilation includes hundreds of land, air, and sea units.
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Dungeons and Dragons Online
Despite being considered the ugly duckling of MMOs, Dungeons and Dragons Online has always been a good game for those wanting something a bit different from the norm. While most MMOs revolve around open-world gameplay, D&D Online is instead about instanced dungeons. This makes sense when one considers the source material, as D&D Online is meant to be an online rendition of the party-based play which dominates pen-and-paper D&D.
The original versions of the game suffered from bugs and lack of content and so the game never gained the player base it needed. Its developers, Turbine, were never able to gain much of a following for D&D Online. In hopes of bringing in new blood Turbine has now made the game free to play. While some content is restricted for paying "premium" users, most of the game's content can be accessed without paying.
And what content it is. There are still some quirks, but the combat is easily the best of any MMO. In many ways it feels more like a third-person console fighter than a traditional MMO. The combat is enhanced by dark, dangerous dungeon adventures which do an excellent job of invoking the feel of the pen-and-paper game.
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There is a wealth of free strategy games available today. Many are middle-of-the-road and quite limited in their options. Not Freeciv. Freeciv offers a huge number of civilization options, a massive tech tree, big maps, and spans most of human history. It is a proper 4x strategy game, not a knock-off meant to be played ten or fifteen minutes every day.
Of course, Freeciv's brilliance isn't all its own. In fact, Freeciv owes a huge debt to Civilization II, one of the best strategy games of all time. Many elements of Freeciv, from the tech tree to the world map, are adapted from Civilization II with some extras thrown in. There are more civilization choices, for example. There is also online play, which many will consider a big plus.
On the downside, Freeciv includes some of Civilization II's faults, like less than stellar AI and an insane combat system that sometimes allows Archers to magically defeat modern tanks. This aside, it is a must-download for any strategy gamer looking for a freeware fix.
If you're still hungry for more check out our Top Ten Free PC Games article.