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Few of the best free-to-play action games for 2020

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The free-to-play genre gets a bad rap, and rightfully so. In its early years, free-to-play games were littered with paywalls, allowing only those with the deepest pockets to win the day. However, games like Warframe and Destiny 2 prove that it’s possible to sustain a free-to-play game without an endless onslaught of micro transactions.

The best free games offer players dozens of hours of playtime without charging anything, with some ethical microtransactions for super-fans. We’ve rounded up the best free-to-play games that hold true to that, including free FPS games and MMORPGs. With everything from genre-bending games like Frog Fractions to open-world JRPGs like Genshin Impact, there’s something for everyone.

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Genshin Impact

When Genshin Impact was first revealed, many wrote it off as a Breath of the Wild clone and nothing more. But tunes quickly changed when the game launched. Genshin Impact certainly borrows a lot from Breath of the Wild, from the art style to the stamina-based climbing. However, in almost every other way, it separates itself with deep RPG systems, a diverse roster of 23 characters, and hundreds of hours of gameplay.

And it’s free. Genshin Impact offers a full-action RPG experience in a beautiful open world without asking for a dime. There are microtransactions in the game, but thankfully, they never feel unfair. Buying a few key items may help you level up your character faster, for example, but you can still get through all of the content in the game without resorting to mindless grinding.

Warframe

Combining the futuristic science-fiction aesthetic of Mass Effect and Halo games with slick, martial arts-inspired combat, Warframe is one of the most impressive action games available right now, and you can play it on both consoles and PC. It launched in 2013 and has only seen its player-base grow substantially over the last few years — more than 26 million people have played it so far — and though it’s free-to-play, Warframe still serves as an excellent example of the technical capabilities of the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.

Warframe also includes a remarkable number of customization options, which allow you to modify your weapons and “Warframe” exo-armor, thus letting you better cater your gear toward your specific playstyle. You even have access to your own personal spaceship, which you’ll use as your base when between missions. Once you touch down on foot, however, your mobility won’t be limited; seven different parkour moves allow you to navigate hard-to-reach areas and get the drop on enemies.

World of Tanks

It has spawned spin-off games focusing on ferocious naval and air battles, but nothing can top the intense warfare offered in the original World of Tanks. Featuring armored destroyers from America, England, Germany, China, France, and the Soviet Union (among other nations), World of Tanks’ multiplayer matches are absolutely massive, with teams constantly vying to gain tactical positions over one another as they fire long-range shots, flank enemies, and protect their allies. Tanks have roughly a dozen different armored plates, too, each with their own level of protection against incoming fire.

For those willing to risk their skin a little bit more, the “self-propelled gun” class will allow you to take out a large number of enemies, provided they don’t immediately spot you and blow you to oblivion. A detailed guide — available on the game’s official website — will get you started with your first tank from any of the available classes, and it offers some additional tips to keep your tank in one piece during your first few matches. Once you’re feeling comfortable with the game’s combat, you can join a clan and attempt to take control of the “global map,” which not only earns you bragging rights but also special vehicles and in-game currency.

World of Warships

World of Tanks with naval ship combat is an accurate description of World of Warships. Featuring four types of ships — cruisers, battleships, destroyers, and aircraft carriers — and multiple game modes, World of Warships is a strategic open water combat simulator with deep customization options. Whether you’re playing the PvE Operations mode or squaring off against a real opponent in PvP, World of Warships should satisfy anyone looking for great ship combat. It’s available as a multiplayer PC game. Also, if you aren’t a fan of naval combat or tanks, perhaps check out World of Warplanes, another quality free-to-play combat simulator that takes players to the skies.

War Thunder

Set during World War II, this combat-oriented flight simulator game lets players enter the cockpit of planes hailing from five world powers. If you want a serious simulation, where controlling a plane is a complicated endeavor, you can do that in War Thunder. But if you want to play it more as an arcade game, you can do that, too. Once you’re confident with your skills, you can jump online and compete in epic 16v16 dogfights or objective-based missions. While planes are the focal point here, War Thunder also has anti-aircraft vehicles and tanks. As a free-to-play game, many of the planes and perks are locked behind paywalls. You can, however, unlock new content without dropping a dime, though it will take you longer.

Let It Die

From Grasshopper Manufacture, Let It Die is one of the most hardcore games on this list. It’s a grueling hack-and-slash game with a premise as weird as you’d expect from the development studio behind the No More Heroes series. It’s 2026 and Tokyo has split in half. A tower has ascended from the depths of the ocean. Uncle Death, a version of the grim reaper with a penchant for skateboarding, compels you to head to the tower to find out what’s at the very top. What follows is an addicting but challenging tower run that sees you fighting through floor after floor of nefarious creatures and enemies. When you die — and you will — your play data is shared with other players, adding yourself into their games as enemies (and vice versa). Free-to-play action games like Let It Die are somewhat rare, so if you have a PS4 or PC, you should definitely give it a go.

Call of Duty: Warzone

Warzone isn’t Call of Duty’s first foray into the battle royale genre, but it is the best. Formally, Activision left the battle royale duties to Call of Duty: Blackout, which would be a competent enough battle royale game if it weren’t hidden behind the $60 paywall that is Black Ops 4. Warzone is not only a better battle royale game, it’s also a free-to-play and cross-platform game.

Those two things are what sell Warzone. The game functions as an extension to 2019’s Modern Warfare, utilizing the same excellent engine and matchmaking capabilities. As long as you have a PC, Xbox One, or PS4, and you can download Warzone and play with your friends, regardless of what system they’re on.

Warzone evolves the battle royale formula, too. The biggest change is the Gulag. If you die, you’re sent to the Gulag once for a one-on-one showdown. If you win, you redeploy for free, and if you lose, your teammates will have to buy you back. This mechanic removes any feel-bad moments from Warzone where you happen to fall into an area with no loot and someone kills you before you can get your bearings.

PUBG Mobile

The Xbox One and PC versions of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds aren’t free-to-play, but if you want to enjoy some strategic battle royale action on the go and aren’t in the mood for Fortnite, PUBG Mobile is a great alternative. The game is based on the PC version, and includes touch controls so you can still aim down your weapon’s sights, loot buildings, drive across the game’s enormous map, and whack people with a frying pan. For running long distances, a simple virtual stick lock lets you essentially “set it and forget it,” and there’s even voice chat support for your squad-based games so you can coordinate with your teammates before going in for the kill.

PUBG Mobile isn’t a hastily-built cash-in, either. The game has been optimized for mobile devices, running at a framerate that can often put the Xbox One version to shame. Depending on your device — iPhone 6s is the oldest supported phone — the game will automatically pick graphical settings, but you can change them at any time in order to maximize detail or improve performance.

Fortnite: Battle Royale

Following in the footsteps of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds comes Fortnite: Battle Royale, a free player-versus-player chunk of Epic Games’ zombie defense shooter. Like PUBG, the goal in Fortnite: Battle Royale is to take down all the other players in the game and be the last one standing. But Fortnite‘s cartoonish take on shooting mechanics means you get an alternative to PUBG‘s more militaristic (and somewhat more realistic) shooter.

There’s another aspect to Fortnite that sets it apart from PUBG — building. You can construct walls, structures, and objects that can give you a leg-up in a fight, or leave you vulnerable to ambush. Either way, the addition of creating your own battleground and fortifications can alter the last players standing rules significantly.

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