Turn your Xbox One into an Xbox Zero (dollars) with these free-to-play titles

Video games aren’t the most expensive hobby in the world (see: Warhammer), but they’re not the cheapest, either. Most new titles retail at $60, and when you factor in sales tax, a single game purchase can cost you a full day’s worth of work. Often, perceived value — relative to investment — is a major factor in review scores, which can have an effect upon marketing and, subsequently, sales numbers. Had No Man’s Sky been a $20 title, developer Hello Games likely wouldn’t have received nearly as much criticism and negative publicity.

If you don’t have $60 to shell out on a game, or if you just don’t want to, we get it. Not everyone is willing to make the kind of time commitment necessary to get their money’s worth out of a game, and not everyone is a fan of the color-by-numbers shooters and sprawling, single-player RPGs that dominate the current console gaming landscape.

Whatever the case, you don’t need to spend tons of cash to have fun, even if you’re a console apologist. With that in mind, read on to find out which free-to-play Xbox One games are the best available, so you can whittle your allowance away on microtransactions instead.

Fortnite: Battle Royale

Epic Games’ Fortnite: Battle Royale isn’t just he biggest free-to-play game on the Xbox One: It’s one of the biggest games in the entire world. The free-to-play mode, inspired by similar multiplayer shooters like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, pits 100 players against each other in a battle to the death using a variety of powerful weapons. The twist in Fortnite is that you can build and destroy structures as you see fit, creating new hiding spaces or flushing out enemies attempting to set up camp. Team-based modes are also included in the free-to-play offering, giving you and your squad the chance to prove you’re the toughest bunch of players around. It doesn’t hurt that Fortnite also makes use of a colorful and cheery art style that’s a far cry from the drab and realistic look of Battlegrounds, The Culling, and other similar games.

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Microsoft

Killer Instinct

Killer Instinct is a traditional, one-on-one arcade fighting game in the vein of Tekken or Street Fighter, except with a few novel twists. When the game released as an Xbox One launch title in late 2013, there were just six playable characters. Since then, however, more than 20 new characters (along with several new stages) have been added over the course of three Seasons, making this one of the deepest fighting rosters around. Features such as Ultra Combos and Combo Breakers return from the series’ previous installments, while new abilities — like “Instinct Mode,” which players can activate to turn the tides after taking a certain amount of damage — also help to keep the action fresh. A few token single-player modes are good fun, but Killer Instinct was built for PVP; in fact, it’s already got its own World Cup and “KI Con.”  The catch: It’s not completely free. Everybody gets to use series protagonist Jago, but you’ll need to purchase other characters separately (or as part of a pack).

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Microsoft

SMITE

Translating the MOBA genre for consoles was always a difficult ask, but SMITE developer Hi-Rez Studios managed to pull it off, resulting in possibly the best free game you’ll find on Xbox One or PlayStation 4. In SMITE, you’ll take control of a god. There are nearly 90 to choose from, hailing from eight different “Pantheons” (Greek, Chinese, Norse, etc.) and belonging to one of five classes: Guardian, Mage, Hunter, Warrior, or Assassin. Like League of Legends or DOTA 2, you’ll control your chosen god from a third-person perspective, though here the camera is a bit closer behind. A smattering of different game types offer players an opportunity to play in teams of three, four, or five, and more traditional lane-based game types contrast nicely with modes like Arena, where teams work to deliver minions through the enemy portal. SMITE is great fun, but be warned: The skill threshold is high, so it’s extremely challenging to pick up and play without help from friends.

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Microsoft

Neverwinter

If bringing MOBA to consoles was difficult, then doing the same for an MMO is indeed a challenging endeavor. Still, it has happened more and more in recent years, with games like The Elder Scrolls Online and DC Universe Online proving that the genre can survive on a gamepad, even if it doesn’t offer the same freedoms as a keyboard-mouse combo. Neverwinter wasn’t our favorite MMO title for PC, but its short action bar and linear level design translate extremely well to an Xbox One controller, and you can play nearly the whole game for free. It is set within the Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms universe, and you’ll select from D&D-inspired character archetypes to create your adventurer. The game lacks in MMO features — namely, groups are limited to five, and there are few options for communicating in-game — but the combat feels weighty and satisfying, striking a good balance between depth and simplicity.

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Microsoft

Warframe

Warframe is a crafter’s dream. Players take control of Tenno (read: space ninjas) from a third-person perspective, embarking upon missions across the galaxy to combat several sinister factions. Light on plot and heavy on customization, the game is fast-paced and designed for cooperative play, as players will blast through levels with typical objectives, including assassination and sabotage. The eponymous “Warframes” — aka armor suits that act as character classes — are the main draw here. There are more than 30 frames to choose from, each with four unique skills, and you can switch between them at will once they’re unlocked. Each frame operates differently, allowing for myriad play styles, and you can customize everything — weapons, frames, etc. — with mods that tailor skills even more specifically. The game feels a bit arcade-y and repetitive at times, but c’mon, it’s free!

Get it now from:

Microsoft

World of Tanks

Anyone remember Tanks? You know, that 2D flash game that’s all about angles? Well, World of Tanks is a little bit more robust, though the same basic principles apply. In heated, 15-on-15 engagements that take place across sprawling maps, you’ll select a tank and blast your way through enemies, using the environment to your advantage and unlocking upgrades in the process. Diverse map design helps keep battles fresh, and players will need to maneuver carefully to survive, given how slowly the tanks turn and accelerate. As with many of the games on our list, progress is slow, and you might find yourself itching to spend some real-life cash on a new tank after being blown up several hundred times. Still, World of Tanks is a unique title, and one that offers a ton of fun for zero monetary investment.

Get it now from:

Microsoft

Hawken

If you thought Titanfall was a cool concept but were discouraged by the fact that half the game takes place on foot (or if you were a big Gundam Wing fan), Hawken just might be for you. This game is unforgiving to new players, but spend some time with it and you’ll find that few things are as enjoyable as piloting a big mech to victory. Players choose from more than 30 different mechs, each with different abilities and niches to fill, and — of course — lots of different weapons. The graphics are a bit grainy, and framerates drop on occasion, but for a 2012 title ported to Xbox One, it plays pretty well. The absence of aim assist (a staple in modern shooters) means you’ll need to hone your skills, however, and the mechs’ evasion abilities can lead to intense showdowns between low-health units. Hawken also feels pretty unwieldy when navigating menus and such, but that’s a minor complaint.

Get it now from:

Microsoft

Fallout Shelter

Bethesda’s Fallout 4 is a full-priced, epic RPG for Xbox One, but if you’re looking to save a whole lot of bottle caps, the stylish colony management simulation Fallout Shelter is a great alternative. Tasked with growing a community of vault-dwelling survivors after the nuclear apocalypse, you must manage resources, construct new rooms, venture out into the unknown to complete quests, and defend your home from raiders, all while attempting to increase the population. Most of your actions are on timers, so it’s a great game to play in-between multiplayer sessions or as you’re watching Netflix on your Xbox One. It’s also part of the Xbox Play Anywhere program, so you can pick up where you left off on a Windows 10 PC.

Get it now from:

Microsoft

Added Fallout Shelter and Fortnite. Removed Gigantic, as the servers are shutting down.

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