Cheap Computer Games – Best Free & Affordable Options

Gaming can be a pretty expensive hobby. Top-selling game consoles such as the Sony PlayStation 4 and the Microsoft Xbox One cost $300 or more, and games for these systems cost around $50 apiece. Granted, a single game should provide many hours of entertainment, but even if you buy only five new games a year, that’s still a $250-a-year habit.

But high-priced console games aren’t the only games in town. If you care less about the technology than about the feeling being immersed in a virtual world, there are many on-screen games you can play right on your home computer for little or no money. Many of these games make their money by letting you play for free while giving you the option to pay for upgrades and in-game goodies. However, if you can resist this temptation, you can get hours of entertainment for nothing.

You’re not limited to casual games such as Candy Crush or Words With Friends either. There are also free versions of full-scale, immersive games that get top marks from serious gaming publications. Lists of the best free PC games at PCWorld and Extreme Tech include games in a variety of categories, including combat-based games, fantasy adventures, and massively multiplayer online games (MMOs).

computer war game

The broad category of “war games” includes any game in which most of the action centers on combat. War games range from the highly popular first-person shooter (FPS), in which the player views the game world through the eyes of an armed soldier fighting through a field of enemies, to turn-based strategy games in which players pit entire armies against one other on a map.

Several of the games that earn top picks in both PCWorld and Extreme Tech fall into this category, including:

playing a computer game with headset

The lists of top games at PCWorld and Extreme Tech also include several games set in fantasy worlds, ranging from dark, demon-infested landscapes, to cities populated by comic-book heroes. A few games get the thumbs-up from both publications:

playing a computer game

Massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs, are games in which your character can interact, team up with, or fight against other characters played by people all over the world. The first MMORPG was the fantasy-based Everquest, which originally charged a monthly subscription but is now free to play on Steam. There’s also a free starter edition of the popular World of Warcraft on Battle.net, though the full version costs $20 for the first month and $13 a month after that.

However, there are also several newer free MMORPGs that earn recommendations from both PCWorld and Extreme Tech:

man playing an interactive fiction computer game

In the 1970s, when computer gaming was in its infancy, a whole genre of games without graphics of any kind was created. These games, known as interactive fiction (IF) or text adventures, are stories that the player can steer in different directions, piloting a character through a series of events that could change the ultimate outcome. Classics of this genre include Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork.

Despite the lack of visuals, text adventures can be amazingly immersive. With no graphics, the setting and characters are limited only by the author’s descriptive abilities – and the best authors provide vivid written descriptions that cover not just sight and sound, but smell, taste, touch, and internal thoughts and emotions.

Today, even as new games boast more sophisticated graphics, interactive fiction is still very much alive. Fans of the genre are creating new games all the time, many of which are available for free. Some games can be played right in your browser window, while others can be downloaded and played with the help of an “interpreter” program, such as Gargoyle or Zoom. You can download free copies of these programs through IF Archive.

If you’ve never played an IF game before, one place to start is the History of Interactive Fiction by Jimmy Maher. In chapter 10, Maher recommends several IF works that he considers the best of the genre, dating from 1995 to 2006. His top picks range from Andrew Plotkin’s dark and complex Cold War adventure Spider and Web, to David Dyte’s A Bear’s Night Out, an interactive children’s story in which the player takes the role of a teddy bear.

For newer works, you can check out the Interactive Fiction Database, an extensive list of IF games sorted by genre. You can search the site for specific games, games with particular themes, or games by a particular author. You can also browse the lists of games that other users recommend, such as “games for beginners,” “funny games,” or “deep and long puzzle adventures.”

Of course, not everyone who likes video games is spending a fortune on them. But even if you don’t have a pricey game habit, these cheaper alternatives are still worth trying. After all, the whole point of gaming is to explore new and different worlds you don’t get to experience in real life – so the more kinds of games you try, the more you can expand your horizons. Once you discover the joys of fighting crime as a superhero, going into battle with a team of friends, or getting wrapped up in the world of a text adventure, you may never go want to back to the console.

What kinds of video games are your favorites?

Categories: Entertainment, Lifestyle, Technology

Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, “And from that you make a living?” She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.

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Cheap Computer Games – Best Free & Affordable Options

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