If you're trying to keep up with all of our coverage from Comic-Con, you might not have much time to play free games this weekend. In case you do, though, here are a few suggestions for games that I've become obsessed with recently, been playing on and off for several months, or remember enjoying a lot when they first came out, though not necessarily in that order:
Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC) Trial
In case you missed the news earlier this week, BioWare announced a new free trial program for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Detailed here, it lets you take as long as you want to reach level 15 with all eight of the game's character classes. I'm at Comic-Con in San Diego this week so I haven't had an opportunity to create a trial account personally, but having played the game a good deal at launch, I'd definitely recommend checking it out if you haven't already. Based on my own experiences with a few of the classes, I'd also suggest playing as a bounty hunter, though I imagine all of the classes have changed somewhat since I last logged in.
In need of a Star Wars fix and can't make it to Comic-Con to get in line for a Peter Mayhew autograph or to buy any of the countless overpriced T-shirts? Sign up for your Old Republic trial account and download the game using the following link:
PC: Star Wars: The Old Republic Trial
League of Legends (PC)
You've almost certainly heard of League of Legends already. Maybe you've played it too, or perhaps you've been reluctant to try it for fear of being lambasted by experienced players who offer feedback exclusively in all-caps. The League of Legends community has a reputation for being hard on newcomers, but while I daresay there are plenty of players who are exactly that, my own experiences since I started playing several months back have been nothing but positive--even when my contributions to the team effort have been anything but.
In case you're unfamiliar with League of Legends, it's a free-to-play MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) game in which two teams of five player champions--accompanied by mindless minions that spawn at regular intervals--attempt to take down each other's base. The game is predominantly played on just one map (Summoner's Rift), and there are three distinct paths (known as lanes) between the opposing teams' bases. That's as much description as I'm going to volunteer right now because, truth be told, there are still aspects of the game that I don't fully understand and I'm not nearly good enough a player to be offering gameplay advice. For tips, or just to get a better sense of how League of Legends is played, I'd recommend watching matches online. There are always plenty of guys live-streaming on twitch.tv (TSM_TheOddOne is a favorite of mine), and if you view matches from within League of Legends' own spectator mode, you can switch between different players' perspectives at any time, which is very useful if you want to learn how to play specific roles/champions.
At the time of this writing, League of Legends features exactly 100 different champions for you to play as. You can rule out 90 of them right off the bat if you're playing for free though, because only 10 different champions are unlocked for free play each week. There's invariably a good assortment to choose from though, so you have an opportunity to check out some very different characters. If you find one or two that you like, you can spend 975 riot points (that's around $7.50, depending on how many RP you purchase in one go) to unlock them individually. Champions can also be purchased using influence points that you earn when playing the game, but you'll need to play a lot before you can get them that way.
Your best bet is likely just to content yourself with checking out champions in the free rotation for the first two to three weeks; that way not only will you be able to make more informed purchasing choices, but you'll also have had plenty of time to figure out whether or not League of Legends is for you. Be sure to keep an eye on the storefront anytime you log in, because frequent sales offer characters and optional character skins at significant discounts. Better yet, bundles of 20 characters are available for approximately $30.
League of Legends is a game that you can play for free indefinitely, and your only significant disadvantage versus paying players is that your choice of champions is limited and changes on a weekly basis. I play (not nearly as often as I'd like) as JusticeCovert and mostly stick to beginner-level games against the AI in case any of you feel inclined to join me. Newcomers are definitely welcome, as are experienced players who don't write in all-caps and who can give me tips on how best to play as Ashe, Ryze, Teemo, or Tristana.
You can sign up for and download League of Legends using the following link:
PC: League of Legends
New Star Soccer (iOS)
Developed by just one man, New Star Soccer is a game that I first heard about when I saw someone heaping praise upon it on Twitter. I downloaded the game right away when I realized that it was free, and about five minutes later I was hooked. There are two main modes of play in New Star Soccer: Arcade and Career. Arcade mode can be played for free indefinitely, while Career mode limits you to 10 matches before demanding that you either start over or hand over the very reasonable sum of 99 cents to unlock the full game.
Playing Arcade mode for the first time I was surprised to find that it's a puzzle game of sorts in which you have to score goals from different positions. You initially view the game from a top-down perspective that's reminiscent of the classic Sensible Soccer series, and you aim your shot simply by moving an arrow around the ball with your finger. Then, when you're done aiming, the perspective shifts to something resembling a first-person view, and you get to actually strike the ball by tapping it as it moves across the screen. Because tapping the ball in different spots affords you the ability to bend it like Beckham with little effort, it's possible to beat defenders and the keeper while also compensating for the wind that becomes increasingly prevalent as you progress.
If Arcade mode was surprising to me, then Career mode was astonishing. I'm not sure what I was expecting it to be, but what I found definitely wasn't it. New Star Soccer still controls in the same way when you're in Career mode, but in addition to taking shots at goal, you get to play out various passing and interception opportunities as matches progress. When you're not actively participating in the game, you get to watch rudimentary text-based commentary (not unlike in the early Championship Manager PC games) that lets you know how things are progressing. You also get to switch between three different "work rate" settings for your player, which is important because he has a finite amount of energy going into each match. There's so much more to the Career mode than what you do on the field, though.
I must confess that at the time of writing I haven't yet handed over my 99 cents to progress past the initial 10 matches. I'm eager to get a full career under way, but since New Star Soccer lets you keep any of the in-game "star bux" currency that you accumulate through multiple trial careers, I figure I might as well play through a handful of those first. Also, I'm still figuring out some of the stuff that goes on between matches. I've had to buy and consume energy drinks to get match fit, I've experimented with buying boots that made me kick the ball harder for a few matches, and I've managed to win some money playing simple casino minigames based on black jack, roulette, and a slot machine. Oh, and at one point a "shady character" offered me money to play badly in an upcoming match, which I declined. I haven't gotten into it yet, but it's clear that as my career progresses there will also be opportunities to buy flashy cars and fancy houses when I'm not playing minigames to improve my player's attributes.
In addition to the 99 cents that I will inevitably be spending to unlock the full Career mode, New Star Soccer charges for varying weather conditions, different pitch designs, and large quantities of star bux--none of which seem necessary in order to derive many, many hours of fun from the game.
You can queue up the iOS version of New Star Soccer that I've been playing here:
iOS: New Star Soccer on iOS
There's also an Android version of the game, but it costs $2.99. You can check that out here:
Android: New Star Soccer on Android