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2020 brought a bunch of notable free and budget-friendly games, and some familiar faces continued to dominate the conversation.
You don't need to spend $60 or $70 to get a great game, and quite often it's not even required to spend any money at all. It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to suggest that free-to-play games dominate the industry, with staples like Fortnite: Battle Royale and Call of Duty: Warzone among the most-played games today. And when you're looking for a new single-player game, it's easy to find riveting and stellar indies for low prices.
GameSpot's Free/Cheap category spotlights 11 games that truly emphasize the fact that some of the best releases don't have conventional price tags. As you'll see, this is an eclectic mix of games, from wildly popular free-to-play multiplayer games to affecting narrative-focused independent games.
For the purpose of this list, we've defined cheap as $15 and under. Of course, free-to-play games feature microtransactions, so you could wind up spending quite a bit more, but you don't have to with the games we've highlighted. While most of the games on this list released in 2020, you'll notice that a few are existing live service games, each of which continued to make big strides forward throughout the year.
This is just one of many end-of-the-year reflection roundups we're compiling at GameSpot. For more categories, make sure to take a look at our . We also have dedicated roundups for the best , , and games of the year as well as our picks for the .
Among Us is one of the feel-good gaming stories of 2020. Originally released in 2018 for mobile devices, Among Us was relatively obscure until it got picked up and played by popular streamers earlier this year. Now it's one of the most popular multiplayer games on the planet on PC, iOS, and Android (and it , too). The party game drops up to 10 players on a map, with the goal of preparing the ship for launch. However, there are imposters amongst the crew, and their job is to sabotage and kill everyone aboard. Trying to determine the identity of the imposter(s) often leads to some hilarious hijinks whether you're playing locally with friends or online with random players. Among Us is free-to-play on mobile and costs $5 on PC and Switch.
Riot Games made the jump into the FPS genre this year with Valorant, a 5v5 tactical shooter that feels like a mash-up of Counter Strike and Overwatch. Valorant's strength lies in its gameplay, which is fast-paced and full of strategy. While it doesn't have a lot of content at the moment, the main mode (which resembles Demolition) is engaging and each Agent's abilities add to the tactical experience.
Genshin Impact has understandably been compared to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Its open-world, art design, traversal mechanics, and UI all bear some resemblance to the hit Nintendo Switch game, but it's not a direct clone. A fun, party-based combat system spices things up and elemental interactions let you experiment in fun ways. Even though Genshin Impact gates some content behind paywalls, there's a surprising amount of quality free content, and it's a solid experience whether you're playing on PS4/PS5, PC, or mobile.
Perhaps the most novel game of 2020, Blaseball is a browser-based baseball simulation game that has thrived thanks to its sheer randomness and wonderful community. Blaseball has minimal actual mechanics. Once you start playing, you choose a team and can bet coins on games. Blaseball moves quickly, with seasons lasting only a week. The charm of Blaseball comes from developer The Game Band's willingness to change things up rather quickly. For instance, a couple months back a season ended with a JRPG boss match against a giant peanut. With wild scenarios like that, it'll be interesting to see where Blaseball goes next in 2021.
Phasmophobia released in early access for PC and VR (Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality) in September and has garnered a rather large following since. Though it definitely has its fair share of bugs, Phasmophobia is genuinely one of the more frightening games in recent memory. Four players are tasked with investigating paranormal activity in various haunted buildings. Each investigation is unique and requires you to gather evidence to uncover enough information to identify the ghost. Being a detective specialized in hunting ghosts is a frightening and rewarding pursuit. Piecing together clues requires solid teamwork, and over time, ghosts become sneakier and more nefarious. Each hunt is a thrilling mystery that's filled with plenty of shocking scares.
Legends of Runeterra
Much like Blizzard built off of the foundation of Warcraft for Hearthstone, Riot Games leveeraged League of Legends characters and lore for the collectible card game Legends of Runeterra. It's highly polished and easy enough for newcomers of the genre to dive into while also adding a slew of new features that make it stand out from the pack. It adds more avenues toward customizing your deck and opens up new strategies for combating your opponent's moves. Legends of Runeterra is still in its infancy compared to other mainstays of the genre, but it's off to a great start.
Murder by Numbers
Murder by Numbers is an intoxicating mashup of Picross and visual novels that excels thanks to its stellar writing and lovely puzzles. It puts you in the shoes of the star of a 1990s procedural crime show. Honor Mizrahi, alongside her robot pal Scout, become real-life detectives, piecing together clues to solve murders and untangle a conspiracy. The cast of diverse characters shine, the soundtrack is catchy, and the art style is gorgeous. It's available for $15 on Nintendo Switch and PC.
Also available on: PC
The Solitaire Conspiracy
Bithell Games' latest title is a spin on your grandma's all-time favorite game. Solitaire has a myriad of variations, but none have possessed this much style as well as an engaging story with FMV cutscenes. With the world's premier spy agency destroyed, you have to pick up the pieces by mastering a tactically-laced take on Solitaire. The Solitaire Conspiracy builds off of the foundation from the great Solitaire spinoff Streets and Alleys. In addition to the campaign, The Solitaire Conspiracy has an endless mode and daily challenges. It's available on PC and Mac for $12.
Deeply moving and thought-provoking, If Found is a coming-of-age story about a young woman named Kasio. If Found's gameplay revolves around uncovering memories from her diary circa December 1993. In these pages, Kasio's story about who she really is, her struggles, and the friendships that she leans on for support come to life to tell an impactful story. The writing is exquisite and is beautifully supported by stunning art and subtle sounds that make it easy to become invested and emotionally affected by Kasio's story.
Also available on: PC
Call of Duty: Warzone
Call of Duty: Warzone, the latest mega-hit battle royale game, received frequent and notable updates throughout 2020. From in-game events such as the Halloween Zombie Royale to the steady drip of map changes, Activision has begun to follow a Fortnite-like update pattern. Considering Warzone is continuing on alongside Black Ops Cold War with a new slate of seasons and map, it figures to be just as big in 2021, too.
Fortnite: Battle Royale
Fortnite may be more than three years old, but it has never stopped evolving. In 2020, Fortnite solidified itself as a cultural platform as well as a popular free-to-play battle royale. Travis Scott, Diplo, and other artists have hosted wildly successful concerts in Fortnite, and an event on systemic racism called "We the People" aired in-game this past summer. Fortnite also continues to get a wide array of cameos from other game franchises and pop culture staples, including Kratos from God of War and Master Chief from Halo.
Apex Legends has changed a lot since early 2019. Not only has the roster of playable characters nearly doubled, but it has two more maps: World's Edge and Olympus. Plus, Ranked and Duos modes provide additional ways to play, and Quest delivers weekly chunks of story content. If you're willing to spend some money, Apex Legends: Champion Edition is the best deal for newcomers. For a fraction of the total cost (and time) to unlock them, the Champion Edition nets you all 15 playable characters, plus enough in-game currency to buy into the premium battle pass track. Apex Legends is available to play for free on PS4/PS5, Xbox One/Xbox Series X|S, and PC, with a Nintendo Switch version arriving next year. --Jordan Ramée, Associate Editor