To start off Free to Hate, let me explain what I'll be doing. Each week I'll be looking at a free-to-play game and giving my opinion on it. The first game I'll be taking a look at is one that set a very high standard for F2P games for me: Team Fortress 2. I first owned Team Fortress 2 when I was much younger. Buying a console version, I got to experience a very limited version of the game that was, at the time, worth more than I could afford at the age of twelve. That didn't matter though, because even the limited console experience got me hooked on the game for years to come, and I always dreamed about playing the real version (I had pretty boring dreams as a kid). I was about to buy TF2 years later during a free week, but the game ended up going free-to-play. Instead, I spent the money on keys and unboxed some worthless in-game items.
TF2 is a fantastic game.
It's an FPS with nine classes, and all the different maps have objectives, like capturing a point or pushing a cart to an end. The main selling point is those nine classes, which all fall under Offense, Defense, or Support. They're all radically different from another in terms of gameplay mechanics and techniques, and it's a blast to switch between them whenever you want. With Scout, you have to have the reflexes in order to dodge projectiles, and the knowledge of the map to flank enemies to pick them off. Soldier is the most basic class in the game, but has a high skill ceiling when it comes to rocket jumping. Rocket jumping, by the way, is one of my favorite things about TF2. It lets an otherwise slow class traverse maps much faster and eloquently, all at the cost of taking damage. It takes a lot of time to master the certain timings and angles needed to rocket jump accurately, but it's so much fun to do once you have that.
Every class is unique, helpful, and all fun to learn.
Most of the classes have something similar to rocket jumping in terms of practice and reward, like Pyro's airblast or a Medic's ability to keep a team alive. It's what makes TF2 a blast to not only play, but to practice, something that many hobbies like say, drawing, don't have.
There are different weapons you can obtain in the game through a random drop system, which lets you have a chance at receiving a random item every time you die. You can also craft these items into other items, which premium users can trade between eachother. Due to the mass abundance of these item drops, though, most free players could probably ask for the weapon they'd want, or they can try it out from the in-game store for free. These weapons are balanced around different playstyles, like a new rocket launcher for Soldier that rewards getting direct hits, but limiting the usefulness of blast damage. Some are complete game changers, like Medic getting a healing beam that, instead of making the patient invincible when fully charged, makes them do triple damage. These weapons are mostly balanced too, as none are often claimed to be overpowered. Unless, of course, you count the Phlogistinator, as that's a weapon that is under powered in competitive matches and considered very overpowered in public servers, but that's been a nightmare for Valve to balance anyways. TF2 has the workings of an easily 40 dollar game, maybe even 60. But it's free to play, and Valve makes a ton of money off of it every day. How does this work?
The reason I think TF2 is the best free-to-play game is due to its economy. Every player can obtain and use every weapon. The only things that free users cannot do is trade or get hats. Premium users can craft and trade for hats. What are hats, though? Hats and other such cosmetic gear are how players customize what their character looks like. It lets you turn boring ol' Soldier into a cool looking guy with a straw hat. It lets you turn bald Heavy into a smooth outdoorsman. It lets you turn Scout into your favorite gym leader from PokÃ©mon Platinum. There are so many cosmetic items to choose from, with more always being made by the community, that it's almost impossible not to find a set of items that you'll like for every class. Now, not all hats are the same, though. You can pay $2.49 for a key in the in-game store and get a chance for an unusual hat, which gives your hat a random particle effect.
I'm not one to joke around.
This will be you, and you will be okay with it.
These cosmetic items are useless. They serve no purpose other than to make your character look pretty. They are the only thing that free users can't have. That's why it works. TF2 is an incredibly fun game. After a while, you start to want to make your character look the way you want them to. There's no incentive, you just want to. That's why TF2 is the best free-to-play game in my eyes. There's a full game with no boundaries for free. There are no gameplay limits, you can play as much as you want, whenever you want. It's also one of the best multiplayer games out there, free or not. The only money you have to spend on it is the money you want to. It might be a problem to start a column about free games with my highest-praised free game, as it could make the rest look bad. I think it's good that we do though, because we can use TF2 as a reference to see what other games are doing wrong with their free to play system. It can only go downhill from here.