There’s no shortage of great games you could buy on Switch, but there are also a handful that are free. There was a time when a game being free-to-play marked it as subpar in some way. Now, free games can often be every bit as good as the paid ones and sometimes they aren’t even full of intrusive microtransactions. Here are a few of the ones worth checking out on the Nintendo Switch.
Digital Extremes’ online shooter arrived on Switch at the end of 2018. Although this is a port of a massive game that originally got its start on PC, the developers cut almost no corners. The sci-fi environments are still gorgeous and the fun, twitchy combat feels just as precise. The basic premise sees you level up and customize alien exosuits as you travel the solar system fighting through rival enemy syndicates who have taken control of different regions.
Since the game originally launched in 2014, it came to Switch with years of additional content and new updates still coming every couple months. It’s the kind of game you could take on a desert island and spend years working through, at least if the desert island happened to have WiFi.
Before Nintendo released Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the Switch had another great platform fighting game called Brawlhalla. While not as big as Nintendo’s fighting game, Brawlhalla still boasts 40 characters, a bunch of different stages, and quite a bit of nuance in its seemingly straightforward combat.
Each character has two unique weapons giving them multiple fighting styles. They all still follow the same system of combining light, heavy, and special attacks to keep things relatively simple. What makes the game feel extra good, however, is the aerial freedom. Fighters have three jumps and can grapple up walls at will, opening up lots of possibilities. And even though the game is free, the art style and combat animations all look great.
Overwatch isn’t on Switch, but Paladins is and it costs nothing to start playing. The class-based team shooter has been maligned as a copycat since it was revealed in 2016, but the fundamentals are all sound. The game has three modes—capture-the-point, team deathmatch, and one that’s a hybrid of the two—and a few dozen heroes who all have unique abilities you can augment by equipping cards with bonuses that you earn through playing.
What Paladins really has going for it is an impressive 60fps, even in handheld mode. It sacrifices some visual fidelity for smoother, more responsive action, but it’s a trade-off that’s worth it. There are enough characters unlocked from the start and free ones constantly being rotated in that you can experience a good chunk of the different defensive and offensive roles without spending the $30 it costs to buy them all.
Arena of Valor is a multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA, that got its start on mobile where it blew up in China. Last year, Tencent ported it to Switch, making it the best game in the genre that can actually be played on a console—unlike competitors Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm, and League of Legends.
Like in those games, two teams of five battle across a map in an attempt to destroy the other’s base, all while leveling up, earning gold, and purchasing better equipment. For people who haven’t played MOBAs before, it can be intimidating, but it’s really not, especially in Arena of Valor’s case. Characters auto-attack as you move them while the shoulder and trigger buttons deploy special abilities. Matches are short, letting you get the satisfaction of going through a normal role-playing game progression in just 20 minutes or so.
Almost every week there is something new to do in Fortnite. Even though the fundamentals of parachuting down onto an island, finding guns to shoot people with, and building your own cover haven’t changed, other things like special items and the map itself are always changing. There’s also plenty to do even outside the general battle royale loop of shooting other people until you’re the last one standing.
Sometimes it’s fun just to stroll across the map looking for new secrets or completing challenges to rank up the game’s free battle pass for unlocking new emotes and skins. There’s also a Playground mode where those who just want to build can do so in peace, essentially making Fortnite double as a free mini-version of Minecraft as well. And since Epic Games recently implemented cross-play, you can join up with friends no matter what platform they’re playing on.