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Somehow, I suspect that if you sneaked into the office where Neverwinter was developed, you’d be less likely to find a design document than a very, very big roll of free bubblewrap. Neverwinter is a free-to-play RPG that somehow nails that sense of second-by-second popping satisfaction, often despite itself. Pop, a monster goes down. Pop, a sparkling light trail to get you straight to the next one. Pop, the chime of a new level earned. Neverwinter is a game of cold proficiency, built with experience and understanding of these moments and how to create them. Too bad it’s also one of the least creative games ever to waste the chance to do something interesting with them.
The press conferences that precede E3 set the tone for the event, they determine the conversations and questions that follow. With no single unifying organisation to set up such an event, it's one of those rare occasions when the open nature of the PC can prove a detriment. The consoles have had their say, now we can't help but wonder what a similar a show for the PC would look like. Who would take the stage? What would they show? What song-and-dance numbers would we get? Take your seat, make yourself comfortable and put those Doritos away as we welcome you to this year's purely hypothetical show, the E3 2013 conference that PC gamers deserve.
Not only have PC games never been cheaper, they’ve never been reduced in price so fast. That hot new release may cost you between £30 and £35 when it comes out, but you can safely expect that to drop by 15, 25 or sometimes even 75% over the next few months. Digital distribution services such as Steam and Good Old Games are constantly running sales and promotions. If you wait, you usually get the best version of the game, and often all its DLC bundled for free. What do you do with the money you save? You buy more games! Take some risks! Try more genres! Maybe there was something that caught your eye back in the day, but you didn’t have £30 to gamble on actually liking turnbased strategy games, or not being put off by a score of 70%. Maybe classics such as Psychonauts or Sacrifice simply slipped your attention at release, and you just never got around to catching up. Maybe you’re simply attracted by a screenshot or a funny description. For £5, it doesn’t really matter whether a game is an unsung gem, or just something to pass the time on a dark, rainy evening. Of course, we’ve set our sights a little higher, tracking down the best games that you can buy online for under £15, £10 and £5, as well as a selection of formerly commercial games that have officially been re-released as freeware. We’ve avoided a few, such as Deus Ex, in the name of giving some less-recognised games a turn in the spotlight, and of course, there’ll be sales on now that there weren’t at the time of writing. If the game you want isn’t cheap enough yet, just hold fire. With digital distribution, you’ll rarely wait very long.
There might be no such thing as a free lunch, but there is certainly such a thing as free lunchtime entertainment. Over the following pages you’ll find a list of the best free indie games on PC – from 20-minute diversions to weekend-consuming, endlessly-expanded strategy epics. All of the games on this list are free in their entirety. That means no microtransaction-supported free-toplay games and no shareware. We’ve also excluded ‘pay what you want’ games on the basis that developers who give you the ability to chip-in would probably like you to consider doing that. That said, there are always exceptions and you’ll find games on this list that sit in a grey area – normally where there’s a substantial free version with the option of also buying an upgraded paid edition. In these cases, we’ve gone with our hearts. Which is to say that we argued about it for hours.