We have a… Difficult relationship with microtransactions, don’t we? It’s no mystery that gamers are very vocal about their dislike of them and yet they keep being incredibly lucrative as they’re quickly becoming a staple of triple-A games.
But not today. For one, we’re not Kotaku and for another, talking about it won’t really tell you how to avoid them when thinking what next game you want to buy. But a handy list will tell you that. So that’s what I’m going to do instead.
This list contains some of the biggest titles of the industry, completely free from microtransactions, be they loot boxes, in-game purchases, or anything of that sort.
Top 10 AAA games with no microtransactions
|Game||Image||Description||Release year||Check price below|
|Assassin’s Creed: Origins||They live in the shadows||2017||Buy now!|
|Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild||Famously a 7/10 title by some standards||2015||Buy now!|
|Prey||Let the hunt begin||2017||Buy now!|
|Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire||Being a pirate is alright with me?||2018||Buy now!|
|Divinity: Original Sin 2||Reach for Divinity with force of will alone. Paying for it would be kind of against the point||2017||Buy now!|
|Horizon: Zero Dawn||Climbing Cyber-dinos||2017||Buy now!|
|God of War||Game of the year, dad of the beard||2018||Buy now!|
|Cuphead||I’m a little teapot, short and stout, here’s my handle and here’s my punch!||2017||Buy now!|
|The Witcher 3||The silver sword is for loot-box merchants||2015||Buy now!|
|Dark Souls 3||Prepare to not pay edition||2016||Buy now!|
Assassin’s Creed: Origins
They live in the shadows
Starting with maybe a bit of a controversial one (hence the position on this list), because it technically contains something “loot-box-adjacent”. What I mean by this, is that there are crates you can obtain in the game, which contain random items.
However, there’s no way to pay real money for them, only in-game currency, so the idea behind me putting this game on the list is that if you’re the kind of person who likes loot boxes (internet would tell me you don’t exist, but market research says otherwise), this way you can have loot boxes, without actual microtransactions, in a triple-A game. Triple-A, Triple win.
Gameplay-wise, Origins continues the series’ trend of being an action-packed stealth game about secret history, global conspiracy and a brotherhood of assassins working in the shadows to fight an occult organization trying to harness alien technology. The core is still there, and all other elements of the game — combat, open-world map exploration and stealth — have been polished to near perfection.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Famously a 7/10 title by some standards
Now before you riot, I can’t force myself to put this game higher on the list, purely because it’s a Switch exclusive. While that console is fantastic in its own right, with a library bursting with great games and it’s steadily becoming popular to the point where I’ll be able to casually talk about it as Xbox’s and PS’s equal (which I want), we’re not quite there yet.
If you’re a gamer and the headline caught your attention, it’s statistically unlikely that Switch is your console of choice.
Make no mistake, this is a fantastic title, and a true return to form for Zelda, absent from our lives for a long, long time. The key aspect to Breath of the Wild is the sheer scope of exploration.
There’s just so much to find and see and each location is filled with imaginative puzzles. And the boss fights are fantastically designed and never cause fatigue with repetition. It’s almost as if it was a good version of Wind Waker. It’s honestly quite impressive how this much content has been crammed into the cute, portable console. It’s just, you know, shame it’s exclusive.
Let the hunt begin
Prey is, all things considered, the best thing to happen since Bioshock. Fundamentally it’s very similar to that series of games: you need to carefully conserve your ammunition to tackle enemies that are much stronger than you, while carefully navigating tight corridors with a lot of secrets strewn about, rewarding exploration and getting off the beaten track.
And obviously, you can’t have microtransactions in a game like this, buying any kind of resources would just completely defeat the point of the whole endeavor. Additionally, the Mooncrash expansion has been released recently and as an added bonus, it contains special modes that fundamentally change the game to be more like a Rogue-like. One of the best games of 2017, this one is worth checking out.
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
Being a pirate is alright with me?
Ever since BioWare lost their souls we’ve been yearning for a return to the oldschool, isometric RPGs. And folks at Obsidian, whom you may recognize from their work on a little known title called Fallout: New Vegas, have seriously delivered. Pillars of Eternity 1 was an absolute smash hit and the sequel is a strict improvement on the game.
Deadfire is nothing if not true to the formula, allowing the player to gather, develop, and fully equip their team of adventurers on an epic quest that will determine the fate of gods and men. The game puts a large emphasis on synergistic effects and being real-time with pause, it’s reminiscent of Neverwinter Nights 2 in the best ways.
And of course, devoid of any kind of pesky microtransactions, but there are several pieces of DLC (pretty much all of them worth the purchase, except maybe for the glorified horde mode one).
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Reach for Divinity with force of will alone. Paying for it would be kind of against the point
I wouldn’t normally put these two games on the same list, because for one, it’s kind of difficult to determine which one of those is better, as both of these games have ardent fans, and they both try to do a fundamentally very similar thing, so it would really make the most sense to put these on like a top 10 modern RPGs list.
Hey, now here’s an idea for a list. Note to self…
But anyway, unlike Pillars of Eternity, Divinity’s combat is fully turn-based, bringing it in-line with games like Arcanum. However it’s not just a rehash of old things, it manages to innovate the formula with a very interesting approach to companions, whose dialogues you fully control.
There is no set “main character” and the story revolves around the whole team. It’s as close as you’re going to get to a real pen & paper RPG in video game form, except unlike in Tabletop, you don’t get to bribe the GM with stuff for more XP. Ah, no pay-to-win, what a blessing.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
The single word to describe Horizon: Zero Dawn is: Epic Scale. What’s that? That’s two words? Well that’s just how epic it is! Much like with Zelda, I unfortunately can’t put it as close to the top as I’d want to though, because PS4 exclusive. Although admittedly, it’s one of several key games that make PS4 worth buying entirely on their own.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is functionally kind of similar to Assassin’s Creed, focusing largely on exploration of the truly fantastic landscapes and fast-paced combat, with large emphasis on gathering resources in order to craft special, situationally useful tools.
The game is positively gorgeous, with a fantastic music to boot and an engaging, whimsical story. It even contains a Death Stranding Easter Egg (true story), so what more could a man possibly want?
God of War
Game of the year, dad of the beard
It genuinely pains me that I cannot put this FANTASTIC game higher on the list, but I have to stay true to my scoring scheme. You’ve heard about this one of course, haven’t you?
The absolute darling of the gaming world in 2018, God of War has reinvented the franchise and provided with a truly heartfelt gravitas that nobody expected but once it was here, everyone agreed that they always wanted. Remember when I said there are key games worth buying PS4 for? That’s the winner right here (the third one is Bloodborne, but it didn’t make the cut for this list).
And what makes this really awesome is that God of War had the perfect set-up to put the microtransactions in. God of War features an extensive equipment system with varying degrees of rarity for weapon and armor modifications. It would be easy to give them to players as loot-boxes. It wouldn’t even probably change a lot, honestly. But no, said Santa Monica. And Sony did not push. And so here we are, with a fantastically designed game that rewards exploration, with tight and visceral combat and not a whiff of pay-to-win!
I’m a little teapot, short and stout, here’s my handle and here’s my punch!
The gaming darling Cuphead should speak for itself. In many ways a true lightning in a bottle, Cuphead achieves fantastic results while having an incredibly ambitious scope — making the entire game animated in the rubber hose style, mostly known for its pioneering role in the beginnings of the animation industry.
And it was a huge risk too—the developers literally banked their house on the venture succeeding. And succeed it did!
Cuphead is a fast-paced, hectic game centered around beating platforming levels and multi-staged boss fights. It’s incredibly imaginative and fun, if difficult. It also had the great opportunity to put microtransactions in, with upgrades and new weapons being purchasable in game, but it didn’t. The only paid content is the upcoming Delicious Last Course DLC which adds new bosses and a new, playable character, cute and jovial Ms. Chalice.
The Witcher 3
|Developer:||CD Project Red|
The silver sword is for loot-box merchants
One of the most prominent Polish exports, wedged firmly between kielbasa sausage and a certain swear word, Witcher 3 is like a thing out of place, out of time, in the grander gaming culture.
It holds to tried and tested BioWare approach of storytelling with great, branching choices, complex and varied characters and an epic storyline with clear, defined themes, while at the same time utilizing action-based combat engine that is a blast to play with.
Like in any RPG, you have a great wealth of character customization at your disposal with weapons, armor and various tools. You also need to gather resources to craft elixirs, traps, oils and a plethora of other useful things. It would be easy to let players buy such resources for real money but it could skew the flow of the game and introduce an element of grinding. So CDPR decided to… Not do that. It’s strange how that’s a bold move by today’s standards.
Dark Souls 3
Prepare to not pay edition
You might be wondering why Dark Souls 3 is above the Witcher on this list. Come here, lean in, I’m gonna tell you a secret. The secret is I had vastly more fun with Dark Souls 3 than with Witcher 3.
I know right? I’m breaking my own principles of objectivity here! It’s exhilarating. There’s also another important reason this game is so high, which is its fantastic multiplayer, which Witcher doesn’t have.
There are only two pieces of DLC for Dark Souls 3, both of them well worth your time and money: Ashes of Ariandel and Ringed City. This game, even though probably the easiest in the series, is still brutally difficult and it just would NOT work if you could break it with pay-to-win content. Neither would the fantastic PvP work with that idea.
There are entire builds revolving solely on your ability to acquire a specific weapon on specific level and it’s only a matter of skill whether you can do that or not.
It is for this reason Dark Souls 3 is #1 AAA game without microtransactions: it would simply not function with them. It would not be possible to design a Dark Souls game with them.
The times they are a-changing
Something I should note is the pervasive feeling that microtransactions and loot-boxes are here to stay. Some say it doesn’t make sense to put them in triple AAA games since these sell like hot-cakes anyway. But if you actually understand economics, that’s exactly the reason why it makes utmost sense to put them in.
But the times, they are a-changing. There’s something of a Purge going on in the gaming world right now. I’m not going to tell you where I sit on the issue, I tend to think any issue is more complex than a declarative call to action it tends to provoke. I also tend to believe that the state of any industry is a mirror reflection of the clashing priorities between consumers and producers.
But! That is a lengthy discussion for another time. Today I leave you with these 10 AAA games, made by serious companies with pedigree, budget, and passion and strangely missing the defining feature of so many modern games. Do with that what you will.