7 Surprisingly Awesome, Budget-friendly Games

If you’re reading this, chances are you consider yourself a gamer of some kind. And if you’re a gamer, chances are you’re always looking to add to your growing collection. The problem with gaming as a hobby is that games aren’t cheap. First, you have to buy a console or PC, then you have to buy the games, and all too often these days, there’s DLC or expansions that will cost you extra. Games can definitely be budget-breakers.

But don’t fret, you thrifty gamers! There are plenty of great games out there that won’t break the bank.  And while it’s true that a lot of cheap games are either boredom killers or quick thrills that end in a couple of hours, this isn’t always the case. Here’s a list of 7 games that will give you a surprising amount of gameplay without having to resort to ramen and PB&J sandwiches for a week.

(Note: Prices mentioned are non-sale prices on Steam as of December 21, 2017.)

Poker Night 2

Telltale Games has become a big name in the gaming industry, and for good reason. They’re primarily known for taking existing intellectual properties (IPs) and turning them into story-based adventure games, such as Fables in The Wolf Among Us and Borderlands in Tales from the Borderlands.  But they’ve also ventured into the world of traditional card games, in an exceptionally non-traditional way.

Poker Night 2

Set in a universe where video game/pop culture worlds collide, Poker Night 2 is, you guessed it, a game in which you play poker. What makes it interesting is the other players at the table: Brock Samson from Venture Brothers, Claptrap from the Borderlands series, Ash Williams from the Evil Dead series, and Sam from the Sam & Max games. Your not-at-all-homicidal dealer is GLaDOS of Portal fame.

Aside from the incredibly low price-point, what makes this worth playing is the banter between the characters. This is a great “What if?” scenario in which characters from entirely different genres kick-back and discuss everything from the powers of dogs (they cause earthquakes) to Claptrap’s cologne (it’s diesel). Winning tournaments gets you a unique item from each player, unlocking special content in other games. You’ll also earn tokens toward buying the other players drinks, as well as unlocking chips, card decks, and tables themed after each character’s respective franchise.

Poker Night 2 is technically the third poker game released by Telltale, but by far the most worth your time and money. It’s currently listed at $4.99 on Steam, and is also available on PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and iOS.

Alpha Protocol

Another older game that is still definitely worth your time is Alpha Protocol. Billed as an “espionage RPG,” the idea behind this sleeper hit was that you should be able to spy the way you want to, and that choices should matter. The plot is basically a globe-trotting Burn Notice, with players becoming the newly recruited/newly burned Michael Thorton. As with lots of games focusing on modern combat, you can choose whether to shoot everything in the face, hack all the electronics, go full ninja-with-a-sniper-rifle (always the correct choice, in my opinion), or any mixture of the three. An RPG-style skill system will aid you in your play-style of choice.

Alpha Protocol

Speaking of choices – they matter.  Like, really matter. Aside from the intro mission, you have full control over which order to play levels in, and because you’ll make allies/enemies in each place, every playthrough will change drastically based on your decisions. I cannot stress enough how awesome this aspect of the game is – which is a good thing, because the actual gameplay is rather clunky and hasn’t aged well. That being said, it is still well worth your time.

An underground hit, the game wasn’t commercially successful enough to warrant a sequel (despite player pushing for one), but that doesn’t stop me from re-installing it every year or so. The good news is that for $14.99, you can snag a game with a high-end feel on a low-end budget.

Stardew Valley

At first glance, this indie release looks like a humble successor of farming simulator Harvest Moon, and it is.  Then you might hear there are some detective elements as you uncover a plot – and there are. And then you get a sword, meet a wizard, and start exploring dungeons… wait, what the hell kind of a game is this? That’s a very good question, and precisely the reason Stardew Valley is on this list.

Stardew Valley

If you want a simple farming sim, you can totally do that, but there’s also combat, romancing, fishing, artifact finding, sleuthing… you name it, this game has it. Don’t let the cutesy graphics and sweet-sounding name fool you – there’s a lot of depth to Stardew Valley, and an insane amount of playable hours. I don’t have enough room here to go into detail, so just pick it up for $14.99 and play it on a ridiculous number of platforms.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth

Typically, tower defense games have you building towers in defense of… something. Baddies march along a set path while your various structures/units attempt to bombard them into fine particles before they reach the edge of the screen. Anomaly: Warzone Earth is exactly like that – just in reverse.

Anomaly

That’s right, A:WE is a reverse tower-defense game set on an Earth where aliens have invaded, and it’s your job to show them humanity means business. The plot may not be entirely original, but the gameplay is surprisingly complex, with customizable convoys and various commands you can use to help those convoys survive through every alien-infested map you encounter. At $9.99, it’s well worth a try, and there’s even a spin-off made specifically for mobile devices, so you can have something to play on the bus!

Grim Dawn

Do you love the Diablo games? Have you played them so much that you’re sick of them? Good, because there’s an alternative for you. Grim Dawn is a Diablo/Titan Quest-esque (say that five times fast) ARPG set in a Victorian-era steampunk/fantasy world where everything has officially gone wrong, and I do mean everything. Cultists have summoned Cthulhu-style monsters, non-corporeal entities from another dimension are possessing people, and, of course, the dead are rising. Oh, and there’s even a human gang faction, because even normal people can just be awful.

Grim Dawn

Grim Dawn takes everything that made the Diablo series great and adds in Titan Quest’s dual-class model for a higher-variety of game-play. The maps are fixed, rather than randomly generated, which I personally like – this makes it far more worthwhile to explore every nook and cranny, and if you just don’t have time to check out a section of the map right this moment, you can always come back later.

A price-point of $25 makes Grim Dawn the most expensive game on this list, but I promise you it’s worth every penny. With many factions to make allies/enemies from and an expansion already out, it’s a good time to make the plunge.

Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Have you ever had the desire to control an air-strike? In a basement? Controlled by a fetus in a jar with a monocle and top hat? If so, you definitely need professional help.

What you also need is Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. From the creator of Super Meat Boy, this pseudo-sequel/remake of the flash-based Binding of Isaac introduces hundreds of new things to the disturbing Legend of Zelda clone, including enemies, room-types, playable character, items, and more. And they’re all disturbing and hilarious. Did I mention this game is disturbing?

Binding of Isaac

Players control the eponymous Isaac, a young boy whose mother believes God wants her to kill him, whereupon he escapes into the basement through a trapdoor in his bedroom. If the premise isn’t enough to tell you how twisted this game is, then perhaps you’ll be convinced as you encounter your aborted/dead siblings, literal butt-monsters, weapons like IPECAC, and even your mom’s undergarments. And Isaac fires his tears at enemies as a weapon. To say that Freud would have a field-day with this game is the understatement of a lifetime. But I have several hundred hours racked up on it, according to Steam, so what does that say about me?

The original game is a mere $4.99, but I highly recommend spending the extra ten bucks on Rebirth. It’s a truly well-made game, and remains fun while challenging even the most hard-core gamers.

Armello

The perfect counterpoint to the insanity of Binding of Isaac, Armello is a digital board game that has been described as “Game of Thrones with animals.” The plot, such as it is, involves the king getting infected with an evil disease called “rot” and going insane, which causes all of the different animal clans to vie for the throne. The art is decent, if a bit cutesy, and the gameplay can be a bit confusing at first, but there’s no doubt this game is worth checking out.

Armello

The best thing about Armello is that there are multiple ways to win, and you never have any clue which method your opponents are going for. You can invade the castle to kill the king in one-on-one combat, instantly destroy the king with purifying spirit stones, get corrupted with rot and become the next evil tyrant, or wait out the king’s death and have the most prestige points in the end.

It’s a relatively quick game, and surprisingly deep. There are dozens of cards to unlock, a good number of playable characters (which you can level up over time), and there are multiple expansions to keep gameplay from becoming stagnant. With a price-tag of just $9.99, and most of the DLC in the $7-10 range, this is a treat for more casual gamers, or anyone who’s really into strategy – I typically have an “up my stats as much as possible and bulldoze over everyone else in combat” approach, but there are far more subtle tactics available.

Got your own recommendations for excellent games on the cheap? Let us know in the comments!

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Kenny S.

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