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Freemium and webgames and mobile, oh my! 5 upcoming freebies to watch

There’s no getting around it: gaming is changing.

People routinely play games on Facebook (and it’s not all just ‘Villes on there anymore, either). People routinely play games on their phones. People routinely play games without spending a dime – or spending precisely as many dimes as they’re comfortable with.

One of the themes of 2013 is the way developers are retooling classic designs and genres to fit the new platforms. Whether you yearn for classic role-playing adventure, are jonesing for a slick first-person shooter, or want to puzzle like it’s 1989, there’s a new slate of free and mobile titles gunning for your dwindling free time. Here are 5 worth watching.

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Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar (EA)

If you’re a role-playing fan from way back, you may remember the legendary Ultima series, which dominated fantasy gameplay in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. While its creator, the eccentric Richard ‘Lord British’ Garriott, has gone on to Kickstart a spiritual successor, Electronic Arts -- rights-holder to the original -- is charting a different path with Quest for the Avatar.

The game’s set in a parallel timeline picking up where the 8-bit masterpiece, Ultima IV, left off; players must quest across Britannia, teaming up with friends to defeat a plague known as the Black Weep. Ultima purists may be skeptical, but the designers are striving hard to be true to the spirit of the 1985 title which inspired it: the original Ultima virtue system is integrated into the game’s quest system, and the gameworld is a loving recreation of old Britannia peppered with allusions and in-jokes for diehard fans.

More info: Ultima Forever home page

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Mechwarrior Online (Piranha Games)

Some things never get old, and giant robots battling each other are among those things. (Or, if you want to nitpick, soldiers in giant robot suits battling each other.) Set in the revered Battletech universe, Mechwarrior Online (currently playable in beta) lets you climb into the cockpit of a customizable mech and slug it out against online opponents – all for the low, low price of $0. Granted, there are the usual freemium upsell opportunities, including new weapons and fancy paint jobs, but you can enjoy the bot-blasting basics without dropping any cash.

More info: Mechwarrior Online home page

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Tetris Blitz (EA)

The timeless, block-dropping classic went mobile a few years back, but this new iteration -- set to launch this spring on Android and iOS -- polishes up the gameplay considerably. A new tap-to-drop system makes excellent use of touch interfaces, and the combination of a time limit (2 minutes, in this case) and varied power-ups gives it that Blitzy feeling.

More info: Tetris Blitz page on Facebook

Ballistic (Rumble Entertainment)

We guarantee you’ve never seen a Facebook game that looks this good before. Now in closed beta but soon to be unleashed upon the world, Ballistic -- developed by Rumble Entertainment, whose Diablo-esque action-RPG Kingsroad is playable now -- uses the powerful Unity engine to bring unprecedented graphical detail to the most accessible of gaming platforms. Make no mistake: this game is not about tending farms, or matching gems, or playing cards. It’s about, y’know, shooting at stuff. With different ammo loadouts, crouching, iron sights, and multiple maps, it’s a full-blown, according-to-Hoyle first-person shooter. In your browser. Really.

More info: Ballistic home page

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Plants vs. Zombies Adventures (PopCap)

Curse those zombies! Will they never leave us alone? Maybe, deep down, we don’t want them to.

If PopCap’s classic tower house-defense title Plants vs. Zombies left you voraciously lurching about in search of more delicious gameplay, this Facebook spinoff might be just the thing to keep you happy – at least until the summer launch of the long-awaited Plants vs. Zombies 2. Currently in closed beta, Adventures takes players on a series of humorous ‘road trips’ while also introducing new zombie and plant types, and allows users to send hordes of zombies to harass their friends.

More info: Plants vs. Zombies Adventures page on Facebook

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