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The free-to-play PC rush – your guide to the best games

Thursday, 30 June 2011 07:07 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Some of the best experiences in gaming can be had, right now, on your PC, absolutely gratis. It’s the brave new world. Why pay for anything ever again?

World of Warcraft. Why would you not want to
play this for nothing?

This week, one of the biggest games in the world went free-to-play. Yes, we know it’s only to level 20, but that’s a lot of levels for absolutely no money, and an enormous amount of accessible content.

World of Warcraft is, uncharacteristically, actually behind the times with this one. There’s already enough top quality, absorbing and completely free gaming out there to keep you busy for the rest of your life.

Shooters

It’s been a busy few weeks for free-to-play games, with Valve finally arriving at the obvious conclusion and giving Team Fortress 2 away for the princely sum of zero cashmoney.

Team Fortress 2 is hailed as one of the best class-based multiplayer games ever made. It’s loads of fun jumping on with other newbs and blasting away, with the cartoon aesthetic taking the sting out of your inevitable deaths. But spend some time in the training modules, equip yourself with a mic and a troop of compatriots, and you’ll unlock a deeper game where tactical play and teamwork are rewards in and of themselves, regardless of the final score.

The game is supported by microtransactions, but the items available – alternate weapons, the famous hats – don’t unbalance the game; there’s no pay-to-win button. You can score items from drops, and craft them yourself, too. So if you never want to give Valve a cent, that’s your prerogative, although if you let yourself be sucked in, you’ll probably want to. You can grab it on Steam for both PC and Mac.

The alternative for the Steam-less is Battlefield Heroes, which takes itself about as seriously as a rubber hotdog while building the framework laid out by DICE’s franchise. You can see for yourself on its website.

If you like your shooters more serious, it’s worthwhile taking a look at Alliance of Valiant Arms. This modern-day combat title takes a more realistic approach comparable to Valve’s other eternal shooter, Counter-Strike. It’s not surpassingly lovely to look at; AVA doesn’t look like a game someone gave you out of the goodness of their heart, although that’s precisely what it is. It plays the microtransaction game quite well, offering you enough decent options up front to keep you busy trying new things. You can hop on board at IJJI.

Another Valve title, Alien Swarm, breaks the mould by being a top-down shooter – not your usual F2P fare. The smaller number of classes and straightforward presentation make coming to grips with the tactical play easier, although this means your enemies are likely to be as cunning as you. Think Left 4 Dead without the possibility of being snuck up on from behind, and you’re part way there. This one’s another Steam favourite, along with Global Agenda. This third-person effort has a vocal following for good reason. It’s one of the few free-to-play shooters to choose a sci-fi setting, and there’s something so satisfying about taking out an enemy while hovering with a jetpack. There’s real personality there.

Alliance of Valiant Arms. Think Counter-Strike.
But for absolutely no money at all.

APB: Reloaded is the free-to-play attempt to resurrect the Realtime Worlds crime MMO that went utterly pancake the first time around. Response has been mixed so far, and it looks like the new development team is still struggling to iron out some of the problems caused by the sheer ambition of the open-world shooter, but Gamersfirst is throwing a lot of resources at it. Definitely one to watch when it comes out of beta.

Also in the near future, Tribes Ascend, Battlefield Play4Free and Ghost Recon Online all look set to add to an already impressive line-up of free shooters.

You really can shoot things in the face in genuinely good games all day for absolutely nothing.

MMORPGs

I am afraid of joining an MMORPG in case it eats my life, but if it’s going to leave my wallet alone then maybe we can talk. The go-to free-to-play genre has its share of big names in the freemium leagues.

City of Heroes (and its now-included sister title City of Villains) was the first game to really tap the superhero fascination, spawning dozens of action games and a comic book revival. Another recent addition to the freemium family, City of Heroes has optional subscriptions for those with the cash and the desire for status, but also offers microtransactions. These cast a bit of a cloud over things, as you’ll soon see how often NCsoft tries to wheedle some cash out of you. But if you can face the nagging, the game itself has plenty of fans.

Cryptic’s second go, Champions Online, has the distinction of being redundant in two directions. Based on the Marvel role-playing property, it doesn’t do a lot that City of Heroes hadn’t already achieved, and with Marvel Universe Online on the way it has lost its claim to uniqueness. On the other hand, it’s still a big-budget game managed by a dedicated team of experienced professionals, and the subscription requirement has been waived. You’ll need to hand over your credit card to get access to Adventure Packs, but otherwise, the entire game is offered for free.

If success is any measure of quality, both Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online have improved phenomenally since dropping their subscription requirements. The old “good enough to play, not good enough to pay for” criticism doesn’t seem to apply, because the incredible increase in revenue both games have seen suggests both are good enough to pay for – but people like to choose when, and for what, they pay.

Here’s one you probably haven’t considered yet: Free Realms. Now hear me out – family friendly doesn’t always mean “bad”. Free Realms is bursting with content, combining RPG-lite gameplay with virtual world playgrounds. It might not offer the strategic depth of WoW, but, for many of us, not having to use acronyms and spreadsheets when choosing gear is a good thing.

League of Legends leads the free action-RPGs.

A new contender, Spiral Knights was selected by Valve to be showcased in its initial freemium offering because, basically, it’s pretty damn good. Published by Sega but with some serious indie chops behind it, some of the frankly adorable design hails from the webcomics community. You can slaughter things and eat them, and even play it on your Mac. That’s good enough for me.

Other

Massively multiplayer online arena-based real time strategy is a genre someone made up before we ended up calling a whole slew of games DotA clones. Defence of the Ancients itself, a Warcraft III mod joining the hallowed halls of games which launched entirely new kinds of gaming, is probably going to make a free-to-play appearance soon, but in the meantime, there are plenty of quality alternatives to check out.

The current top dog among these is definitely League of Legends. Riot’s offering is drawing serious attention among the eSports crowd as well as a fanatical fanbase. Frequent updating has done much to improve the game since launch, making it worth a second look if you peeked in during its early days.

Competition is fierce enough that you’re probably going to wish for a pay-to-win option, but your micro-funds will mainly go on new champions. These regular new characters offer unique abilities and balancing that keep the game constantly fresh.

On the more Diablo-like end of things, Mytheon offers just three classes but plenty of scope for customisation with its power stones. The game’s ambitious lore sees you battling the Olympian gods, which is rather jolly, and the “just one more loot” compulsion is strong with this one.

Free-to-play gaming has come a long way since the low-quality grind-fest many of us experienced in the Internet’s infancy. We’ve barely scraped the surface to produce this collection of games, and there’s plenty more where that came from. Take the day off work and try a few out – you don’t need the money, obviously, and we think you’ll be stunned by the quality.

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20 Comments

  1. galaxy366

    Where is Firefall?

    #1 4 years ago
  2. Patrick Garratt

    There’ll be tons of stuff not listed here. Drop a link in here.

    #2 4 years ago
  3. galaxy366

    @2 http://www.firefallthegame.com/ There you go ;)
    Yes its F2P.

    #3 4 years ago
  4. AJacks92

    ‘Bout time VG posts a serious article about MMOs. The MMO playerbase is much larger than both console platforms combined tbh.

    #4 4 years ago
  5. Patrick Garratt

    @3 – Cheers. I’ll have a look at that now.

    #5 4 years ago
  6. Patrick Garratt

    Wow. Firefall looks awesome. I’ve never heard of it.

    #6 4 years ago
  7. OlderGamer

    @4 +1

    And yes keep an eye out for Firefall, very nice looking. As this gen lags onward, PC keeps looking better for a lot of reasons. This thread lists but a few.

    #7 4 years ago
  8. Ercarret

    While I’ve never played it myself, some of my friends are crazy about Guild Wars. From what I’ve understood, it’s supposed to be free to play (if you just buy the game/expansions).

    I can’t really vouch for it myself, but … here you are anyway.

    http://www.guildwars.com/products/guildwars/default.php

    #8 4 years ago
  9. Blerk

    I had a quick go at Spiral Knights the other day. Dunno quite what to make of it yet, I need to put a couple more hours into it. It’s pretty cute, though. And a tiny download.

    #9 4 years ago
  10. Patrick Garratt

    I played Alliance of Valiant Arms last night, and it’s awesome considering it’s free. Like, it’s free. I still struggle to grasp this. Same goes for D&DO and LotRO. They’re both brilliant, and I can play them for nothing? I’m sure there are certain elements of the games business properly shitting themselves over all this, to be honest.

    #10 4 years ago
  11. Freek

    It sounds good because the reality is quite different, nothing is free. Free to play is more like “free to try” and then when you start playing seriously you kinda need to start paying for things in order to keep up.

    And then there’s the fact that all of this multiplayer.
    If (for example) Uncharted 3 comes out free to play, with the same quality as a 60 dollar singleplayer campaign, then the world will have changed.

    Or in short: they moved the moment and amount of money you pay and sometimes, if you play for long enough and microtransaction enough, you end up paying more then you normally would.

    #11 4 years ago
  12. Zurtech

    Spiral Knights looks fun from what I saw on steam the other day.

    But gotta say WoW isn’t free to play, they’ve just put in the endless trial that WAR has. Level 1-20 is about two maps worth, so ye don’t really get too much content either atm. Might be great news for twinks tho if they can afford to lock their exp so they don’t level in BGs.

    #12 4 years ago
  13. Freek

    Publisher have just rediscovered the Shareware model of the old days of PC gaming, everything old is new again :D

    #13 4 years ago
  14. Brenna Hillier

    I shouldn’t have forgotten Firefall! The lead on that is one of the original Tribes guys, I think. That’s some pretty serious chops.

    #14 4 years ago
  15. CaptPierce

    Wasn’t Age of Conan going free to play also? I liked that game but it didn’t have enough for me to keep playing.

    #15 4 years ago
  16. Patrick Garratt

    That is going free, yeah. I don’t think it’s happened yet.

    #16 4 years ago
  17. Crab of Thunder

    @11 Has a good point, if the F2P is done well and intriguing enough, then people tend to end up spending more than they usually would on a game. I have a few friends that are horribly addicted to League of Legends, and they have spent well over £40/£50 (About RRP for a PS3/XBOX game).
    So if done right there is tasty profits to be made.

    #17 4 years ago
  18. IL DUCE

    I wasted 50 bucks on APB and my laptop could barely run it unless it was just the horrible lag the game had… I don’t have a gaming rig, I’m mostly a console gamer, but I think I might try some TF2 and WoW since I’m sure my laptop will be able to run those…

    #18 4 years ago
  19. Belzeboob

    -Path Of Exile, Check it out if you like hack ‘n slash, Diablo like games:
    http://www.pathofexile.com/

    -Hellgate London/Global, F2P, but I heard something about buying a $4 ticket to play the open beta:
    http://hellgate.t3fun.com/home/home.aspx

    #19 4 years ago
  20. BULArmy

    Patrick, according to Rock, Paper, Shotgun – Age of Conan F2P is coming tomorrow.

    #20 4 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    A Mini Cooper has invaded Gran Turismo 6 via a new update. The Mid-Field Raceway track has also been added, and its a new and improved version of the original track from previous Gran Turismos. The new B-Spec Mode feature has also been added which allows the AI driver to race on your behalf. Additional […]

  • Nintendo is bringing New 3DS Xl and some playable titles to PAX East

    Nintendo is bringing New 3DS Xl and Splatoon with it to PAX East next month. The E3 2014 build of the game lets eight players transform into squids in a race for “splattered-paint dominance.” Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. will also be playable and featured in stage presentations at the Nintendo booth. Upcoming or newly released Nintendo […]

  • Battlefield Hardline Premium information seems to have slipped out early

    Battlefield Hardline Premium perks have apparently leaked a bit early, according to a post on Reddit. Over on the Hardline subreddit is an image which was take at a GameStop location, noting two week early access to content additional Battlepacks and more. Here’s the rundown: Four expansions Two weeks early access 12 additional Battlepacks Exclusive […]

  • Final Fantasy: Record Keeper arrives in the US this spring

    Final Fantasy: Record Keeper will be released in the US on iOS and Android this spring, DeNA and Square Enix today. The mobile titles allows players to “relive favorite moments” across all Final Fantasy installments and build a team of classic characters from across the entire franchise. If you sign up for email updates, you […]

  • Battlefield Hardline now available for pre-order, pre-download on Xbox One

    Battlefield Hardline is now available for pre-order and pre-download on Xbox One. You can pre-order it now from the Xbox Store and once you have paid for it, you can start your pre-download. Battlefield Hardline releases on March 17, and will be made available to pre-downloaders come 12.01am EDT. Check pricing and availability for your […]

  • Dying Light interactive video allows you switch between day and night

    A new video for Dying Light has been released, which allows you to hit the Z key to change between day and night. Titles Life and Death in the Quarantine Zone, the interactive story video showcases how the game changes between day and night. Daytime and nighttime are shown side-by-side but the z key allows […]

  • Havoc DLC for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare out on PS3, PS4; PC delayed

    The Havoc DLC for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is now available for PlayStation 3 and PS4. Havoc contains the four multiplayer maps Core, Drift, Sideshow, and Urban along with the AE4 directed energy assault rifle, its custom variant, and the Exo Zombies cooperative mode. You can purchase the DLC separately or pick up the […]

  • Here’s a teaser for Resident Evil Revelations 2: Episode 2

    A teaser video for the second episode of Resident Evil Revelations 2 is available, so if you’ve yet to play the first episode, you may want to skip this. Resident Evil Revelations 2′s first episode is out now. Thanks, GamesHQMedia.

  • North American eShop update is full of Donkey Kong games

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with Titan Attacks, Donkey Kong Land, Donkey Kong Country and more. eShop on 3DS Ironfall Invasion Titan Attacks! Donkey Kong Land – Virtual Console Donkey Kong Land 2 – Virtual Console Donkey Kong Land 3 – Virtual Console Luv Me Buddies Wonderland Around the World […]

  • Venture into the Valley of the Yetis next week in Far Cry 4

    The next batch of Far Cry 4 DLC, Valley of the Yetis, releases in March and Ajay Ghale will be tasked with surviving violent cultists and the mythical Yeti. Apparently the cult is looking for a secret hidden in the valley, and Ajay has discovered their motives. The DLC features co-op with a friend taking […]

  • The Butcher’s AK/CAR Mod Pack out for Payday 2, has dino masks

    The 19th DLC pack for Payday 2 title The Butcher’s AK/CAR Mod Pack is available on Steam from today. The pack will run you $4.99/€4.99 and features: 11 new weapon modifications for the AK rifles in the game 11 new weapon modifications for the CAR rifles in the game Four new masks together with their […]

  • Battle Chasers slated for PC, consoles; comic picks up where 2001 storyline left off

    Darksiders creator Joe Madureira and Vigil co-founder Ryan Stefanelli have confirmed a Battle Chasers game and a new comic are in the works at their new studio Airship Syndicate. Speaking to Polygon, Madureira and Stefanelli wouldn’t provide details on the the game, but did divulge it will be an adventure RPG with player-controlled Battle Chasers […]

  • Shovel Knight, Hotline Miami 2 discounted for Sony’s annual Spring Fever Sale

    Sony is hosting its annual Spring Fever Sale which runs for eight weeks and features a new title each week. The sale starts next week on March 3 with the launch of Helldivers. Here’s just a few items included in the sale: HELLDIVERS (PS4/PS3/PS Vita) March 3 Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (PS4/PS3/PS Vita) March […]

  • The gold Super Mario amiibo is a Walmart exclusive

    The Super Mario Gold amiibo which surfaced via a CPSIA certificate earlier this month will be a Walmart-exclusive, Nintendo has announced. The gold-colored Mario amiibo will be released the same day as the Mario Party 10 game for Wii U and will run you $12,96 at 3,000 participating Walmart stores in the US. Along with […]

  • Here’s an overview trailer for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

    As new gameplay overview trailer for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, culled from the Active Time Report, stream has been sent over by Square Enix. The video provides a look at the history and environments of the Kingdom of Orience; the 14 memebers of Class Zero; the battle system with customizable magic spells; and the ability […]

  • Final Fantasy 15 video gives you a look at the game’s wildlife

    A new video shown by Final Fantasy 15 director Hajime Tabata during the latest Active Time Report, contains a look at the game’s wildlife and ecology. You can watch the full stream two hour stream through here, or a smaller clip courtesy of GamesHQMedia below.

  • Lionhead ventures into the free-to-play space with Fable Legends

    Fable Legends will be free-to-play when it launches on PC and Xbox One. According to Lionhead, the one versus four cross-platform title borrows from MOBA games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends as it will contain free, rotating heroes which will be added to a roster for a two week period. Once the […]

  • Win! 5 pairs of tickets to the Call of Duty European Championships

    We have five pairs of tickets to giveaway for the Call of Duty European Championships, taking place in London this weekend. The event takes place this Saturday February 28 and Sunday March 1 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Winners can watch teams will go head to head for a $10,000 prize pot […]

  • Republique Remastered has released on Mac and PC

    Republique Remastered, which was announced earlier this month, is now available for Mac and PC. The game is 20% off through Steam, GOG and the Humble Store for $19.99 until March 4. Thereafter, it will run you $24.99. The Remastered edition contains all five episodes of the game, with 1-3 available now and the remaining […]

  • LA Cops coming to Xbox One in March

    Isometric shooter LA Cops is coming to Xbox One on March 13. Already on Steam Early Access, the game looks like it’s been heavily inspired by Hotline Miami. Walk into a room, open fire, leave bloody puddles in your wake. It’s being published by Team 17. Check out the video below for some 70s cop […]

  • We have $500 of Steam Wallet funds to giveaway!

    We’re giving away 10 Steam Wallet prizes worth $50 each to VG247 readers, courtesy of Bundle Stars. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning $50 Steam credit is to enter your details below. Join the Bundle Stars Steam group for entry in the sweepstake, and gain extra entries for […]

  • Lapsed Final Fantasy 14 players tempted back with 10 day freebie

    Square is offering lapsed FF 14: A Realm Reborn players a chance to come back to the game for 10 days worth of free adventuring. Provided you’ve already bought and registered an account you’ll be able to play free of charge from Feb 27 to March 9. Square wants you to sample the new content […]

  • Advanced Warfare: Sledgehammer looking at “opportunities” to recreate classic Call of Duty maps

    Sledgehammer Games has told VG247 it’s looking at opportunities to recreate classic Call of Duty maps in Advanced Warfare. According to co-founder Michael Condrey, players of the latest Havoc DLC are asking how Exo abilities and verticality can be added to classic franchise maps. “We’re taking a look at some opportunities to really highlight the […]

  • GTA Online reader playlist week 7: and the winner is…

    Stuff was shot. But only one player emerged victorious. GTA Online player e031271 won last night’s VG247 reader playlist, beating myself, Matt and regulars solidorwot and Revolting. Congratulations, Mr e031271. A deserved victory. We play a GTA Online playlist in an open session every Wednesday on PS4, because it’s both funny and fun. Anyone’s welcome […]

  • Leaked screens reveal The Reef as Destiny’s new “social space”

    A handful of leaked Destiny screens seem to confirm that The Reef location will be the new social space in Destiny. The new addition is likely to be revealed as part of the upcoming House of Wolves expansion. Reddit user Megamanexe4 dropped the screens on the site earlier this morning, along with grabs that reveal […]

  • Darksiders creator teases Battle Chasers game

    Joe Madureira, creator of Darksiders, has released art that strongly suggests a Battle Chasers game is in the works. Battle Chasers was a comic book from the late 1990s that suffered notorious production problems between issues and was never finished. Madureira formed Airship Syndicate after the collapse of THQ, where he co-created Darksiders. His latest […]

  • Infamous video nasty Axe recreated in GTA 5

    The trailer for notorious horror movie Axe has been recreated in GTA 5. The shot for shot remake is the work of gigerbrick who has previously recreated exploitation flicks like Machete and Hostel using Lego. The original Axe movie was banned in 1984 in the UK but passed with cuts in the late 1990s. Movie […]

  • Payday 2 for PS4 and Xbox One includes “a year’s worth of paid DLC” for free

    Payday 2: Crimewave Edition will include a year’s worth of paid DLC from the PC version of the game for free. The new-gen version of the game will be available June 2015, and includes almost all of the paid and free DLC released so far for Overkill’s popular first-person shooter. That DLC includes The Big […]

  • Yes, Mortal Kombat X will require Xbox Live Gold or PS Plus

    Mortal Kombat X won’t bypass Microsoft and Sony’s premium online play requirements. Reports that Mortal Kombat X wouldn’t require PS Plus or Xbox Live Gold started circling earlier this week thanks to a communications error. Answering fan questions on Twitter, producer Shaun Himmerick accidentally gave the impression that premium console subs would not be required […]

  • This is what Destiny players most want next

    Destiny patch 1.1.1 has resolved or at least addressed a number of complaints voiced by the community, but there are plenty more. des Destiny community manage David “Deej” Dague has put out a call for Guardians to share their concerns – or rather, what they think the community is most concerned about. “Set aside your […]

  • Google AI can play games now, so we’re probably all going to die

    Google has brought us one step closer to our inevitable slaughter or enslavement by machine overlords. Google has developed an AI that can learn to play video games and devise brand new strategies. Let me just rephrase that: Google has created an AI that can teach itself new skills, including how to play video games. […]

  • First footage of Renowned Explorers: International Society surfaces

    Renowned Explorers: International Society is a turn-based strategy game from the team behind Reus, and it looks great. Renowned Explorers was announced almost a full year ago, but has been pretty quiet since then. Developer Abbey games has now announced that the game has hit alpha, and will be open to select testers soon. You […]

  • Cities: Skylines developer commits to mod support

    Cities: Skylines will fully support the modding community. Hailing from famously mod-friendly publisher Paradox, Cities: Skylines is a no-brainer for mod support – especially as a lack of mod support is one of the things SimCity was so heavily criticised for when it firts launched. In the developer diary below, Paradox’s Jakob Munthe is joined […]

  • Nosgoth update adds Vanguard, many fixes

    Nosgoth, the free-to-play multiplayer brawler set in the Legacy of Kain universe, has been given a significant makeover. The major feature of the latest Nosogth game update is a new playable human character called the Vanguard. “Equipped with mighty throwing axes and a shield, the Vanguard can take more punishment than any human class that […]

  • Xbox Live Gold 12 month sub $40 on Microsoft store

    Microsoft is offering $20 off 12 month Xbox Live Gold subscriptions at the moment. An Xbox Live Gold 12 month subscription will normally set you back $60, but a Microsoft Store promotion has it on offer for $40. The offer is restricted to the US store. Although you can opt to grab your sub as […]

  • Tomb Raider movie script to be penned by TMNT writer

    Tomb Raider will be Evan Daugherty’s second reboot of an established universe. The Tomb Raider movie reboot has signed on a writer and a distributor. Deadline reports Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Divergent, Snow White And The Huntsman and G.I. Joe 3 writer Daugherty will write the film. Additionally, Warner Bros. has signed on to distribute, […]

  • Shelter 2 pre-orders open, launch trailer debuts early

    Shelter 2 is a game in which you are a mother lynx and must protect a den of kittens. Yes, it’s delightful. Shelter 2 is coming to Mac and PC on March 9. Pre-orders are now available on Steam at 10% off or on GOG.com with a free skin and soundtrack, or 20% off if […]

  • That Batman: Arkham Knight trailer is full of codes

    Batman: Arkham Knight’s trailer is like a Transformer – there’s more than meets the eye. The new Batman: Arkham Knight trailer contains a number of codes. Eagle-eyed users have spotted four so far, and work on cracking their meaning is progressing. According to an /r/games thread rounding up results so far, the codes pertain to […]

  • Assassin’s Creed haystacks won’t save you from a fall

    Assassin’s Creed fans, don’t try this at home. Assassin’s Creed characters can survive falls of almost any distance as long as they aim for the haystacks scattered handily throughout the environment. As you probably deduced from your familiarity with common sense, this isn’t a real thing: falling from heights kills you, the same way a […]

  • Why are people buying PS4 and not Xbox One?

    PS4 is outselling Xbox One – but why? A new report may have the answer. Last month, the PS4 outsold the Xbox One in the US again, returning it to the top of the charts after just two months away. Why? What has caused this reversal in fortunes in Microsoft’s home territory? According to a […]