Free in so much as you do not need to pay for the game nor pay for server access, but
If you want the best gear in a Cryptic game, you need to buy "grab bags" and gamble. This is also how they did several costume pieces. (ticked off a lot of players. Even those with stipends.) Cryptic CO also released some gear in store that would be pretty darn powerful. The full set would have been roughly raid loot equivalent at the time. I've no idea what happened to it since though, so others can further correct me there.
LOTRO has something similar with locked boxes, but I don't know how great the loot can be in those.
Also, Cryptic ala CO... you could buy stuff from the store and put it into the AH. No gold farming issue there any more. When Cryptic supports their own method. DDO has started to slowly follow suit if you consider raid timer passes, and cosmetic pets. (do the certs still bind? I know they didn't at first.)