Actually you can play entirely free. You can buy Patron with credits which you can get from buying Apexs with gold from other players. You can then use those credits to get Patron.
It definitely had the potential to be a pay to win style game, but there isn't anything that game breaking sold in the marketplace It is mainly a way to get gold to buy better gear.
Around the time I quit last November patron was inflated to around 250 gold each on Kyrios server, and you needed 2 for a monthly sub. That is a considerable investment for a fresh ftp player when you are also going to have to chug labor pots (50 gold each)to make up for having almost no labor regen of your own. Sure it is an option but it definitely was going to be an uphill battle. It also just goes to show you that p2w means different things to different people. You could not directly buy gear, but if you were a whale it was pretty easy to out right make the gold needed to buy whatever you wanted using the cash shop. Some of the items placed in the cash shop wrecked the economy numerous times. The Rumbling Archeum Sapling which had high thundrstruck/archum dust chance. It pretty much made land in aurora useless as the only reason most people wanted land there that didn't have land to begin with was to plant trees there cause that continent had a considerably larger chance to proc thunderstrucks. It was also the only place you could get the water needed for archeum trees. Thunderstruck trees went from being rare high priced commodities 1000-1800 gold to around 200. The logs from the thunderstruck trees were needed for endgame vehicles such as the merchant/ fishing boats, and the farm wagon.