Edit : As of 2016 - Autodesk Software are only available as subscription only. However, Maya LT is still a much lower price at roughly £30 pm vs Maya's £155 pm
As an independent game artist, I know the woes of trying out different free software, cringing at the high prices of top end software (roughly £3,300 for Autodesk 3Ds Max) and how much of an impact it can have on morale.
Recently I discovered a great piece of software from Autodesk. Basically, a cut down version of Autodesk Maya designed for Indie and mobile game developers/artists. This prices at around £800, which by no means is cheap, but it's definitely a much more achievable goal. This software is called: Autodesk Maya LT.
The main features missing are ones generally used for film, such as scene rendering, Mental Ray and VRay, dynamics and simulations etc. The systems that are handled by game engines in our line of work.
A great feature is the Direct X 11 viewport and "Übershader" - allowing for the viewport to look almost identical to most game engines; a feature I appreciate greatly after countless mismatched shading between 3Ds Max and UDK/Unity.
Here is a great video showcasing some of these features and more.