If want to save bucks, I tend to recommend a combo of tools, rather than a single one. Indeed, I've worked in the industry and rarely you use just the main package.
+1 here for Wings3D. Been my main tool for characters, objects and levels modeling for every game job I've had. Once mastered, allows you to go faster in organic modeler than even with stablished commercial packages.
You have as well Anim8or. www.anim8or.com . Is not of the power of Blender, but still, quite capable, and perhaps easier to learn. IMO, Blender is a faster tool once well learnt, even if it's hard.
Texturing, 3D painting. http://www.crackart.org
3d Painting is fast, and cool. But you may wish to as well texture, or do part of it (or even all) old school way, with 2d editors (ie: Gimp, Gimp.org )
hi detail modeling (kind of what Zbrush does, in a modest way) http://www.drpetter.se/project_sculpt.html
With all above you should be setup for making certain quantity and kind of projects.
Still, gotta stress that with Blender you have the zbrush "clone", a 3d painter, great character animator, a very fast renderer (version 2.5x), game formats exporter, etc. It makes it all.
So, as a do-it-all free solution.
- Blender 2.5 allows me to animate all characters and doing with very advanced control, and the GUI became a lot more friendly. Is yet not completed, but can be used in projects already, with some cautions.
And my personal advice as a do-it-all commercial solution:
- Cinema4D is a great, very complete tool. Might be pricey, but the render is really fast, and you can go adding modules that excel in quality compared to other tools, free or not. Indeed, is not easy to find something that renders better hair and better sketch/toon render than what the commercial modules for this Cinema provides. And those are about he fastest renders in the market. http://www.maxon.net/en/home.html
As very good commercial specialized task tools (besides Wings3D, imo at the highest professional level, even while is free) :
Unwrap3d, it allows very good control for making uv mapping for your models. www.unwrap3d.com
Silo. For just modeling. Very good. Some people prefer it to Wings 3D. http://www.nevercenter.com/
Mudbox, high detail modeler. (I actually prefer it to Zbrush, but Zbrush is more stablished. ) It's now at Autodesk, as far as I remember.
Gile[s] A great tool, now freeware, to create lightmaps (baked game lighting and shadows) for games.