Over the past several years, the traditional MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) has lost some steam. When we first tackled this topic, in 2013, free-to-play gaming was still in its infancy. Candy Crush Saga was barely a year old, and South Park hadn’t yet lampooned the “pay-to-win” gaming model in 2014’s Freemium Isn’t Free.
In the years since, the MMORPG paradigm has shifted. Removing subscription fees and monetizing games via microtransactions and paid expansions has proven to be a successful remodel for MMO publishers. In response to dwindling subscription numbers, which can be attributed simply to the ever-growing number of games out there, many MMO developers have been forced to reduce — and in many cases, completely remove — the monthly subscription fees that once powered ultra-popular virtual universes. Zenimax’s The Elder Scrolls Online, for example, launched in 2014 to much ado, then quickly dropped its monthly subscription requirement before releasing to consoles in 2015.
If you’re looking to delve into the MMO world for minimal cost, there’s no better time than now. Check out our choices for the top free-to-play MMORPGs on the market, so you can hack, slash, and shoot your way through the next six months of your life.
Note: Most F2P games have additional components and unlockables that are only accessible through premium subscriptions and microtransactions, but the free versions still offer a healthy taste of gameplay sans a hefty economical commitment. Also, we’ve only included MMOs that continue to receive updates and support from their developers.
It’s hard to argue a game isn’t one of the best of its kind when it boasts more than 200 million accounts. Jagex’s Runescape — now in its third incarnation — has undergone a series of design and gameplay overhauls since its 2001 debut, garnering the honor of the Most Popular Free MMORPG in existence, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
The latest version of the browser-based MMORPG doesn’t deviate much from previous renditions of the game. Set in war-torn fantasy realm of Gielinor, Runescape is a simple and familiar take on the MMORPG, laced with a familiar focus on PvE and crafting. Questing and combat are straightforward and often humorous, typically requiring you to click an enemy to death and collect its loot. Thankfully, the bland repetition is offset by the end-game content and the title’s sheer amount of depth. Much of that content remains hidden behind a paid subscription, but even the free content is engaging and fun.
Simplicity and accessibility are the game’s true strong suits. The game sports a fully-customizable user interface and a engaged community, while offering quality voice dialogue and sleek visuals that were recently updated courtesy of the developer’s recent switch from HTML5 to a new C++ engine, called “NXT.” Old content remains available and backwards compatible with legacy browsers. Runescape is incredibly rich and doesn’t tax your PC.