Why wander the world of Death Stranding with just you, a baby, and the holographic body of Geoff Keighley when you can do more or less the same thing in just about of the best free MMORPGs out there? If you’re not so keen on slipping Kojima 60 bucks this holiday season, consider giving that cash to a loved one while you see the days pass by in an engrossing fantasy world.
It’s worth noting before we dive in that most free-to-play games have additional components and unlockables that are only accessible through premium subscriptions and microtransactions. The games we’ve chosen to highlight offer free versions that bring a healthy taste of gameplay sans a hefty economical commitment. We’ve also only included MMOs that continue to receive updates and support from their developers.
You have to give credit to Trion Worlds for its commitment to the Defiance universe. The original MMO — released on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC — launched alongside a companion show on SyFy. It had some great ideas, including the use of traditional third-person shooting and dynamic boss encounters that would later find a home in Destiny. The show was subsequently canceled, however, and most players moved on to play games on the next generation of systems.
Enter Defiance 2050. Rather than scrap the work that had been done on the original game, Trion World reimagined it as a sort of half-sequel, half-relaunched experience that kept the core of Defiance built from the ground-up for free-to-play. The original game began as a premium title, and in balancing and adjusting systems for 2050, character transfers didn’t make the cut, but certain aspects of your original game account will still be applied when you begin Defiance 2050 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or PC.
Guild Wars 2
With a 90 on Metacritic and a 90.02 percent rating on GameRankings.com — second only to
Guild Wars‘ fluid combat system provides an excellent counterpart to the rigid, role-based combat that Blizzard began with the Diablo series and built upon with
The in-game gem store also allows developer ArenaNet to continue profiting from the game and create new content, while simultaneously allowing for new players to jump in at no cost. Special seasonal events and other content updates have added additional content, as well, such as new mounts, story events, challenges, and weapons, several years after the game originally launched.
Trion Worlds’ Rift looks and plays like a carbon-copy of
Rift‘s best feature is a flexible and immersive class system. Players begin by choosing one of two opposing factions — either the Guardians or Defiant — followed by one of three races and a standard archetype such as a mage, rogue, cleric, or warrior. Additionally, players take on three souls at a time, which function like subclasses, and develop their character using an elaborate skill tree. This level of customization adds to the game’s strategy and makes the accompanying co-op dungeons that much more dynamic and intriguing. The learning curve is steep, even after level 50, but the originality is there.
Rift went free-to-play in 2013, but a paid expansion titled Starfall Prophecy was subsequently released in 2016, featuring additional content that free users wouldn’t be able to see. However, it was then renamed Prophecy of Ahnket and made free once again, and the game continues to be updated with additional content, with a mech-themed event taking place in January.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
Any game built into the Star Wars universe is a massive undertaking considering the legion of devotees and die-hard fanatics that possess an attachment to the material. Luckily, BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic is both easily accessible and instantly recognizable. The writing and fully-voiced dialogue are excellent, bolstered by class-specific narratives and a wealth of contextual backstory that any fan of the franchise will admire. The visuals still hold up fairly well, and users can easily customize graphics settings to fit a broad range of gaming rigs. The gameplay mechanics are rooted in real-time, hotkey-based combat, and offer additional variation in the form of on-rails space combat and PvP warzones.
Though it is online, SWTOR is an enjoyable solo experience. Players choose from one of two factions, either the Republic or the Empire, and select from one of four distinct character classes specific to each side of the force. If you choose the Republic, you’ll have access to the smuggler, trooper, Jedi Knight, and Jedi Consular, while the Empire provides options to be a bounty hunter, Sith warrior, Imperial agent, and Sith Inquisitor. The story-driven flashpoints, SWTOR‘s equivalent to co-op dungeons, offer some of the most rewarding and challenging gameplay in the entire Star Wars universe, throwing players at drifting Republic warships and distant Imperial prisons as they battle alongside others in an effort to complete the designated objectives in exchange for valuable loot.
Though SWTOR has been out for more than five years, BioWare keeps churning out new content and released the Knights of the Eternal Throne expansion in late 2016. And while the game has undergone considerable changes since its switch to free-to-play — both good and bad — it remains an incredibly vibrant branch of the Star Wars universe. Though not a full expansion, the recent The Nathema Conspiracy offers an exciting mystery for those interested in the darker side of the franchise.
Read our full Star Wars: The Old Republic review
TERA boasts one of the most dynamic and pleasing combat systems in MMORPG history. Like TERA‘s counterparts, the game offers a diverse assortment of characters and classes — from the giant-bred Amani to the adorable Popori — each of which is accompanied by a familiar set of classes available to all races. The environments are dazzling and bright, with lush vistas and sprawling plains, and the character models are a joy to look at no matter what your machine’s graphics settings call for.
While the general questing-and-crafting gameplay in the early hours of
A massive 2014 update increased the level cap from 60 to 65 and added several new zones, all for free. Two new playable classes were also added, while smaller updates continue to roll out regularly, including new dungeons, battlegrounds, and skills for each of the game’s 11 classes. If you’re a fan of weird, superfluous content updates,
The Lord of the Rings Online
Like SWTOR, the world surrounding that of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth has been one hugely solidified in popular culture thanks to Peter Jackson’s feature-length films. Fortunately, Lord of the Rings Online contains a wealth of content from Tolkien’s work, stuff that Jackson’s films never touched, and its cartoonish visuals color the rich environments of Middle Earth. The places you’ll visit are as diverse and eclectic as they are in the various books, ranging from snow-capped peaks to rolling hills, and the creation tools allow players to tackle the story as a hobbit, human, dwarf, or elf. Classes are as equally diverse, ranging from burglar and hunter to lore-keeper and guardian, but the selection is specific to your race.
With six expansions out the door, the game has undergone substantial changes since its initial release in 2007, yet the core mechanics and gameplay remain roughly the same. The storyline is still epic, driving players through familiar spaces filled with recognizable figures from both the books and films, and the overall narrative gives otherwise bland quests substantial, contextual weight. Character progression and PvP combat are limited, but additional elements like deeds and Monster Play — which essentially allows you to play in the role of one of Sauron’s minions — add greater depth to the game’s seemingly straightforward approach. LOTRO is often dubbed a
Developer Cryptic Studios combined the simplicity and combat-focused gameplay of Diablo with a more traditional fantasy setting to create Neverwinter, based upon lore from the Dungeons & Dragons universe. The combat system utilizes a computerized version of D&D’s 4th Edition by rolling imaginary dice to determine hits, misses, and damage dealt. The game, initially released in 2013 for PC but also available on Xbox One and PS4, features 10 PvE campaigns and one dedicated PvP campaign for players to experience. Though Neverwinter assumes a linear approach, the fluid, Darksiders-esque combat feels fresh — especially for Xbox One and PS4, where the game’s aversion to social interaction and traditional RPG elements feels less oppressive.
Though the game’s performance can tank if you’re in high-level zones on a console or a low-end PC, the game features excellent spell effects and sound design, two underrated aspects of fantasy games that can be make-or-break your immersion in the experience. Though some of the game’s systems, such as its lack of communication channels and an insanely expensive in-game store, seem poorly executed. Even with those faults, though, Neverwinter is a fast-paced game that provides a different feel relative to most of the MMOs on our list.
Dungeons and Dragons Online
For most of us, Dungeons and Dragons has always been the tabletop game we kept to ourselves in fear of being ostracized (no shame there). However, despite DDO‘s launch woes and flawed beginnings, the sun-dappled city of Stormreach has never been so appealing. Loosely based on the D&D 3.5 ruleset, DDO is a game with extensive customization directly built into the framework. Featuring more classes than any other title on our list, the character creation tools allow players to experiment with a dynamic multiclass system wherein your character can effortlessly combine facets of skill sets. Although the latest updates still heavily cater toward group instances and the game’s rooted emphasis in tight-knit teamwork, solo options are becoming exceedingly robust, especially if you can afford to pick up an NPC “hireling” or two to back you up.
Let’s be honest, though: DDO, which launched in 2006, doesn’t hold up when compared to newer, oft-updated titles, particularly in terms of visual fidelity. While it isn’t an eyesore, the game doesn’t pack the polygonal depth and vibrant details of newer MMOs like
With titles like City of Heroes and the first Guild Wars under its belt, Korean developer NCSoft knows its way around an MMORPG. Aion is a tightly-polished effort, rooted in a post-cataclysm world that’s been torn asunder by two warring races. Players begin by selecting the hardy Asmodians or the radiant Elyos — each with four distinct classes that are subdivided into two more once you reach level 10 — and are then thrust into the stunning environments of Atreia. The questing and six crafting systems are linear, often requiring you to grind between lulls and recruit other players for the more populated zones.
Aion‘s true calling lies in its ability to balance both PvE and PvP components. Once players hit level 25, they can enter the Abyss, a PvPvE battleground in which opposing factions battle for control over fortresses. Combat is fast-paced and responsive, reliant on chain attacks and fair amounts of button mashing, and incorporates flying mechanics that are truly unique to the genre. Although most regions outside the Abyss are designated as no-fly zones, players can still glide within the regions from any elevated jump-off point. Flying in the Abyss is also limited, but the added component provides an entirely new dimension to think about while in combat since you constantly need to be aware of what’s going on at various elevations before you become exhausted and fall from the sky. Aion is an immediately enjoyable and beautiful title from the get-go, even if it does take you a while to earn your wings, and additional seasonal events and stories should give you a reason to come back even in-between larger content updates.
DC Universe Online
DC Universe Online dropped its subscription shortly after launch in 2011, but the game still offers as much action-heavy MMO fun now as it did when it was a “premium” game. Based on the fictional superheroes and villains in the DC Universe, Players begin by either creating a character from scratch or one inspired by famous DC characters such as Superman, Batman, and the like. The rest of the game unfolds in RPG-like fashion, with stereotypical kill-collect quests scattered across Metropolis and Gotham City, and dungeons that break up the standard MMO grind.
The well-designed cities, NPCs, and other elements also bask in the kind of comic-esque nuances you’d come to expect from such a title, and although the visuals are nowhere near photo-realistic, they are fittingly stylized. The combat is fast-paced and responsive, too, whether you’re engaging in the game’s heated PvP matches or participating in end-game raids.
Long-term players can expect a steady stream of ample daily quests and additional endgame content once you blaze through the game and hit the level cap. While the game is not without its faults — the voice-acting is cringe-worthy at times — there is no finer MMORPG for comic book fans and those that seek a solid alternative to fantasy-blazoned RPGs like Lord of the Rings Online, and
What’s more, now is the perfect time to dive into DC Universe Online, as a June 2018 update added a “Death of Superman” mission series to celebrate the Man of Steel’s 80th birthday, including a fight against the dastardly Doomsday.
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 the war-torn fantasy realm of Gielinor,
The original MapleStory was essentially an MMO side-scrolling game with a cartoony art style that helped it stand out from the more serious and violent role-playing games at the time. Its sequel doesn’t abandon the cuteness of its predecessor, but MapleStory 2 switches to a 3D perspective, opening up a new dimension of exploration — literally. You’re free to customize your world and your character as you see fit, with plenty of classes and items to choose from as you progress in your adventure.
MapleStory 2 has classic role-playing tropes like the archer and the knight, but it also has the “Runeblade,” a character class that blends magic and melee combat together. There’s also the “Berserker,” who uses inner rage to create extremely powerful attacks, and the cannon-wielding “Heavy Gunner,” who is assisted by a laser-equipped satellite.
If you aren’t interested in taking your hero into a dangerous dungeon to defeat a boss with your friends, you can always create your very own house, design a new t-shirt from scratch, compose music, or even play special mini-games with other players. Getting started will only take you a few minutes.
Sure, there have been plenty of post-apocalyptic MMO games over the years, and many of them have been free, but you’re almost always running around the open world as a boring old person. In Crossout, you play as a fully customizable vehicle loaded up with deadly weapons, and you’ll be facing off against other death machines capable of turning you into a scrap heap.
Your vehicle’s performance will be affected based on where it takes damage, and you have several different options for how you customize your machine. Want to play it as a stealth game or charge in with battering weapons? You totally can, and if you don’t have what you need, you can check out the game’s marketplace or even trade equipment with other players.
Crossout wears its George Miller influence quite proudly, but the nature surrounding a mysterious disease that wiped out most of humanity is something just waiting to be uncovered. It could lead to a drastically different game over time, if the narrative is allowed to progress past the desolate and destroyed wasteland we see today. Recent reviews for the game, which is still technically in an open beta phase, have been almost entirely positive on Steam.
ArcheAge / ArcheAge Unchained
Managed by the folks over at Trion Worlds, who also publish two other titles on this list; Rift and Defiance, Archeage is a Korean MMO first released back in 2013, with a Western release taking place the following year. It garnered similar attention to latter games like Black Desert Online and Blade & Soul for its “next-gen” MMO visuals and exciting promises of things like real estate markets and complex, heavily involved player crafting. Upon release, it was criticized for some glaring pay-to-win aspects which ultimately affected the unique player market gameplay it was initially heralded for.
Since then, Archeage has continued on while attempting to fix the mistakes of its past. Many of its marketing materials have referenced its rocky start as a way to lure burnt players back in, going so far as to release a separate version of the game, ArcheAge Unchained, to scrub cash shop woes away while keeping the original version of the game in-tact.
Now players drawn to ArcheAge’s attempts to create a thriving in-game civilization with housing, taxation, trade routes, deep crafting, and even a criminal justice system, have two ways of doing so: the original ArcheAge complete with questionable cash shop additions, and the single-purchase ArcheAge Unchained with nothing but paid-for cosmetics. Naval combat, swimming, and gliding make this high fantasy MMORPG stand out to this day. It even received a large graphical overhaul just a few months back.
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