Top 5 Best Free-to-Play MMORPGs

TIME :2022-07-03
Best Free MMORPGs

Top 5 Free to Play MMORPGs

With rapidly inflating development costs and operating fees, a global economy in the toilet, and just plain old user apathy as resulted in one clear consequence for the MMO market: subscription-based MMO’s are on their way out. Making them is exorbitantly expensive, and keeping them running for their lifespan, usually planned in years, makes them about as fiscally attractive as an abyssal trench. Not only are people sick of paying subscription fees for products that simply don’t deliver a cohesive experience, but they can barely afford the things these days to begin with.

The solution is the Free- to-Play MMO, which is (for the most part) based around a convenience model of micro-transactions, giving the less-than-patient player base a way to immediately access content that would normally take them some time to unlock just by playing the game normally. Fortunately for developers and publishers alike, people are indeed impatient, and micro-transactions have proven to be a great way of recouping production and operational costs!

In this list, we’re going to cover the five best MMORPGs currently available. Well, the five that *I* like best, anyway. Why five? Simple! There just aren’t that many great F2P MMORPGs. I should also note that I’m not getting into other MMO’s just yet - that’s for another article, which will be longer. Okay! Lets get started.

5. Star Trek Online

I’m going to start this off with a disclaimer: I worked on Star Trek Online. That said, when STO launched, it was, in a word, crummy. It had (and still has) a wonderfully fulfilling space-combat section, which was supposed to be supplemented with a bad-ass away-team/ground combat mechanic. Unfortunately, the ground-combat aspect of the game turned out to be boring, repetitive, and pretty unbalanced.

MUCH has changed since STO launched in 2010. The game has heaps (read: HEAPS) of new content. Dozens of hours of space and ground combat, an enormous galaxy to explore, an interesting (if not well delivered) story line, tons of canonical original content which Star Trek fans will absolutely love, and a surprisingly large amount of genuinely fun multiplayer PVP and cooperative PVE missions. The ground combat is still rather clunky, but they’ve balanced it out a great deal, added tons of new abilities, and since at least 60% of the game takes place in space anyhow, it won’t be that much of a bother. Considering STO is free, you should really take the time to check it out. Star Trek fans in particular have absolutely no excuse to miss this game.

4. DC Universe Online

The era of comic book MMORPGs is over, for now. It’ll be back for a short while once Marvel Heroes launches, but that’s not looking too hot from what limited exposure I’ve had of the game.

The role of DC Universe Online in the battle for supremacy of the Super-Hero MMORPG has been transitional, to say the least. Its primary competition was Champions Online, and when DCU launched (a full 16 months after Champions) it was obviously the superior of the two titles. Built in Unreal 3, DCU had vastly superior graphics and audio, not to mention a stellar cast of voice-actors taken right out of the incredibly awesome Warner Bros/Cartoon Network animated shows. Despite all that, a diminishing player base and a lack of regular content updates coupled with a console-centric control scheme and relatively limited character customization options have sent the game somewhat down to the wayside. The gameplay is fun for a while at least, and if you’re a fan of the cartoons, playing through it is worth it just to experience the voice-acting.

3. Vindictus

It’s entirely possible many American and European readers won’t even know what the hell this game is, which is a shame, because Vindictus is kind of awesome! It’s also the only game in this entire article which didn’t fail as a subscription-based MMORPG to become free to play later. Vindictus is a hack-and-slash title made by devCAT, an internal studio of Nexon, and it’s probably the only MMORPG in existence to have actually got the hack-and-slash gameplay mechanics perfected in real-time. Imagine that, an MMORPG that doesn’t rely on under-the-hood dice rolls. Shocking!

Players choose from 6 (5 in the US & UK) character classes of various abilities and combat styles, each falling into the rolls of the ranged and melee archetypes you’ll find just about everywhere. Of course, in typical Korean style, the characters are all unique and quite bad ass in their various looks. Combat mechanics are really solid and some of the special attack animation sequences are masterfully done. That said it has a story that largely makes no sense, a virtually non-existent character editor (players can dye their character’s armor) and lacks the deeper RPG aspects of Western MMORPGs…which is why it’s number 3! Still, if you’re at all a fan of solid hack-and-slash RPGs, you really owe it to yourself to check out Vindictus.

2. Champions Online

Another disclaimer: I worked on Champions Online, too. I suppose that might make it seem like my placement of the game as number two might be biased, but take that as you will. The victor in the aforementioned battle for supremacy of the Super Hero MMORPGs, Champions Online launched with what is STILL the best character editor in any game yet released bar-none, solid combat mechanics, a huge assortment of abilities and skills, and, sadly, practically no content with which to sate the frequency of the average player.

My last assignment on Champions after it launched was to play through the game as quickly as possible, from game start to end-of-content. It took me, at 8 hours a day, about a week and a half. If you consider the average player might put in between 8 and 16 hours into a single day, a week and a half’s worth of content is simply unacceptable. Reviews at the time were dead on: Champions was an awesome game that had just enough content for players to run through it during the initial month-long trial period. Fortunately, however, a lot has changed in the three years since the game launched. Cryptic’s CO team has added tons of content since the game’s launch, and all of that content coupled with the solid character building mechanics and gameplay make it stand apart from DCU.

1. Star Wars: The Old Republic

Here’s the thing about SWTOR: If you liked Knights of the Old Republic or its sequel, there is absolutely no excuse for you to not like SWTOR. It’s basically KOTOR ad infinitum. The game has hundreds, literally HUNDREDS of hours of gameplay within it. In terms of content it’s quite possibly the biggest MMO-anything that currently exists. Players can choose from four classes for each side in the galactic conflict, which eventually split off into eight at level ten. Each class has their own branching single-player story, containing thousands of lines of dialogue, unique missions and character interactions, and even conversation options based on the player’s gender and stats. Every single quest in the game, be it story or side, is granted via an interactive conversation, like you’ve seen in every Bioware game since the original KOTOR.

SWTOR also introduces some stuff which hasn’t been implemented in an MMORPG before, like a cover system and relatively permanent interactive companion NPCs, which supplement the player with abilities they might lack. Add to that a separate space-combat rail-shooter game, which plays a lot like Warhawk/Panzer Dragoon/Rebel Assault etc, and you’ve got a game with some ridiculously fun gameplay, an incredible amount of content, and, without exaggeration, the best single-player story in any MMORPG ever made.

On top of all that, SWTOR is free. Okay, technically it’s free only up to level 15, but you know what? It’ll be completely free within a couple of months. Playing up to level 15 just before the switch-over gives you just enough time to really get into it, which you totally should. Of course, Bioware’s recent announcement detailing the limitations of playing the game for free diminishes it’s overall awesomeness somewhat.

So there you have it. The five best MMORPGs currently on the market. If you only have the time to play one, make it SWTOR. Even if you hate MMOs, make it SWTOR. Regardless, MMORPGs make up a small percentage of today’s F2P games. With titles like Firefall, MechWarrior Online, Planetside 2, Blacklight Retribution and others either available right now or on their way, the future looks bright for the F2P model. We’ll cover which of those games you should be excited about most very soon.