One of the most polarizing video game genres is, personally, one of our favorites here at Nerdmuch.com. I’m talking about MMOs!
So many of these great massively multiplayer online games on the list below have not only shaped who I am as a gamer, but also who I am as a person today, and I’m sure the same goes for many of you reading this. So, what makes MMORPGs so great? Why are we so drawn to them?
There’s no denying that the games in the genre speak to a specific type of person, as these types of games often require hundreds of hours to fully experience — and, not everyone has that sort of time or wants to dedicate themselves to one game for that long. It’s understandable, sure, but for us, we’ve spent countless hours raiding Icecrown Citadel, hoverboarding around Nexus, and creating incredibly cool characters of varying races, genders, and races (we’re so thankful for random name generators).
Of course, there have been many new entries in the genre over the years, and it feels like more often than not, any new MMO that’s released ends up failing. But even some of the failed releases were some of our favorite games of all-time, and you’ll find even a couple of those in the list below.
Here are the 16 best MMOs of all time, based on our own experiences:
EVE Online players will be the first to tell you that EVE Online can be a boring game at times, but when it’s not, this space-based MMO is an adrenaline-inducing experience.
It has a massive scale and it’s incredibly complex, and it’s almost entirely driven by its players. Players will engage in economic battles with their fellow players, warfare, and they’re able to form alliances with other players at their will (who to trust and who not to trust is important, here). The majority of gameplay will be you flying around in a spaceship, although you’re also able to dock it when you need to repair, refit it, or check out the marketplace. There are various live events being put into place by developers, and you’ll frequently read about EVE Online on whatever video game blog you frequent.
It’s a game that’s most well-known for its massive space battles, some of which can take days to complete. It’s also known for some of its mechanics that are typically banned in other MMOs, such as griefing (like stealing from other players or causing other players to be killed by large groups of NPCs).
EVE Online is a game where patience pays off, and if you’re a patient person and the thought of space battles interests you, it’s one of the best space MMOs available.
Final Fantasy 11
Before A Realm Reborn, there was Final Fantasy 11, another Square Enix attempt at a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. And, it was hugely successful, sporting high review scores and a massive player base.
It truly felt like a Final Fantasy world comes to life, with familiar skills, NPCs, jobs, and, of course, Cid.
The game basically required players to play together after a certain level because of its scaled difficulty, making it not a great choice for solo MMO players. The game had very few bugs, and it was loaded with so much content that that fact made it even more impressive.
Of course, it now pales in comparison to A Realm Reborn, but for its time, it was a truly impressive MMO that was able to successfully steal away EverQuest players.
Had it been a one-time purchase without the requirement of a subscription, it likely would’ve landed a bit higher on this list.
As far as free to play console MMOs are concerned, you won’t find one better than Cryptic Studios’ Neverwinter, the high fantasy MMO based on the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. It’s set in the fictional city of Neverwinter from D&D, and the game is based on the 4th edition rules set. But, it’s a game that plays a lot simpler than any D&D campaign, so the barrier to entry is quite low.
It is surprisingly deep for a f2p MMORPG, and its best element is that it has user-created dungeons which allow you to create entirely unique dungeon experiences that you can share with other players.
Hacking and slashing your way through the game is fun, and the enemies can be tough. The game’s combat uses a system of eight abilities similar to Diablo, so it’s easy to learn and master.
Because of the ability to make your own content and player other user-generated content, Neverwinter became one of the better free to play MMOs out there, and you can get it for PC, PS4 and Xbox One right now.
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Best Free-to-Play MMO
Okay, so sure — Tera does a LOT of things that other MMORPGs have done, so they might lose a few points for originality. But as far as quality is concerned, you won’t find a better free MMO than Tera. It’s Tera’s incredibly well-done combat that sets it apart from most of the other MMOs on this list, and it’s one of the best examples of a free to play transition to date.
The fact that you can buy most of the premium items with in-game currency if you’re okay with the grind makes it a standout in the free to play MMO space, and its microtransactions don’t make players hate themselves.
It keeps progression and journeying almost identical to World of Warcraft, so if you don’t like that sort of progression, chances are you won’t like Tera. Dare I say that Tera‘s action-oriented combat is actually better than the game it takes most of its inspiration from? Maybe. But regardless, if you’re looking for what essentially plays like a f2p WoW, look no further than Tera.
Obviously, RuneScape doesn’t hold up in 2017, despite the fact that you can still find streams of it online on Twitch. However, upon its initial release and the subsequent years, RuneScape was brilliant.
The fantasy MMORPG now looks like it uses crude MS Paint graphics in comparison to today’s games, but what do you expect for a game that released 16 years ago?
But Runescape was there with the big push of MMOs in 2001, alongside the likes of Dark Age of Camelot, Ultima Online 2, and Anarchy Online. It featured real-time combat that allowed players to obtain dropped items by defeating mobs (as is now the standard in MMOs today). And, players were able to enter the wilderness and play in Duel Arenas that would allow them to play against their fellow players in PvP for money and items.
Runescape‘s developers (Jagex) showed that, over the years, they were listening to their fanbase, making changes and updates as they were requested by fans.
If you’re jonesin’ for some Runescape, you can finally play it on your mobile phone.
Lord of the Rings Online
For high fantasy fans, Lord of the Rings Online was truly the game for them, and it’s just now celebrating its 10 year anniversary this month. It remains one of the highest-rated MMOs on Steam.
LOTRO allows players to roam Middle-earth, and each of its (so far) five expansion packs added more of that world for players to explore. The game’s use of morale instead of health or hit points made it unique, and the morale could be boosted by food or resting, as well as music or special battle cries. It had a relatively deep cooking and farming system, which made you feel like a Hobbit, yourself. It also had a unique name for its parties, which were known as Fellowships in-game.
One of its most unique elements, though, was its emphasis on the use of song and music, even allowing players to learn musical instruments in-game. Players would use their keyboards as instruments, with three octaves available, and the music broadcasting to nearby players. It was super unique at the time, and players would even organize concerts in-game.
LOTRO also had instanced neighborhoods for player housing, with decorations and furniture being available through a marketplace and quest rewards.
Phantasy Star Online
The game that brought MMOs to consoles was Phantasy Star Online, and although it was a bit limited in comparison, it helped pave the way for future console MMOs. The game was released for Dreamcast, GameCube, PC, and the original Xbox, and it had both offline and online modes.
It had only three classes and three races to choose from, but it was a limitation overlooked by console players because they were just too excited that they could play an MMO from their couch.
The original Phantasy Star Online holds a high 89 out of 100 Metascore, and it has made numerous best-of lists, most notably, IGN’s Top 100 RPGs of All Time.
City of Heroes
It’s no secret that everyone secretly wants to have superpowers, and that’s mostly the reason City of Heroes became such a success in its early days.
City of Heroes introduced numerous innovations to the MMO genre, but it was its comic-book superhero theme that made it so popular; it’s no secret that gamers love superheroes.
Simply put, CoH is just fun. Its colorful, superhero skin made it feel like a moving comic book world, and immersing yourself in that world, as a player, was one of the best experiences the MMO genre had to offer for comic book nerds.
While a bit of depth would’ve been nice, its City of Heroes‘ ability to cater to casual players who just want to sit back and have some fun with their friends that made it such a massively enjoyable experience. Never did players get the feeling that they were behind other players, and it was the game’s casual and generally fun nature that made it a standout in the genre that was/is filled with much heavier tones.
Hands down, City of Heroes is one of the best MMORPGs for superhero wannabes ever made.
DC Universe Online
While DCUO should’ve been much bigger than it was, what was offered provided hundreds of hours of fun. Then, it made its way to the PS4, and it brought in a new wave of players.
The game allowed players to create their own superhero set in an online world filled with DC heroes and villains. The character creator is the game’s strongest element, allowing you to truly craft a superhero, right down to his/her powers.
The game’s real-time combat system becomes more and more enjoyable as you earn new powers for your character, and as you’re going through the story and doing various quests, you begin to truly feel like an important part of the DC universe, interacting with Batman, Joker, The Flash, and Poison Ivy.
Now that DC Universe Online has crafting, more end-game content, and home bases, it has pushed itself onto our list of the best MMOs of all-time.
Of course, you can slap a superhero coat of paint on just about anything and we’d buy it. It’s available on PS4 and PC.
Despite its mass exodus shortly after its release, and its inability to bring those players back, WildStar will forever remain one of our favorite MMOs of all-time. The story follows a conflict between two factions vying for control of the planet Nexus, and it’s a planet that has a mammoth scale.
The sci-fi MMO didn’t exactly do a lot of things unique, but instead, it brought out all of the best elements of the games in the genre before it and put them all together to bring something wholly satisfying. You’ve got great lore revolving around Nexus’s past and a hyper-advanced race known as the Eldan, you’ve got an incredibly deep housing system that allows you to create your own home (and invite your friends to it), and its PVP is some of the best in the business.
WildStar tried some interesting ideas as well, including 40-man raids that didn’t exactly pan out and an interesting take on movement and mobility (which adds a nice unique flavor to the game).
Also noteworthy is the WildStar soundtrack, which is on par with even the best video game soundtracks. War drums, sci-fi scapes, and ethereal sounds help create mystery and excitement as you’re questing around Nexus.
So, if WildStar is so great, what led to WildStar‘s current state of irrelevance? Unfortunately, it was Carbine Studios’ emphasis on making the game “hardcore” and not implementing a proper fix for endgame upon its initial release. Players left en masse a few months after the game’s release due to PVP gear issues and the inability to form 40-man raid parties, rendering endgamers with nothing to do.
But if you ignore those two issues, the initial playthrough was wholly satisfying and offered some of the most exciting combat mechanics in an MMO. And, dare I say, it’s one of the best MMOs to play on your own? Plus, those little Chuas will forever have my heart.
Now, you can play WildStar for free on PC.
It’s rumored that Carbine is working on another game, too.
Update 9/28/18: Unfortunately, NCSoft is sending WildStar into the sunset in November, meaning we’ll never be able to play it again once the servers go down. It’s another case of NC Soft not properly handling an MMO, and if you’re a company who is in the middle of building a new MMO, you’re going to want to think twice about looking to NC Soft for publishing, given their track record.
EverQuest Next looked incredibly promising, and out of all of the game cancellations that have occurred over recent memory, it is by far the one that stings the most. Why? Because EverQuest was pure greatness.
The MMORPG first hit the market in 1999, and it was the second big-name MMORPG to hit the market and be sustainable. It was the first MMO to use a 3D game engine, which is what helped to set it apart from its competitors at the time. With a history like that, there’s no denying that EQ has cemented itself as one of the most important MMORPGs of all-time, as it influenced the genre and shaped its landscape following its release, even overcoming its biggest competitor, Ultima Online, in less than a year.
The game had sixteen races including elves, trolls, ogres, gnomes, and dwarves, and it had set classes like rangers, rogues, monks, wizards, necromancers, warriors, and more. Clearly, it would go on to set the stage and lay the groundwork for World of Warcraft.
Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2 put a new spark in the MMO genre when it released five years ago, and it quickly became one of our favorites.
The best element in Guild Wars 2 was its crafting system, and more specifically, its cooking. It introduced the mechanic of recipe discovery by trial and error, and it’s one that worked very well. In fact, so well that you’ll find something similar in this year’s most popular game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
It also used level scaling, which meant you never felt too overpowered when entering lower level zones, meaning you were never one-shotting enemy mobs. This means you’re able to go back to the areas you might have initially missed and explore, and it’ll still be a fun experience. Each of the territories contains a multitude of platforming challenges and things to explore.
PvP arenas provide tons of adrenaline rushes, thanks to the game’s faster than average combat. What’s more, Guild Wars 2 had dynamic events that occur randomly in all zones, adding another thing to do.
At the time of its release, those dynamic events felt new. Now, they’re pretty standard in most online games.
The environments were some of the most beautifully designed landscapes we’d seen in an MMO upon its initial release, and it still looks good today, five years later.
What’s more, there is no subscription fee. +5 points.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
Over five years ago, a Star Wars MMORPG by the name of The Old Republic hit the market and gave BioWare a major hit.
The game is frequently praised for its social gameplay and tough combat, as well as its player choice-driven narrative. Pair all that with the fact that it’s set in the Star Wars universe and you’ve got yourself one hell of a draw.
While a bit muddied when it first release as a game that wasn’t sure if it wanted to be an MMO or a story-driven RPG, it has since made a 360 like many of the other games on this list. Thanks to its most recent expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, SWTOR is a game worth playing yet again. Now, you’re able to play entirely solo from level 1 to 60 as you’re able to complete your main story missions solo. Then, once you hit endgame, you can focus on raiding, harder dungeons and gear grinds with friends.
You can also now take any of SWTOR’s NPC companions and make them a healer, DPS, or tank as you see fit, meaning you won’t need to team up with bad characters anymore, as any character can fit any mold.
On top of that, there’s now a fast travel system that’s possibly the best in the MMO-biz, where you don’t have to actually venture to the travel point before traveling to it, you just have to travel to the area it’s in.
The game is now a much more relaxed, story-focused game than most MMOs on the market today, and if nothing else, it’s worth a single playthrough.
See Also: Upcoming MMORPGs
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
The Final Fantasy brand is one of the most popular franchises in the video game industry, so when Final Fantasy XIV initially released, we were a bit surprised that it was such a crappy experience.
But then, Square Enix made the game great when it re-released the game and rebranded it as A Realm Reborn — and reborn it certainly was. In fact, dare I say it is the most impressive 180 we’ve seen from a game’s release to its current state.
It’s filled with impressive visuals scattered all over Eorzea, a continent of forests, coasts, deserts and more. It’s a game that’s easy to get around in, too, so traveling from point A to point B never feels like a slog (as it can in many other MMOs).
The story is well thought-out and enjoyable throughout, as it’s filled with twists and surprises. Our only gripe is that the majority of the story elements are presented via text and not voice-acted cutscenes.
A Realm Reborn also has a great class system that allows you to change your class automatically based on whatever weapon you’re switching to, and you can swap gear sets on the fly in mere seconds. This makes combat feel fresh and intuitive, and pair that with the fact that you can call your chocobo into combat with you and you’ve got yourself one hell of a battle system.
Aside from the game’s main storyline, you’ll also have numerous side quests and FATEs, which are events similar to what Guild Wars 2 offers.
The game’s soundtrack is also quite impressive, with scores ranging from soothing soundscapes to heavy metal riffs during boss battles.
When FFXIV first released, we hated it and the half-hearted attempt that it was. But once Square revitalized it, the game ended up being one of the best MMORPGs ever made.
The Elder Scrolls Online
The Elder Scrolls Online takes everything you love about the Elder Scrolls brand and presents it as a massively multiplayer online game. It holds an impressive 9/10 on Steam, which is a tough feat to achieve on the platform. The game originally launched as a monthly subscription MMO, but that didn’t last long, as Bethesda and ZeniMax saw it wasn’t gaining traction. However, once ESO became a one-time buy-in and rebranded as Tamriel Unlimited, its popularity skyrocketed.
Players are tasked with questing with their friends in the open world of Tamriel. You’re able to play as ten different races and up to four classes available when initially creating a character. The game is set before Skyrim, Morrowind, and Oblivion.
The massive world is filled with numerous likable characters, and there are so many customization options available for your character that it’s tough to keep track. Not only does your armor have racial variants for each race, but there are also rarer styles to create as well. You can dye your armor whatever color you want, too, and the armor also allows you to truly deck your character out with gear that’s tailored specifically to his/her unique class, thanks to the massive number of weapon skills and perks.
Now, you can find ESO bundled with all of its DLC for a reduced price, and there’s another expansion on the way (Summerset), making Tamriel a top choice for MMO players in 2019.
In fact, we don’t even really need an Elder Scrolls VI – just play ESO.
World of Warcraft
Of course, it’s undeniably clear that Blizzard has asserted its dominance in the MMORPG space using the Warcraft franchise with World of Warcraft, the most popular, highest-rated massively multiplayer game of all-time. The game first released in 2004, and now we’re nearly 15 years later, and it’s still going strong, thanks to Blizzard’s continuing focus on keeping it relevant.
There are so many things to do in WoW now that it’s a bit daunting for newcomers to get into. But despite its barrier to entry, World of Warcraft is the best MMO of all-time. Its brilliantly designed dungeons (my personal favorite is still Maraudon, for the record) are all incredibly unique, the raids are fun and interesting, and the world feels truly alive.
With numerous other players around you at all times, creatures and enemies at every turn, and lore galore, the game provides the best online world there is.
Whether you want to go questing, gather mats for your professions to level those up, make loads of gold and be your server’s richest character, raid, or simply collect Battle Pets, there are so many things to do in-game that it’s hard not to love.
WoW‘s dominance and popularity are a double-edged sword, though. While we’re always ready to jump into Azeroth, WoW is the game that everyone uses for comparison when other MMOs try to do something else. It’s safe to say that it’s a big reason why many MMOs fail — simply because they aren’t, or can’t be, as good as the best.
And in our expert opinions, WoW is, hands-down, undeniably, the best MMO of all-time.
And somehow, WoW keeps on ticking here in 2018, with a brand new expansion, Battle for Azeroth, right on the horizon.