Ever since I was just a boy in grade school, I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of the MMORPG – Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game for those of you who aren’t familiar with the genre. With thousands of players existing simultaneously in the same world, it’s as close a replication to real world dynamics as you can get. It’s a fun genre and nowadays you can play high-quality MMORPGs without ever paying a cent.
Free-to-play (F2P) MMORPGs have a stigma that separates them from subscription-based MMORPGs. Some think that F2P MMORPGs can never match the quality and polish of a subscription MMORPG. Others think that F2P MMORPGs use psychological trickery to force players to spend money to progress. Whether or not these criticisms are true, the F2P MMORPGs in this list exist as exceptions that deserve your attention.
Neverwinter is the latest offering from Cryptic Studios, a development group known for other MMORPGs including City of Heroes, Champions Online, and Star Trek Online. Neverwinter is based on the Forgotten Realm setting, which itself is based on Dungeons & Dragons. The game has stylistic graphics, deep lore, and an engrossing story that will keep you riveted through and through.
As is the trend these days, Neverwinter’s combat system eschews the turn-based button-mashing of yore in favor of an action-based battle system focused on the proper usage of a small skillset. There is no auto-attacking and no targeting. If you want to hit something, you’ll need to center it on your aiming reticule. Neverwinter also has an arena-based PvP system called Domination which involves capture points. It’s not the best MMORPG PvP out there, but it’s certainly not the worst.
But the most intriguing aspect of Neverwinter has to be its user-generated content. Using the Foundry, you can create and publish instanced quests that other players can play through and complete for rewards. The Foundry includes editors for quest, story, map, dialogue trees, items, and more.
Before you hop into Neverwinter, be sure to check out these great resources to help you get started.
TERA, which stands for The Exiled Realm of Arborea, is a game that generated a lot of hype thanks to its attempts to innovate on the MMO genre. The most obvious advancement is the combat system, which is entirely real-time, uses a crosshair, and requires the player to actively dodge enemy attacks. It sounds similar to Neverwinter above, but TERA came first and broke away from the norm in F2P MMORPG combat.
TERA follows in the footsteps of many MMORPGs once premium but now free-to-play. In February 2013, TERA rebranded itself as TERA Rising and switched from subscriptions to microtransactions. The developers have promised that free players can expect to never be limited in content or level. All of the F2P perks provide for convenience, not necessity.
Age of Wushu takes much of the martial arts history of China and puts them head-to-head in a war between schools. It’s not an original setting for an MMORPG, but what really sets Age of Wushu apart from other F2P MMORPGs is its surprisingly simple-yet-complex combat system. At its core, it can be abstracted into “rock-paper-scissors,” but once you add in special attacks, feints, parries, and combos, it elevates to an entirely new level altogether.
There are no classes in Age of Wushu, but there are schools. Players are able to learn every skill in the game if they can gain access to the appropriate training, whether by joining different schools, buying them from other players, or completing tough challenges. The battles are fun to play and tough to master, but equally dazzling and fun to watch as a spectator.
As a F2P game, Age of Wushu does have an item mall, but it does not sell any stats, abilities, or items that would result in player advantage. Instead, you’ll find vanity costumes and common skills that can be bought simply out of convenience, not power.
Dungeons & Dragons Online, also known as DDO, is the oldest game on this list, having been released way back in early 2006. Like Neverwinter, DDO is a game based on Dungeons & Dragons, though in the Eberron setting instead of the Forgotten Realm setting. Developed by Turbine, better known for developing Lord of the Rings Online, DDO is a F2P game for the ages.
The majority of DDO’s gameplay is quest-based: you speak to NPCs who send you into certain instances, you complete the quest, then continue the chain. Instances can be used for multiple quests and the content of the instance changes based on the quest. Quests can be performed on a range of difficulties with the harder ones rewarding more XP and Favor. Favor is a measurement of your character’s progress and can be used to earn advancements and unlock features.
My favorite part of DDO’s F2P structure is that instances are released in packs. If you want to play in a specific set of quests and instances, you can purchase that pack, all the while ignoring those that you’ll never play. If you grind enough, you can actually purchase every pack and play through all of DDO’s content without paying a cent.
So who says F2P MMORPGs have to be bad? Sure, there are low quality games out on the market, but if you ask me, there are low quality subscription games as well. The MMORPGs on this list prove that an F2P game can be fun, exciting, and playable without needing to sink tons of money to get past artificial roadblocks. These F2P games are worth your attention and time.
What do you think of these F2P games? Do you know of any others that deserve a mention? I’m always open to hearing more about new F2P MMORPGs that hit the market. Please share your thoughts with us in the comments!