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The landscape of MMORPG gaming has never been better than it is today. Some may pine for the good old days when games like Ultima Online, Everquest, and Dark Age of Camelot dominated the scene, but in terms of variety and affordability we’re living in the golden age right now.
Here are 10 of the best available options for those of you who want to play a commercial-quality MMORPG without ever paying a cent. The only criteria for being on this list are that there is no upfront cost (e.g., Guild Wars 2) and there are no mandatory subscriptions (the key point of free-to-play MMORPGs). Don’t be surprised to see a few MMORPGs that were once premium!
Note: There is no particular order to this list. If you find a game on here, all it means is that I believe it to be worth playing. Release dates are the first date that the game was released anywhere, not specific to any region.
Released: December 20, 2011
Payment Model: Free accounts have some interface and gameplay restrictions; Preferred Status can be unlocked with any purchase of $4.99 or greater to lift some restrictions; subscribers have full access for $14.99 per month. There is also a cash shop called Cartel Market which uses Cartel Coins.
Pros: Great story and immersion for anyone who loves Star Wars lore; graphics and animations are well done; class gameplay is unique and distinct from each other; fast paced combat; fun PvP system.
Cons: Linear gameplay can be repetitive; interface is a bit chunky; endgame is a bit nebulous; nothing that really sets the game apart from its competitors.
Released: January 25, 2011
Payment Model: Standard accounts are completely free with a few limitations on gameplay but not content; Founder accounts are for players who have a purchased copy of TERA; Elite Status is a subscription of $14.99 per month that increases dungeon rewards and daily bonuses and reduces brokerage fees. TERA operates with a cash shop.
Pros: Active combat system reminiscent of Guild Wars 2; beautiful graphics and animations; customizable interface elements; lots of activities for solo players; cash shop items can be traded to other players.
Cons: Linear gameplay can be repetitive; quests and story are lackluster; endgame content is also lackluster; poorly designed crafting system.
Released: November 20, 2012
Payment Model: Free accounts have full access to all game content; membership can be purchased for $14.99 per month to unlock increased resource and XP gain as well as extra character slots and priority logins; the cash shop allows players to purchase convenience and cosmetic items.
Pros: FPS gameplay between 3 factions for high-action fun; great for players who want large-scale battles; graphics engine is top-notch and beautiful.
Cons: Deviation from typical MMORPG design results in a steep learning curve; graphics engine requires a powerful computer; classes are somewhat imbalanced.
Released: June 20, 2013
Payment Model: Standard accounts are free to play without any restrictions to game content; Zen is the virtual currency used for Neverwinter’s cash shop, which is used to purchase convenience items and quality-of-life improvements.
Pros: Great virtualization of the Dungeons and Dragons franchise; modern graphics and interface result in an aesthetically pleasing game; atmospheric and immersive world; The Foundry is a game tool that allows players to create game content for others to experience; great PvP system.
Cons: Nothing particularly innovative or new about the gameplay; quests and progression can be repetitive due to linearity; three separate currencies make for poorly designed economy.
Released: April 24, 2007
Payment Model: Free accounts have significant restrictions that can be lifted through the cash shop using Turbine Points; Premium accounts are automatically granted to players who make real money purchases; VIP accounts are subscription-based for $14.99 per month and unlock all game features as long as a subscription is maintained.
Pros: Great virtualization of the Middle Earth environment; housing system that players can personalize; trait system is unique and fun.
Cons: Not much else that distinguishes gameplay from competing MMORPGs; linear quests and progression; not much endgame content.
Released: November 4, 2004
Payment Model: Free accounts have full game content access but some gameplay restrictions; Silver accounts lift some restrictions and can be unlocked with a purchase of $5 or greater in the cash shop; Gold accounts lift all restrictions and provide some bonuses, available for $14.99 per month.
Pros: Huge race pool and branching class specializations result in lots of player variety; massive game world built on ten years of development; housing system that players can personalize.
Cons: Last generation graphics yet requires a somewhat powerful computer; some gameplay elements are obviously dated.
Released: March 1, 2011
Payment Model: Free accounts have full access to the game with some restricted gameplay features while Patron accounts (subscribers) have unrestricted access to the game and some bonuses for $14.99 per month. Credits can be bought and spent in the cash shop or traded to players for in-game currency using the RIFT Exchange.
Pros: Fun PvE content; interesting game world and lore; fun and rewarding PvP system; visually pleasing graphics; the Soul system allows for interesting multi-class options.
Cons: Lots of issues with class balance; very reminiscent of World of Warcraft’s gameplay but not as polished.
Released: November 25, 2008
Payment Model: Starter accounts are free and have access to all game content but some restrictions on gameplay elements; Veteran accounts are for paid users from before Aion’s switch to F2P and have full game access; Gold accounts provide full access and some extra perks for $13.75 per month.
Pros: Aesthetically pleasing graphics; unique open-world PvP system; interesting combat system; player housing for players to personalize.
Cons: PvE content is too quick and easy, but the grind is longer than average; ongoing problem with bots; repetitive linear gameplay.
Age of Wushu
Released: April 10, 2013
Payment Model: Free accounts have full access to the game but players can upgrade to a VIP account for 30 Gold (about $9) per month, which grants bonuses to some gameplay elements. Gold is the cash shop’s currency. The cash shop mostly contains convenience items and cosmetic equipment.
Pros: Eastern theme and graphics provide a breath of fresh air; unique strategic combat system with lots of depth; open-world PvP; player-driven economy.
Cons: Combat can be complex and thus has a steep learning curve; quality of graphics is not up to par with commercial MMORPGs; many bots and scammers.
Released: February 28, 2006
Payment Model: Free accounts only have access to free zones/classes/races/quests but extra adventure packs can be purchased using Turbine Points which can be earned in-game given enough time; Premium accounts are those that have spent any amount in the cash shop and have some free restrictions lifted; VIP subscribers have full access to the game for $14.99 per month.
Pros:b Fun action-based comat system; instanced world design makes it easy to play for short periods of time; instances have multiple difficulties; adventure pack system allows you to purchase the zones you want and skip the ones you don’t want; designed after the D&D 3.5 ruleset.
Cons: Amount of free zones/quests is not enough for a fully free player; character progression is slower than most modern MMORPGs; graphics are somewhat outdated.