The MMORPG has come a long way since Ultima Online and Runescape. Even though World of Warcraft continues to lead the genre, at the same time they have been steadily losing players since the release of Cataclysm in 2010 and I think a fair case for this is the rise of free-to-play alternatives. I have made the argument before that any company who continues to charge a subscription fee to play MMO’s is doing so at their own risk. Thus far it has worked for WoW as well as the excellent Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, but how long will this last? Even games like Guild Wars 2, which has an up-front cost to buy the game but no subscription fee to play, are on the rise. So, with that I decided to list some of my personal favorite free-to-play games. This is somewhat of an impromptu article but this is something that has been on my mind as we are starting to see a massive resurgence of single-player experiences dominate the gaming landscape as well as an overwhelming portion of the online market shifted towards competitive-focused MOBA’s like League of Legends and arena shooters like Overwatch.
So, without further ado, let’s begin:
Launching as a subscription title, TERA attempted to break new ground by focusing on fast, real-time action combat that centered primarily around engaging giant beasts. The world is populated by mobs of monsters and is designed to pit you against little, regular enemies that you can easily dispatch in a few seconds of hacking and slashing as set dressing for the fights that really count. The gameplay for TERA still holds up even against arguably superior action MMO experiences like Guild Wars 2 as TERA’s high level of customization rivals even the most sophisticated MMO’s out there. The only downside to TERA , really, is its player base. It is a generally low-population game, so finding players who are willing to regularly engage in skirmishes with the tougher monsters in the game can be difficult, especially around the mid levels. Still, Bluehole Studio and En Masse have done a good job of keeping the content coming, with new classes being released and additional expanded content added with some regularity. Add to the mix a dynamic and fairly complex and rewarding crafting system and some occasionally-entertaining story missions and you have a fun, fast and often challenging MMO for more experienced action RPG players.
Speaking of hard…. Wildstar may be the toughest MMORPG on the market right now. I say this as someone who has played several of the classes and gone through much of the first half of the game (but need to get deeper into things, to be honest). It’s complexity comes in the form of the combat, which focuses on abilties that require thought, timing and precision. Unlike a lot of titles where you can simply spam your strongest skills, many of Wildstar’s class skills are utilitarian in nature, forcing you to save them for the right moment and think your way through engagements. Wildstar also puts a lot of focus on exploration of the environment, themed on exploring an unknown planet, you can choose from specific jobs that range from documenting life forms to navigating the rougher terrain to scout out new settlements. It’s a deep game with a lot of things to do, the only downside being its limited class customization.
Dungeon Fighter Online
DFO is probably the simplest game on my list in terms of design, but it’s also one of the most addictive. Put simply, it’s an online equivalent to an old-school beat-em-up a la Final Fight or Streets of Rage. Instanced levels with boss fights at the end are a staple for many of the lower-budget MMO’s out there but DFO handles things well by being fast and fun. Classes are varied and have a fair degree of customization considering how simple the combat is. The only downsides are the fact that its age is starting to show compared to some other games, and the implementation of “charges” that limit your playtime unless you are either willing for dungeon charges to replenish over time or are also willing to use or buy items to replenish them from special drops or the cash shop.
I honestly have not picked up Eden Eternal in a while. I had thought about getting back into it, too. This is a really fun MMORPG with a surprising turn that sets it apart in the genre. It allows you to create a character and freely change classes as you see fit. Think of it as something akin to a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest game that uses a job system. You can change your classes, which change the equipment loadout, skills and function of your character and as you level individual classes and combinations thereof up, you unlike more complex and unique classes down the road. The ability to switch jobs makes Eden Eternal pretty interesting as it motivates you to be a little more experimental in your approach. The downside to Eden Eternal is the gameplay is very dated. Eden Eternal launched in 2011 and it feels like it. While I did enjoy it the last time I played it, I’m sure I’d find some fault with it at this point just on these grounds, but that will remain to be seen. That said, I have fond memories of Eden Eternal and for its time, I would say it was a pretty smart take on the classic MMORPG formula.
Yet another action MMORPG, Dragon Saga puts you in control of a chibi anime hero as you traverse a vivid 3D world fighting through hordes of enemies and chaining together ridiculous combos for bonus loot. Dragon Saga is as simple as it gets with its beat-em-up style that is similar to DFO’s only with a little more complexity in the classes. However, unlike DFO, Dragon Saga is not entirely locked to a HUB town connected to instanced dungeons. Instead, there are field areas populated by other players and within those are special dungeons you can choose to enter for quests and loot. The quests are pretty standard “kill 10 wolves” type-missions but the fast, addictive combat helps to elevate much of the repetition. Dragon Saga is also a good “starter MMORPG” for those gamers who are intimidated by the vastness and complexity of many of the prominent games in the genre as it focuses primarily on fast, accessible action gameplay opposed to dense character micromanagement.
When World of Warcraft launched it was a demarcation point of sorts. It’s difficult to understate what WoW did for gaming as a whole. That said, I believe it has been on a steady decline of quality over the past eight years. I do not want to call it a “bad game” since I haven’t played it since a few patches into Cataclysm, but I think it’s safe to say it has been greatly simplified to the point of having little to know feeling of control over the development of your character. Controversial as this opinion may be to some, I feel the changes made to WoW around February of 2011 were the beginning of the end. The game still does well but it appears to be in many cases that the players aren’t so much sticking around as they are being replaced by a younger crowd. Enter Rift….
Rift is my favorite MMORPG of all time. It’s not everyone’s first choice for sure, but I feel it being effectively a clone of WoW, captures everything Blizzard had done so right for 5+ years of running the dominant MMORPG while expanding upon those ideas and not taking countless steps to undermined the flow of the game and progress of long-time late-game players. Rift’s world is nowhere near as large as WoW’s, but the game is primarily focused on large-scale public events, bringing players together as zones are overtaken by hundreds or even thousands of enemies, forcing players to defend the towns and hub areas of the map while closing the Rifts from which they pour and clearing a series of quests to spawn a massive raid boss and saving the day… at least for a time. On top of the scale of these events is the fact that Trion Worlds does not make you wait until you are at the level cap to be able to participate in these events. Rather, from the starting areas you have an opportunity to take down big raid bosses for special rewards, joining public groups to clear Rifts and exploring challenging and unique dungeons. Lastly, Rift only has 5 classes, but each of these classes has a list of sub-classes of which you can choose 3, and each sub-class may play very different from another. As a result you may have ranged-caster-warriors, melee tank mages and rogues that operate as healers. It allows you to experiment with ideas and explore new ways to play your classes. It also allows you to break up the monotony of churning out the same DPS rotation over and over again to take down a boss.
If you are like me and have grown disenfranchised by World of Warcraft and want to share in a similar gameplay experience with depth and engaging character progression, I give Rift my strongest recommendation.
Please share and let me know what your favorite F2P MMORPG’s are. Maybe they’re some I haven’t played!