Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (better known as MMORPGs) are essential additions to any PC gamer’s catalog. They’re also enormous timesinks. The genre has its roots in both classic tabletop role-playing games and online multi-user dungeons, letting players explore worlds and level up their characters in living worlds. The genre has built off its first hit, 1999’s EverQuest, a 3D fantasy title that proved both incredibly popular and addicting for thousands of users.
Since the late ’90s, hundreds of MMORPGs have launched on the PC gaming market, with some titles more memorable than others. We’ve picked some of the best MMORPGs over the years, from different disciplines, and explained why you should check them out.
Best Anime MMORPG: MapleStory
|Release Date||May 11, 2005|
|Where to Download||Steam|
|Reason to Try||Classic anime-inspired MMORPG that provides excellent social options along with tons of quests and cosmetics for avatar-obsessed players.|
For many anime fans, the 2000s are best remembered by a few classic staples: Lucky Star, Haruhi Suzumiya, Gaia Online, and most of all, the Nexon MMORPG MapleStory. Launched in North America in mid-2005, MapleStory introduced players to a side-scrolling 2D MMORPG world where players could customize their character, hang out with their friends, and become a powerful hero to protect Maple World from the Black Mage.
MapleStory has changed a lot since it first launched, but over a decade later, the game remains as fun as ever. Sporting a chibi anime look that should be familiar to players of yesteryear, MapleStory lets users choose from over 40 different classes, customize their character, and go on endless quests with friends new and old alike.
Best Franchise MMORPG: Star Wars: The Old Republic
|Release Date||Dec. 20, 2011|
|Price||Free to start, with Premium subscription access available at $14.99 for 30 days, $13.99 for 90 days, $12.99 for 180 days, or a one-time purchase of of $29.99 for 60 days.|
|Where to Download||Official website|
|Reason to Try||Phenomenal Star Wars RPG experience that simultaneously sheds light on the Old Republic years while letting players truly feel like Jedi, Sith, galactic smugglers, and more.|
Who wouldn’t want to live among the fantastic planets of Star Wars? And comes a game like Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, which simultaneously captures that Star Wars feeling while bringing something new to the table.
In Star Wars: The Old Republic, players get to experience the Star Wars universe before the events of the three prequels. Players choose between eight different classes across either the Galactic Republic or the Sith Empire, alongside 10 different species. From there, users hop into an enormous world that plays host to a lengthy and immersive story campaign during the Old Republic era, thousands of years before the Battle of Yavin.
Featuring plenty of worlds to explore, space battles to engage in, and its very own player-vs-player area, Star Wars: The Old Republic feels like a piece of Star Wars history that simultaneously sheds light onto an oft-forgotten part of the world’s universe while bringing something familiar to the table, including Jedi lightsaber battles.
Best Open-World MMORPG: EVE Online
|Release Date||May 6, 2003|
|Price||Free to try, with Omega Time subscriptions available at $14.95 per month for one month, $12.95 per month for three months, $11.95 per month for six months, or $10.95 per month for 12 months.|
|Where to Download||Steam|
|Reason to Try||Go anywhere, be anyone, explore anywhere or everywhere you want in a vast galaxy. EVE Online is complicated to learn, but it lets players truly set a path for themselves with various careers in an open-world space adventure.|
Creating an MMORPG is expensive, and for most massively multiplayer games, users are stuck in a closed garden that allows for limited role-playing action. You can go on the same quests as everyone else, fight in the same player-vs-player arenas, explore instanced dungeons, pay a fee to continue experiencing the same old thing, and, well, that’s about it.
And then there’s EVE Online, which doesn’t care about closed gardens. Players can do almost anything they want.
EVE Online has been around since 2003, and over 15 years later, the game keeps turning heads. In EVE, players choose between four different races and travel through thousands of star systems, giving users endless opportunities to visit new areas as they build their careers as traders, bandits, mercenaries, or a mixture of all of the above. EVE Online isn’t just enormous, it lets players create whatever story they feel like in its universe, making it one of the best open-world MMORPGs by a light-year.
Best Narrative-Driven MMORPG: Final Fantasy XIV
|Release Date||Aug. 27, 2013|
|Price||$19.99 for the Starter Edition|
|Where to Buy||Steam|
|Reason to Try||Experience a wide and beautiful world populated with rich and colorful characters. As an MMORPG inspired by Final Fantasy’s classic narrative-driven gameplay, this one delivers for sure.|
It’s easy for MMORPGs to feel cookie cutter. Now and then, an MMORPG comes along that presents a beautiful, narrative-driven world that makes players feel like they’re invited into a much bigger story. Where they can play to their hearts’ content in immersive quests with a much larger narrative arc, for Final Fantasy fans, in particular, Final Fantasy XIV shouldn’t be missed.
Originally released as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, today’s Final Fantasy XIV features one of the best MMORPG settings to date. The game takes place in Eorzea, a land with vast forests, mountains, and coasts to explore between four different city-states. As to be expected for a series like Final Fantasy, the game features a wide range of non-playable characters for players to meet as they cross paths with the game’s various factions, team up with friends, and leave their impact on Square Enix’s online world.
Incredibly immersive, deep, and engaging, Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t just provide players with a place in the Final Fantasy universe, it gives them a meaningful online experience that lets fans feel like their decisions matter. If you want an MMORPG experience that feels more like a story than a playground, this is one to check out for sure.
Best Sandbox MMORPG: Albion Online
|Release Date||July 17, 2017|
|Developer||Sandbox Interactive GmbH|
|Price||Free to play with a Premium monthly subscription model|
|Where to Buy||Steam|
|Reason to Try||If you have missed the classic feeling of a sandbox MMO, then Albion Online could be for you.|
Albion Online is very much an old-school sandbox MMORPG. The player-driven economy supports a range of activities and ways to make money. If you are tired of adventuring, you can become a farmer, or perhaps you want to specialize in creating high tier armor and weapons. You can build your own home, then furnish it how you like, forming in-game communities and even making your small cities.
People who enjoy PvP action will find some exciting and tactical fights. You will need to organize well with your guild, and always have a plan when you hit the battlefield. Albion Online is also beautifully polished, with a beautiful art style, and true crossplay allowing you to play with friends on Mac, Linus, PC, and Android. There is a lot of fun to be had here for fans of an isometric perspective.
Best Overall MMORPG: World of Warcraft
At a glance
|Release Date||Nov. 23, 2004|
|Price||Free Starter Edition available, with subscriptions available at $14.99 for one month, $13.99 per month for three months, or $12.99 per month for six months.|
|Where to Download||Official website|
|Reason to Try||The game that started it all. Featuring a rich world, extensive narrative arcs, plenty of customization options, an enormous level ceiling, and myriad social features, this is the MMORPG that remains a mainstream hit and continues to impress millions.|
EverQuest may have brought the MMORPG into the mainstream, and EVE Online might have pushed its boundaries, but there’s one massively multiplayer RPG that remains the most massive. World of Warcraft is still the best MMORPG around.
World of Warcraft takes place in Azeroth, the realm from Blizzard’s Warcraft strategy series. Players create their avatar, choose a race, a class, and go on quests throughout the game’s world. Players can either group up with others to complete quests or go solo, though some quests require multiple players to come along. From there, players can level up their characters and go on to explore the game’s hub, making new friends, joining guilds, and leaving their mark on the world.
World of Warcraft remains incredibly popular thanks to its immersive, narrative-driven world, its vast skills and professions that players can pick up, its enormous number of quests, and most of all its guild-based social features, which let players build incredible bonds with other WoW players. World of Warcraft remains one of the best MMORPGs out there, and with its latest expansion pack Battle for Azeroth now out, there’s more to do in the colossal game.
Aidan O’ Brien contributed to this article.