Perfect Ten: The 10 best free-to-play MMORPGs

    
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This isn't how it had to be.

You know one of the reasons I like writing this column? Because one of these days I’m going to be able to make a list of the best characters from Transformers and Bree isn’t going to stop me. But I also like the fact that we all know the column is completely subjective, so that when people read this they do not think that this is a carefully researched piece wherein I can prove that a given game is the best free-to-play title on the market using, like, numbers.

I hope that’s true, anyhow.

But moving along, it’s the holiday season, so you probably want a new game to play, but you both need to avoid buying games (someone might have bought one for you) and you don’t have much money (because you bought everyone some random thing already, let’s just say Combiner Wars Ultra Magnus). So here are the 10 MMOs that I think make for the best free-to-play options on the market right now based on completely subjective reasoning.

1. Star Trek Online

My love of Star Trek Online is not just due to my love of Star Trek in general. I mean, that’s present too. I do really like Star Trek. But if Star Trek Online were a terrible game with a license I loved, I would play it briefly and then move on. Instead, I keep getting drawn back to STO because once you get over its single greatest weakness, the game unfolds beautifully.

Getting into the game is intensely difficult, far more so than it should be, because the game is kind of a mess of different systems that are never sufficiently explained. Once you get over that, however, you’ve got spectacular space combat, fascinating stories, player-generated content, wonderful fidelity to the source environments, tons of customization, flexibility of play… I could go on. It’s well worth the look even if you’re not a fan of the franchise, although you’ll likely want a friend to explain the systems as you go.

All that we're saying is give Nexus a chance.

2. WildStar

My relationship with the planet Nexus is multi-faceted and tumultuous, but I’ll be the first to say that WildStar was a good game even at launch. Its main issues were with the endgame and accessibility, both of which have been trimmed up substantially in the free-to-play conversion and subsequent patches. It’s also got a magnificent soundtrack, charming races, and a great deal of humor.

In short? Yeah, it’s worth the time to download and play if you like active combat. Don’t be surprised if you lose a month in it easily.

3. Marvel Heroes

“Why are you listing this game here, Eliot? You keep saying you don’t like it!” And it’s true; I don’t like Marvel Heroes as something that I play myself. But that doesn’t mean that I am unaware of why other people like it, nor does it mean that I think the people who like it are out of their minds. And the fact of the matter is that it’s a regularly updated game with tons of heroes, plenty of content, and a dedicated team and community. If you want an online roguelike-ish experience, I highly recommend it.

4. Neverwinter

The Forgotten Realms are just plain boring as a setting. I don’t care for them. It takes a pretty elaborate game to make me get over the generic nature of that setting and start caring about the game itself. Neverwinter passes that bar, and while it’s never been anything close to my main game, it’s still a game I quite like and admire.

Pity about all of the lore surrounding the last major update being so heavily focused around setting-specific NPCs, yes, but let’s not lose sight of the game itself.

EPIC RAMPING SLOW MOTION!

5. Skyforge

I like Skyforge for a lot of reasons. I like its odd collision of settings, with strange technological deities amidst a futuristic society. I like its variety of content. I like the look and costuming available for classes. I like the fact that it halfway ports the Sphere Grid of Final Fantasy X and combines that with the Armoury of Final Fantasy XIV. I like the number of fiddly bits to interact with.

I’m not as fond of its hub-based gameplay or some of the more floppy choices made for female character models. But you can’t have everything. It’s a bit of an odd duck, but I think it’s more than worth a download and a whirl.

6. RIFT

Part of me feels that RIFT should be studied as a divergent evolutionary branch of World of Warcraft, a title that started with several of the same assumptions and a very clear line of connection (those advertisements, for example) but wound up heading in totally different directions. It’s a solid game on its own merits, though, even if the designers sometimes make choices that baffle me. (The whole Primalist thing, for example.)

7. Star Wars: The Old Republic

I know that some people really hate the free-to-play model that exists in Star Wars: The Old Republic. That’s fair. I don’t mind it in the least, but the entire time that I played I was subscribed. I disagree with that contention, but you’re entitled to feel that way.

Having said that, however, I feel it’s only fair to point out that this is a game which kept me subscribed for about a year, playing and exploring, roleplaying until my keyboard was worn down to nubs, despite the fact that I don’t like Star Wars. There’s something to be explored there, and I think there’s more than enough reason to give it a second look on that basis. Or perhaps I’m just waxing nostalgic.

That's really super, Supergirl.

8. DC Universe Online

I remember very clearly that when DC Universe Online first came out, it seemed to be released with basically zero fanfare, like the company behind it felt vaguely ashamed. Which is odd. The game is not the greatest game of all time, but it’s solid, and it manages to deliver on a decent superhero rush despite clear limitations of engine and development budget. It’s fun, that’s the important part.

Is it the best superheroic game that I’ve played? Not at all. But is it very good for what it’s trying to be? Definitely. And if you’ve avoided it  because of its origin or because of its console-associated nature, perhaps now would be a good time to go back and give it a second look. There’s far more content here than is immediately obvious.

9. TERA

I think that TERA is a problematic game in a lot of ways, not the least of which because it seems to have a very juvenile attitude in many areas. It’s also got some bad points of tedium running through its leveling experience. But boy, the fun parts of this game really do knock it out of the park, and while there’s sometimes longer gaps between updates than I would like, the updates taht do come are pretty fun.

There’s also a sense of humor to the game and to its development team, which counts for a lot. Perhaps not a game you’ll want to live in, but one well worth a trip.

10. Guild Wars 2

Debate rages here at the Massively Overpowered offices whether or not Guild Wars 2 is free-to-play at this point. I say it is, and Bree contends that it is not. This is despite the fact that the name – free-to-play – makes it pretty clear what does or does not fall under the header. Can you play it for free? There you go!

Kvetch if you wish about its inclusion on this list, but I maintain that the game is free-to-play, or at least the core is. And while I have a lot of critical stuff to say about the game, it’s also a lot of game that you can just dive into and explore right now. There is plenty to do without ever spending a cent. Sure, you might eventually want to play Heart of Thorns as a result, but that’s hardly a downside. “Oh, no, I enjoyed this game so much I want to get in on more of the game!” What a tragedy.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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Ludwig D

Most of these games are F2P, but only up to a certain point. If you want a fully free MMORPG, try PlaneShift. Fully free as in, no way to buy in-game advantages for real money. It only matters how you RP the game.

PlaneShift is run and developed by a small but enthusiastic community, with heavy emphasis on RP.

If you are not into RP, however, PlaneShift is probably not for you.

Rogbarz
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Rogbarz

having a blast in swtor again, a lot has changed and I am working my way up again. Even considering getting the old crew together again to start a guild and raid :D

johnmynard
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johnmynard

syberghost johnmynard AilsaN10 JimGriffiths That was a poor choice of words, I meant to say “uncool” or something like that.  You used to be able to have a hope for a new ship or some new clothes or something in a “reasonable”(ish) length of time, but a new ship is 3000 zen and the exchange rate is 275:1 so you are looking at literally months without shelling out.  It’s still the best F2P method IMO, but it makes it a trifle too unapproachable for new players.

syberghost
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syberghost

johnmynard AilsaN10 JimGriffiths the players collectively decide how much they value the two items respectively. What could possibly be more fair than that?

johnmynard
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johnmynard

AilsaN10 JimGriffiths STO lets you exchange Dilithium for Zen, but the exchange rate is market controlled, so it’s not terribly fair.

johnmynard
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johnmynard

ScottWalsh I like it better than WoWs…I know that’s not saying much.

Gundam00
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Gundam00

Kass40 ESo is B2P, not F2P.  This was a list of F2P games.

CastagereShaikura
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CastagereShaikura

STO is a fun game until you reach max level. Then its grinding rep after rep. The game was so much fun getting to max level back when Atari owned it. Swtor as free to play makes me laugh.

Kass40
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Kass40

Since you put Gw2 in, The Elder Scrolls Online Tamriel Unlimited is hell of a lot better than likes of Terra, ToR, Rift, hell most of the top 10. I know there’s a huge sense of entitlement of wanting a Skyrim clone, I believe over the past year or so the game has been drastically improved.
It’s really a good deal of fun, and huge sense of genuine adventure.

ScottWalsh
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ScottWalsh

syberghost Tensay tominva2012  League of Legends is garbage.  Funny thing is Heroes of the Storm is a copy and does it better