Here we go, here we go, here we go again. This one is always an interesting column to write because there’s a certain amount of back-and-forth inherent in making this column not just read as “the healthiest games, only justified for a different reason.” It has a lot of the same entries, which is probably in part a sign that the healthiest games are also, well, doing something right in terms of business models.
But there are some differences, and there are some games whose questionable health has more to do with corporate antics than a major failing of its business model. So let’s run down the best value for 2019, the games that give you the most bang for your buck. Or, in many cases, your absolute lack of a buck. You won’t spend anything.
1. Final Fantasy XIV
First and foremost, I think it’s important to note that this list is by its very nature a bit less ranked than others; after all, you’ve got your best value for a free-to-play game, your best value for a buy-to-play game, your best value for a buy-to-play-plus-subscription game, and so forth. A lot of these games have different wrinkles to their individual business models and few of them have something that’s exactly the same, so a certain element of the list order just comes down to what the writer wants to put first.
As it happens, the writer is me, and so I’m putting Final Fantasy XIV first. If you want a subscription game? Your options are pretty limited, but FFXIV justifies its subscription price well with clockwork updates and keeping its expansions bundled together for one (cheap) cost. It’s an old model, but it justifies it with quality.
2. Path of Exile
Ever have a game that isn’t your personal style of game but still manages to push all of your buttons? That’s Path of Exile for me. I don’t play, I likely never will play, but in terms of free-to-play titles I can’t think of another game that gives you more for less. It’s a game I like to hold up as a principle in action: The free-to-play model works best when you want to support it from enjoyment rather than feeling like you have to pay to avoid inconvenience.
3. The Elder Scrolls Online
Meanwhile, here’s a game that’s continued to impress me more and more as it’s gotten older, and it’s not even the only one on this list! You can argue that The Elder Scrolls Online can be a bit stingy about what you get for just buy-to-play without subscription, but I think that’s part of what makes it feel like a good value for the money; you aren’t locked out of the game without subscribing, you can just buy expansions if you want, but you can also subscribe and go that route. It’s options, in other words.
4. Guild Wars 2
On the other hand, perhaps you’d rather just buy the game and expansions and otherwise not drop a dime, and if that’s the case? Here you go, enjoy Guild Wars 2! It’s actually been doing a pretty good job this year of keeping up its regular content updates, too; my own memory managed to skip over the fact that ArenaNet was updating pretty much quarterly this year.
Here’s something that gets on this list largely because Bree always chimes up for it because Bree is actually eager to spend money in Trove’s cash shop. This is notable, since Bree is generally not the sort who’s eager to spend money on anything, and she lacks whatever stupid part of my own stinginess seems to evaporate as soon as I have money. “Oh, $25 for a new costume in a game? Sure, that seems reasonable! Wait, where did my money go?”
Leaving that aside, though, Trove provides a whole lot of all-ages general interest content and a wide spread of different things to do, and it provides almost all of it completely for free (the endgame is considerably gated and pay-to-win, but the casual early-to-midgame is cheap). Past a certain point you can feel like you’re getting too much for free. That’s a sign something is good value for the money.
6. EVE Online
The thing about EVE Online’s value is that there is really nothing else like it, and you get a whole lot of it even just for free. Sure, there’s a lot you can’t do as a free player, but the core experience of living in a space world full of space-sharks? Yeah, that’s right there from the word go.
I should stress that these are metaphorical sharks… I think. Are there actual sharks? Someone let me know.
Regardless, while its free-to-play experience is more like an extended demo than a true “never pay money” existence, you still have options and you can shrewdly trade your way into playing completely for free. So let’s hear it for the value of EVE.
7. EverQuest II
I have never made a secret that I don’t think much of EverQuest II, but that’s more because of its pedigree (hello, Daybreak) and the fact that its world keeps making me flash back to endless tabletop campaign worlds that thought they were the first to think up “what if we did Tolkien’s fantasy world, but with more stuff?” And that doesn’t change the fact that EQII has a whole hefty pile of content available, both for free and for an eminently reasonable purchase price.
Plus, you know, this game will probably have a new expansion every year until the heat-death of the universe. It just feels like it’s timeless.
8. Star Trek Online
I don’t think this year has been a banner one for Star Trek Online in terms of health, but the reality is that you can jump into the game right now and enjoy years of content for the low price of absolutely nothing. Sure, the writing can sink into “adequate Star Trek fanfic” levels at times, but the same is true of most actual Star Trek series. And the stuff that’s good? It’s really good.
Yes, you can argue bits and pieces of its business model and the merits of paying for a pack or just playing free, but it’s still good value for your price of entry no matter what.
There is exactly one reason why Warframe isn’t rated higher, and that’s just an unfortunate part of its nature. The core of the gameplay is very much about trying out and mastering different frames over time, but the game gives you so few options early on that you’re pushed to buying a frame or two just to get a toehold. So that’s a bit unpleasant, especially when the game’s core loop is – again – building frames yourself.
And all is quickly forgiven once you get to the shooting because my gosh, the actual mechanics of the game are a joy and the gameplay is outstanding. Sure, it has failings, but in terms of what the actual game is and how it works out there’s little better. It’s a bit obnoxious to buy a frame based on guesswork, but I don’t regret the purchase I made.
10. World of Warcraft
All right, let’s be real here, Battle for Azeroth is just plain bad. It hasn’t yet had the patches to see if it’s going to be bad all through its lifespan or just for a while, but bad is bad. But subscribing to World of Warcraft gets you a whole lot of expansions and content, and while you might have to dig a little bit to find the fun at times, for the price of the title you can get quite a lot out of it. And if you’ve somehow never played the game, there’s sure as heck a lot to do before you bump up to the latest expansion.
Yes, there are honorable mentions
Just like the last list, there are games that nearly made their way onto the list; Blade and Soul and Black Desert Online both nearly got into the top 10, but ultimately both fell just short. Others were up for nomination but otherwise had stumbles at the end; as much as Lord of the Rings Online has good content, its expansion pricing and gouging is just a wee bit hard to ignore.
I also have to mention Project Gorgon, which is a game that offers a value in uniqueness alone. There may be a pressing need in your life for the ability to turn into a cow and play as one forever, and look, this is your game. That isn’t a criticism; it’s just impossible to offer your additional feedback on the merit of cow-transformation as a value metric.