While there is nothing wrong with dropping some money on a worthy game, many of us are looking to be as frugal as possible when engaging in MMORPGs. It’s good to keep in mind that these games are not charity; they are part of a business designed to part you and your dollar.
Sorting out what does and does not make a wise MMO purchase is a topic for another time, so instead today we will cover the online games that give you the best value and experience for your time, interest, and (yes) money. I assessed the current crop of MMORPGs to see which ones give you the best bang for your buck while being pretty good games in their own right. Ready? Let’s go.
Path of Exile
So few studios strike that perfect balance between driving revenue and providing a business model that doesn’t annoy everyone, but Grinding Gear Games seems to have done just that with Path of Exile. The full game — including its future massive expansion — is available for completely free, and what a game it is! We are absolutely in love with this game and its studio, which is why it won a 2019 MOP award for its excellence. Forget Diablo IV; you can get your grimdark ARPG click-and-lootfest right here, right now.
Star Trek Online
I always feel like I have to preface any Star Trek Online recommendation with a heap of caveats. Yes, Cryptic pushes lockboxes like a digital drug dealer. Yes, there are some desirable races and ships that are only available for pay (or an extremely lengthy currency grind). But I also feel that STO gives away the store, because you get so much for free. This includes all of the missions and expansions, many races, and ships while leveling up. Cryptic is also in the habit of giving players ways to earn free endgame ships a few times each year, which seems overly generous to me.
Elder Scrolls Online
Our Best MMO of 2019 is also a tremendous value in and of itself. Elder Scrolls Online’s huge core game is completely free, providing dozens if not hundreds of hours of play in a top-tier MMORPG without hurting your wallet. While DLC and expansions are locked behind a pay wall, Zenimax does toss content and feature bones to its freebie community with each major update.
Final Fantasy XIV
Sometimes you’re looking for a good value that doesn’t have any hidden catches or F2P pressure points. In that case, run, don’t stop, to FFXIV. While it does require a subscription to play, a basic sub only sets you back $13 a month (which is below the industry standard) and includes the full game and all of the richness that it entails. Expansions are extra, but if you wait for sales, you might come ahead on these — and they are worth the price of admission.
Honesty up front: The community is still unsure of what Gamigo is going to do with RIFT after giving it very little love last year, and it’s safe to say that the game is residing in limbo. That said, it is a remarkably full-featured MMO with great housing, accessible systems, a flexible wardrobe, and a mix-and-match class setup that will make you weep with joy. The best part? The huge core game and all three of its expansions are included in the free-to-play experience.
World of Warcraft
What we have loved about World of Warcraft’s business model for a long time now is that Blizzard tosses in every single expansion except the most recent into every sub. If that’s not all, in 2019 the studio added a second full game — WoW Classic — to the subscription, giving you a great two-for-one deal that makes you feel like you’re getting a great steal every month.
In many ways, EverQuest II has become one of the most underrated MMORPGs on the market despite its ardent fans singing its praises over the past 15 years. One of those reasons that it is underrated is its immense value as a free-to-play game. Sure, you don’t get every class or race for nothing, but the sheer mountain of content and features that is handed to you upon entry should more than make up for that.
Almost everything that I said about Star Trek Online applies to Neverwinter as well — both are, after all, PWE/Cryptic titles. This game will try to put the pressure on you to drop money on mounts, companions, and gobs of lockboxes. But absolutely none of that is necessary to have a great time in a very expansive world. As a bonus, free players almost always have a way to earn those premium goodies through Neverwinter’s barrage of festivals.
CCP’s switch to a hybrid free-to-play model for EVE Online a little while back opened up this cutthroat universe to a much wider audience. There’s a lot that you can do here within the ship limitations that you are given as a free player, and it’ll be a long, long time before you come up against any restrictions that might pressure you into subbing up.
Guild Wars 2
Here’s another MMO that shot up even more in value the second that ArenaNet made the core game free. If for whatever reason you have avoided stepping into Tyria so far, you really shouldn’t delay any longer. Core Guild Wars 2 is immense, fascinating to explore, and deeply satisfying to conquer. As a bonus, the studio keeps unlocking Living Story episodes for free granted that you log in during the periods of time in which they are active (though of course you can’t play them until you buy the expansion set).