End-of-Year Eleven: The best-value MMOs at the start of 2021

    
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May foulness attend thee.

What exactly is value, especially when it comes to MMOs? We all know what the word means, but the thing about “best value” is that it’s highly variable. Is a buy-to-play game with an aggressive cash shop better value than a free-to-play game with a less aggressive cash shop? What about if the former game has more content? What about the type of content available? What about one of the handful of subscription games out there? Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?

Fortunately, we don’t have to use a numbered list as a ranking system, and there are a lot of different MMOs out there who all deserve a nod on the list of best value. (Even if sometimes we do wind up running the column a little bit later than our other end-of-year columns due entirely to administrative hiccups, ahem.) So let’s take a look at the eleven games that are offering the most bang for your buck, even if how you want to spread your bucks for bangs might vary.

Big money.

1. Final Fantasy XIV

It’s really hard to believe that this game is still doing the subscription model thing in 2020… and doing it reliably by having a really great update schedule and delivering regular content and updates along with a polished experience. Seriously, if you want to just subscribe and be awash in stuff to do and new outfits to wear, there’s no better option out there right now.

This is probably why Final Fantasy XIV still hangs on to that subscription model, of course.

Big copyright infringement.

2. Guild Wars 2

If FFXIV is an example of how to do subscription models right, Guild Wars 2 is a pretty great example of how to do buy-to-play right… and the fact that it’s more of a hybrid model is just icing on the value cake. The great thing about the game is that while there’s room to debate how good any given piece of content winds up being, the sheer non-stop release of new stuff and new adventures itself goes to show just how good the game is overall.

“Didn’t this game also get an uncertain future nod?” you ask. And the answer is yes! It’s still a good value for what you get for entry. That’s how this stuff works.

Big ally.

3. Star Trek Online

The biggest thing that Star Trek Online does that I don’t like is how many lockboxes show up. But there’s a lot of stuff that it does right, and the fact of the matter is that a lot of what it does right is offering players a lot of content to play even outside of those lockbox drops. Indeed, it often feels like the lockbox drops are the only obnoxious free-to-play element in the game, and that’s commendable even beyond the sheer volume of featured content available in the game.

Big treasure.

4. Albion Online

Another excellent example of how to do free-to-play right, Albion Online is a consistently impressive indie title both in the volume of what it offers and the sheer nature of its organic world. The fact that it also has cross-play enabled for both mobile and PC clients is just another little nod to the sheer amount of value available in the title.

Big heist.

5. Path of Exile

I honestly forget that Path of Exile actually has a business model. Intellectually I know that it does, sure. The game has to make money. But if you just want to play this action RPG for free, you get a truly astonishing amount of stuff for free, to the point where paying for it almost feels like a secondary concern and like it’s owed just for sheer… well, value. Full points to the developers for making this one feel like a regular inclusion for value for anyone who likes the clicky-smashy.

Big energy.

6. Trove

I feel like to a certain extent we are all sleeping on Trove. It was easy from launch to sort of discount the game as being what amounted to a bargain version of other games and miss the steady rollout of content, options, and sheer variety available to players. So much of the stuff that much bigger games offer in more limited formats is available in Trove without a single cent of investment, and once you start getting into it there’s a lot here. If you’ve played everything else on this list and feel the urge to try something else, this is worth another look.

Big ideas.

7. World of Warcraft

Darn it, World of Warcraft, you have so much older content and you’re so resistant to making more of it relevant throughout the game. But the most recent expansion has made more content relevant again by changing how players level, and there’s the sheer size and backlog of stuff to do that simply has to be considered. The fact that so many expansions are bundled in with the base game at this point deserves a nod, too; you can even do a lot in this game without paying money, even though it’s resolutely a subscription game. It might deserve a value nod in the back nine, but it still deserves one.

I’m aware it’s not actually nine. It’s a golf term. Look it up.

Big ego.

8. EVE Online

The hybrid model isn’t the biggest thing that gets EVE Online a nod here; it’s the simple fact that there’s nothing else out there quite like EVE. The closest we get is Albion, and even that doesn’t really quite have the feel of the classic spreadsheet spaceship simulator. Even if you opt not to buy in, there’s a unique slate of experiences awaiting you in this particular sandbox.

Big trucking.

9. Elite: Dangerous

On the other hand, maybe you prefer your mining and shipping to be a little more organic, and Elite: Dangerous delivers. Along with delivering a whole lot of other things, which belies the fact that over time Elite has turned into a space sandbox with a lot of options that certain other games are still promising but have yet to deliver. There’s a great big galaxy out there in this one, and it’s hard to argue that the initial buy-in doesn’t give you a unique feel right from the start.

Big... whatever this thing is.

10. The Elder Scrolls Online

The cash shop for this game makes grown people cry tears of rage. Really, there are problems with The Elder Scrolls Online when it comes to monetization. But there’s also a lot in the game, as well as the simple fact that there are a lot of different ways to pay that offer a different incentive set. Whether you want to just subscribe or you want to buy one of the surprisingly cheap content bundles… there’s a lot here to enjoy, and it’s a shame that it manages to then go on and commit some pretty egregious other sins. Seriously, housing prices alone…

Big empty.

11. No Man’s Sky

What is it with big open space games and good value? I couldn’t tell you, but all of them have their own flavor, and after the rough patches early in its life No Man’s Sky has shaped itself into a very interesting game of journeying about, crafting, and making your very small mark in a very big world. Theoretically you can occasionally shoot at something, although that’s hardly your primary means of interaction.

Actually, come to think of it, that alone is unique enough that it deserves a nod for value.

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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Coolit

“Really, there are problems with The Elder Scrolls Online when it comes to monetization.”

Agreed, the over monetisation of ESO completely turned me off it and I stopped playing as a result. It’s pretty ridiculous, a box price, sub, ftp level store and loot boxes…

It also annoyed me that most of the mounts and pets are store exclusives primarily locked behind a 0.01% chance loot box while with games like WoW and FFXIV you buy the box, pay the sub and 99% of the pets and mounts are earnable in-game and included.

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Natalyia

If you treat SWTOR as “buy to play” and do a one-month sub to get “premium” level and unlock all the currently-shipped expansions, I think it deserves a place on this list.

If you’ve not played them, there’s a wealth of good to great story content in the base class stories, and the post-class content is worth doing on each “side” up to Knights of the Insert_Phrase, which is worth doing once on a Force-using class.

And after that, it looks like we’re back to the at-least-once-per side content, with some nice nods to individual class stories.

In terms of “value for money”, if you like Star Wars it’s got to be right up there – I’d put it above several of the games you have on that list, certainly. It’s even got the 0-50 class stories as F2P content so you can “try before you buy”

Now, if you’re looking to get top-end gear or do high-end PvP/PvE raid content? Notsomuch. But if you’re there for the Star Wars and the story? Hard to beat in terms of value – you’ve got the equivalent of several single-player with online co-op fully-voiced RPG games for free, and a couple more for the cost of one months’ sub.

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Coldrun ??

Does that sort of buy-to-play thing also permanently unlock the ability to use all the hotbars? (Not having automatic access to that left such a bad taste in my mouth.)

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Vanquesse V

They somewhat recently went from being very mean to free users to the direct opposite. If all you care about is the story, you can sub for a single month to unlock all of the story, then maybe spend ~20usd on some convenience and be set. PVP end PVE endgame is gated behind the sub, but there’s plenty to do for a free player, even one that never spends a single dollar

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Bruno Brito

to the direct opposite.

Eh. They went to a pretty mundane status, actually. The game still charges you for stupid stuff.

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silverwaste

I think it’s okay to talk about NMS, but why is it in a list like this? Even Star Trek is in, but SWTOR or other mmos are out. I mean, this is a game that is even getting a expansion this year.

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aYates

Shocking you’d pick FFIV #1, Eliot! ;-)

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Ironwu

I don’t understand your ESO Cash Shop comment. Other than DLC (which are all available for free if subscribed), there is nothing in the cash shop that is particularly onerous. Most of the ‘boosts’ they sell are pretty much worthless if you are actually playing the game, F2P or Subscription.

I feel that ESO is absolutely the best value for the $$$ that you can get. Reasons:

* The base game is very often on sale for less than $10. For F2P that is months of game play.

* If you subscribe, the DLC included in the subscription for free is more months of game play. Also includes the bottomless craft bag, exp and gold boosts, 2x bank slots, and much more. Not to mention the 1650 Crown (cash shop currency) monthly allotment, which is 150 MORE Crowns than you get if you just purchased Crowns for $15 (the monthly Sub cost)!

* If you buy the upcoming Chapter (expansion), you get ALL the previous Chapters included at no extra charge. For permanent. Even if you go back to F2P. (Make a note of this SSG and DO IT THIS WAY in LOTRO!)

* My favored way to do ESO is to play subscribed until I have enough Crowns to buy all the current DLC (especially when on sale!), and then switch over to F2P. That way, I get the best of both worlds and over time, the subscription cost is really about $7.50 a month for me, and no cost for the DLC. :)

I just cannot think of a more cost effective AAA MMO than ESO. Besides, I really like the action combat model much more than the tab-target combat model of game play. :)

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Bruno Brito

For F2P that is months of game play.

ESO is not F2P. We’ve been through this dance before, Iron.

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Ironwu

Yes, I think you are correct.

If you put in ‘No Sub’ in place of ‘F2P’ in my above post, then I think it is more accurate.

Thanks for pointing this out. ;)

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Bruno Brito

Hilarious. Still a huge difference between B2P and F2P. I’m sorry not all of us can pay 10 bucks for our fun, and have to live with things being 5x pricier.

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Sleepy

I don’t think any MMO that’s charging €12.99 a month is offering value anymore, not when you can get a Game Pass or Netflix sub for the same price as access to a single game. It’s not even a question of disposable income, it just comparatively doesn’t provide value compared to pricing of other forms of entertainment.

Unless you live in said MMO of course. But I do think the MMO industry could do with testing different sub costs to see what makes people bite.