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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.