Every year when I do this post, I muse about what “value” actually means for MMOs because it’s actually a tricky proposition and that fascinates me. And every year Bree asks me to please just write the column instead of wasting a whole lot of words musing on the definition there because it isn’t that complicated, and I say it is that complicated, and we go absolutely nowhere. Fun times! Or so I assume, anyway. I’ve done no research.
By contrast, I have actually done a fair bit of research here on value and what you’re getting for your money, even if a lot of that is unlikely to appear in a peer-reviewed journal at any point. (But if someone wants to quote me in a proper scientific journal, go for it, I’d get a kick out of it.) So let’s take a look at the best value online titles as we wrap up 2022 and move in to 2023, and you can bet that no company that increased its subscription price while offering the same product shows up here.
1. Guild Wars 2
Not only did this year see Guild Wars 2 get a solid run round the bases with End of Dragons, it also corrected one of the big things that has bothered me for years regarding the whole Living World model by saying, “Sure, all right, now you can have all of that content we excised for no good reason.” This is a positive thing! The game has been consistently good value before then, and it’s good value now. New things get added, they’re usually fun, and you can play an actual plant.
It’s probably the best value ever if you like buy-to-play fantasy and playing as a literal plant, come to think of it. I’m not here to judge you if your value metrics are odd.
2. Lord of the Rings Online
In a year of rising subscription prices, Lord of the Rings Online spent the year actually giving players more stuff for the price of a subscription while also keeping up its legacy as, well… LOTRO. I mean, by this point you’re either on board with this game’s vision of Tolkien as an MMORPG or you aren’t, and if you aren’t, I feel like you really need to accept that’s more of a you thing than the game. The fact of the matter is that you get a lot for a little with this game, and it’s a highly polished and well-made game.
And the sharp among you will recall that I am one of those odd people who states reliably that the game is not for me. But I still recognize its value and appreciate it.
3. Final Fantasy XIV
Let’s not mince words: If you’re a fan of Final Fantasy XIV, this was not the game’s most content-filled year (nothing was delayed or came out late; it just shook out that way), and a lot of it was spent coasting along on the high from Endwalker. But that’s one heck of a high, and considering the sheer amount of communication, reliable update schedule, and just reliable stuff in the game… yeah. This is all right. If you like pure subscription games, you don’t have many options anyway, but FFXIV shows you how to manage that.
4. No Man’s Sky
There are parts of No Man’s Sky that could stand to be a lot stronger, but it’s hard to be all that torn up over its weaknesses when you consider just how much you get in this game without more than your initial purchase. It’s gone from promising the world and delivering very little at launch to promising very little and delivering the world. Worlds, in fact. A lot of them, all over, all waiting for you to explore.
If you’re upset that all of that doesn’t include bedsheet deformation, I’m sorry, but you need to accept that’s a you problem.
There is a lot to like in Warframe. There are, unfortunately, also a fair number of problems and a general lack of proper explanation for many of its more esoteric systems. And it’s grindy. But then, can you really be upset at having to grind to unlock things when that’s the whole game? Yes. A little. But it’s still a good game and it offers a good value even for free players.
6. Star Trek Online
I’ve been sharply critical of Star Trek Online over its business model in the past, and it’s criticism the game deserves. It always seems like a game right on the bubble of tipping over into just being predatory and not deserving of a nod for value. But every time I get the urge to remove it, something happens like it increasing the value for subscriptions or players who already bought lifetime subscriptions, and I have to just kind of sigh. As much as I don’t like some of the ways the management chooses to monetize this game, there is a lot of good game here just the same.
7. EverQuest 2
So we usually don’t actually have EverQuest 2 on this particular list, for various reasons. But this year? Well, it didn’t substantially change its model or do anything unusually good – it’s the same old subscribe-or-cash shop with an expansion that’s probably overpriced and a whole lot of straightforward purchases on the cash shop. However, it also isn’t gross monetization, hasn’t gotten worse in any way, and has an insane amount of content if you get into the game and enjoy it. So the game gets a nod by virtue of keeping on with what it does well and having, as mentioned, a huge amount of content to back it up.
8. Path of Exile
In the past, I’ve noted that it feels like this game’s business model is almost perfunctory, but this year… has been a little harder in that department. It doesn’t feel like Path of Exile was quite firing on all cylinders this year; it seems to have been focused a little too much on the wrong things. That having been said, it’s still an impressive game with a lot to offer right out of the gate, so it’s going to take more than one year to really tarnish that reputation to the point of getting knocked off.
Gosh, remember when this game wasn’t handled by Gamigo? Those were nice times. It made a full endorsement of Trove somewhat easier to hand out. But the game still makes your money go far and it’s still a fun romp with a lot to recommend it. If you’re wondering where you can go to get the MMO equivalent of dumping all of your action figures on the ground and making them fight, here you are! You’re welcome.
10. The Elder Scrolls Online
I don’t think The Elder Scrolls Online has a business model problem or a value problem; I feel like it has an enthusiasm problem. It’s not as if the game failed to deliver new content this year on a reliable schedule? It just didn’t light anyone on fire. (Figuratively, not literally.) Still, the game offers a lot for its box price. It just needs to have more content that makes people sit up and say that it’s amazing.
11. World of Warcraft
There’s some space to debate if this should be on here, and since that we’re talking about a massively successful game that has major corporate backing and nearly two decades of content to draw upon, that’s pathetic. It’s hovering around the bottom of the top right now, but it’s not like good management couldn’t send World of Warcraft rocketing back to a higher place with a better and more appreciable value moving forward. Here’s hoping that’s what we get in 2023.