In this age of increased anxiety and friction, there’s a natural desire to retreat into safe spaces. And yet not all of us have a room under the stairs full of stuffies and comfort food (although we should). It’s perhaps why we’ve seen a rise in so-called “cozy MMOs” and other similar projects, as they provide a counterpoint to the conflict, competition, and general stress that your typical online game generates.
Let’s take a trip through 10 online worlds with cozy vibes. For this list, I’ve isolated titles that adhere to a charming aesthetic, downplay combat, offer life sim activities, stress housing, and generally make these a places as welcoming as possible.
Few people remember that toward the late 2000s, MMOs were skewing pretty hard to bloodthirsty and cutthroat attitudes to appear more mature then World of Warcraft. Then comes Free Realms in 2009 that decided WoW wasn’t cute enough. With bright colors, a highly stylized world, and plenty of non-combat minigames to enjoy, this was a retreat into simpler days for sure.
Maybe it was a little too much “Fisher Price’s First MMO” for the cool gamers, but there are plenty both above and below the line of adulthood who enjoyed the change of pace. I always liked how it explored alternate multiplayer activities.
With a release looking likely for this year, we could be dipping into this so-called “cozy MMO” before too long. With an emphasis on cooperative crafting, non-combat activities, and fun world exploration, this could be a great palette cleanser after a day of slogging through dungeons.
The tentpole feature of Palia is, like WildStar before it, its housing system. Creating a home tailor-made for the user is entirely possible here, and Palia clearly expects that a lot of time will be spent playing house — so much so that many of its systems feed into it.
Lord of the Rings Online
While the Middle-earth of LOTRO certainly has its fair share of dark and dour zones, I felt that this game deserved a spot on this list for its overall tone. Despite being set in a world filled with opposition, death, and evil, LOTRO holds up the virtuous efforts of the Free Peoples as an example to be emulated (literally, as the player goes through these journeys).
On top of that, LOTRO can provide some of the coziest settings in any MMO with its housing and zones like The Shire, Bree-land, Rohan, and Dale-lands. I’ve heard plenty of people express that they wish they could visit — or live — the world fashioned here, and I can believe it.
Villagers and Heroes
While this World of Warcraft clone wears its influences right on its sleeves, that’s not a bad thing. Villagers and Heroes always felt like a WoW clone with lower stakes, if that makes any sense. The art style is quite inviting, as is the focus on giving a character a non-combat lifestyle. Plus, this MMORPG recently introduced a hefty interior housing system that promises to get even better over time.
This first-person multiplayer game seemingly arrived out of nowhere over the past couple of months to rake in a respectable Kickstarter haul and get people excited about early access happening later this year.
Solarpunk does seem to be taking a cue from the survival game genre while taking it in a decidedly more cheery direction: “Alone or together with your friends, you can construct buildings, grow food, craft gadgets and hop on your airship to explore distant islands in the sky.”
As long as you don’t mind looking like a child in a universe filled with other kids, then Loftia may be a “cozy solarpunk MMO” worth investigating. This upcoming title, created by an ex-hardcore raider, takes place on a floating sky island where players will work together to tackle projects, farm, go on adventures through puzzle-and-platforming dungeons, organize clubs, craft, and decorate apartments.
We might be in for a wait on this one, as alpha tests aren’t supposed to happen until next year. Still, it could be worth watching!
Dauntless developer Phoenix Labs is working on the rather less-intense fantasy Fae Farm. This co-op title will see players living in a village that changes and evolves every day. Once again, we see the Animal Crossing template come into play… but is that a bad thing? I say no way!
Fae Farm looks absolutely adorable with its dollhouse-like structures and happy colors, but recent layoffs seemingly contributed to a delay until later this year. However, you can pre-order it now if you like.
Final Fantasy XIV
Just because an MMO has combat and even some pretty dark themes at times doesn’t mean it can’t be pretty cozy overall, and I think that Final Fantasy XIV proves this. It exudes charm and chipper anime style at every turn (I mean, have you looked at the sheep’s tails in this game? Come on!).
Plus, there are plenty of ways to eschew combat and settle into this game world. There are visits to the Golden Saucer for minigames and betting, a pretty intricate player housing system (if you can afford it), a huge crafting sub-game, and even the newish island sanctuaries to tend.
I know that there are some who might snicker (nicker?) at a horse-centered MMO — and we have lovingly made a joke or two about Star Stable’s Trapper Keeper-like setting. But you can’t really hate on a title that embraces adventure, connections with nature, and cheery art. It’s got a loyal fan base that’s been with it for over a decade now, and that is no doubt helped by the fact that this game refuses to slap armor on its equines and force them to joust to the death.
Book of Travels
If you’re looking for a change of pace — I mean, a real change of pace — in your gaming, then you can mosey on to the intimate world of Book of Travels. There, you’ll wander through painting-like landscapes exploring, solving mysteries, bartering, and emoting. Its gameplay may be a bit obtuse for some, but this title’s environment is the perfect vacation spot for the weary MMO traveler.