I have been told that if I start another one of these columns musing on the abstract meaning of “value” as I have for the past several years, I will be mailed a jar full of bees. While the usual response to this will be “joke’s on you, I’m into that,” I’ve decided to take this in the spirit it was intended and just acquiesce. The important thing is that today, we’re all about talking about the best value for the money you pay in.
The landscape of value has, of course, changed meaningfully over the years; there was a time when every MMO basically required a monthly subscription and free-to-play games were inherently low-rent ventures. These days, things are a bit different. So there’s space to disagree about the best in breed; if you religiously hate any sort of subscription fee, you will probably dislike some of these options for that alone, and likewise if your preferences are in the other direction. But if we do our best to take all of that into account, which MMOs get the top slots?
1. Guild Wars 2
The past several years, Guild Wars 2 has been the absolute champion of rocking the buy-to-play business model. It’s hard to imagine a single buy-to-play game that gives you more for less, and the fact that there’s a fair chunk of the game you can get free? Even better. It’s hard to top it for value in that department.
2. Final Fantasy XIV
Meanwhile, if you prefer a subscription model, here’s the equally undisputed champ. It’s remarkably consistent in terms of content and value for the subscription. You almost wish that the two front-runners would stop keep being so straightforward and keep executing year after year, but… well, this is the world we live in. (If that put Land of Confusion in your head, I am not sorry.)
3. World of Warcraft
It’s been a really weird set of years for this game, but while I’ve sometimes said that the game is kinda just barely hanging on to its spot on this list, it’s hard to make that same claim when the game’s subscription gives you options for four different server rulesets. Sure, there are problems to be dealt with when it comes to all of those rulesets, but that’s a lot of different options for the same subscription fee. That ain’t nothing.
4. The Elder Scrolls Online
Are we truly into the era of the Big Four instead of the Big Five? That’s a debate for another day, but The Elder Scrolls Online continues to be in the list either way, and even if it does have something of an enthusiasm problem, it does not have a value problem. You know what you’re getting from this game consistently, and while the fact that it exhibits reliability similar to some kitchen appliances may not be the best thing, it definitely means that the game cannot be faulted for value.
5. Lord of the Rings Online
This year in particular has really made me think about just how much Lord of the Rings Online gives away for free. Not just because the base game is free-to-play, although that is also true; I’m also thinking about the various giveaways it manages along the way. Add to that the fact the game is perhaps the most faithful recreation of the world of Tolkien I can imagine? Yeah. That’s pretty solid.
6. Albion Online
There is no crowdfunded game that has managed to nail the landing as well as Albion Online. It’s the truth. While the game is not to my taste, it manages to split the difference in terms of how to handle open PvP, as well as delivering a consistent set of content and updates. That’s impressive, and I think it deserves a nod. It’s good value for the money even if you just want a sprawling sandbox, and while I still am not sold on open PvP, I can’t sit back and say this game doesn’t show how to do that at least somewhat successfully.
You might think that I have a silly reason for keeping up a lifelong vendetta against Jagex for a game about robots that turn into cars, but I do. However, the reality is that RuneScape keeps trucking along and hands out plenty of stuff to grind until your head falls off, although I don’t know why your head would fall off in that scenario. The point is that you can wind up with a lot of game to play without bothering to put even a cent in. (And yes, I’m aware that the game also tried to make a rather egregious cash grab this year with a battle pass system that was widely reviled. But it did get rolled back!)
8. Dungeons & Dragons Online
In the broad strokes, DDO has the same advantage as LOTRO above. There’s a lot of free content in the game to begin with, and the developers keep giving away more free stuff on top of that. That’s impressive. It’s kind of ironic, on some level; I remember when the game first went free-to-play and it was considered a great value then. Time is a flat circle.
9. No Man’s Sky
We know that Hello Games is currently hard at work on another game, and that game itself is indisputably going to be an MMORPG. It looks truly impressive. But a lot of that is bolstered by the fact that we have years and years of No Man’s Sky to show how the studio is going to handle a live game. The title has kept humming along and constantly improving after a disappointing launch, especially impressive when you consider that it is also a buy-to-play title and was never even one hundred percent meant to be a persistent online world. I’m constantly amazed by how this game runs.
10. New World
Amazon has a spotty track record… which is a polite way of saying that the studio’s track record seems to involve a whole lot of pitfalls, errors, and derailings. Even New World hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing. But in some ways I think the game has wound up looping back around to actually being good value for the money. I don’t know if the game is totally into a safe financial model, and I don’t know for sure that it’s stumbled into success status, but I’m glad to see it providing good value for the cash you put in.
11. Project Gorgon
You may or may not find this particular weird sort of indie gameplay to be your bag, and that’s fine. I will not expect everyone to love it. But not only is there a whole lot of dense nifty stuff inside the game, it’s the rare MMO where you can actually feel like you’re doing something super good just by supporting it. It may be an esoteric definition of value, but it’s the one I’m going with today.