MMORPGs are seeing a bit of a renaissance at the moment. The genre, which has been dominated by the same two or three titles for well over a decade, is currently experiencing a huge influx of new games. From Amazon’s smash-hit New World to the constant stream of MMOs coming in from Asia, fans of the genre are certainly spoiled for choice at the moment.
But what are the absolute best MMORPGs you should be playing right now? Keep reading to find out.
Before we get started it’s worth mentioning that this will be a quasi-ranked list. Unless you’re ranking the best MMORPGs based on player numbers, there’s no real way to make a list like this objective. So we’re not even going to try. Instead, we’re primarily going to rank these games based on our own recent experiences with them while also taking into account how much the gaming community seems to enjoy them in 2021.
With that out of the way, let’s get to it.
Payment model: Free to Play
Albion Online is a fantasy MMORPG launched in 2017 by the aptly named Sandbox Interactive GmbH. The game has a rather unorthodox take on the MMORPG formula, as it features no real storyline and no traditional class system. Instead, skills are tied to gear and you can create a wide variety of builds simply by equipping the right items. Similarly, switching to a different role is as simple as putting on a different helmet or breastplate.
In addition to giving you the freedom to create unique builds, Albion Online is also one of the best MMORPGs around if you’re someone who enjoys PvP. The game lets you take part in both small and large-scale battles where you can either win lots of loot or lose everything you have in one fell swoop.
Albion Online’s heavy focus on PvP makes it unfriendly to newcomers but that shouldn’t dissuade you from checking it out. Once you join a solid guild that can teach you the ropes, you’ll definitely have a lot of fun in this unique MMORPG. And if you don’t mind staying close to the safe areas, you can certainly have an enjoyable experience even while playing solo.
Payment model: Buy to Play + Paid DLC
Black Desert Online received lots of praise for its visuals and in-depth customization system when it initially launched on PC back in 2015. Six years and several iterations later, both of those aspects still hold up nicely. Although most people continue to refer to it as Black Desert Online, the current version of the game is known simply as Black Desert on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam.
Visuals and customization aside, one of the other main selling points of Black Desert is its combat system. Unlike most traditional MMORPGs, there’s no ‘tab targeting’ in Black Desert. Everything revolves around manual targeting and free movement, including combat. In other words, it plays just like an FPS or action game.
Interestingly enough, you can play Black Desert for free in some parts of the world but not in others. In the US or EU, you’ll need to pay $10 to get it, though it used to be free in these regions as well. Still, 10 bucks is not bad considering there’s no subscription. It’s definitely worth checking out for that price, if only for the visuals alone.
Update march 2022:
In preparation for the upcoming Eternal Winter expansion, developer Pearl Abyss launched a new DLC pack on March 10th. The pack includes a new outfit, pet, title, blessing, and some other bells and whistles. Meanwhile, the actual expansion is set to land on April 6th and will feature a new class, new region, new monsters, new items; new everything.
Payment model: Buy to Play
Breaking into the MMORPG genre is no mean feat. All of the big players have been around for several years or even a decade or two in some cases. Even all the titles on this list came out more than four years ago. All except New World.
Amazon’s first serious foray into gaming has been a massive success. With the game reaching a peak of over 900K concurrent players less than one week after launch. Not too shabby all things considered.
One of the things we’ve come to appreciate about New World is that it manages to feel both distinct and familiar at the same time. The game borrows many elements from other MMORPGs without losing its own identity in the process. The original setting and stunning visuals definitely don’t hurt either. Amazon’s decision to not add mounts (at least not yet) was very inspired as it allows players to truly explore and take in all the beautiful vistas the game has to offer.
New World is still fresh and its long-term success will depend on how the developers handle post-launch content and updates. Most MMORPGs live and die by their expansions and big content patches. Hopefully, we’re going to get some good ones. And soon, because an increasing number of players are reaching max level and are itching for more endgame content. A lot more.
Update march 2022:
New World started out strong but excitement for the game quickly fizzled out in the months following its release. Primarily due to the lack of new content. Earlier this month, the developers revealed a major new update known as Heart of Madness, which should be making its way to the PTR in the near future. Unfortunately, this update comes too little too late and there’s no word on whether we can expect a proper expansion sometime in 2022.
Old School Runescape
Payment model: Free to Play/Optional Subscription
This one is another blast from the past. Initially launched way back in 2001, RuneScape quickly became one of the best MMORPGs around, a title it continued to hold for many years afterward. The game underwent many changes and iterations over the past two decades, the most important of which came in 2013 in the form of Old School RuneScape.
Just as its name indicates, OSRS is based on an older version of the game. Specifically, the August 2007 build. If you’re familiar with WoW Classic, this is sort of the same thing, but with a lot more improvements and updates. In fact, OSRS received a new game mode just recently called Group Ironman and there are probably even more updates in the works as we speak.
Old School RuneScape’s updates are almost entirely community-driven, with players voting via in-game polls on what new features and improvements they would like to see next. Developer Jagex has done an excellent job so far at keeping players happy, which is one of the main reasons why OSRS ended up becoming more popular than regular RuneScape. That, and the nostalgia factor of course.
Update march 2022:
OSRS continues to receive weekly updates, as per usual. Among the plethora of updates received throughout 2022 so far, there were a few noteworthy ones like Nex: The Fifth General, Land of the Goblins, and Guardians of the Rift.
Guild Wars 2
Payment model: Free to Play + Paid Expansions
Guild Wars 2 is another MMORPG that has been around for almost a decade at this point. While considered a bit niche these days, it’s still one of the best MMORPGs out there. And easily among the most unique titles in the genre.
While a lot of other MMORPGs focus primarily on the MMO part, especially these days, developer ArenaNet set out to make Guild Wars 2 into a game that puts just as much emphasis on the RPG part. The game focuses a lot on the narrative, to the point where it allows player actions to dictate the course of the story. At least to a certain degree. And instead of traditional questing, the game uses a dynamic event system.
The combat is also quite interesting, as it forces players to create builds comprised of 10 skills from a much larger pool. This adds an additional element of strategy into the mix. Speaking of strategy, it’s also worth noting Guild Wars 2’s “World vs World” game mode. The mode revolves around large-scale battles where dozens of players from several different servers can duke it out while simultaneously completing PvE objectives.
Update march 2022:
On February 28th Guild Wars 2 got its third expansion, End of Dragons. The expansion features a brand new storyline centered around dragons. Obviously. In addition, players can expect nine new elite specializations, new mounts, new masteries, new equipment, and a few other interesting features to boot.
Payment model: Free to Play/Optional Subscription + Paid DLC
Games like EVE Online only come around once in a generation. As far as space-themed MMORPGs are concerned, there’s really nothing out there that even comes close to this game in terms of scale and complexity. Maybe that will change once Star Citizen finally launches in another couple of decades, but for now, EVE Online is easily the best space MMORPG on the market.
EVE Online’s open-world is humongous, encompassing around 7,800 star systems, each with its own planets and space stations. But what’s truly impressive about it is that everything takes place in the same shared space. That’s a huge technical achievement considering there are hundreds of thousands of people playing this game.
There’s little to no hand-holding in this space sim, which can be either a good or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. At the start of the game, you only get a few basic tutorials that introduce you to some of the game’s core concepts. Everything else you’ll need to figure out for yourself, and it’s going to take a lot of time because there’s plenty to learn here.
On the bright side, you get complete freedom to role-play as pretty much anything you can think of, be it trader, explorer, miner, pirate, and so much more.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
Payment model: Free to Play/Optional Subscription + Paid DLC
SWOTR will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in just a couple of months on December 20th. As some of you may remember, this game was hyped to death by both EA and Bioware long before it came out. I clearly remember the term “WoW-killer” being thrown around on more than one occasion.
While Star Wars: The Old Republic was never able to match the ludicrous expectations some people had for it, it still managed to become one of the best MMORPGs out there. SWOTR manages to do something most MMORPGs can’t even dream of – tell an engaging story. MMOs generally do a very bad job at making you feel interested in the narrative but that’s not the case here. This is very much a story-driven experience that plays similar to a lot of other Bioware titles.
The game is very easy to recommend to anyone thanks to the fact that it’s free to play and friendly to newcomers. Of course, if you’re a Star Wars or Bioware fan you have even more reasons to want to play it. And if you’re wondering if people are still interested in this decade-old game, the answer is a resounding “yes!” Since finally coming to Steam last year, SWOTR’s player base has been growing exponentially and the game is doing better than ever.
Update march 2022:
SWOTR got its eight expansion on February 15th. Dubbed Legacy of the Sith, the expansion features a new storyline set on the planet Manaan that centers around Darth Malgus. The expansion also raised the level cap to 80, added new customization options, improved the character creator, and more.
World of Warcraft
Payment model: Buy to Play + Subscription + Paid Expansions
Speaking of nostalgia, you can’t have a list of best MMORPGs without mentioning World of Warcraft. If the theme of this list would have been slightly different, we probably would have placed WoW at number one. But as it stands, the game isn’t as fun as it could (and should) be at the moment. TBC Classic still has a bit of life left in it, but Shadowlands is pretty much dead at this point.
Almost one year since its initial release, the expansion only received one major patch so far. And word on the street is that we’re unlikely to see Shadowlands 9.2 until Spring of 2022. Admittedly, between internal squabbles and being sued left and right, the folks over at Blizzard have had a lot on their plate this year. Of course, it didn’t help that the developers spent time on resources fixing things few people cared about instead of improving the game itself.
But despite the myriad of issues surrounding the game and its developer, WoW as a whole is unquestionably still a solid MMORPG. Shadowlands is a bit hard to recommend right now, especially given the price. But you can still have a good time with TBC Classic and you don’t need to pay for anything besides the monthly subscription to play it. Plus, Blizzard announced new and improved WoW Classic servers that may be worth looking into once they launch.
Update march 2022:
Earlier this month Blizzard outlined its plans for the future of World of Warcraft. The biggest takeaway was the reveal of a new World of Warcraft expansion, which is expected to be showcased on April 19th. Some info regarding other Blizzard games also came out, including a new Hearthstone expansion and a new Warcraft mobile game. At this time we don’t know if the upcoming mobile game will be related to WoW.
The Elder Scrolls Online
Payment model: Buy to Play/Optional Subscription + Paid Expansions
Many people were skeptical when Zenimax and Bethesda first announced The Elder Scrolls Online, and with good reason. After all, the game was being developed by the parent company Zenimax as opposed to Bethesda Software. It also didn’t help that neither company had any experience making MMORPGs. And as it turned out, gamers were right to be worried. For the first year or so the game was painfully mediocre and using a subscription-based model like WoW didn’t do it any favors either.
Luckily, Zenimax went back to the drawing board and re-released the game as The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited in 2015. Complete with a wide range of improvements and a buy-to-play model. These changes, along with even more improvements that came down the line, transformed TESO into one of the best MMORPGs around. Not to mention one of the best Elder Scrolls games.
The Elder Scrolls Online received a new expansion called Blackwood just a few months back and even more new content is scheduled for later this year. Namely, the Waking Flame and Deadlands DLCs. Given that Elder Scrolls 6 is still several years from launch, ESO is the next best thing you can play if you’re a fan of the series. Unless, of course, you’re considering getting the upcoming Skyrim Anniversary Edition. How many times has that game been re-released now? Seven? Eight? We’ve lost count.
Update march 2022:
In early 2022 Zenimax announced High Isle, the latest expansion for Elder Scrolls Online. This time around players will get to visit the titular home of the Bretons. This will be the first time High Isle will be featured in detail in an Elder Scrolls game. And, based on what we’ve seen so far, there will be plenty of exciting new content to play through. High Isle is set to launch later this year on June 6th.
Final Fantasy Xiv
Payment model: Buy to Play + Subscription + Paid Expansions (30-day free trial for new players)
Next up on our list of the best MMORPGs you should be playing right now is Final Fantasy XIV. AKA one of the best redemption stories in the history of gaming. The first version of the game launched in 2010 and was almost universally loathed by critics and players alike. That version was eventually canned a couple of years later and replaced with a far superior one subtitled A Realm Reborn. The version we all know and love today.
Final Fantasy XIV has been doing well for quite a while now but it was only over the past year or so that the hype surrounding the game reached truly massive proportions. This was in no small part thanks to the recent events surrounding Blizzard and the mass exodus of WoW players to other MMORPGs. One of which happened to be Final Fantasy XIV.
Despite the rather steep price, FF XIV is definitely worth checking out, especially now. The latest expansion, Shadowbringers, has been doing very well and there’s a new one called Endwalker coming up on November 23rd.
Unlike a lot of other MMORPGs, Final Fantasy XIV’s old content doesn’t become obsolete the moment a new expansion launches. So don’t worry if you can’t or don’t want to buy the latest expansion. There’s always plenty of other stuff to do in FF XIV. And if you’re a new player, you can check out the game for free for up to 30 days.
Payment mode: Free to Play + Paid DLC
Lost Ark managed to stand out in a month that saw the release of several big hitters like Elden Ring, Total War: Warhammer 3, Dying Light 2, Horizon Forbidden West, Sifu, and more. The game had been playable in other parts of the world for some time but it only became playable in the west in February of 2022. Where it made a bigger splash than most people probably expected.
Lost Ark is a Korean MMORPG that uses a top-down perspective, which is something of a rarity in the west. Equally uncommon are MMOs with microtransactions that border on pay-to-win and where most characters are running around in skimpy outfits. And yet, Lost Ark is exactly the type of game western players have been wanting for years.
At its core, the gameplay is very much inspired by the likes of Diablo. You’ll spend most of your time during the opening hours swinging your massive weapon or flinging spells at groups of enemies while hoarding tons of loot along the way. However, that’s merely a warm-up. Lost Ark’s true strength lies in the endgame where everything becomes much bigger and opens the doors to countless epic adventures.
While the games below didn’t quite make our list of best MMORPGs, we would still recommend checking them out if you’re looking for even more massively multiplayer online fun.
- Lord of the Rings Online
- Secret World Legends
- Star Trek Online
- Fallout 76 (it’s supposed to be good now, maybe)
Did you enjoy this list? If so, make sure to also check out some of our other ones down below.