The vast open-world nature of MMORPG’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) combined with the seamless and simultaneous interaction with hundreds of thousands of other players around the world has lead to a whole generation of people become infatuated with the genre. There’s so many to choose from, but we look at 5 of the best free to play MMO’s currently available.
Spawned by the brilliant and innovative mind of Richard Garriott, the creator of the Ultima series, which led to the first true MMORPG, Ultima Online, the genre has long since entered the zeitgeist of the mainstream with such culture-defining titles as World of Warcraft. Initially these titles all required a monthly fee to pay, but the invention and progression of a new business model for MMO’s – the ability to purchase in-game goods with actual money – has allowed for a whole new generation of free to play titles, enabling a vast new audience to participate in the unbridled joy of exploring new worlds, interacting with thousands of others and slaying demons together.
Let’s look, then, at five of the best of these free to play MMO’s that are currently on the market, starting with probably the biggest and most popular, Star Wars: The Old Republic, followed by some more obscure and left field choices.
STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC
There’s but a few titles with the dubious honour of having a genuine claim at the title of ‘Most Hyped Game Of All Time’. This, the long-awaited MMO version of the
legendary Knights of the Old Republic series, is definitely a top contender for that throne. Initially announced in October 2008, at the peak of the World of Warcraft-fuelled
global MMO obsession, to a tsunami of fanfare and speculation, amid claims it would be the best selling game of all time and would finally deliver Star Wars enthusiasts with an experience worthy of the franchise. Almost inevitably, the game failed to live up to expectations, coming under heavy criticism for an overly derivative playstyle, repetitive missions and generally providing a stale experience that offered nothing new.
But don’t let this fool you – the game failed not because it isn’t good, but because it promised far, far too much – the enormous weight of millions of fanboys’ expectations could only be supported by a vast, sprawling, revolutionary behemoth of a game that The Old Republic unfortunately just wasn’t.
Regardless, it’s since gone free-to-play, as of early 2013, so even if you don’t want to fork out the $15 ‘premium’ fee, you can still enjoy one of the most epic RPG campaigns ever created – yes, this even includes traditional single player RPGs – and an awesomely fun (if still somewhat incomplete) multiplayer experience. It might not have been the WoW killer that everyone was hoping for and anticipating, but it’s a damn fine game and without doubt one of the best MMO’s currently on the market.
Long-time RPG gamers will immediately be familiar with the title – Neverwinter, the fabled Forgotten Realms city nestled on the northwestern coast of Faerûn, is the setting
for this hugely ambitious project set in the Dungeons and Dragons universe. Released in June 2013, Neverwinter Online takes a slightly different tact from the run-of-the-mill
open world, grind-heavy, solo-focused MMO’s and takes a noticeable and direct focus towards team oriented play, in the form of story-based cooperative dungeons and missions.
The inspiration for the game’s design actually comes from epic single-player RPG’s such as Skyrim and Dragon Age, according to the game’s developers, and this has led to the intensely detailed and captivating story that permeates through every decision that your character makes in the game.
In Neverwinter Online, you can pick from one of five classic character classes – the Control Wizard, Trickster Rogue, Great Weapon Fighter, Devoted Cleric, or the Guardian Fighter, all based on Dungeons & Dungeons specialist character classes. The gameplay style is also specifically designed in more of a single-player, action oriented style as opposed to the mindless cyclic button mashing in traditional MMO’s – Cryptic Studios CEO Jack Emmert had the following to say about the direction they wanted to take NWO’s gameplay:
“With Neverwinter, we’ve taken a brand new direction for us: action combat. There is now hit and roll manoeuvres – players hit whatever they’re close enough to hit.”
“Players can dodge and block incoming attacks, especially the big attacks that some monsters let loose. I’d put Neverwinter closer to a console combat system than MMORPG mechanics.”
If you ever played seminal, timeless classics such as Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale, why are you still reading? Just download this game now. After all, it’s free…
Sensing a theme here? Another revival of a once monstrously popular franchise has taken the form of a free-to-play MMO in MechWarrior Online, from Piranha Games.
If you’re unfamiliar with the MechWarrior series, it is set in a war-torn future (roughly the beginning of the 4th millenium, or 3000 AD) in which humanity has developed
enormous, lumbering war machines known as BattleMechs, which are controlled by humans and used to wage wars between various clans.
The general idea of the game is that instead of picking a character class, you pick a type of BattleMech suited to your preferences – whether it’s a slow, powerful but
heavily armored destroyer or a nimble, flexible and maneuveurable scout-based mech, each has their advantages and disadvantages under certain situations and you’ll need
to work in unison with your team to maximise the potential of your chosen mech.
Not only this, but once you’ve selected a mech you can customise it to your heart’s (or guild leaders) content – feel the need to drop some engine capacity in order to install
a couple of extra mounted turrets? No problem. The level of customisation is incredible and is a big part of what makes the game so addictive.
The game is also extremely visually impressive. Beautifully rendered battlefields are yours to explore in your giant metal beast, as you tear up the once pristine landscapes with amazingly detailed weaponry and marvel at the accuracy and sheer beauty of the ballistics effects and damage modelling.
There is also a huge variety in the landscapes and scenarios that you will explore, ranging from gorgeous lush forests to barren, harsh deserts and foreboding frozen tundras. The game also runs well on a wide variety of machines, with even a mid-range rig able to run at full graphical settings with maximum view distance.
If you enjoy massive-scale warfare – and I do mean MASSIVE scale warfare, encompassing literally thousands of foot soldiers, tanks, aircraft, and other assorted machinery on the battlefield at the same time, then perhaps Planetside 2 is the MMO for you. Designed by the team at Sony Online Entertainment, responsible for the famed Everquest series of games, Planetside 2 emphasises teamwork and coordination to the utmost degree – if you typically enjoy easily soloable MMO’s, or baulk at the idea of having to communicate large scale attacks and defensive maneuveurs in real time, you might want to steer clear of this one – your life expectancy is going to be very, very low – we’re talking minutes here.
If, on the other hand, you consider yourself somewhat of a budding a military strategist, or you lust at the idea of working together to bring down an entire army when outmanned and outgunned, you will want to check this game out.
The player takes a first person perspective, unusual in itself in the MMO genre, and naturally, the style of the gameplay is very much in the vein of games such as Battlefield 3 and the Call of Duty series, needing a balance of twitch FPS skills, situational and environmental awareness, and rapid response to threats and situations through constant communication with your team.
Look, we won’t lie – the learning curve is more than a little steep in Planetside 2, and the first couple of times you drop into the action you might be rather unkindly instantly met with a mortar blast to the face (the enemy regularly camps out at spawn points), leaving you feeling about as useful as a band-aid in a nuclear war, but show enough persistence and willingness to learn your class and you’ll be kicking ass with the best of them.
Much-maligned on release due to its unquestionable similarities to World of Warcraft – from the core gameplay right down to class abilities, mob types and tradeskills, Rift has since developed into a pretty good game in its own right – while still bearing many of the hallmarks of a World of Warcraft clone, it at least has a unique talent system which allows you to mix and match skills from up to 3 class types, to create a sort-of ‘hybrid’ class of your own, capitalising on the preferred aspects of your playstyle. A recent expansion has also added a ridiculously huge continent to the game, providing endless hours of exploration and combat for you to enjoy.
Whether you’ll like Rift or not really depends on your tolerance for unoriginality – if you are still not sick of the same tried and tested formula perfected by World of Warcraft and carried over by many others, you will almost definitely enjoy Rift, as it’s a polished, refined, complex and enjoyable MMO. But if, like me, you overdid the grindfest during the mid 2000’s and need something fresh, one of the other free-to-play MMO’s might be worth looking at first.