What is the best MMORPG experience on PC? Is it one with spell-slinging and demon-slaying? Working your way through the stars as a miner or a corporate bigwig? Solving ancient conspiracies and fighting Lovecraftian horrors? Maybe it is all of them.
If you can tear yourself away from these virtual worlds, PCGamesN is here for all your gaming needs.
Here’s our list of the best MMOs on the PC, kicking off with a few of the top free PC MMOs. You're sure to find something that will swallow up entire days at a time.
ArcheAge can be a very traditional MMO, with quests, factions, and a completely forgettable story. But what makes it one of the best MMORPGs is that you can ignore all of that and head into the sea.
The ocean is huge. To sail from east to west in the fastest ship in the game can take anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour depending on dangers like storms, whirlpools, sea creatures, or pirates. There is even a legendary Kraken that dwells in the northern ocean, and it takes an entire raid of 40+ players and ten galleon-sized ships, cannons blazing, to even scratch it. Deep under the ocean you can find shipwrecks filled with delicious bounty, the hardest of which requires diving gear to reach.
High above, meanwhile, fly the dragon mounts introduced in Legends Return. ArcheAge’s bold recent update had players adopt the winged beasties as their own, raising them to adulthood and then riding them into battle. As premises go, it soars up there with the best.
Despite being one of the older MMOs out there, TERA continues to deliver new content through the year. 2018 promises much for the action-packed MMO, including new Guardian missions and PvP options, and the new male Brawler has already made his debut. Plus there is continuing support for the recent Shadow of the Dark Gods update, which added a brand new five-player dungeon - Lakan’s Broken Prison, a variety of new skills and challenges, and a whole new server: Manahan. Dubbed an ‘event sever’, it switches up the TERA experience with swifter progression, more challenging dungeons, and redesigned battlegrounds. It means that no matter your skill level or playtime, there is something new for everyone, making it one of the best MMORPGs around.
Guild Wars 2
Where World of Warcraft is as traditional an MMO as they come, Guild Wars 2 is the weird, contrarian opposite. Its design can be seen as an attempt to fix and improve on every broken mechanic that online games persist in pursuing, and its success in these areas makes it one of the best MMORPGs you can play.
It has few regular quests: instead players gang together to fight in rolling events – mini storylines that play out in stages depending on how gamers perform. These get players to work together organically, and also have an impact on the region they are in, perhaps reducing the threat of roving bands of monsters, at least temporarily.
Right now, the new Path of Fire expansion is tasking players to kill Balthazar, the rogue god of war, before he brings Tyria to ruin. Should you not be ready to meet that challenge you can player lower-level adventures without spending a dollar, as the core game is now entirely free.
Neverwinter is a surprise. It is thematically Dungeons & Dragons, taking the places, classes, spells, and abilities from the tabletop game, and then cramming them inside one of the best MMORPGs. It should not work, but somehow it does. It helps that there is an earnest love for the source material, and each quest feels like one you could imagine yourself embarking upon while sitting around a table.
Lots of free expansions – which include new races and classes – have been introduced in the time since Neverwinter launched, taking players far from the safety of Neverwinter itself, to lands like Icewind Dale, where barbarians and unpleasant temperatures are the least of your worries. It is a mostly linear MMO, but if you start running low on new content, there is always the player-created stuff, which contains some real gems hidden away the rubbish.
Word of warning, though: unless you approach the game casually, you will probably have to spend money. It is become increasingly difficult to play for free, though certainly not impossible.
Star Trek Online
Miss Star Trek on TV? Star Trek Online might just tide you over until Discovery reappears on television screens. Each quest in this MMO is like an episode of the show, and each mission series is an arc, complete with the occasional filler episode.
Take a trip to Risa, visit DS9, land on planets and practise your diplomacy, or get in tense space battles with Cardassians, Romulans, Borg, and whoever else is causing mischief. Space fights are a bit tactical, though in real-time, where positioning your ship to get the most out of your firing arcs is key. On away missions that devolve into combat, the game turns into a squad-based third-person shooter with ability cooldowns.
Despite a rocky start, STO has grown into a gargantuan, compelling MMO; it is frequently expanded by massive updates that add whole new storylines, and a while back it introduced the neutral Romulan faction with its unique missions and ships. Speaking of ships, that is what really sets it apart from other MMOs. You are not just outfitting and levelling up a hero, you have got a whole crew and a starship to manage and customise.
Skyforge stands out as one of the best MMOs thanks to the combination of its unique class system, excellent early game, and beautiful world. Incentivising experimentation and personal exploration, you are able to select between any class you have unlocked, allowing you to dramatically switch playstyle at a moment’s notice without having to go through another hundred hours of re-levelling. And it all takes place in one of the most fetching game worlds we’ve encountered, an elegant mix of high fantasy and ludicrous sci-fi.
The early game is varied and interesting, with many options as to how to do your tasks, and plenty of rewards that let you pick and choose how you want to play. It switches regularly between solo-instanced areas that tell a linear story, wide-open zones that encourage casual teaming up in a lived-in world, and group content that is more difficult but offers better loot. While it is gated by your Prestige number, you are unlikely to run out of things to do and have to go grind it out.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a story of heartwarming redemption. When it was originally released it was not very good. In fact, it was terrible. This triggered Square Enix to take drastic action: ditch the old team, hire a new team and remake the game.
The outcome is A Realm Reborn. And it is good. If you are a Final Fantasy fan, you will adore Eorzea. It hits everything the series is known for: epic stories of good and evil duking it out, varied, painfully gorgeous environments, over-the-top characters, flashy cutscenes, and chocobos galore. It is also clever: players have a great deal of flexibility within their class choice. As soon as you hit a paltry level 10, you gain the ability to switch to any of the games eight combat classes at just the switch of the weapon. The upside is that players do not need to create alts to try out other roles.
Rest your reading lobes for a minute as we take a look at the best MMOs on PC via the soothing medium of video:
Rift led a wave of new MMOs at the start of this decade, and has proved the most resilient of the bunch. Not only do its original strengths still hold up - the spontaneous events that see big groups of players band together against invasion, and the highly customisable class system - but Rift has transformed into one of the best MMORPGs over the last several years, too.
For one thing, developers Trion Worlds remain committed to the free-to-play push that gripped the genre back in 2013, and talk often about ensuring the system feels fair and generous. Even the game’s latest expansion, Prophecy of Ahnket, has no monetary barrier. And beyond that, the Crucia’s Claw update brought all the right sort of additions: the climactic return of a dragon goddess, bosses the size of houses, and the kind of high-level raid upon which lifelong friendships are founded.
There is a good chance that you have already heard about one of the many tales of dark bastardry that have spun out of Eve’s New Eden. It is a game of cold-hearted betrayal, mining, economics, more betrayal, more mining, and the occasional thousand-person spaceship battles.
With CCP’s hands-off approach, the universe of New Eden is one of the most player-driven MMOs in existence. Wars that span weeks, if not months, across multiple systems. Years of plotting and sabotage to bring huge corporations down from the inside. Reports of huge losses in ships and cargo, some reaching the thousands of dollars in real world value. As you can imagine, it is not the easiest game in the world to learn, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. Our own Eve Online beginner’s guide will show you how to set up in one of the best MMOs around.
Blade & Soul
Blade & Soul is a Korean fantasy martial arts MMORPG. And, if that is not enough to pique your interest, frankly, we don’t know what will. Perhaps the game’s intricately designed world - inspired by the visual style of artist Hyung Tae Kim - four unique races, and ten compelling classes will sway you.
Whether you choose to play as the mighty Gon, the versatile Jin, master of the natural world, Yun, or the mystical Lyn, doing battle using the fast, high-octane combat system is always a joy. Rapid counters and combo chains are essential, whether you team up with friends to tackle a wide range of dungeons or you want to do your virtual scrapping in PvP.
Lord of the Rings Online
Tolkein’s world of Middle-earth is a perfect setting for an MMO. It has great characters, a massive world to explore, and everyone is always fighting.
Humans, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits – AKA: the good guys – make up the playable races of Lord of the Rings Online, and as hunters or burglars or one of the other classes, you will go on your own adventure, half-following in the footsteps of the famous Fellowship. Meet Ents, get lost in Moria, or take long rides through Rohan. Expansions push the story forward, following the books, and with each major plot point comes new mechanics, like the addition of mounted combat. If you have ever dreamed of experiencing Tolkien’s world first hand, then this MMORPG has you covered. Best of all, it is free-to-play.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
A galaxy far, far away is the perfect setting for one of the best MMOs, so it is no surprise that BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic is a winner. Play as one of eight classes, split across the Empire and Republic. Each has a detailed, dramatic story, and they are good. Surprisingly so. You can take on the role of an Imperial Agent, working for the good of the Empire by rooting out terrorists; a Jedi Knight sworn to hunt Sith and protect the galaxy; or even a slave-turned-Sith Inquisitor, playing a dangerous game of politics. You can play all of this for free, but as a subscriber, you can level faster and concentrate solely on the interesting class and planetary quests instead of the trite filler rubbish.
Several expansions have kept it feeling reasonably fresh, but it is the excellent Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion that really deserves to be played. With its web of intrigue, relationships and a focus on player choice, it feels more like a proper Knights of the Old Republic sequel than anything that has come before it.
Secret World Legends
What if myths, legends and conspiracies weren’t works of fiction at all? Secret World Legends asks exactly that. It is an action-MMO set in the modern world, except this modern world is filled with cults, zombies, ghosts, demons and eldritch nightmares.
Secret World Legends represents a path MMOs could have gone down, but sadly didn't. A path where quests were more than just sources of loot and experience, attempted to tell compelling stories, and force players to engage their brains. A quest in Secret World Legends is as likely to be a puzzle that makes you search through real websites for the answers as it is to be one that just sends you off to behead a monster.
Once known as The Secret World, this bold and different MMO is now free-to-play in the new guise of Secret World Legends, and absolutely worth trying out if you are hunting for something more unusual.
World of Warcraft
Over a decade old and still the most popular MMO in the world, World of Warcraft is a bit special. During its long reign, WoW has changed a lot. New classes, races, a graphics overhaul, whole new continents... players can even travel back in time. It is huge, bewilderingly so, and you can speed through it so quickly now that it becomes easy to miss some of the surprisingly excellent story-laden quests that have sprouted up.
At times it seems traditional, which is unsurprising considering it is the MMO that defined the modern style of the genre, but it is not above mixing things up. Take Garrisons, for instance: your base of operations in Draenor, where you command your loyal forces of either the Horde or the Alliance. They’re teeming with stuff to do, click and loot, and even NPC followers who you can send off on their own adventures. And the upcoming Battle for Azeroth expansion promises even more changes, with new Allied Races and RTS-style Warfronts.
That's what we've come up with – how about you? Any favourite MMOs that we've left off the list?