Rift was a phenomenal subscription-based fantasy MMO – World of Warcraft in new trousers, essentially. It made its name by updating and improving itself at a ferocious pace, with new raids, new zones, new world events appearing on a monthly basis. Now, it's entirely free-to-play: you can play it without spending a penny. That's a brilliant option: you can sink hours into it. Highly recommended.
Think Battlestar Galactica meets Dota, and you’ll be somewhere close to award-winning Fractured Space. Control gigantic ships and shoot your intergalactic foes in intense battles as you use your tactical nous to capture bases.
The complexity of developer Edge Case Games’ meta has only grown deeper a year on from release - and that’s on top of the game’s time in early access, too. Lowered minimum specs mean that even ageing rigs can get in on the action and the addition of AI-powered ships help you get to know your spaceship properly.
From solo scraps in PvE to 5v5 quickplay, there are plenty of modes to get your teeth into if you are low on time. But, if you’re looking to get into something meatier, Fractured Space has the tactical complexity to rival the best Mobas.
Trove is the MMO equivalent of Minecraft and is exactly as good as that sounds. It's fast-paced and fluid, with you exploring and dominating voxel worlds. What's neat is just how much you can customise the look of your character: every item dropped can be used to change your style.
Want more? Read our Trove review.
Normally, if you want to take charge of massive airships, you’ll need a fair amount of cash and hours of training. With Dreadnought, a team-based dogfighter from Yager Development, you can pilot massive spaceships across the skies of many different planets, for absolutely zero cost.
Dreadnought gives you access to a variety of ships equipped with massive, earth-shattering weapons that you can customise down to the last thermal exhaust port. The combat is a tactical affair, with a combination of slow methodical broadside assaults and rapid, piercing strikes. There are several game modes to choose from, and doing well in the tactical team-based warfare will reward you with an ever-growing fleet of ships.
Skyforge blends sci-fi and fantasy together for an action-heavy MMO that’s happy to ditch many of the rules so many other games adhere to. There’s no levelling or strict classes: instead you develop your character however you like and can swap between different combat roles whenever you wish. As you gain more power you’ll eventually become a god incarnate, complete with your own followers.
Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2 is one of the best MMOs available. Even better: you can play a huge chunk of it for free. There’s a lot to do, from traditional questing for NPCs to zone events where everyone can suddenly get involved and work as a massive team to bring down a boss, or help a burning village. You’ll need to pay to get into the Heart of Thorns expansion, but the base game is huge enough as it is, and the backlog of Living World stories now available to play means there’s plenty to see, explore, and get involved with.
In Armored Warfare, the tanks of today and tomorrow are at war. The idea is that you're fighting as part of a modern-day private military company. Big player-versus-player rucks are exciting, but if you're not into that, there's a co-op campaign you can play with your mates.
Lots of people like to play golf, and many of them like to play golf videogames, too. MMOs are designed for lots of people. Therefore the two should combine – they do in Winning Putt. The good news is that his game has all the trappings you’d expect from that genre, wrapped around a perfectly serviceable set of thwack-the-ball-into-the-hole mechanics. There are plenty of upgrades and wardrobe items to be had, plus all kinds of friendly and competitive play options. And a man with a really nice voice gently encourages you throughout – something which, frankly, more games should have.
Combining the turn-based tactics of XCOM and the Pixar-like characters of Overwatch, Atlas Reactor is a PvP game unlike any you’ve played before. Across a series of discrete phases, players must make simultaneous turns involving movement, dodges and attacks – there’s no point firing at an enemy's current position because the moment the action starts they’ll have dived out the way. Mix this novel method of strategy with the kind of glitzy abilities you’d expect of a MOBA, and you’ve got one of the most compelling and intriguing free games on PC.
Blade & Soul
Blade & Soul's story is of a journey to the West: well-regarded enough in Asia to prompt a 10,000 signature petition for wider release, this martial arts MMO has since blown up under NCSoft West's stewardship. The keys to its success? High-wire swordplay from Crounching Tiger and a propulsive revenge plot from Kill Bill.
Want more? Here's our Blade & Soul review.
Path of Exile
An action-RPG in the mould of Diablo, Path of Exile is one of the most polished, well-executed games on this list. Adventure with a friend or two through hundreds of areas in a dark fantasy world that provides a dizzying collection of monsters to repeatedly click on until they squish. Path of Exile does feature a microtransaction system but it’s admirably unobtrusive.
Want more? Read our Path of Exile review.
Lord of the Rings Online
Turbine’s free-to-play MMO is the third most popular in the world, depending on who you ask, and it’s all because they ditched the subscription model and went full throttle towards a cash-free future. The LOTRO Store is where premium players can drop pennies, but frugal adventurers can lose themselves in Middle-earth just as easily.
Want more? Read our Lord of the Rings Online review.
Chronicle: Runescape Legends
If you want to have a crack at conquering the ever-growing collectable card game genre, you'd best do something different and special in order to make your mark. Chronicle: Runescape Legends' USP is that it features a book. A big, open, colourful, animated book, laid out on the table in front of you, acting as the playground where you and your opponent do battle. It’s an approach that leads to a seriously beautiful card battler, and one that also benefits from featuring characters lifted from Jagex’s MMO Runescape, instantly opening the game up to an established fanbase.
Want more? Here's our Chronicle: Runescape Legends review.
Hex: Shards of Fate
At its heart, Hex is a two-player card game. Hex’s rules are a little more complex than Hearthstone’s but we found it to be a more rewarding game. Both players have 20 health and draw cards from their decks to summon creatures and cast spells against each other. The spells and creatures can weave their abilities together to make powerful combinations. Hex is free on Steam right now, and with hundreds of different cards available, players are still finding new ways to combine them.
Want more? Read our Hex: Shards of Fate review.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
After a long, slow start, SWTOR is now pretty great – particularly thanks to the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion, which is basically 'BioWare does a proper KOTOR sequel'. It’s a fast-paced action-RPG with lightsabers and space combat and Jedi houses and bounty hunters and, if you go full dark side, you can fire lightning from your fingertips. Really.
Want more? Read our Star Wars: The Old Republic review.
Supernova takes the immensely popular MOBA format and gives it a sci-fi reskin and an injection of new ideas to help it stand out among its peers. It’s got all the boxes ticked: heaps of character, a bounty of heroes, balanced gameplay, and unique features like being able to choose the types of minions you field – or upgrade your hero’s stats to an extent only usually allowed in RPGs.
Want more? Here's our Warface review.
Wildstar is built for lapsed World of Warcraft players. It's a sci-fi MMO that looks and feels like a Blizzard game, but with one important difference: it's for the hardcore. Ignore the cutesy looks as, at the top end of the game, you'll find raids that make Warcraft's easy-mode dungeons look like something for kids.
Want more? Here's our Wildstar review.
Battle has never been so big. Imagine entire continents at war, with tanks, trucks, and fighter craft alongside hordes of infantry. Throw that into the far future and you’ve got PlanetSide 2, a never-ending conflict on an incredible scale that’s pretty damn good-looking to boot. There is nothing else quite like this out there.
Want more? Here's our PlanetSide 2 review.
Pledge your loyalty to a great house or sign up for a mercenary company in this mech simulation. Whether you’re piloting a light or heavy mech, you’ll have to manage your weaponry and keep an eye on your system temperature. In the Mechwarrior universe, piloting a giant robot can be a technical and rather nuanced occupation. There is also stomping.
Want more? Here's our Mechwarrior Online review.
Do you want a chance to adventure in some of the most famous fantasy worlds there ever were? With D&D Online you can set foot in the Forgotten Realms and the land of Eberron, stepping into the well-worn boots of a thief or a spellcaster as you fight dragons and demons. It’s not often you get high fantasy for free.
Want more? Here's our D&D Online review.
Tribes is probably the fastest FPS in the world. It’s set across huge levels of open valleys and leafy forests: you zip through them by skiing down mountains and jetting up hillsides. Just be aware that success comes from both ultra-fast reactions and clever teamwork.
Want more? Here's our Tribes: Ascend review.
World of Warplanes
Seize the free-to-play concepts behind World of Tanks, take them to the skies, and you have World of Warplanes, a game of whirling dogfights and nail-biting bombing runs for teams of jet bombers and biplanes alike. It’s getting sleeker and shinier with every release.
Want more? Here's our World of Warplanes review.
Heroes & Generals
Do you want to shoot all the guns and make all the decisions? War isn’t all about what happens on the front line, but nor is it about the decisions made back at headquarters, so Heroes & Generals is the perfect game for players who want to try a bit of both.
Want more? Here's our Heroes & Generals review.
Turn to Page 3 to find more games for $0 - and let us know about your own favourites in the comments.