It's no secret that MMORPGs are some of the most popular PC games on the planet - and that's been the case for roughly 20 years. Since the early days of Ultima Online (and slightly before, if you count Meridian 59) all the way to more recent offerings like Black Desert Online, MMOs have filled a gap in many gamers' lives that other genres - no matter how good they might be - just haven't yet.

They accomplish that feat by offering us a real sense of personal freedom, while also allowing for a great deal of collaboration and teamwork with other people across the world. The fact that I can login to World of Warcraft, create my own character, and delve into a dungeon with somebody from Germany (without ever knowing it) is a pretty novel idea.

Having said that, over the years some MMOs (short for massively multiplayer online role-playing game) have definitely proven to be better than others. Some of them, like World of Warcraft, have ascended to near-godhood in the eyes of their players, while others have faded into obscurity.

In no particular order, these are what I believe are the 10 best MMOs out there right now.

Lord of the Rings Online

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  • Graphics: Good
  • Similar: World of Warcraft, Rift

  • Pay Model: F2P or P2P (membership) with a cosmetic (and minor gameplay effects) cash shop, few F2P restrictions. Can earn cash shop currency in game

For roughly a decade now, Lord of the Rings Online has sought to bring Tolkien's lore-rich fantasy universe to life in the form of a story-focused MMORPG - and they've done so quite successfully, in my opinion.

Turbine has treated the Lord of the Rings source material with great care, drawing heavily on the lore of Middle Earth when creating the classes and races in the game.

Want to play a sneaky Hobbit burglar? Go for it. What about a bow-wielding elven hunter? Yep! A man who can shapeshift into a bear? Check.

With quests that are actually interesting, an immersive fantasy world to discover, and things like player owned housing, LOTRO does a lot of things right. Ultimately, though, it's an MMO for players who care more about the journey (in this case, the story, quests and progression systems in the game) than they do the destination (high-end raiding and end-game gear). This makes LOTRO one of the best choices for solo MMO players.

Get it from: Steam

 

World of Warcraft

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  • Graphics: Cartoony, but attractive

  • Similar: LOTRO, Allods Online, Rift

  • Pay Model: P2P (monthly subscription) with a cosmetic cash shop (pets, mounts, miscellaneous account-related services)

No MMO list is complete without World of Warcraft. Considered one of the greatest MMOs of all time, WoW has managed to capture - and for the most part, retain - the interest of millions of gamers through its cartoony art style and emphasis on gear hunting and high-level raids (and gnomes, because they're freaking adorable).

As World of Warcraft has grown over the years, the graphics and overall presentation of the game have improved, but the core gameplay has remained the same. If you're an MMO traditionalist who loves working together with others to take down tough, mechanically complex raid bosses (or simply duking it out with other players in PvP battlegrounds), WoW is a very safe bet.

Or, y'know, you could just run around collecting Pokemon - sorry, Battle Pets.

Buy it from: Amazon, Blizzard

 

Tera

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  • Graphics: Beautiful
  • Similar: Black Desert Online, Guild Wars 2

  • Pay Model: F2P with a cash shop (No restrictions on class, zones, etc.)

Tera is a Korean MMO that is widely considered to be a happy medium between the ultra-complicated combo systems of games like Black Desert Online and the relative simplicity of games like WoW or LOTRO.

In Tera, while you do have abilities, you also have an action combat system with an aiming reticle (where your attacks will land - especially important for ranged players) and an emphasis on actually dodging or actively blocking attacks to mitigate damage, rather than popping a series of defensive cool downs.

At the end of the day, if you're the type of player who doesn't find much enjoyment in the rotation-heavy combat systems of "traditional" MMOs, you'll probably be right at home in Tera.

Get it from: Steam

 

Guild Wars 2

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  • Graphics: Good

  • Similar: Tera, Elder Scrolls Online

  • Pay Model: B2P (pay once) with a cosmetic cash shop

Guild Wars 2 offers yet another midway point between full-on action-combat games like Black Desert Online and rotation-based games like WoW. You can have 5 abilities slotted at a time, but you can actually learn far more than that - in Guild Wars 2, you have a vast array of skills to choose from.

You have your regular class skills, weapon skills (which are different for each weapon type - hammers, sword and shield, guns, etc.), utility skills (buffs and the like), healing skills, and even ultimate abilities. That alone would allow for stupid amounts of customization, but it gets even more ridiculous when you realize that even the weapon skills differ from class to class!

Guild Wars 2 also does away with the traditional MMO questing system, instead opting to make leveling up a more organic, natural occurrence. As you wander throughout the zones, you'll find events happening that you can take part in. Other players can walk up and help you at any time, getting credit towards the objectives. Guild Wars 2 is an excellent choice for fans of the Guild Wars universe (if you loved the first game), or just anyone who wants a break away from the MMO norm.

Buy it from: Amazon

 

RuneScape

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  • Graphics: Decent (for a browser MMO)
  • Similar: World of Warcraft

  • Pay Model: F2P or P2P with a cosmetic cash shop (Monthly subscription unlocks "Members-only" content - areas, quests, skills)

RuneScape is a browser-based MMORPG with a large focus on player freedom. You can be whoever you want, and do whatever you want, at any time (with a few skill and quest-restricted resources and areas, of course).

You don't pick a class or race, and you aren't restricted to any one combat style. In fact, you aren't even forced to use combat at all! If you feel like sitting in the forest and chopping trees all day, go for it. If you want to play the role of a merchant and idle at the Grand Exchange, flipping expensive items for profit, you can do that as well.

In addition to all that player freedom, RuneScape also has one of the best quest systems around. Every single quest is its own self-contained story, with its own unique characters, objectives, puzzles, and rewards - these rewards often include entirely new skilling areas, cities, or epic weapon and XP rewards. While there's plenty of room for hardcore players in RuneScape, the AFK nature of skilling - and the fact that it's a browser-based game - make it an excellent choice for anyone who doesn't have as much time as they'd like to dedicate to an MMO like World of Warcraft.

Get it from: Runescape.com

 

Black Desert Online

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  • Graphics: Beautiful
  • Similar: Tera, Dragon's Nest, Elder Scrolls Online
  • Pay Model: B2P (pay once) with a cash shop (gameplay-affecting). Can pay for various in-game advantages

Black Desert Online is a hardcore PvP fan's dream come true. With a huge emphasis placed on world PvP (primarily due to the player-driven economy, and the scarcity of in-game resources) and a complicated, combo-based combat system, it also has one of the steepest learning curves you'll ever find in an MMO.

However, if you can push past that initial difficulty spike - and if you can get used to figuring out most of the game's systems on your own - you'll find a phenomenal MMO with a ton of stuff to do.

Run in-game worker empires, which are essentially in-game businesses fueled by a horde of virtual NPC slav- er, employees, get on a boat and hunt down massive sea monsters, or even just sprint around ruining everyone else's day - it's up to you!

Buy it from: Steam

 

Rift

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  • Graphics: Good
  • Similar: World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV

  • Pay Model: F2P or P2P with a cash shop

Rift has been called a "WoW clone" by many in the past, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. While there are plenty of mechanics that are nearly identical (the quests, raiding, and combat system, mostly), it's better to look at is an "alternative".

For one, Rift is 100% free, making it excellent for anyone who can't quite afford WoW's monthly cost or expansions. Rift also has a few really cool unique mechanics going for it, such as its unique class system. Though the base classes are standard MMO fare (Warrior, Cleric, Rogue, Mage), the subclasses are what make this system stand out. They allow you to deviate from your standard role while retaining the overall theme of the base class. For example, you can create a melee-based mage or a healing rogue. And if you'd prefer not to use the pre-made subclasses, you can use "Soul Points" to create your own!

Additionally, as you wander about questing "rifts" (hey, that's the name of the game!) can pop up around the world. Hordes of enemies will start pouring through them, which is when you - usually along with a bunch of other nearby players - can choose to fight them off, eventually closing the rift entirely. This serves to give the game a much more dynamic feel than others in the genre.

Get it from: Steam

 

The Elder Scrolls Online

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  • Graphics: Good
  • Similar: Tera, Black Desert Online, Guild Wars 2

  • Pay Model: B2P (Pay once) with a mostly-cosmetic cash shop

ESO is easily one of my favorite MMOs of all time. While I'll admit to a small amount of personal bias (simply because I'm a huge Elder Scrolls fanboy), that doesn't stop it from being a very well-designed MMO with a lot of awesome features - not the least of which is its active, action-oriented combat system that forces you to actually aim at things to hit them.

Aside from a solid combat system, the most important concept that ESO focuses on is complete and total freedom of choice for its players - arguably more so than any other MMO on this list. While you do pick from a few specific classes when creating your character, those only really define your class-specific abilities. What armor and weapons, and the abilities that go with them, you use are entirely your choice.

That means you can be a Sorcerer decked out in full plate, swinging a great axe, or a Dragon Knight running around in swishy robes, hurling fireballs out of a fancy staff. Tell me one other MMO that lets me do that and still be effective in combat. Go on, I'll wait.

Buy it from: Steam

 

Final Fantasy XIV

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  • Graphics: Beautiful
  • Similar: Rift, World of Warcraft

  • Pay Model: P2P (Monthly subscription, must buy the base game as well), cosmetic cash shop

Final Fantasy XIV is a must-play for anybody who takes lore and immersion seriously in their MMOs. Available on PS4, PC, and Mac (yup, Mac users are finally getting some love), FFXIV brings the story-rich world and history from the single player games to a vast, massively multiplayer world.

With gorgeous graphics, and a "bring the player, not the class" approach to leveling (you only need one character to level all the classes), FFXIV is a fresh take on the MMO genre - despite it being six years old already. The main story is superbly written, with truly intriguing characters and cutscenes. There's also class-specific storylines that make you feel like your character is getting stronger over time, not unlike WoW's recent Class Order Halls in Legion - but without the annoying dailies and grinding.

Final Fantasy XIV is a great game to consider playing if you don't mind a subscription-based MMO, and massive content updates happen frequently enough to keep you interested.

Buy it from: Steam, Amazon

 

Star Wars: The Old Republic

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  • Graphics: Average

  • Similar: Tera, Black Desert Online, Guild Wars 2

  • Pay Model: F2P (with restrictions), P2P (membership), cash shop

Star Wars: The Old Republic wasn't quite the sequel many fans of the single-player Knights of the Old Republic franchise were hoping for, but it proved to be a decent enough MMO in its own right upon release. It has a lot of good ideas, and for many people, it filled the void that the shutdown of Star Wars Galaxies left behind so many years ago.

SWTOR has many standard MMO mechanics (raiding, gearing, questing and combat systems are all pretty similar to games like WoW or Rift), but it's what it adds on to the standard MMO fare that makes it stand out. It's a story-focused MMO, with branching dialogue and a light side/dark side morality system in place. All in-game dialogue sequences have the cinematic camera and full voice acting that you'd typically see in a single player BioWare RPG (like Mass Effect).

Oh, and there's Star Fox-like space battles, too.

All things considered, if you're a fan of the Star Wars universe, you really don't have anything to lose by giving SWTOR a shot. It's free-to-play, and - come on - you can roleplay Han Solo, for god's sake.

Buy it from: swtor.com, Origin

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