Having thousands of playtime hours in countless MMORPGs, we've handpicked the 12 best MMOs you can play in 2021!
MMORPGs are our specialty – and the reason Altar of Gaming exists in the first place. Consider this list 99% perfect and accurate, since it’s coming from someone with 15 years of experience with MMOs. I have literally played more than 150 MMORPGs, and invested at least 1,000 hours in more than 20 of them. Therefore I can safely attest, that this is the ultimate list, of the best MMORPG games in existence (that are globally available).
Table of Contents
Casual MMORPGs, also known as “Theme Park MMOs”, share some core elements:
|Game||World of Warcraft||Release Date||November 23, 2004||Developer||Blizzard Entertainment||Publisher||Blizzard Entertainment||Platforms||Genres||MMORPG||Official Links|
World of Warcraft is undoubtedly the strongest synonym of “MMORPG games”, and anyone who thinks otherwise – is in denial. 😂 The amount of work hours that have been collectively put in WoW over almost two decades, are an unmatched feat by any other MMO, and they are reflected in the game.
I meet more and more people that have never – ever – played WoW, and are actually negatively biased towards it. I understand their view point of course – “how can this ugly game get so much praise”.
First things first – to be fair – WoW is far from ugly. You most probably have a vague image of the game from a decade back, or you just hate anything that “doesn’t look realistic”. I challenge you to spend just a couple of hours on the free trial to level 20 – you won’t even have to pay attention to get amazed by the sheer amount of detail all around you.
I’m one of the few millions that started playing WoW back in vanilla, and I can’t stop myself from coming back to it every few years. There’s just so much content to experience, and it’s definitely the Last MMO Standing as far as P2W goes – there’s just nothing you can buy with money in WoW. Only your game time, and a few cosmetic mounts. That’s it – everything else, you will acquire with your own sweat and blood.
There is one huge negative in World of Warcraft, and I have to mention it. The lore & storyline is bigger than any other online game most probably, but there are NO voiceovers. I’m serious, there are NO voiceovers!!! It’s absurd, mind-blowing and as “wtf are the devs thinking” as it goes. GET REAL BLIZZARD. 😁
|Game||The Elder Scrolls Online||Release Date||April 04, 2014||Developer||ZeniMax Online Studios||Publisher||Bethesda Softworks||Platforms||Genres||MMORPG||Official Links|
The Elder Scrolls Online had an arguably bad launch, but it did start to grow and grow, both content-wise, and inside our hearts. 😍 Ok, WoW is amazing, but I do understand people that just hate non-realism. ESO more than makes up for this, with its dark fantasy setting, detailed visuals, and Elder-Scrolls-Level Lore, fabricating a universe that is just too good to let you visit back real life.
There’s a very important factor to consider before getting into ESO – do you enjoy good storylines or do you just skip them? At least 50% of the game’s value lies in its storytelling – visually, aurally and emotionally – therefore it is crucial to know what to expect. From the tiniest side quest, to 4-hour long epics, everything is carefully crafted in Tamriel’s lore, exceptionally voice-overed, and offering a huge amount of variety.
The same freedom & depth goes into characters classes as well, since there are absolutely no restrictions at the weapon & armor types you can use, as well as the wealth of other Skill Lines you can unlock through progressing in the game. Having clocked more than 5,000 hours in Oblivion & Skyrim (and 1,000 more in ESO), I can safely attest that it’s the best online version Skyrim could ever wish for.
The amount of content in The Elder Scrolls Online is simply staggering, so if you like “collectibles” you’ll feel right at home! Keep in mind though that the game is too immersive – even for an MMO – making it quite “unplayable” without the proper addons, especially when you want to experience end-game content, or are used to playing other MMORPGs.
|Game||Final Fantasy XIV Online||Release Date||September 30, 2010||Developer||Square Enix||Publisher||Square Enix||Platforms||Genres||MMORPG||Official Links|
Final Fantasy XIV, along with WoW & ESO, consist of The Holy Trinity of MMORPGs. All 3 of them are backed by millions of active players, and hundreds of millions of game development costs. If Anime is your thing, then FFXIV is the reasonable choice for you. Even though I’m an “anime-hater”, I have greatly enjoyed my time in Eorzea, so I can only imagine how GOOD it must be for anime fans! 😁
There’s a great appeal to Final Fantasy players too of course, since FF’s lore and backstory are just so damn huge. There’s too much praise for the storyline – and it’s indeed very good – but no one seems annoyed that voiceovers and cutscenes are 1 out of 100 quests. Not a trait the latest FF entries are known for, since Square Enix gives a heavy focus to story, cinematics, and all in all making a big impression! For reasons unknown, they decided to “skip” this part with FFXIV, and provide a Handheld JRPG feel to the dialogues.
FFXIV is slow, but it does award your patience greatly. Too many will quit early on out of frustration – it just takes too much time to reach end-game as a new player. I’m all up for long storylines and a meaningful leveling experience, but I do feel the new player experience could be more welcoming – and not so “old-school”.
The game does look beautiful – even after all these years – and there’s amazing detail to be found in the textures and the environments. I heavily suggest using ReShade with FFXIV if your PC can take it, as it really adds up to the charming visuals!
|Game||Guild Wars 2||Release Date||August 22, 2012||Developer||ArenaNet||Publisher||NCSoft||Platforms||Genres||MMORPG||Official Links|
Guild Wars 2 took the world by storm with its launch – I’m not even joking. Back in 2012, it offered what only our wildest dreams could – flawless action combat. It was no surprise that millions of MMO enthusiasts jumped straight into it, and didn’t look back (to WoW) for a long, long time.
Today, GW2 is probably the “easiest to pickup” MMO you can find, since it offers hands-down the best new player experience & User Interface you can ask for. You don’t have to complete a million prerequisites, or pay for them. I really can’t praise how welcoming Guild Wars 2 is for new players, and of course, its excellent and heartwarming player base contributes a great deal to that fact.
Also known for its huge “Fashion Wars” community, it’s true that there’s just too much you can do with your character’s aesthetics. Actually, I can easily accuse Guild Wars 2 of my “gaming collectibles OCD”. They still have the most rewarding achievements system, making it hard to not be motivated while playing.
If I’m honest, it’s not the first MMO I would suggest someone to pick up. I struggle to answer “why”, but maybe it’s because it starts to look more and more dated visually. I mean sure, WoW is even older, but it looks crisp to the tiniest detail. Guild Wars 2 hasn’t faced any major graphic overhauls since the beginning, and it’s starting to show.
Sandbox games are supposed to provide the ultimate freedom to their players, rather than offering linear content & experiences. There’s no better genre to “go sandbox” than MMOs, but they don’t seem to be so popular after all. 🤔
Most players tend to stick with casual games, that offer “preset” and polished gameplay – who can blame them? Going sandbox means going hardcore, since the following MMOs operate far outside the box!
|Game||Black Desert Online||Release Date||July 14, 2015||Developer||Pearl Abyss||Publisher||Pearl Abyss||Platforms||Genres||MMORPG||Official Links|
Black Desert Online… Oh man, where to begin! It’s easily the most controversial MMORPG on the market, for many, many good reasons. With BDO, there’s no middle ground – you’re either going to love it, or hate it. I love it. 😁 It’s the definition of what a Sandbox MMO can achieve, when paired with a hyperactive development team – that won’t let the game die, not even for a week!
If you have spent a lot of time with other MMOs, and are under the impression of “well, it’s still too limited”, then please let me introduce you to Black Desert Online. Are you ready to get into a relationship? Is your IRL partner ready for that too? Because BDO is going to become an extension of yourself. An intertwined reality where you work hard to get better in the game, while the game works hard to make you better in your life.
I know, many people will call me crazy, but allow me to overextend on this one. BDO showed me the true path. It showed me what focus can do for my life. How I can’t have / do everything, but how much I can achieve if I focus only on the things I really want. It taught me more about patience, long-term thinking / investing and scheduling, than real life ever did (well I’m not the most social guy of course, but I think that’s the norm – and not the exception in the MMORPG player base).
Sadly, it’s very hard to really get into the game, realize the possibilities, and actually decide to make that time investment (don’t do it if you don’t plan to play for at least a couple of years). The new player experience in BDO is really terrible, and you will have a hard time advancing – especially if you don’t have any friends to progress together, or teach you the basics.
But trust me, it’s worth it! You won’t find an MMO with deepest mechanics anywhere. From 19 unique classes with a huge volume of skills that you can chain in a multitude of ways, to 10 unique professions that each offer their own world to discover, even listing the main features of BDO, would take around 250 bullet points. I’m sure my in-depth BDO review can certainly help you make that decision.
|Game||Albion Online||Release Date||July 17, 2017||Developer||Sandbox Interactive||Publisher||Sandbox Interactive||Platforms||Genres||MMORPG||Official Links|
Albion Online is a very special game – in a good way! If you asked me “what’s the most fun MMORPG I can play with my friends”, then the answer is 100% Albion Online. These guys have truly created an MMO, that overall is just plain fun to play along with friends! Open-world PvP is everywhere, while Combat & Gathering / Crafting go as deep as needed, to create perhaps the only true player-driven economy that exists in an MMORPG right now.
There’s no other MMO where you can team up with 1, 5, or even 25 more friends, and roam around together to kill other groups of players, and steal all of their loot! Or maybe go through a multi-level randomized dungeon full of dangers and treasures. Create your own hideout in the huge open-world – in a single Megaserver that connects everyone globally.
The feeling of competitiveness is apparent throughout the whole game. Every workshop you are going to use to repair your gear, craft new weapons, or cook your recipes, is owned by another player which you have to pay tax to – or maybe create your own workshops at your private island if you think that skipping taxes is profitable (spoiler alert – it’s not IRL, it’s not in Albion 😉). Maybe take a look at my beginner’s guide, to get a better sense of the mechanics!
I could go on, and on, and on about the freedom AO offers, and how much other game developers should learn from it. It’s no surprise that Albion, is the only MMO I can recall, that has been steadily rising in population after going Free to Play. If you try it, it’s hard to not notice all the things I mentioned, and just get drawn to it for real!
|Game||Archeage||Release Date||January 15, 2013||Developer||XLGames||Publisher||Gamigo||Platforms||Genres||MMORPG||Official Links|
ArcheAge has been a really controversial MMORPG, but that doesn’t diminish the innovation it’s added to the genre. The main thing that killed ArcheAge, is the usual suspect – Pay to Win mechanics. Its population has dropped drastically ever since, and its publishers have gone as far as releasing the exact same game, under a “buy to play – no pay to win” business model, named ArcheAge: Unchained.
Allow me to say, that this situation is a joke. Instead of deciding to rework the P2W issues in the main game, and adopting better business tactics, they just re-released the same game, adding a couple of hairstyles and calling it a remastered version…
So why is ArcheAge even on the list of “The Best MMORPGs Ever Released”? Simply because it’s a unique MMO, and a perfect “anime translation” of World of Warcraft – while still offering more freedom and creative possibilities, making it a true sandbox. There’s so much to do, craft, explore & accomplish, in a persistent open-world where even player houses are accessible without instances and fake placeholders.
It’s also worth noting that sea content is huge, and in contrast to Black Desert Online – it’s actually enjoyable, fluent and polished. With literally hundreds of class combinations available in ArcheAge, and a wealth of gathering / crafting mechanics, it is a unique gem that still stands the test of time. Even though it’s the only MMO in this list, that I’m not sure it will for much longer…
|Game||Old School Runescape||Release Date||February 22, 2013||Developer||Jagex||Publisher||Jagex||Platforms||Genres||MMORPG||Official Links|
Old School Runescape is a hard game. Sadly that’s mostly due to the immensely outdated visuals, and the most terrible user interface a human being has ever created. If you can compromise with that, then it is indeed an amazing sandbox MMO, with a great world to discover, and a hard reminder that quests shouldn’t just be “kill 10 wolves” or “fetch 5 carrots”.
There’s a huge world to discover in OSRS, and hand-holding is at an absolute minimum. Figuring out how to use the interface and your items is… memorable to say the least. 😂 It’s definitely not for everyone, but those keen to take up the challenge – I think you already know who you are!
OSRS is still one of the most populated MMOs, and they even show real-time how many active players are online! No other MMO has done that, so huge applause for Jagex here! It’s also worth noting that even upcoming game changes are voted from players in-game. They are taking their community seriously, and the community pays back!
It’s far from easy to get started with OSRS, so I definitely suggest checking out our beginner’s guide before delving deeper.
There are a few MMORPGs that might look too dated, but can truly reward you if you decide to invest your time! What they lack visually, they make up for RPG-wise, so expect to hold long gaming sessions.
|Game||The Lord of The Rings Online||Release Date||April 24, 2007||Developer||Standing Stone Games||Publisher||Daybreak Game Company||Platforms||Genres||MMORPG||Official Links|
The Lord of The Rings Online was a dream coming true back in 2007, and after almost two decades, it still is the best representation of the LOTR lore in a video game. Many great games have been released for Middle Earth, but LOTRO is the biggest – and richest – experience a Tolkien die-hard can ask for!
We are still waiting on more news about Amazon Game Studios developing a new Lord of The Rings MMORPG – which I hope will be massive – but if you are a lore / story person, then LOTRO will definitely not disappoint you. The only negative you can expect, is the outdated graphics, and the tiny UI that can barely be used in 1080p (I’m a 4K user so it’s sadly painful).
We are dealing with an Old-School MMO, so expect tab-targeting, huge rotations, and countless buffs & debuffs. At the same time, it’s refreshing to see how much work has been put into professions and player housing – not the norm for similar MMOs. It’s worth mentioning that Roleplaying is a big thing in LOTRO, as you would expect. 😁
Since LOTRO appeals to a very specific – and small – group of gamers, the publishers are sadly taking advantage of them, offering an enormous amount of DLCs that unlock extra content, stories, level caps, classes etc. The game can indeed offer even thousands of hours of free content to players, but be prepared if you are going to invest your time in it.
|Game||Neverwinter||Release Date||June 20, 2013||Developer||Cryptic Studios||Publisher||Perfect World Entertainment||Platforms||Genres||MMORPG||Official Links|
Neverwinter is the perfect mix of D&D in an MMORPG. The most famous Dungeons & Dragons setting fits perfectly, and contributes to one of the “weirdest” and unique MMOs out there. The aesthetics are clunky, but they are hiding a truly deep RPG, that will hardly disappoint hardcore D&D players.
The combat is a strange mix of Guild Wars 2’s action style, with World of Warcraft’s RPG-iness. That means it will satisfy most people, even though the character animations are the most underworked element of the game. I really can’t guess why they overlooked such an important gameplay element, but I do hope they will rework it in the future.
You will quickly discover there’s too much to do in Neverwinter, and too much that you haven’t seen before! There are so many unique D&D modes to enjoy solo or with a group, ranging from silly fun to truly challenging! It’s an amazingly creative twist – I really wish more game developers would think out of the box when trying to create an enjoyable and memorable game.
Achievement collectors will feel right at home, as there’s a wealth of.. stuff to collect in Neverwinter, but be prepared for an overwhelming cash shop too. It’s hardly pay to win, but it is obvious free players won’t be able to access every little thing in the game.
Futuristic settings can make for great MMO worlds, and hopefully there are a few of them that excel in “bringing” you to space!
|Game||EVE Online||Release Date||May 06, 2003||Developer||CCP Games||Publisher||Pearl Abyss||Platforms||Genres||MMORPG||Official Links|
Eve Online is hands-down the most hardcore sandbox MMORPG in existence (no wonder Pearl Abyss – Black Desert Online’s developer – bought the game!). However, since you really have to be a Sci-Fi fan in order to enjoy it to the fullest, I didn’t put it in the Sandbox section.
Most probably you’ve heard some horror stories from the Eve community, and… sadly most of them are true! The high-stakes PvP environment means you have a lot to lose – in terms of game progress, time, money, or a combination of all of them – so it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. There is an incredibly loyal community waiting to help… or hurt you, so be prepared, and don’t take anything for granted – do your own research!
The depth of the game’s economy is unlike anything you’ve experienced before (or maybe you have a taste if you’ve tried BDO), and there are endless character progression paths to choose from – you do have to choose wisely though. As you might have guessed, “going solo” is not really an option in Eve, at least not when you start to realize how the game really works, and how much a team of loyal players can accomplish in unity.
If you are ready to take this journey I’m jealous of you, though I do have to warn you. Make sure you have a lot of free time ahead of you, a healthy life, and financial security. This is not a hint to P2W – the game is dangerously addictive, and can provide emotional experiences that can’t easily be found in everyday life.
|Game||Star Wars: The Old Republic||Release Date||December 20, 2011||Developer||BioWare||Publisher||Electronic Arts||Platforms||Genres||MMORPG||Official Links|
Star Wars: The Old Republic has been a silent contender for many years, mostly due to the fact that the MMORPG fanbase is not too fond of Sci-Fi aesthetics. Like EVE, instead of putting it along the Theme Park MMOs, I do feel as well that only Sci-Fi fans will truly appreciate what SWTOR has to offer, since well… it’s a Theme Park MMO, you gotta love the Theme first! 😁
Everything in SWTOR is clearly inspired by World of Warcraft’s success, but it’s also one of the rare cases where the developers used a successful recipe, and also made it their own! One of the strongest selling points is the game’s evolving and branching storyline, filled with voiceovers and cutscenes – a true gem for Star Wars fans, and a quite enjoyable experience for the rest of us!
There’s just a ton of variety in the races, classes, collectibles and game modes, making it hard to reach an endpoint, or a … bored-point! If you enjoy old-school MMORPGs, and you miss what it feels like to discover an endless new world, then I’d definitely urge you to give SWTOR a try – it’s free to play after all!
However, it’s also an EA game, so expect to also meet a cash shop filled with goodies and offers in dozens of different categories, as well as a Premium subscription model, that gives you access to almost half of the game. You can enjoy a pretty substantial part just F2P though, so don’t feel intimidated to try it out!