What is the best MMO RPG on PC in 2021? Is it one with spells to sling and demons to slay? Working your way through the stars as a miner or a corporate bigwig? Solving ancient conspiracies and fighting Lovecraftian horrors? Maybe it’s all of them.
But, hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What’s an MMO, anyway? Well, those oft-used letters represent the words Massively Multiplayer Online, and refer to games where hundreds – if not thousands – of players come together in the same world. MMORPG games like World of Warcraft offer new lands to live in, exchanging your regular life for one of adventure, profit, and danger.
Here’s our list of the top MMORPG games on 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 – be that the most popular MMORPG in the world, a hidden gem with a dedicated community, or even a MMO based on a popular book series.
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.
Read more: Here are some handy Guild Wars 2 console commands
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. End game content is constantly evolving through the Living World episodic updates, the latest of which will pit heroes against the dragon Jormag and his icebrood. Should you not be ready to meet that challenge, you can play lower-level adventures without spending a dollar, as the core game is now entirely free.
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.
Trove is an action-focused MMO, most often compared to games similar to Minecraft and one of the best building games on PC. Firstly you’ll need to build a base, a home from home, where you can fashion all sorts of creatures, weapons, and items. Once your homebase is established, you’ll be able to zip between worlds and loot dungeons and go on quests online with your friends or guild pals. Trove’s dedicated community are always updating and bringing the best mods to Trove, so there’s always something to do whether you’re improving your base or looting with your online buddies.
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.
Rift is still being updated with seasonal events, adding delights such as an adorable mummified corgi companion for Halloween, or the Fae Yule during the holiday season. One of the more recent events has players earn Chaos Motes by finishing special daily quests and has Budgies make a triumphant comeback.
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.
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 in Star Trek Online, land on planets and practise your diplomacy, or get into tense space battles with Cardassians, Romulans, Borg, and whoever else is causing mischief. Space fights are tactical, while playing out in real-time, as it’s key to position your ship to get the most out of your firing arcs. On any away missions that devolve into combat, the game turns into a squad-based third-person shooter, complete with ability cooldowns.
Despite a rocky start, STO has grown into a gargantuan, compelling, and free MMO and one of the best space games out there; it’s frequently expanded by massive updates that add whole new storylines, and a while back the neutral Romulan faction introduced unique missions and ships.
Speaking of ships, that’s what really sets this game apart from other MMOs. You’re not just outfitting and levelling up a hero, you get a whole crew and a starship to manage and customise.
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 Final Fantasy XIV in its entirety.
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.
The Shadowbringers expansion has added new races, jobs and instances, alongside a level cap increase and a heavy helping of story. The upcoming patch titled ‘Vows of Virtue, Deeds of Cruelty’ will allow you to revisit previous quests with your high level characters through New Game Plus. It will also introduce the first in a series of Neir: Automata-themed raids. Few MMOs have received as many quality updates and expansions as FFXIV.
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 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. Don’t forget to check out our Blade & Soul tips before embarking on your new wushu quest.
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.
ArcheAge is free to play, with a premium subscription available that offers several perks, including the ability to claim your own patch of land – not instanced, genuinely taking up space in the open world – on which you can build a house or even an underwater aquafarm full of fish. Alternatively, there is ArcheAge Unchained, a new separate version of the game that gives you access to all the perks of a subscription for a one-time fee.
Regardless of which version you choose, the fantastical world of ArcheAge is the perfect setting to embark upon a life of crime on the open seas, where you’re essentially playing a pirate game and everyone else is an unsuspecting sailor – but instead of a parrot, you’ve got a dragon.
If you’re looking for an MMO where you can sit back, relax, do a little crafting, and tend to your farm while popping out for the occasional fight and odd monster hunt, then Albion Online is not your game.
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It’s PvP from the get go and for that reason you’ll always need to be alert and on-guard. The full-loot drop system can be slightly frustrating, but Albion Online demands players to be tactical and patient. It’s a lot of fun, and requires brain power and perseverance to steer your guild in the right direction, but it’s as rewarding as it is tough.
Despite being one of the old games in the MMO genre out there, TERA continues to deliver new content through the year. Recent years have seen an abundance of updates for the game, culminating in Skywatch: Aerial Island, released on October 15, where players can visit the previously inaccessible floating land of Exodor. The update introduces brand new gear, dungeons, quests, and collectable cards that grant you bonuses – proving the fantasy MMO, first released in 2012, still has a few tricks up its sleeve.
Despite a rocky beginning, The Elder Scrolls Online remains a strong entry for one of the best MMORPGs on PC. The Elder Scrolls games are among the best RPGs around and now you can sink even more of your time into the series’ rich and vibrant universe by playing online with friends or total strangers.
Set 1,000 years before Skyrim and 800 years before Morrowind and Oblivion. The Elder Scrolls Online begins in Coldharbour’s Wailing Prison where, staying true to Elder Scrolls tradition, the player is a prisoner. After escaping you are free to explore the continent of Tamriel, battling monsters, discovering dungeons, and crafting weapons with fellow adventurers or on your own. With a handful of expansions bringing old and new regions into the game like Murkmire and Summerset, not to mention plenty of planned future DLC releases, the Elder Scrolls Online universe is forever expanding making for an MMO that always feels fresh.
Like World of Warcraft, Runescape has been a staple of the MMORPG genre for as long as we can remember. But rather than dwindle, Runescape continues to grow in terms of both players and content. New quests and events are introduced on an almost weekly basis so that veterans always have something fresh to experience, while new players enter a world already enriched by a decade of lore and adventures.
Don’t worry about getting to grips with Runescape either as its community are among the most generous and friendly in all gaming (or you can check out our Runescape beginner’s guide) – whether you’re looking for advice on a tricky quest or simply after a chat, you’ll find help is always at hand. It’s not just history that Runescape boasts either, with major expansions, a mobile release, and countless spin-offs, Jagex’s MMO shows absolutely no signs of stopping.
Tolkien’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, making it the perfect RPG MMO to play right now.
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. SWTOR is easily one of the best Star Wars games ever.
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.
Black Desert Online received a graphics overhaul in 2018 to remaster the original (and already gorgeous) MMO, breathing new life into the game. For what it lacks in polished dialogue, it certainly makes up for it with one of the best character creators around and a gorgeous fantasy world that you’ll want to roam around in for hours.
Just don’t get too comfy as there’s plenty of fighting and grinding, so if you’re looking for a relaxing MMO, this may not be the game for you. As Black Desert Online isn’t your average MMO, it can be tricky to get your head around the new systems, especially how combat, trade, diplomacy, and resources work. Check out our beginners guide to Black Desert Online if you’re keen to jump into this MMO brimming with sword fights and fiery chaos.
Over a decade old and still the most popular MMORPG game 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 Blizzard is still 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.
There are thousands of World of Warcraft veterans nostalgic for the charm and challenge of the vanilla game, and the launch of WoW Classic has granted their every wish. Based on the state of the game in 2006, before the Burning Crusade expansion, WoW Classic is home to veterans and newbies alike, enjoying the sense of community that emerges by necessity when you remove dungeon finders and quest markers.
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Access to the game is included with a standard World of Warcraft subscription. Even if you’re familiar with the modern game, it’ll take substantial adjustment to survive the notoriously difficult levelling experience of Classic. While some diehard fans might claim that spending hours on a WoW Classic dungeon only to wipe against the final boss, running back to find that he has despawned and can’t be summoned again is all part of the adventure, they probably just want you to suffer like they did.
Instead, learn from their mistakes and prepare yourself thoroughly with our WoW Classic tips for new players. We also have guides for WoW Classic races, and the enviable WoW Classic legendary weapons you can obtain. With any luck, we should be hearing about the Burning Crusade expansion and how it all works soon.
And so concludes our list of the finest MMORPGs available to play on PC. What world you dive into next is entirely up to you. Will you go for one of the free MMOs, or will you be splashing out on a subscription? Regardless of your choice, know that the best multiplayer games are a ticket to new friends and, of course, new enemies. Pick your battles, create your clans, and head into a new adventure. Good luck!