Where World of Tanks and War Thunder revel in the military hardware of yesteryear, Armored Warfare drags online tank battles kicking and screaming into the near future. That means better tech, both offensively and defensively, and more upgrades to play with as you level up. It's also being made by Oblivion, which isn't something you expect from a F2P tank game. Like missiles. And who doesn’t love missiles?
Its near-future setting means each player in PvP is the head of their own private military company, essentially swapping out the nation-based tech trees of its competition and allowing players to pick the vehicles they want in their army. Managing your garage of tanks so that you’ve got hardware to suit every situation is tough when you can pick from practically any tank in the modern world.
A first-person battle game with cartoon visuals and champions: Paladins might have a lot in common with Blizzard’s Overwatch, but it’s worth seeking out for more than the fact that it’s free. Developed by Hi-Rez Studios, who made the massively popular MOBA Smite, Paladins boasts a refreshingly simple class system that categorises its champions by their main strategy on the battlefield.
Damage, Support, Flank and Front Line are the champion types players can choose from, which makes deciphering their strengths and weaknesses dead easy. Playing as a Flank champion like Skye will mean you’re best suited to attacking key objectives from behind enemy lines, whereas a Front Line champion excels at holding the line and stopping enemies from getting through. Ultimate meters for each hero also mean that the action never results in a stalemate by ensuring every player has an ace up their sleeve that can potentially turn the tide of the match.
What makes Smite different? Switching out the favoured top-down view of most MOBAs for a third-person, over the shoulder view that brings players closer to the action. It’s a small tweak, but it’s one that adds a lot to the flavour and pace of its gameplay. The result is that Smite feels more like an action game, but all the MOBA fundamentals are in place: roles, creeps, towers and lanes.
Like Dota 2 and League of Legends, Smite’s main mode features two teams of five gods engaging in a gladiatorial-themed bout for dominance of the arena. Unlike those MOBA behemoths, Smite boasts a glut of other game mode variants like Joust, which reduces the number of lanes to just one, and Assault, which randomly allocates a god to every player. So if you’re not chasing the eSports prize pools, there’s enough gameplay variety to keep players coming back for more.
If dragons and magic aren’t your cup of tea, maybe golf is. Winning Putt is an MMO for people who love putting more than potions, and as unusual as that concept is, Bandai Namco have managed to make a solid F2P game out of it.
Essentially Winning Putt simulates a real-life golf course: you’re there to play a game of golf, and so are loads of other people. The benefits? No extortionate club fees and snooty types. Fortunately, Winning Putt is underpinned by a more than serviceable golf mechanic that’s much more complex than simply aiming a trajectory arc so the golf ball goes in the golf hole over and over again.
League of Legends
A player base of almost 12 million means you’ll never struggle to find a game in Riot’s sensationally popular MOBA. Following a similar formula to that of the original Dota, League of Legends is significantly more accessible than its competition, and a constantly expanding and updating meta ensures that even the pros are still learning the game.
Part of that meta is the roster of 132 champions, who get buffed and nerfed on a regular basis. LoL also boasts some of the biggest eSports prize pools out there, if you fancy yourself as a future pro.
Path of Exile
An action-RPG cut from the same cloth as the Diablo and Gauntlet franchises, Path of Exile combines grim fantasy, compelling combat and an extensive selection of gear, abilities and upgrades to keep players grinding away for hours on end. Better still, you won’t just be retreading the same old ground every time you log in either, because every area is randomly generated across all servers – so the dungeon you and your friends are battling through will be different every time you tackle it.
Path of Exile also manages to shed some positive light on that most loathed of all monetisation strategies: microtransactions. The games developers are so staunchly against pay-to-win business models that they’ve included only “ethical microtransactions” in their game, by which they mean they add no gameplay advantages to the customer whatsoever.
A space MMO 13 years in the making, the sheer scale of Eve Online is its greatest strength. Eve’s 7,800 star systems combine to make a bountiful sandbox, letting you get on with anything from piracy to mining, or even taking part in space battles so destructive that they consume the lives of 20 million virtual soldiers and last for nearly an entire day.
Better still, CCP have also made Eve Online free-to-play, meaning you can check the game out for yourself without having to commit money to it. Earn your way to the top of a player-run corporation by collecting resources and trading frugally, or command your own fleet of ships after proving yourself a loyal and skilled soldier – it’s up to you.
Lord of the Rings Online
Wouldn’t it be nice to enter an MMO without having to plunge multiple hours wrapping your head around its lore? Chances are, you’ll already know the basics of Tolkien’s Middle-earth before heading into Lord of the Rings Online – so that’s half the battle.
The other half is avoiding all the quests, NPCs and PvP encounters so you can get on with what you’re really there to do: explore all the most famous locations from the franchise – locations like Rohan, Moria and the Shire. In fact, pretty much every setting in the lore has made it into the game in some form, although in typical MMO fashion you’ll have to do a whole lot of farming in order to meet the level requirements of some areas.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
When you’re starting out The Old Republic, it won’t strike you as a unique MMO. You’ll get some story, pick a faction and a class and do some typically grindy missions for a while. Surprisingly though, that story gets better – a lot better – and soon you find yourself pouring hours into the game just to get to the next cutscene.
While it’s a subscription-based MMO, SWTOR is also completely playable for free, although you should expect levelling up to take a little bit longer. Still, if you fancy playing as a slave-turned Sith or an Imperial Agent, it’s a worthwhile grind.
Blade & Soul
Blade & Soul is a Korean MMO so popular it prompted a 10,000 signature petition to bring it to the West. Why all the fanfare? With a bombastic revenge plot mashed together from the likes of Kill Bill and Old Boy, and a on-wire martial arts fighting system, this is an F2P MMO with a rare stylish twist.
As majestic and graceful as the game’s combat is, it’s also remarkably easy to get the hang of. Every move is tied to a clean and simple hotbar on the screen, allowing you to keep track of cooldowns and key-mappings on the go. That makes for Crouching Tiger-levels of acrobatics that don’t need lengthy combos or special ability meters to enable.
At 15 years of age, Runescape isn’t far off being able to buy itself a pint at the pub. By gaming standards it should be abandoned and decrepit, but with a still thriving community, one of the best free-to-play models around and updates so regular it’s nearly impossible to keep track of, Runescape still feels as young and fresh as it did in the early 2000s. Quests, new characters, festive events and entirely new features have come and gone in their hundreds.
Runescape is also one of the friendliest MMOs around, with a community of veterans who are always willing to lend a hand to a noob in need. Even after some graphical upgrades, it’s not the easiest MMO on the eyes, but that does at least mean you can run it on a potato.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
Making an MMO out of the beloved, albeit bonkers, Final Fantasy series was never going to be easy. As if to prove that point, Square Enix made a royal mess of the game and had to take another swing at it, eventually resulting in one of the best free MMOs on PC.
Unlike other MMOs, A Realm Reborn doesn’t force players down the route of having to grind endlessly with multiple characters in order to see which combat class they want to play as. Instead you just need to make it to level ten and the ability to switch between the game’s eight combat classes is magically unlocked. It’s also one of very few cross-play MMOs, which means you can inhabit in the same world as PlayStation users. You lucky thing.
Highly customisable player housing, a telegraphed combat mechanic and environmental storytelling are among the many best traits of Wildstar, a free-to-play MMO made by a team of ex-Blizzard devs. It’s got all the usual MMO trappings you would expect from the genre, like PvP, dungeons and a variety of class and race types, but there’s plenty that makes Wildstar feels unique among its peers.
Sky Plots, for example, are Wildstar’s solution to restrictive player housing. These plots are open to anyone the player allows entry to, and while the exterior of each house can only be tweaked slightly, the interior offers total creative freedom.
Combat in Wildstar is less about cycling through your abilities and mashing keys than it is in other MMOs, though there are still traces of that, but the inclusion of telegraphed attacks means both you and your opponent have a chance to counter or dodge attacks.
Master X Master
World of Warcraft
One of the most famous and adored MMOs around, and one that most associate with a hefty subscription fee, World of Warcraft is actually free-to-play now, although you won’t be able to take your character above level 20. While the Starter Edition of WoW limits a few features, there’s enough to do before hitting the level cap to make this a worthwhile entry.
World of Warcraft earned the record for having the most concurrent subscriptions (12 million) for a reason. Azeroth is enormous, and it’ll be years before you feel like you’ve seen everything that’s hidden away in its various dungeons, cities and regions.
And there you go – more free MMOs than you can shake your empty wallet at. Any we’ve missed? Let us know below.