The 19 Best Free-to-Play MMORPGs in 2020, Going into 2021.
I bet you guys are tired of aimlessly searching for that perfect free-to-play MMORPG, right?
Trust me, I know. I’ve tried to help out by doing monthly videos featuring 10 unique titles per video, but still continue to get comments every day asking for recommendations.
And since it’s nearing the end of the year.. what better time is there than right now to go ahead and do a “very best of 2020” list for free MMOs.
Unlike what’s done traditionally, however, I’m not going to list the “10 best.” I’m going to take this a step further and break this down into niche-specific free MMOs.
Tab-target, action, open-world, hub-based, Anime. Yeah, you guys are going to witness what is perhaps the most comprehensive list of free-to-play MMOs available.
The Best Free-to-Play Tab-Target MMORPGs
Let’s start this off talking about tab-target MMOs. I know they’re still the most actively played MMOs in the scene right now with WoW and Final Fantasy XIV being the two most played MMORPGs currently.
Star Wars The Old Republic
Let’s start this off with some interesting news on a game that has gone radio silent as of late. I know it’s been a while now, but you all remember Mad World, right? If not, then allow this to jog your memory. A few months ago, Jandisoft, the developers behind the game announced that Netmarble would be publishing the game.
They stated that the reason they had such poor communication with their players was due to sorting out issues involved in working with Netmarble. Fast forward to a week or two ago, Jandisoft finally made an announcement, or, more like posted an update on their official forums.
It included quite a bit of information – so if you’re interested in finding out exactly what was mentioned I urge you to navigate to their forums and take a read.
While there is still no confirmation in terms of a release, it’s refreshing to know that, at least according to Jandisoft, they’re going to be making an active effort to work on better communication with their community.
Mabinogi is a bit of an older title but let’s be real here: There are no other titles like this – Peria Chronicles was supposed to be the spiritual successor to the franchise but after Nexon cancelled that.. yeah.
Mabinogi is an Anime-inspired MMO set in a large sandbox world. Where most games in the genre require you follow a specific route: They’re linear in the sense of progression, Mabinogi is much more freeing.
You can level at your own pace, rebirth back down to level 1, age up your character, get various jobs in-game to make a living.
Honestly, from what I’ve seen the game provides almost limitless options to progress at your own pace, in your own way.
The one downside I’ve found to Mabinogi is its combat, which is mostly rock-paper-scissors. You use a certain attack that counters another attack which counters another attack. Rinse and repeat.
And the combat itself is incredibly slow, which admittedly turns a lot of players off.
RuneScape and Old School RuneScape together make up one of the most densely populated, expansive MMOs to have ever graced the free-to-play market.
Don’t let RuneScape’s graphical style dissuade you from playing the titan, though – I know it can be a little to get over, as a lot of people judge a game these days by how good-or bad it happens to look visually.
RuneScape features a ridiculously large world to go out and explore, tons of dungeons and instanced content – and speaking of content, is updated with new content more frequently than most MMOs currently available.
Its tab-target combat is a little on the slower side, but is in no way inhibited by its engine or time of release.
Plus, this game, while built for PCs was recently ported to mobile devices as well, providing players additional avenues with which to play the game. Yup, an actual, non pay-to-win cross-platform MMO.
Secret World Legends
Secret World Legends is one of the highest quality MMOs I’d ever played. I’ve put 50, 60 hours into this game over the years and had nothing but enjoyment and fond memories of it – however the publisher behind it ruined it and as such the playerbase continued to dwindle over time.
While The Old Republic has tens of thousands of active players, and RuneScape has hundreds of thousands of active players, Secret World Legends maybe has a few thousand active players at best.
Yet at the same time this game had some of the best voice acting in an MMO, some of the best story-telling, some of the most difficult puzzles to solve, an interesting setting – a post-apocalyptic world with aliens, monsters.
The tab-target combat was probably the weakest part of the game for me, though, as it was a little clunky but not enough where it was ever an issue.
This could have been the greatest MMO. Instead.. yeah.
This is a game that ate up 2 years of my life, back in 2009. I couldn’t distance myself from it and spent several thousand dollars purchasing things from their cash shop.
Granted the game has changed quite drastically over time – as all MMOs do, Perfect World has nevertheless remained one of the largest sandbox MMOs with almost endless content to partake of.
This game has dungeons, it has raids, it has entire instanced-worlds like Heaven and Hell, a world larger than almost anything I’ve ever seen, the ability to freely traverse said world without limitation and most importantly.. their character creator.
The character creator was what actually put Perfect World on most players’ radar. This provided players the ability to create avatars unlike anything they’d ever seen before.
The tab-target combat is also fairly good, although it definitely feels a little stiffer – yes, I said stiffer – don’t think too deeply on that – than some newer titles but this is an MMO that everyone needs to try. Although it is heavily pay-to-win if you have any intention of playing competitively.
Aion was one of the few MMOs I played competitively, back after it launched as a free-to-play MMO. While it found some success with a paid business model, it didn’t really soar to new heights until it went free.
This is a tab-target that still – to date – remains one of the best PvP MMOs on the market. It has what is arguably one of the better tab-target combat systems, providing plenty of chain-combo options, and used to have a variety of very large, open zones for players to explore and PvP in.
While the game, and its zones have changed quite drastically over time, it’s still an MMO I find myself going back to to relive some of the things I really enjoyed about the game. Aerial PvP. Fast, impactful combat. A great character creator.
And I met a good friend of mine there, Kaprii, who was actually the very first person to ever recognize me and talk to me out of the game. And who remains, to date, one of the few people online I would genuinely call a friend!
The reason I’m including Atlantica Online here is because there’s nowhere it really fits otherwise.
This is one of the handful of unique MMOs that are currently available – and honestly deserves a mention in every top video list purely because you have to try this out before it disappears for good.
If you’re a fan of turn-based JRPGs like the older Final Fantasy games then this’ll feel like home to you as you go about the world, recruiting characters to join you, gearing yourself and your group for exploration, raiding and even PvP.
While the game definitely utilizes segregated worlds, there’s plenty to do in Atlantica – just not many people to do it with.
The Best Free-to-Play Action MMORPGs
Next we’re going to jump into action MMOs. There are several very popular action MMOs currently available: The Elder Scrolls Online, Black Desert, but we’re touchin’ on the free ones.
Guild Wars 2
I feel like everyone has played Guild Wars 2 but for those of you that haven’t.. you definitely need to.
I know the premium expansion packs might be a turn-off for you, but the entire game, with the exception of the expansion content is fully playable and accessible without paying a cent.
And this is a game that has a quality far beyond the majority of free-to-play titles.
Some people are of the opinion that Guild Wars 2 has a tab-target combat system, while some others believe it’s an action MMO. Me? Playing Guardian while Mrs Stix plays Necro, it feels like a pure action MMO to us or at worst, a slight hybrid between the two.
It has enormous segregated zones, with each zone being level-locked, meaning you’re synced down to a maximum level whenever entering a zone to prevent power-creeping. And it has one of the best stories in an MMO. And.. the Fashion Wars that take place, man.
There’s a reason everyone suggests this whenever someone asks for an MMO recommendation.
TERA’s in a weird limbo right now, with En Masse shutting down and a new publisher up in the air. Nevertheless, it’s been confirmed to be migrating to a new home, and as such won’t be going anywhere.
This is the MMO that Mrs Stix and I met in and will forever hold a special place in our hearts. Even if it’s changed from a game that required a lot of challenge to something that is doable solo now. Which is fine, most MMOs these days are.
TERA itself is a beautiful action MMO that has some of the best action combat – and this is in my opinion, mind you, not other people’s – in a free MMO. It allows for some devastating comboing of abilities, and abilities look flashy and are pretty impactful.
The world, much like Guild Wars 2 is segregated. You go through small portals to travel between regions, but otherwise they’re largely connected and filled with content to consume.
Blade & Soul
The only free-to-play MMO that has combat that is as good as TERA is Blade & Soul. The two of these games have better action combat than any other free MMO.
Blade & Soul’s is very different to TERA’s, where TERA utilizes very fast, very specific combos, Blade & Soul instead leaves you with significantly less abilities but a higher skill-cap, as timing and ping are crucial to competitive play.
Outside of its action combat, though, Blade & Soul is a beautiful game that while yes, it also features segregated zones, has large open areas to freely explore at your leisure. However the world, unlike games like Guild Wars 2 or Final Fantasy XIV feels a little.. emptier. Much like the majority of games here.
And this game is a grind. More so than anything I’ve played in years. I have a Hongmoon level 22 Zen Archer, but holy crap if it isn’t a struggle staying up-to-date with gear and levels. Which is probably the main issue I have with Blade & Soul.
Neverwinter is an MMO that I have a love and hate relationship with.
On the one hand, this game is beautiful, it has a ton of lore, an incredible amount of story to sift through, lots of voice acting, a high quality feel. This is an MMO that I think transcends the free MMO template, but at the same time I don’t think it would ever cut it as a paid title.
The game utilizes segregated zones, with tons of areas being disconnected from one another via loading screens, but it never feels like you’re instanced off from the rest of the world.
The environments, the areas you have to explore – everything looked fantastic. The combat is equally as entertaining to utilize. Especially on certain mage classes – classes that I grew quite fond of while playing.
There’s always plenty to do, and the game is updated quite regularly as well, making for a solid home if this is your type of game.
I never invested nearly as much time into Albion Online as I perhaps should have. This is one of the few player-driven sandbox MMOs in existence and considering the game has a population that is growing – actually growing month to month, I feel as though the conversion from a paid game to a free MMO was just what this title needed.
I wasn’t entirely certain what to classify the combat in Albion as – it’s not 100% action combat but at the same time it isn’t really a tab-target MMO either. It’s.. somewhere in-between, requiring targets but not really.. It’s in an unusual place, honestly.
Regardless, the combat is probably one of the aspects of the game that is less of a focus, with the world, the politics in the world, the crafting, the PvP and pretty much everything else being of such importance – something that I never expected to find within an MMO.
This is a game that you can get lost in doing whatever you want, really. Yes there’s direction, there’s a story, there’s the option to go out and kill things like normal. But at the same time, it’s just not necessary. And that’s part of what makes the game special and unique to so many people.
Amazon Game Studios recently confirmed – well, strongly hinted at the announcement that Lost Ark was heading to the West in 2021. Finally, after all these years the game is coming to our shores.
After releasing in South Korea, Russia and Japan, we’re finally going to get our fingers on the game. And let me tell you, I’ve put in over a hundred hours so far with Mrs Stix on stream, and this is a very fun, very entertaining game absolutely packed with story.
Every thing you do, every place you go, everything is furthered by the story. Every character you meet has some importance to the story – it was crazy seeing this in a South Korean game.
While the world itself is segregated, split between loading portals, the world is so large and expansive, both on land and when sailing the ocean, and the combat is fast, fluid and impactful.
This is one of the better looking action MMOs out there, honestly, and I couldn’t recommend it enough when it launches next year.
The Best Free-to-Play Hub-Based MMORPGs
Then we have the hub-based MMOs, which are technically MMOs but on a much smaller scale.
Dungeon Fighter Online
Dungeon Fighter Online is the most popular MMO in the world. No joke. It has several million players playing from China alone – and yes, that is concurrently. It has more active players playing right now, than World of Warcraft has over the course of the entire month, which is insane.
But then China has a population of 1 and a half billion so.. it stands to reason.
Nevertheless, Dungeon Fighter Online is one of my favorite hub-based MMOs. It utilizes some of the best combat in a side-scrolling brawler, and has a very deep class-system providing players countless opportunities to truly craft a character they want.
For this section I won’t be talking about the world as there’s no real point – hub-based MMOs don’t have a world outside of their instanced environments, their dungeons, their towns. But that’s okay because they more than make up for it in variety.
The combat specifically is action-based, providing fast, very responsive combat that has honestly not been done better.
Whenever I talk about Vindictus, I always have a plethora of people jump in talking about how good the game’s combat is. And there’s a reason for that: Vindictus has incredible action combat. But the game overall is definitely held back by its instanced world.
This is a beautiful MMO. It has amazing looking character models, and some really great environments to explore. The combat is incredibly fast, but doesn’t require the heavy use of button-mashing like Black Desert.
You have abilities, much in the same way as BDO but otherwise it functions more like your traditional MMO. While the combat is good, though, you also possess the ability to interact with your environment: Picking up enemies, objects – heck probably other players and utilizing them as weapons.
Something that just isn’t really done in other games, and that is part of what makes the combat so good. There’s a lot of story to be found in the game as well, which is always a plus.
The Best Free-to-Play Anime MMORPGs
And finally we have our Anime MMOs. Which I’m sure you’re all interested in as I know one of the most anticipated MMOs of 2021 for all of you is Blue Protocol.
Ragnarok Online is well – it used to be the King of the Anime MMO genre, but has fallen from grace over time. Which is bound to happen. Even World of Warcraft has almost fallen to the #2 most populated spot, right? It’s all inevitable.
This was a game that ate up a lotta time, though, and still does even with all of their streamlining and optimizations. This game is a heavy grind that requires more time investment than I have anymore.
There are more classes than I’ve ever come across in any other game in the history of my gaming career, and the world itself is filled with things to do, areas to explore.
However, as noted earlier, this is a very heavy grind so if that isn’t your thing this definitely won’t appeal to you.
Soul Worker Online
Soul Worker has for a very long time now been one of my favorite Anime MMOs. Granted Gameforge doesn’t update it nearly as often as they should but at the same time, I haven’t found – currently at least – a better Anime MMO with more engaging, rewarding combat.
This is one of the Anime-est looking titles in this entire list, with the exception of maybe PSO2. While there isn’t much in the way of overall customization or fashion, the game excels where it needs to, and that is in the area of combat.
Combat in Soul Worker, while granted yes you do have a few limited slots, allows you to set up different combo-selections for each ability, being able to push out a barrage of different skills in rapid succession.
The game also has quite a bit of story, with certain villains lasting quite a ways through the game, and specific NPCs being integral to the progression of the story.
I would’ve included this in the “hub-based MMOs” section but felt it was more appropriate to keep listed under the “Anime MMO” section.
Phantasy Star Online 2
I know New Genesis is launching next year, but right now, Phantasy Star Online 2 is one of – if not the biggest Anime MMO on the market.
While games like Soul Worker and Dungeon Fighter both have a variety of different quest-hubs, PSO2 takes place in one specific hub: the space station. And that’s more than fine. There’s a lot there – and even more to do outside of the hub.
Unlike other hub-based MMOs that have party-sizes of a mere handful, PSO2 actually has ridiciulously large, populated battles that have so many players taking part that it’s almost impossible to keep track of, and are arguably some of the most fun I’ve had in the game.
There’s also the potential to meet other players as they invade your instance… something else that I don’t traditionally see within hub-based MMOs.
Then there’s the combat – which is probably the best action combat in an Anime MMO outside of Soul Worker. The shifting between weapons, filling various different roles, really leaves a lot of room to customize your playstyle.
And don’t even get me started on character creation. This game is a beast.
Tree of Savior
And that’s it. That’s…. well, I actually don’t know how many games that was. Too many? Probably. But if you can’t find something to play out of these.. the MMO genre might not be for you!
This is the last game we’ll talk about today. Because I feel like I’ve taken up so much of your guys’ time as-is.
Tree of Savior is essentially Ragnarok Online.. but a more updated version of it, known as the “spiritual successor” to the popular MMO.
This game is an isometric MMO like Lost Ark and Albion Online and features some incredibly detailed looking abilities, but at the same time, really doesn’t have much of a population left due to the mistakes made early on in the game’s life.
As is the case with all isometric MMOs, this game utilizes segregated zones, but they’re packed with monsters and things to do.
Honestly this would be an amazing game… if people gave it the chance after its initial failure.