Shelling out $50 for a massively multiplayer online game is one thing, but the monthly fees that retail games charge in addition cause many a thrifty tongue to wag. As a result, online game forums, including GameSpot's own, are often overrun with the same question: What free MMOG should I play? After all, your time and bandwidth are just as valuable as your money, right? We sat down with a large number of the most popular offerings to help you--the frugal player--determine which games fit the bill.
There are a surprisingly healthy number of options available; thus, our list isn't a comprehensive inventory. There are dozens of persistent-world games that you can download and play for free, so we focused on giving you a list that spans a wide spectrum of gameplay styles. It's important to note that while all of these games are free to download and charge no monthly fee, some of them offer premium subscriptions or in-game items if you pony up the cash. A few of them used to even be full-fledged retail games with a monthly subscription fee. To be eligible for our list, a game had to meet three criteria: 1) It has to be free to download; 2) it cannot charge a monthly fee, though it may offer a premium subscription for a cost; and 3) it must qualify as an MMOG, which means it occurs in a persistent, or mostly persistent, online game world.
So without further ado, here are twelve free MMOGs that may be worth your time, if not your money. Take a look to see if any of these sound right for you and check the video on each page to see them in action!
Part 1: Sci-Fi - The Future is Now
We've all seen the typical fantasy landscapes, but too many offer the same tired old views. That's why futuristic role-playing games hold such a fascination for many. The rush of discovering an entirely new world, as well as the sights of alien creatures and otherworldly spacecraft hovering above, are the aspects of science fiction games that continually fascinate and inspire us. If the constant discovery of unknown environs stirs your senses, you may find one of these galaxies worth exploring.
Who Should Play: Trekkies, engineers, and political science majors
2001 was a memorable year for MMOGs, but not always for the right reasons. One of those games that landed in the history books was Anarchy Online, a promising and complex game that launched in such a disastrously buggy state that most players who dared to wade into its rough technical waters in the first few months threw their hands up in disgust and dismissed Funcom's sci-fi RPG as a failed experiment.
The good news in 2008 is that Anarchy Online is still complex, but it has long left its technical drawbacks in the dust. Even now, it features a large and dedicated population that would recognize the squeals of a rollerrat from a mile away. In the world of Rubi-Ka, the evil Omni-Tek Corporation battles the independent clans while a few neutral observers take advantage of the ceaseless conflict. Regardless of which of the three factions you join, you'll need to wade through a complicated character-development system, which features dozens of stats, equippable implants, and shops selling hundreds of gadgets. It's enough to cause brain freeze for even the most stalwart role player. Thankfully, the introductory tutorial functions far better than the original one did, and the game's friendly community is happy to answer questions--for whom you're bound to have many.
But it's this complexity that makes Anarchy Online so rewarding. There are a dozen classes from which to choose, infinite possibilities for avatar customization, and endless engaging missions to undertake. It's hard not to get wrapped up in the game's deep political backstory, thanks to well-written dialogue, a superb soundtrack, and great art design that shines even behind the darkness of aged visuals. You can also log in for 30 minutes and still feel as though you've accomplished something, thanks to the many bite-sized missions at your disposal. Whether you adventure on your own through the slums of West Athens or exterminate rebel scum from the streets of Rome, you'll find a lot to do and plenty of devoted players with whom to do it.Download it!
Who Should Play: Starcraft veterans who want their Zerg rushes to have political consequences
Persistent-world RPGs are a dime a dozen. Persistent-world real-time strategy games? That's something special. Upon its original release in 2001, Shattered Galaxy seemed poised to lead an RTS revolution--a revolution that sadly never came to fruition. Yet seven years later, a small but focused population carries on the game's 2D virtual war, determined to come out on top in the game's never-ending struggle to control Morgana Prime and its galactic neighbors.
Shattered Galaxy condenses your role on the RTS battlefield, letting you control anywhere from six to 12 units at any given time. If this sounds limited, brace yourself for this tidbit: To be an effective battle commander, you should choose all of the same unit type. But never fear, for while your own role in the battlefield may feel a little squashed, you'll be joined by dozens of other tacticians eager to wage war. You may have a singular responsibility, but whether you rain fire from above or plant mines to catch your foes by surprise, knowing your place in combat can ensure that you help turn the tide--even at lower levels. All that business about resource management, battlefield structures, and other RTS standards are chucked out the window. Instead, you and your teammates are solely concerned with capturing the points of contention scattered across the map using a handful of reinforcements. You know that battlefield-style tug of war in World of Conflict? Shattered Galaxy's been using a similar system since its release.
There's a lot of terminology to wrap your head around. What, you may ask, is an "eduer?" What's a "clouter?" Your fellow players will throw these esoteric words around, and they're quick to point out any mistakes if you haven't done a little research. The in-game tutorial is almost no help, so your first hours may be spent scratching your head as you watch your low-level squads get mercilessly crushed by opposing war pigeons. But perseverance pays off. You'll level up, equip new weapons on your units, and soon enough, have a powerful squad of arbalests to call your own. The action can get intense, so while the game's economy and factions have been whittled down a bit since the game's retail days--and the visuals are downright primitive--doing your part in Shattered Galaxy's alien universe is remarkably engaging.Download it!
Who Should Play: Privateers with a penchant for female flight instructors whose outfits are 20 miles south of regulation
This online flight-based MMOG is friendlier to newcomers than any other game on our list. The opening tutorial is excellent, flight controls are smooth as ice, and the varied entry-level weapons feel powerful. Air Rivals is currently in open beta, so features are subject to change, but it offers surprising tactical depth. The game combines stat-driven weapons, shields, and various handling characteristics while making use of twitch flight and targeting. You start by choosing an aircraft, or "gear," and from there, the game holds your hand until you reach level 11, when you finally choose which of Air Rivals' two factions to join.
The most appealing aspect of Air Rivals is its tactical depth. Creatures and ships have a huge variety of attack patterns: Large land walkers bombard the sky with antiaircraft cannons, fire-breathing creatures spew flames toward you, and oceanic inhabitants shake your missile lock by diving beneath the waves. You also must monitor your fuel, ammo, and shields, but if you do find yourself running on fumes, there are semiguarded field depots where you can land and resupply at your own risk. Given the variety of environments, both indoor caves and outdoor terrestrial levels, learning to optimize a gear leads to great advantage. Areas are broken up by the standard jump gate model, so you won't have a lot of downtime.
When not dogfighting, you can land on massive flying aircraft carriers and put in some boot time. Here, you interact with other players, pick up missions, sell items, and buy upgrades, although you can use quick menus to accomplish some of these tasks. Movement on the ground is a little clunky and walking areas are limited, but that's not much of a concern in Air Rivals. Flight combat fans may discover that this MMOG satiates the void that Privateer and Freelancer once filled.Download it!
Cheaper by the Dozen: A Look at Free MMOGs
We compare notes on some free-to-play massively multiplayer online games so you can decide if any of them sound right for you.