Although other genres like MOBAs are eating into their territory, there are still a lot of MMORPGs out there now that have successfully moved to the Freemium model to survive, capturing even greater revenues than with their now-ancient monthly subscription models. While certain titles like The Secret World, Guild Wars 2, or The Elder Scrolls Online have opted for a system where you buy the game and never pay for anything else, there are many others that are completely free, based on a system of completely optional micro-payments that create no competitive breach whatsoever between the characters. Here are a few recommendations.
After becoming free-to-play in February 2013, leaving behind the subscription model, the number of players of this game jumped by half a million in just a few weeks. In fact it’s just been announced that it’s the most-played MMORPG on Steam, with 4.5 million active users in the U.S. alone.
The game is visually very appealing (it uses Unreal Engine 3) and has that Asian-fantasy aesthetic now so popular in the genre, with its cat-men and ample-bosomed witches. The biggest appeal of its game system lies in the fact that the battles are decided on ability instead of turns and automatic scoring systems, meaning if you want to dodge a blow or do an attack from afar you’ll have to control your character as if you were playing an action game.
The best release from Cryptic Studios needs little in the way of introduction. Using Dungeons & Dragons (and the campaign setting from the Forgotten Kingdoms) provides an enormous enticement for people who loved those old Bioware titles, and is a sure bet in terms of offering an environment and interesting depth for those who enjoy epic fantasy. In fact, one of the latest game expansions even features an appearance by Minsc, one of the most appealing stars of the iconic Baldur’s Gate saga.
The game offers an elaborate character evolution system by race, class, and powers, and a map to traverse part of the Sword Coast carrying out missions and participating in collaborative events. The general opinion of the players is that this is a completely respectable free-to-play model with no penalties for those who don’t want to spend money unless they want to buy themselves some time to advance in the game.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
If we’re talking about a successful license, there are few better out there than Star Wars. SW:ToR was also one of those games that moved from a monthly subscription to a freemium model, although along the way it left some structural elements of its progress system intact from that model, meaning that the most advanced expansions that allow you to increase the maximum level and participate in exclusive events require you to shell out. Even still, the game offers enough stuff that by the time you get to that point you’ll be happy to pay.
The events of The Old Republic take place long before the movie trilogies, although most of the main characteristics are still there, including the option to play with the dark or light side (alongside a progress system that brings you closer to one side or the other) as well as the most recognizable planets from the saga, such that within a few hours you’ll be traversing Coruscant or Tatooine, to the delight of any Star Wars fan.
Here’s something a bit different. Now that the games of From Software are so trendy, with its Dark Souls and the recent Bloodborne, a taste for complicated (and—let’s call a spade a spade—terribly unfair) challenges appears to have taken hold. The Wizardry games now have several years behind them, and one of their identifiers has always been their difficulty. Here we are looking at a game where the business model is based on paying to save your ass if you’re not clever enough.
The game has permanent death, as when you die you’ll turn into a spirit that must arrive in time to its body on the floor below or game over. To avoid this, there are objects you can buy with real money—or, if you’re really good, in battle, as the control system rewards skillful players beyond the statistics and levels. A game for those who enjoy a bit of agony.
One of the recent big names that have appeared in the genre and that covers an enormous number of aspects, beyond being an adventure MMORPG with an oriental feel. Its development was led by Jake Song, father of the one and only Lineage, who attempted to go a step further in the genre with features focused on ‘sandboxing’, that is, doing what you want when you feel like it.
Besides doing missions and making your character stronger, you can build your own house and cultivate crops of all sorts to later earn money by selling them on its commerce system. This intimately integrated system is related to PvP, pets, crafting, horses that let you travel manually through any area of the setting, boat trips… All with an F2P system whose main object is to offer a higher level of customization and speed up your progress with items bought in the in-game store.