Everyone knows the ingredients of the best MMO games are complex world-building, character creation, and the opportunity to explore.
Massive Multiplayer Online Games – or MMOs for short – aren’t just unique for the large number of players that populate each server. They also simulate a whole world in many respects, and they invite you to become a part of it. A whole fantasy universe is waiting to be explored, and your avatar will grow and change as you go on adventures and become stronger.
Games are often more fun when we can share them with someone, and some people have made lifelong friends playing MMOs and MMORPGs (massive online multiplayer online role-playing games).
Although they all share similarities, each one has its unique quirks and mechanisms. This can mean that they can take some getting used to, but after a while, however, they can become something of a calming ritual.
Maybe all you want to do is work on your virtual home, or do some crafting and selling at the market. Maybe you’re just hanging out with friends during an event. Whether it's hunting or designing, many players have found a lot of creative ways to spend their time in MMOs – and not all of them are centered on the combat aspects.
Here are our picks of the best MMOs for players of all ages and experience levels. Time to explore!
Best MMO games
Why you can trust TechRadar Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
Payment structure: Free trial up to level 20, then a monthly subscription fee
Blizzard's World of Warcraft has been going since around 2004 and it's been the reigning champion of the MMO genre for a long time. It's not only one of the best MMO games, it's probably what got most people interested in the genre to begin with. But it's changed quite a lot.
World of Warcraft is one of the most successful and influential games in the genre, with new content frequently being added for a thriving, dedicated player base. If subscriber numbers look like they're wavering even slightly, you can be sure Blizzard will come out with another great expansion to corral everyone back into the fold and maybe bring some newbies with them.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, has to be among the best expansions in its history, offering stunning visuals on top of excellent dungeons and a linear questing system as well as a whole slew of exciting new content.
World of Warcraft is essential for anyone interested in the high fantasy MMORPG and we can’t see it losing prominence any time soon.
Platforms: PS4 and PC
Payment model: Free-to-play with optional purchases
Planetside 2 is a first-person shooter on a massive scale. If you're not interested in the kind of granular play offered by games like Black Desert Online, then this game's focus on all out war against other players might appeal to you.
The game revolves around three factions in a constant state of war. Players choose their faction and then spend their time attacking and defending bases on a huge map to remain ahead of the competition. One day you could be on the attack, the next you could be desperately defending. Either way you're always fighting.
These days, there are of course other, more popular options when it comes to free FPS gameplay, such as Destiny 2, but the fact that Planetside 2 is still going strong speaks for itself.
Planetside 2 is quite an old game by now, and though it doesn't have quite the same popularity or player base as it once did, it offers something a little different to the rest of the MMOs on this list.
Payment model: Free-to-play
Rather than a sprawling, entirely foreign world, Secret World Legends is an MMO which places a lot of focus on storytelling. If you're tired out by the usual high fantasy and space fare, this is a game which is set in a world very close to our own – or it would be if cults, mythological creatures, crazy conspiracies and supernatural phenomenons were commonplace.
There's more than 100 hours of story to enjoy here and players are able to explore locations all over the world and take part in a range of missions to unlock the mysteries that await them. The amount of variety alone makes it a worthy spot on our list of best MMO games.
If the cooperative nature of many MMOs actually isn't for you, it's possible to play through the story on your own. Of course you can also team up with others and adventure with players from across the world.
Payment structure: Free base game, expansions for purchase
When it first released, Many called Guild Wars 2 the best high fantasy MMO since World of Warcraft. It's stuffed with content you can get at a fair base price before you start buying expansions, and everything unfolds in an exciting world that still looks beautiful many years after the initial release.
Guild Wars 2 has plenty of secrets to uncover besides the main campaign, so roaming is definitely encouraged. While the game reduces the grind compared to other MMOs, it's best to bring a friend, especially when you're taking your first steps – GW2 distributes experience fairly between party and raid members.
Even though it has been around for over a decade, Guild Wars 2 still boasts one of the most beautiful worlds, and there is still lots that recommends it to those looking for the best MMO games.
Payment structure: Free-to-play, with purchasable DLC and optional subscription
Few fictional worlds are as perfect for the MMO treatment as Tolkein's Middle-Earth, seeing as it's also the one that inspired most of them in the first place. Sure, Frodo's adventure was thrilling, but we all know we could have one equally as exciting if we had the chance.
You get to choose between being a Human, Elf, Dwarf or Hobbit before you drop into Middle-earth and explore the locations you know and love with an intimacy that no other Lord of the Rings game has allowed.
Expect to find the usual World of Warcraft style of questing here, alongside crafting mechanics and the ability to purchase and set up a home. Overall, it's a pretty standard MMORPG in terms of mechanics, but its setting really elevates it to one of the best MMO games out there.
Though the game is free-to-play, there are expansions available for purchase which add to the game's story and introduce new items and mechanics. Even better for Tolkien fans: the storylines follow in line with the books.
If you're still waiting for the perfect Lord of the Rings single-player experience, perhaps Lord of the Rings: Gollum will be for you.
Payment structure: Free-to-Play or subscription
There's been a lot of high fantasy in this list so far – but if you're more interested in the far reaches of space you might want to take a look at Eve Online.
A word of warning, though: we said Black Desert Online is complicated but EVE Online edges to beat it. This is a game world that's been going for years and years and it's become somewhat infamous for being one of uncaring betrayal. While you can do whatever you want in the game, just remember that others can do whatever they want. And sometimes that involves ruining you. Space colonization is a tough game.
Eve Online is kind of the ultimate in sandbox MMO – it's a game world driven by its playerbase; a playerbase capable of dragging out wars and schemes over periods of months with plenty of fighting, smuggling and sabotage in between.
Just because it's not the easiest game to learn doesn't mean you can't do it, though. Unlike the creators of Black Desert Online, over the years developer CCP has attempted to make it slightly more accessible and put together a thorough and helpful tutorial for beginners. Besides, sometimes there's no better lesson than getting something horrifically wrong.
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One (current-gen versions tba)
Payment structure: Buy-to-play
It's been a while since the last mainline Elder Scrolls release, and we're pretty sure it'll be a while until The Elder Scrolls 6 will be here, so if you're a fan looking to breathe fresh life into Tamriel, Elder Scrolls Online is an excellent option.
Like Final Fantasy XIV, this is a game that struggled initially. But since dropping its subscription fees for a buy-to-play model, perception has dramatically improved. Despite being one of the most modern and recent MMOs to hit the market, Elder Scrolls Online has really picked up traction, which is undoubtedly helped by being in a recognizable universe that many wish to return to.
After the success of Morrowind, Elder Scrolls Online has had several DLC updates including Summerset, Wolfhunter and Murkmire.
Here you'll find the traditional Elder Scrolls viewpoint and combat, but it’s all neatly tied in with those traditional MMO features like looting, crafting systems and PvP and PvE missions.
Platforms: PC, Android, ioS
Payment structure: Free-to-play, optional membership for extra content and mobile access
Like World of Warcraft, Runescape is one of those names that's renowned in the MMO world as one of the best MMO games, partly because it's one of the oldest games in the genre still going. And yet, with its user base managing to double in recent years, it's still very much alive and kicking.
Originally a browser-only game, over the years Runescape has expanded into its own program with vastly improved visuals and mechanics. At its heart, though, it remains a game that's dedicated to giving players freedom in combat and questing in a large fantasy world It's perhaps for this reason that it remains one of the most popular and updated games in the MMO genre.
If want to start playing Runescape, be aware there are now two versions, one that is still regularly being updated and one, called Old-School Runescape, which is supposed to preserve the experience of playing Runescape decades ago, similar to World of Warcraft Classic.
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Android, ioS
Payment structure: Buy-to-play with optional ingame purchases
Black Desert Online certainly isn't one of the more accessible games on this list, but it's one that you may find it worth investing some time into. As a Korean MMO, it does place a heavy emphasis on grinding, but for anyone looking for in-depth profession and crafting systems, it's a contender.
More than many other MMOs, this is one that will feel like you're living a second life in a fantasy world. It also has one of the most robust character creation systems in the genre. This is a game that has something to engage with on big and small scales. Want to fish and farm? You can do that. But you can also take part in guild wars and sieges past a certain level.
Don't expect a vast story here – this is very much a sandbox game where you craft your own story and adventure.
But there are various systems and mechanics to engage with and connecting them together can be rewarding, even if the process proves time-consuming and complicated.
Black Desert Online is a complex but stunning game. It has its problems, but with its massive playerbase and variety of things to do, it's still one of the best MMO games currently available that's also relatively recent.
Platforms: PC, PS5, PS4
Payment structure: Buy-to-play with free trial up to a certain level
It's not been an easy journey for this Final Fantasy MMO. First launched in 2010 to an overwhelmingly negative response (and for good reason), Square Enix then spent two years reworking and rebuilding it to create something much better.
In its latest and vastly improved form, Final Fantasy XIV is a game that will appeal to franchise fans and newcomers alike. Trying to pick one of the Final Fantasy 14 classes can be overwhelming at first, but thanks to the games popularity, you get plenty of help with every decision, should you need it.
Boasting an accomplished class system and a story that builds steadily over the game's various expansions, this is an MMO which really captures the essence of the Final Fantasy franchise. Final Fantasy XIV is widely regarded one of the best MMO games not just because it's based on a popular series of games. After its reboot, the team behind it spent years figuring out what the community needed to have a good time with the game, resulting in expansions that got better and better with each one. If you enjoy classic Final Fantasy storytelling, you get that here, solo and with friends.