Top 5 Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games

Immerse yourself in epic fantasy with these massive online gaming communities.

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs or MMOs) are just that: immersive gaming monstrosities that entertain millions of people and rake in huge amounts of money while they do it. Vast, complex, and addictive, these games allow you to live, for a short while, in a virtual world where you play as whatever hero or villain you'd like. All of these MMOs started out as a subscription service, but most of them are now free to play. The only question is, where will you begin?

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World of Warcraft

World of WarCraft
Blizzard Entertainment

World of WarCraft is the fourth game in the WarCraft franchise. Released in 2004, the game has received seven major expansions, the most recent of which came out in 2019. The game takes place in the world of Azeroth just a few years after the events of WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne. Since its release, the game has become the most popular and subscribed MMORPG ever with more than 12 million subscribers at its peak.

Players control a character from either the first- or third-person perspective and begin exploring the world, completing quests, interacting with other characters, and fighting all sorts of monsters from the WarCraft universe. The game has several different realms or servers that are independent of one another. The realms include a player-versus-environment (PvE) mode, in which players complete quests and fight against AI-controlled characters; a player-versus-player (PvP) mode where players not only have to contend with monsters but also other player characters; plus two variations on the PvE and PvP where players role-play different scenarios.

World of Warcraft's frequent updates and expansions have helped maintain its popularity, making it the most renowned MMORPG in history. There have been seven expansions updating nearly every aspect of the game, from gameplay to graphics. The expansions include The Burning CrusadeWrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor, Legion, and Battle for Azeroth.

Initial Release: November 23, 2004
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Theme: Fantasy

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Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 Screenshot

Guild Wars 2 is a fantasy-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game set in the world of Tyria. Players create a character based on one of five races and eight character classes or professions. In the story mode, players are tasked with reassembling Destiny's Edge, a group of adventurers who helped defeat an undead elder dragon. Guild Wars 2 is somewhat unique in that the storyline changes based on the player's actions and decisions.

The game receives frequent updates and introduces new storyline elements, rewards, items, weapons, and more. Guild Wars 2 does not have traditional expansions like World of Warcraft, but rather adds "seasons" of Living Stories, which can be compared to WoW expansions. The game is free to download, but the free version does not contain as much functionality as the full release.

Initial Release: August 28, 2012
Developer: ArenaNet
Publisher: NC Soft
Theme: Fantasy

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Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star Wars The Old Republic Screenshot

Set in the Star Wars universe (obviously), Star Wars: The Old Republic allows players to create a character and join one of two factions, the Galactic Republic or the Sith Empire. The game was released in 2011 and gained a huge subscription base within just a few weeks. As the subscriber base dropped off the developers switched from a subscription model to a free-to-play model.

Like most MMORPGs, the storyline of Star Wars: The Old Republic is ever changing, but it is set some 300 years after the events of the game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which itself is set thousands of years before the films. There are eight different classes that players can base their characters on, and more than 10 playable species and races. The game features PvE and PvP environments, and servers include features such as melee and space combat, companions, interactions with player and non-player characters, and more.

Star Wars: The Old Republic has seen seven expansion packs since the initial launch, including Rise of the Hutt Cartel, Galactic Starfighter, Galactic Strongholds, Shadow of Revan, Knights of the Fallen Empire, Knights of the Eternal Throne, and Onslaught. Each of the expansions offers additional content, new chapters, new items, gameplay updates, and more.

Initial Release: December 20, 2011
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: LucasArts
Theme: Sci-Fi, Star Wars Universe

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The Elder Scrolls Online

A screenshot from Elder Scrolls Online.

Another fantasy MMORPG, The Elder Scrolls Online is set in Tamriel, the continent in which the ever-popular The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim takes place. Set more than a thousand years before the events of Skyrim, The Elder Scrolls Online shifts gameplay to a multiplayer focus.

Players are able to build their own characters and choose from ten different races. They can also choose from one of six classes, the choice of which affects various attack, magic, and passive skills. As they progress through the game they will level up their skills and abilities to become more powerful.

Since its release in 2014, The Elder Scrolls Online has exploded in popularity, with more than 13 million subscribers as of 2019. Aiding its popularity are three expansions: Morrowind, Summerset, and Elsweyr, plus a huge variety of downloadable content (DLC).

Initial Release: April 4, 2014
Developer: ZeniMax Online Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Theme: Fantasy

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Rift Screenshot
Trion Worlds

RuneScape is one of the oldest (and most popular) MMOs in existence. Having first launched in 2001, the game has received a number of sequels and updates. A modern version of the game, often called RuneScape 3 exists separately from a relaunch of the 2007 release, simply called Old School RuneScape. Between the two are some some 250,000 subscribers and more than 2.4 million players of the free version. While those numbers are down from its record-breaking popularity in 2008, the game(s) remains very active and very popular.

Set in the massive fantasy world of Gielinor, players must build their characters and navigate a host of different races, gods, and guilds all vying for battle and control. A somewhat different look and feel than most fantasy MMORPGs, RuneScape offers a simpler, more easy-going gameplay than other MMOs on this list. Between its simplicity and nostalgic look, RuneScape seems likely to stick around for years.

Initial Release: January 4, 2011

Developer: Jagex

Publisher: Jagex

Theme: Fantasy

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