The best MMORPGs ever: A journey through online worlds

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a mighty magic slinger, a hardened warrior or an elite space pilot? If so, you’ve likely dipped your toes into the world of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), where these dreams can become virtual reality. The journey through the best MMORPGs is not just a tour of different game mechanics and graphics but a dive into rich stories, complex social dynamics and compelling character growth.

Graphic with the words MMORPG massive multiplayer online roleplaying game.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Spanning more than 30 years since the days of text-based MMORPGs — Ancient Anguish, anyone? — the all-time best MMORPGs have it all: action, social structure, graphics and, most importantly, an in-depth world in which to truly immerse yourself. Here are the all-time best MMORPGs, according to this author who’s played them all.

World of Warcraft (WOW)

No list of the best MMORPGs could be complete without the game that helped define the genre: World of Warcraft. Released in 2004 by Blizzard Entertainment, WoW has continued to lead the charge with its lore-drenched world, expansive gameplay and vast community. It’s easy to lose hours exploring Azeroth, fighting epic bosses, cooking a terrific meal or chilling in Goldshire. The sheer amount of content provides something for everyone, from PvE dungeons and raids to PvP battlegrounds and arenas. And with hours upon hours of gameplay, you never need to step foot in reality.

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The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO)

If you’re a fan of the Elder Scrolls franchise, this game is your cup of tea. ESO transports players to the vast lands of Tamriel where they can undertake epic quests, explore enormous regions collecting ingredients to make recipes or fight off mobs and participate in the game’s thriving economy. With its real-time combat system and focus on exploration, it’s no surprise that ESO has amassed a dedicated fanbase since its release in 2014.

The Elder Scrolls is a beautifully immersive MMORPG with stunning graphics and endless possibilities. I love that you can be guided by quests or explore and create your own free-play journey. Though I don’t have much time to play these days, the inspiration I’ve found in the Elder Scrolls world stays with me still.

— Kristen Wood, Schisandra & Bergamot

Vanguard: Saga of Heros

Released in 2007, this game burst onto the scene after selling a massive number of copies. It impressed with its unique take on crafting culture and was among the first games to include a game within a game: diplomacy. Designed to give crafters a richer gaming experience, diplomacy, and Vanguard in general, left its mark on everyone who played the game. Also among the first games to do away with instancing or load screens, the seamless play was a draw, but unfortunately, not enough to guarantee the game’s longevity.

A graphic of a wizard next to a dragon.
Photo credit: Depositphotos

Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 sets itself apart with its unique dynamic events system and the absence of a traditional questing format. Its engaging storyline and intricate world design create an immersive gaming experience where player choices have real consequences in this game, giving a more personalized feel to your journey through the world of Tyria. With a dedicated fan base, this game lives on and has had much new content added since its release. Grab a bag of chips and some salsa and lose yourself for a few hours in this legendary game.

Final Fantasy XIV

Final Fantasy XIV underwent a renaissance in 2013 with the release of A Realm Reborn. Since then, the game has been delivering top-notch content with every expansion. It is renowned for its compelling storylines, beautiful environments and a plethora of class choices. With an emphasis on cooperative play, Final Fantasy XIV is a must-try for any MMORPG fan, and it has withstood the test of time living on with a legion of active players.

Hands down, my all-time MMORPG is Final Fantasy XIV. As a chapter in the iconic Final Fantasy series, FFXIV was visually beautiful, with great storylines and character-building. It was a perfect expansion to the universe, and just thinking of it makes me want to log back in and see how far it’s come.

— Kita Roberts OG Nerd, Girl Carnivore

EVE Online

This isn’t your typical MMORPG. EVE Online, an online sci-fi strategy game, is set in a vast, player-driven universe where you can engage in activities like mining, piracy, manufacturing, trading, exploration and combat. With a steep learning curve, EVE is not for the faint-hearted, but for those who love sandbox experiences and complex economic systems, it’s a dream come true. A sharp departure from fantasy-based games, EVE is still played by die-hard gamers who love the futuristic setting. 

Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR)

If you’ve ever wanted to live in a galaxy far, far away, SWTOR is the MMORPG for you. BioWare’s foray into the MMO space allows players to weave their own stories in the rich Star Wars universe. Whether you choose to align with the Sith or the Jedi, your story and character interactions will significantly impact the game world. A joint venture between BioWare Austin and BioWare Edmonton launched in 2011, this game broke all the traditional MMORPG rules and continues to enjoy a lively fan base.

An image of a spaceship taking off over the horizon with a planet in the background.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.


Released in 2001 and an early frontrunner in the MMORPG space, you can’t talk about the best games in this genre without including RuneScape. Love it or hate it, this game helped define MMOs, and while it has morphed over the years and become more technologically sophisticated, this game lives on as one of the best all-time titles and is a terrific option for families to play together.

Honorable Mentions

Thanks to dynamic gameplay and rich stories, the following games can hold their on among the best of the best.

  • Black Desert Online
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Tera
  • World of Tanks
  • Neverwinter
  • Everquest 2
Image of hands on a lit keyboard with a computer monitor in the front.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.

MMORPGs offer more than just a way to pass the time; they provide an opportunity to experience alternate realities, connect with fellow gamers globally and create stories that are uniquely yours. Whether you’re a fan of deep lore, thrilling combat or intricate economies, there’s an MMORPG out there just for you.

From fantasy realms to distant galaxies, the MMORPG genre spans a broad spectrum of themes and settings, with each game offering a unique twist. Whether it’s the intricate politics of EVE Online or the simple pleasures of life in RuneScape, there’s something for everyone. So, whether you’re a veteran gamer or just starting your journey in the world of MMORPGs, you’re in for a treat. Ready your gear, summon your courage, grab a snack and step into the breathtaking worlds that await you in MMORPGs.

Jenn Allen is a retired chef turned cookbook author, blogger, and traveler. She lives at home with her family and the cats that rule them all. Get all of her travel tips, stories and more at

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