Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (or MMORPGs) have carried a certain stigma since their inception. Many believe that these unique online worlds are only for the most hardcore, dedicated gamers around. This likely comes from the fact that multi-user dungeons (or MUDs), the precursor of what we now know as MMORPGs were only accessible to those with advanced computer knowledge. Since the genre evolved from its humble beginnings into the massive games we know today, that image of the expert computer wizard still exists and puts otherwise casual gamers off some incredible experiences.
However, for a long time, that stereotype has been unfounded. You don’t need to have endless time on your hands to have fun in a shared multiplayer world. And you don’t need to master every mechanic or skill to find yourself immersed in some of the best social experiences in gaming.
MMORPGs allow you to become who you want to be in a rich world filled with other players. You can make new friends, explore everything the virtual space has to offer and spend countless hours just doing what you want to do at your own pace.
It can be overwhelming when you think of the sheer amount of hours you can put into an MMORPG, but it’s good to remember that you don’t have to rush, and you certainly don’t have to see everything. MMORPGs are made with different players in mind, so even if parts of these varied games aren’t to your tastes, you often don’t have to engage with them.
You are in control of how you play your character and what parts of the game you interact with.
Most MMORPGs are PC exclusive games. However, there are a few Xbox MMORPGs, as well as PS4 MMORPGs and PS5 MMORPGs. If you're interested in any of the games on our list, be sure to check it's available on the device of your choice.
In this list, I’ve put together the top 5 MMORPGs that I believe are great for people that are either new to the genre or don’t have a lot of time to play. Each of these games allow you to go at your own pace and have hundreds of hours of content ready for you to play over the course of weeks, months, or even years.
The most important factor when creating my list was that I wanted games that did not require a monthly subscription. Every game in this list is either buy once and play forever or has an optional subscription that isn’t required to access the game. If you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, the last thing you want to do is pay monthly to access these wonderful virtual worlds.
RuneScape is actually the oldest game on this list, and it's a testament to the accessibility of the game that’s kept it so popular since the original version launched in 1998 (known then as DeviousMUD). Since then the game has been through many iterations, officially becoming RuneScape in 2001, then followed by a second big graphical update in 2004. Finally, receiving the latest overhaul in 2013.
However, it’s Old School RuneScape specifically that’s taking my number 5 spot. Old School RuneScape is a classic version of RuneScape that retains the graphics and gameplay of the 2004 version of the game. After long-time fans grew tired of the huge updates the 2013 overhaul brought to the game, developer Jagex decided to launch a separate version that reverted the game back to an older state. While the developers expected Old School RuneScape to be nothing more than a flash-in-the-pan blast of nostalgia, it has actually since eclipsed the popularity of the up-to-date version of RuneScape.
From just being an old version preserved to appease upset fans, it has since become an entity of its own. Featuring quests, features, and bosses that were never in the original version it's based upon. It now receives new content separate from the up-to-date version and should be looked at as a completely different game from RuneScape proper.
In Old School RuneScape you are free to do as you please. You’re let loose in a blocky fantasy world where you set your own priorities and take things at your own pace. You have dozens of skills to level that run the gamut from woodchopping to cooking. There isn’t so much a main goal in the game, as it’s up to you to find what you work on. Whether you set your sights on getting all your skills to 99, or completing the dozens of varied quests, the choice is yours.
Every player starts with nothing in Old School RuneScape, and it’s up to you to fight, craft, fish, and farm to get enough gold to buy what you need to achieve your goals.
Old School RuneScape is one of the best MMORPGs for casual gamers due to it not having any complex controls. You click where you want to go and your character will move to that location. You click on trees to chop, click on enemies to fight, and click on rivers to fish. It’s as simple as it gets. It’s also available as a phone application, so you can play it anywhere. It also doesn’t require a huge time investment to get the most out of it. If you just want to play for 20 minutes during your commute, it’s quick and easy to do so. If your phone is getting on in age and you're afraid it might not be able to run this fantastic casual MMO, be sure to check out our best sim-free mobile phone deals.
Old School RuneScape is free-to-play, but some areas and skills are locked behind a subscription fee. While there is plenty to enjoy without paying, if you play for long enough, you will want to try the fun skills and content that’s locked behind the subscription. This is why I can only rank it at number 5 on the list. The subscription fee is optional, but if you want to see what truly makes the game special, you’re going to have to pay up. It’s worth noting, however, that it is possible to earn subscription time by getting gold in-game. But the required time necessary to achieve this is not really feasible if you’re playing the game casually.
Naturally, because it’s based on an older version of RuneScape, the graphics can be hard to swallow. They bring their own charm to some people, but for others, it may be difficult to get fully immersed in the old school world.
Old School Runescape is a great casual MMORPG to sink your free time into, but it’s held back by dated graphics and large amounts of content that’s locked behind a subscription fee.
Have you ever wanted to be a Jedi of the Republic? Or perhaps you wanted to succumb to the dark side and enjoy the thrills of being a Sith? Maybe you don’t care about the force at all and just want to line your own pockets as a wild and witty bounty hunter. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, you can be all these things and more.
Throwing you into the world of Star Wars long before the time of the movies, this MMO adventure will have you siding with the Republic or the Sith. You’re free to make your own character and pick your class, each of which has its own powers, skills, and abilities. They also have their own fully-voiced storyline that adapts to your decisions. This is a game from the studio behind Mass Effect and the original Knights of the Old Republic. If you want to be thrown into one of the best Star Wars adventures you can play right now, the Old Republic certainly delivers.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is one of the best MMORPGs for casual gamers as it can be played as a brilliant story-based RPG first and an MMO second. If you wanted to ignore the MMO mechanics and just enjoy the Star Wars story presented, you certainly can. There are moments where you will have to work with other players, but the main meat of the game will have you just enjoying the story being woven before you.
The Old Republic features a tab-target hotbar combat system. What that entails is that you have to select your attacks from the ones available at your level. You won’t be physically aiming your blaster or swinging your lightsaber, instead, you’ll be queuing attacks in a very similar way to the original Knights of the Old Republic.
If you’re new to that system of combat, on paper it sounds like it can be quite dull, but once you’ve got a dozen abilities open to you and you’re in the thick of battle, it proves to be exhilarating.
The Old Republic is a great MMORPG for casual gamers because it is free to play until level 60 and allows you to completely finish your class storyline and the quests of the first two expansions. There is other content beyond that, with the maximum achievable level being 80 as of writing. However to access that you will need a subscription.
The main part of the game, which is the class storylines and the adventure up to level 60, are available without spending a penny. Like RuneScape, you may want to subscribe in the future once you’ve got your fill of the free-to-play content, but it’s not necessary to experience the majority of the game.
The combat system may be a bit daunting to some, and this is why Star Wars: The Old Republic doesn’t place higher on the list. But if you’re ready to learn how to fight, then you will have a blast. Otherwise, you may want to look at the rest of the list to find the perfect casual MMORPG for you.
You’ll notice a lot of successful MMOs are based upon pre-existing franchises. The biggest two MMOs in the space are World of Warcraft (which was based on the massively popular Warcraft series of games) and Final Fantasy XIV (which follows the storied franchise of the Final Fantasy games). With MMOs being so expensive to produce, it makes publishers much happier to take a gamble on a franchise that is already mega-popular. One of these franchises is the overwhelmingly successful Elder Scrolls series.
Starting with Arena in 1994 and releasing 4 other huge games up to the entry that never seems to dip in popularity, 2011’s Skyrim - each Elder Scrolls Game has been a bigger success than the last. So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Bethesda decided to create an MMO that allowed players to explore the huge world of Tamriel at their own leisure.
Playing less like a traditional MMO and more like a mainline Elder Scrolls game, Elder Scrolls Online should feel familiar to fans of past entries. Not only does it feature full voice acting, dialogue options, and the series trademark combat, Elder Scrolls Online brings many iconic landmarks and locales together from across the previous games. This already huge world continues to get bigger with new expansions that explore different parts of the Elder Scrolls World.
Easy to play and understand, Elder Scrolls Online is a great MMORPG for casual gamers. Going a different route from other games in the genre, it retains what makes the Elder Scrolls so fun and simply adds a bigger world and thousands of other players.
Though it originally released with a monthly subscription requirement, Elder Scrolls Online is now buy-once and play forever. There are expansions you can purchase as well which bring new areas and questlines to the world, but you can buy them when you feel you’re ready. There is a completely optional subscription model that gives you rewards each month from the in-game marketplace, but unlike RuneScape, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on too much if you opt not to subscribe.
Elder Scrolls Online is one of the best MMORPGs for casual gamers, but it may rely too heavily on the player being knowledgeable regarding the Elder Scrolls franchise. To truly appreciate the world and story it tries to tell, it often leans into the complex lore built up from other games. This means that if you’re completely new to the series, you may feel left behind or a bit lost at points during your playtime.
What? Wasn’t RuneScape already on this list? I hear you shout at your screen somehow. And I answer “yes!... Kind of.” Old School RuneScape is based on a backup from the second iteration of the game. Since then it has been updated and built upon so much that it now stands as its own game separate from RuneScape proper.
So what’s the difference? When creating the latest iteration of RuneScape, the game was made to be more interactive. The combat is no longer point-and-click, it now functions like a simplified Star Wars: The Old Republic. You have skills and abilities that you need to activate to fight. It also has updated graphics that are a lot more pleasing to the eye than the dated style of Old School RuneScape.
This is the most modern and most accessible version of RuneScape that features a proper tutorial and much more hand-holding than its newer-older counterpart.
Like with Old School RuneScape, the game can be played on mobile, making it extremely easy to pick up for a couple of minutes at a time. It also follows the same subscription model as Old School RuneScape. The game is free-to-play but certain areas, quests, and skills are locked behind the monthly subscription. However, there's only one subscription for both games. One RuneScape subscription entitles you to the full RuneScape and Old School RuneScape experience. Just like Old School, you can also earn subscription time by spending gold in-game, so if you’re dedicated enough you can access everything the game has to offer without spending a penny.
RuneScape is an excellent MMO that is a much more modern and easy-to-follow experience than Old School. And while Old School RuneScape is more popular, I believe that this version of RuneScape is better overall for casual gamers who are looking to be immersed in a world and not master the complex economy or unintuitive combat system of the Old School version.
And while it’s great, there is still one game that I believe encompasses the beauty of a fully-fledged hardcore MMO with the simplicity of one made for more casual players.
Throughout its entire lifespan, Guild Wars 2 has proudly been breaking the mould of other MMOs. Being the only game on this list that has no subscription plan at all, it wants to be a buy-once-play forever game. You can choose to buy the newest expansion, which includes the newest content and the unrestricted base game. Alternatively, you can buy expansions 1 and 2 bundled together, or all three for one reasonable price.
Not only is Guild Wars 2 content with just letting you buy into the game at a great price, but Guild Wars 2 also offers a free-to-play experience that lets you get a generous taste of the game before you have to pay a penny. The entire core game is available free of charge, allowing you to try out all the classes up to their cap of level 80. While later specialisations of those classes are locked behind their respective expansions, you can still get a lot of game for nothing. Then, when you are ready to expand your adventure, you can usually get the base game and all the expansions in one package for around £40.
Guild Wars 2 has a simple but responsive combat system. Your abilities are decided by the weapon(s) you equip, and then you have a selection of perks to fill out the rest. However, instead of most games where you have an average of 30 abilities to choose from, memorise and learn, Guild Wars 2 only ever has 10. You can freely swap between two sets of weapons during combat, so this technically expands it to 15 abilities, but at any one time, you will only have a handful on-screen. You can also use a dodge-roll in combat, which makes the action much more fluid than something like Star Wars: The Old Republic.
The game even does a great job teaching you how the combat works by only unlocking a few moves at a time, so you can try them out and understand how they work without being overwhelmed.
Guild Wars 2 perfectly marries casual easy-to-learn MMO features with more complex fully-fledged MMO experiences. There are some really hard fights to encounter if you’re interested, but they are all optional. If you just want to explore the world of Tyria and experience the multi-layered saga that is Guild Wars 2’s story, that’s perfectly fine. This is what makes Guild Wars 2 the best MMORPG for casual gamers.
If you want to talk MMOs, or if you want any pointers for any of the games listed, head on over to our Discord and give us a shout. I am always happy to talk MMO. See you over there! Alternatively, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
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