Monthly Archives: January 2016

Blade and Soul First Impressions

After years of waiting, NCsoft’s wuxia MMO Blade and Soul has at last landed on Western shores. After all this time, was it worth the wait? Read on for our initial impressions of this free to play MMORPG.

I know kung fu:

A screenshot from the free to play martial arts MMORPG Blade and Soul

Blade and Soul does not leave the best impression out of the gate.

I was a little put-off as early as character creation. The character models, at least for females, are bizarre, to say the least. It’s not even that they’re over-sexualized, although they are. They’re these bizarre, disproportionate horrors from the darkest depths of the uncanny valley.

Thankfully, Blade and Soul’s character creator offers a dizzying variety of options — almost as many as Aion — so with some effort, I was able to create a character that somewhat resembles a person.

I was then dumped into a very lengthy and somewhat tedious tutorial experience. It wasn’t as bad as Final Fantasy XIV’s glacial intro, but it definitely took a lot longer than it needed to, even considering that Blade and Soul’s mechanics are a little different from that of the average MMORPG and thus probably need a little more explanation.

The problem is that the tutorial is very story-driven. It sets up the main storyline that you will follow through the game, so it’s very heavy on cutscenes and dialogue. Which would be fine if the story was interesting, but it isn’t.

The plot is thin, the twists are obviously telegraphed, none of the characters are around long enough for you to care about them, and the voice acting ranges from mediocre to cringe-inducingly amateurish.

To be fair, Blade and Soul is clearly taking a lot of inspiration from anime, manga, and old kung fu movies, and if you’re a big fan of those genres, Blade and Soul’s story will probably hold a lot more appeal. I can certainly see some people enjoying it in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. But the story left me cold, and frankly, even if camp was the goal, they probably could have done a better job.

A character introduction in the free to play martial arts MMORPG Blade and Soul


Thankfully, once I left the tutorial behind, my experience with Blade and Soul improved somewhat.

One of the main selling points of Blade and Soul is its intense action combat, which places a high emphasis on using abilities in combos for maximum effect.

The main thing I found to separate Blade and Soul’s combat from that of, say, TERA is how much interaction you have with enemies, for lack of a better term.

Even in action combat games, there’s sometimes a certain stilted to nature to combat. Your enemy stands there and does its thing, and you stand here and do your thing. You dodge telegraphs or block attacks from time to time, but it can still feel a little wrote.

In Blade and Soul, combat flows more organically, with more back and forth. For example, blocking and countering enemy attacks is a crucial part of play. This is similar to using interrupts in any other MMO, but rather than a niche tool against spellcasters, it’s a crucial part of every fight, offering both offensive and defensive benefits.

What you can do to enemies also extends far beyond the usual “they play a standard hit animation when your attack connects.” For example, as an occasional viewer of mixed martial arts, I was delighted to find my kung fu master in Blade and Soul had the ability to grapple and “ground and pound” enemies. There’s a tremendous satisfaction to throwing an enemy to the ground, leaping atop them, and beating them into submission.

And yes, it does work on other players.

Gliding in the free to play martial arts MMORPG Blade and Soul

The other thing I enjoyed about Blade and Soul is its movement system. Rather than a traditional mount system, players get around through sprinting at superhuman speed and performing acrobatic leaps and glides.

I like systems like this so much more than mounts. It’s far more interactive, and just fun, than a passive movement buff in the form of a horse with absurd armor.

The only problem with the movement is how limited it is. You run out of stamina very quickly — though I assume that improves as you level — and the maps are so tiny that there’s no potential for exploration. It’s so fun to move, but you have few places to go.

Put a movement system like this is a game like Guild Wars 2 or World of Warcraft, and I could waste countless hours just running, leaping, and gliding around. The environments in Blade and Soul are very pretty — I love the vibrant colors — but they’re terribly claustrophobic, and that sucks some of the fun out.

Your technique is flawed:

There are a lot of things about Blade and Soul that are odd. Not necessarily bad, but odd.

Acquiring and upgrading gear is an unusual process. Sometimes you’ll get items normally as drops or as quest rewards, but other times you’ll get tokens to use at gambling terminals for random items.

A kung fu master character in the free to play martial arts MMORPG Blade and Soul

Once you get an item, it needs to be “unsealed” by a special item before you can wield it. It smells like a monetization scheme, but to be fair, I always had plenty of unsealing charms just by playing the game.

On the whole, Blade and Soul’s cash shop was a fair bit less heavy-handed than I expected. I’ve definitely seen better free to play implementations —  there’s still some exchange of cash for power here — but on the whole it’s not half bad.

Back to the oddities of gearing, some items can be upgraded, essentially leveling with you, by sacrificing similar items and/or special upgrade tokens. In theory, I love this. I’ve always felt MMOs treat gear as entirely too disposable, and I’m thrilled by the idea that the weapon I started the game with could stick with me through leveling and into endgame.

The implementation is imperfect, though. Upgrading past certain points requires very specific items, and getting a hold of the exact item you need can be a real headache. It’s not an insurmountable challenge, but it’s more trouble than it needs to be, and it erases the value of item upgrading as an insurance against bad luck.

Similarly, Blade and Soul’s daily log-in rewards are a strange beast. Rather than specific rewards for each, you progress down a gameboard, unlocking goodies as you go. There’s no real gameplay, though — your progress is entirely random. It’s nicely flashy, but I think it’d get old fast. I’d rather just have clearly defined rewards, myself.

Moving on to multiplayer content, I did not find dungeons in Blade and Soul a terribly pleasant experience.

The Daily Dash "game" in the free to play martial arts MMORPG Blade and Soul

Blade and Soul lacks the traditional trinity of group roles, but it’s not clear from the perspective of a new player what, if anything, replaces it, and I found the dungeon runs I participated in to be mindless, rushed zergs.

Blade and Soul also requires players to bid on item drops in an auction against the rest of the party, which wins the award for the absolute worst loot distribution scheme I’ve ever seen. It’s all the fun of having to pay for loot you’ve already earned plus the social tension of competing against your allies.

PvP is a bit more interesting, though still a bit rough.

Blade and Soul is the only MMO I’ve seen that focuses its PvP on one-versus-one competition. Lots of games have duels, but it’s always some irrelevant side feature. Here, it’s the main course.

Levels and stats are also normalized in PvP, making it entirely skill-based. However, it does suffer from a common problem of MMO PvP: an excess of crowd control. I spent entirely too much time in each duel stunned, rooted, and otherwise not able to fight back.

On the whole, Blade and Soul’s PvP matches are incredibly intense, frenetic, and challenging. I can see some players adoring them, and others being totally frustrated. I fell closer to the latter category myself, but I do admire them for doing something different.

Is it worth it?

To be honest, I was disappointed by Blade and Soul. It’s mechanically solid, but a lot of odd decisions and underdeveloped areas make it feel somewhat flat, and even the strong combat isn’t enough to make it a memorable title, in my view. Yes, the combat is very good, but these days MMOs with good combat are much more common than they used to be, and Blade and Soul’s combat isn’t that far ahead of, say, Skyforge‘s or Neverwinter‘s.

Still, it’s probably worth a look if you’re hungry for some challenging one-on-one PvP or you’re a big fan of cheesy kung fu movies.

Which MOBA Is Right for You?

All but unheard of a few years ago, MOBAs (massive online battle arenas) are now one of the fastest growing genres in gaming, enticing players from all the over world with their intense action and fierce competition. But if you’re new to the genre, where should you begin? We’ve taken the time to write a breakdown of some of the biggest and best MOBAs to help you choose between them.

Heroes of the Storm:

A team zones into a match in the MOBA Heroes of the Storm

The newest big name entry in the genre, Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard Entertainment’s attempt to to take the core gameplay of MOBAs and strip away the more arcane or frustrating mechanics. For example, it doesn’t matter who gets the last hit on an enemy minion or hero; the entire team shares experience.

Even more dramatic is the fact that Heroes lacks items. Instead, hero customization is achieved through talents chosen at certain points throughout a match. This is intended to put the focus squarely on the action, with less need to return to base.

Blizzard has also taken some steps to lessen the toxicity that plagues MOBA communities; chat with the enemy team is disabled in all games, and players have the option to disable chat with their own team, as well.

But just because Heroes is more casual-friendly doesn’t mean it lacks for challenge or depth. One of its unique features is a wide pool of maps, each with unique mechanics that must be mastered in order to claim victory.

Heroes has a smaller pool of playable characters than some of its competitors, but new ones are being added on a monthly basis, and there are already many characters with very unique mechanics. For example, Abathur, who cannot fight directly but instead manipulates the battlefield by summoning minions, laying landmines, and casting abilities through his allies.

Like all entries on this list, Heroes of the Storm is free to play. Heroes can be unlocked by paying real money or in-game currency, though the latter is a bit of a grind, and it also offers cosmetics for cash.

Heroes of the Storm is best for players who want a MOBA that’s low stress but high excitement and easy to learn while still offering depth at high levels of play.


A skirmish in the MOBA DOTA 2

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Heroes of the Storm is DOTA 2. It stays the most faithful to the Defense of the Ancients mod from which the entire MOBA genre spawned and thus retains a high degree of difficulty and mechanical complexity.

For example, not only does DOTA 2 have last hitting, but it also retains the practice of “denying,” where a player will kill their own team’s minions at low health to prevent an enemy player from earning the gold from killing them.

DOTA 2 has a large stable of playable characters ranging from the relatively simple to some that are incredibly complex and challenging to play, such as Meepo. Meepo is capable of creating permanent clones of himself, with all of his abilities, that can be controlled separately, but this mighty power comes with a major disadvantage: If one Meepo dies, they all do.

On the downside, DOTA 2 releases new heroes very slowly, usually around four per year, and it has only one map for standard play.

DOTA 2 has the most player-friendly business model of any entry on this list. Every hero is immediately available for free. Only cosmetics are charged for, and even those can be acquired in-game with some effort.

DOTA 2 is best for those who want the deepest, purest, and most challenging MOBA experience.

League of Legends:

A screenshot from the MOBA League of Legends

Halfway between Heroes of the Storm’s lighthearted simplicity and DOTA 2’s punishing difficulty is League of Legends, the most popular MOBA on the market and possibly the world’s most played video game.

League of Legends still has traditional elements like items and last-hitting, but it does away with some more arcane mechanics, like denying. While LoL has fewer and less diverse maps than Heroes of the Storm, it offers significant variety compared to DOTA 2’s single map. The standard Summoner’s Rift map remains the most popular, but there are others with somewhat altered play styles, such as the Howling Abyss, which forces both teams into a narrow space to create constant team fights.

LoL’s community is famously toxic, even by MOBA standards, but the developers have put an incredible amount of effort into addressing the problem, implementing player tribunals to judge offenders and contracting teams of psychologists to help manage poor player behavior.

LoL is another game with a huge stable of playable characters. While new champions were once added very frequently, new releases are now much rarer.

The business model is similar to Heroes of the Storm, with characters unlocked through cash or in-game currency, as well as optional cosmetics available for real money purchase. One difference is that the in-game currency is also required to unlock runes, which provide in-game bonuses to champion performance. This can make unlocking characters a bit slower for new players.

League of Legends is the best choice for those looking for the most popular MOBA with the most middle of the road mechanics.


A screenshot from the mythology-themed MOBA Smite

Smite takes its inspiration from real world mythologies, allowing players to step into the shoes of gods from around the world like Thor, Athena, and Kali. However, its most defining feature is the fact it eschews the standard top-down camera and click to move control scheme for an over-the-shoulder third person camera and keyboard-based movement. This makes it feel much more natural for those coming from an MMO background.

Smite has a large number of colorful heroes from mythologies spanning the world, and releases new ones fairly often. However, mythological purists may be somewhat off-put by the often silly, over-sexualized, or pop-culture inspired gods and their skins, especially since some of them are from religions still practiced today, like Hinduism or Shinto.

Like League of Legends, Smite has a relatively small selection of maps/game types, but still offers a decent level of variety.

Smite’s business model is much like that of LoL or Heroes, but they do also sell an Ultimate God Pack that gives you access to all present and future characters for a very low price, giving it a sort of soft buy to play option.

Smite is a good choice for those who dislike the standard MOBA camera and control scheme.

MMORPG NPCs Need More Witcher and Less Skyrim

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are both hugely popular fantasy RPGs with massive, detailed game worlds, but there are some key differences between them. Notably, their non-player characters are very different beasts, with Skyrim’s NPCs being mostly shallow and uninteresting, mere wall-dressing for the player’s journey, whereas The Witcher gives depth and meaningful personality for its NPCs, whether they’re part of the main quest or a minor side quest.

The Witcher Ciri NPC

For example, in Witcher III we are introduced to the Bloody Baron. Warning! Character spoilers ahead (though I’m doing my best to keep out anything really important)…

When first meeting this Bloody Baron, he comes across a generic abusive father and husband. Both his wife and his child have gone missing, and it’s seems pretty obvious his drunken escapades have driven them away. Roughly the first quarter of the main quest is spent running errands for him to find his family members in exchange for information. As the quest unfolds, more details will be revealed about this seemingly abusive, power hungry man that might make you even pity him. The climax of his tale leaves the player in a much different state than when the quest first began. And yet, if you by the end of the quest you still think him a low piece of scum then no one could really fault you. But no matter your opinion of the Bloody Baron, his character will make you a range of emotions from revulsion to remorse.  And that’s just one of the NPCs in Witcher III. For those interested, there’s a more detailed analysis on Kotaku and a great (old) discussion on reddit about him.

By comparison, the two most notable NPCs in Skyrim are a one dimensional companion who likes to remind you how she is ‘sworn to carry your burden’ and a former adventurer whose knee is an arrow magnet.

So why are we talking about single-player RPGs on a site that mainly deals with MMOs? Because there are lessons here that are relevant to MMORPG NPCs.

Worlds without character:

MMOs are about players interacting, but that doesn’t mean the NPCs aren’t an important part of the equation. They are the other half of our virtual worlds, residents who never log off or break character. They are the heart and soul of MMO stories, and the gateway to most content.

The problem is that for such an important part of the MMO formula, very few MMORPG NPCs have any real effort put into them.

And this is where the Witcher/Skyrim example comes into play. Sprawling open world RPGs like that are the closest single-player cousins to MMORPGs, and they provide a good basis for comparison.

Right now, the NPCs in most MMOs are entirely too Skyrim and not enough Witcher.

As with so many things, the standard for MMORPG NPCs was set, at least in part, by World of Warcraft. It did much to popularize the concept of quest-based gameplay, and that design requires plenty of NPCs to provide these quests.

WoW Bridenbrad NPC

But WoW has always taken a “quantity over quality” philosophy. A game that can boast thousands of quests is going to sacrifice some depth in the questing experience, and that affects the NPCs, as well.

That’s not to say that WoW doesn’t have good quests or memorable NPCs — anyone who’s tried to save Crusader Bridenbrad or asked Calder Gray what he likes can attest to that — but these do tend to be the exception and not the rule.

And for the many games that sprang up to imitate WoW without Blizzard’s resources, memorable NPCs tend to be even rarer. We are saddled with vast virtual worlds bereft of character or personality. Even if a game designs a vast history and epic story, that story will feel empty and flat without compelling characters.

One could argue that gameplay is more important, but story can also play a crucial role. If a player comes to care about a world and its characters, they’re invested. It will keep them interested in a game even as other titles surpass it graphically and technologically.

So how can we make MMORPG NPCs better?

The diamonds in the rough:

Not all MMOs are wastelands of character. To get an idea of how things can be made better, we can look at some that have bucked the trend.

The Secret World puts more effort into its NPCs than almost any other MMO around. Relative to other MMOs, TSW has far fewer NPCs and is therefore free to put far more effort into them. Every character is lovingly imbued with colorful personality and a compelling backstory, as told through cutscenes at the start of missions as well as optional conversations.

TSW Ricky Pagan 1 NPC

Even seemingly simple characters have a surprising amount of depth. At first glance, Tokyo’s Ricky Pagan —  a rockabilly-obsessed eco activist — seems like pure comedy relief, but there is method to his madness. As you get to know him, it becomes clear that his cartoonish persona was something he retreated into to cope with the destruction of his city and the death of his friends.

Yet for all the strength of its characterizations, there are still some problems with how The Secret World handles its NPCs. For one thing, they are terribly static, rarely taking any role in the story beyond that of quest-givers. To some extent this is necessary — NPCs shouldn’t jeopardize the role of the player — but it does limit their role in the story and thus the story itself.

Also, as in most MMOs, once their quests have been given, they are left behind and all but forgotten. For all their depth, they’re still oddly temporary and ultimately somewhat irrelevant in the greater scheme of things. There’s no steady cast to form a long-term investment in.

And finally, players cannot truly interact with them. There is no conversation system, no choices to be made. We all love Nassir, but my interactions with Nassir will be exactly the same as yours, and nothing will ever change that.

One game where you can expect NPCs to stick around is Star Wars: The Old Republic. Each class has access to multiple unique companion NPCs who will stick with them over the long haul.

Inspired by the incredibly deep NPCs in Bioware’s single-player games, such as the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises, these companions have rich personalities and their own storylines in addition to providing assistance with combat and crafting. Players can even pursue romantic relationships with some of them.

These characters don’t have quite the same depth as their single-player cousins, and their storylines could use more fleshing out, but they’re an admirable effort. Keeping them around and allowing them to fight alongside the player makes it easy to form an emotional attachment to them.

However, companions have also been largely ignored in SW:TOR’s post-launch content. Some attention has finally been given to them in the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion, including the addition of new class-agnostic companions, but it’s a bit piecemeal, and the long-term future of how companions will be handled is still a bit unclear.

SW:TOR has one more problem in that outside of companions and a few other major figures, the game’s NPCs are still largely an endless spree of forgettable, disposable characters that disappear almost as soon as they’re introduced.

NPC Darth Malgus in Star Wars: The Old Republic

One more MMO that’s worth looking at is the sci-fi shooter Defiance. It’s not really a game that comes up often as an example of great storytelling in an MMO, but it is noteworthy for having a very unique take on how MMORPG NPCs are handled.

Defiance has a very small cast of characters, even more so than The Secret World. Instead of them having a small, specific role in the story and then disappearing, they’re more like the cast of a television show: a small, steady group of characters that sticks around through most of the game.

Defiance’s NPCs don’t have quite the depth of TSW’s or SW:TOR’s, but they’re colorful and full of personality, and because they tend to stick around, it’s very easy to get invested in them.

So what have we learned?

The lessons:

From The Secret World and Defiance, we learn that MMOs need smaller casts. With hundreds, or even dozens, of NPCs, there is simply not enough time or resources to give them any significant development. A smaller cast allows far more effort to be put into each individual character, making them memorable and distinct.

From Star Wars: The Old Republic and Defiance again, we learn that MMORPG NPCs need a certain degree of permanence. Coming to care about a character is much less valuable if you simply leave them behind, never to be seen again, when their quests are finished. Investment is the goal, and that requires consistency.

SW:TOR also shows us the value in giving NPCs a practical use beyond beyond serving as quest-dispensers. Maybe not every game needs to offer permanent combat companions, but anything MMOs can do to make NPCs more than talking heads in towns or dead weight to be dragged through escort missions is valuable. The player can still take the starring role, but NPCs need to be able to take meaningful action, as well.

Finally, a certain degree of interactivity is valuable. NPCs become a lot more engaging when the player has the ability to control, at least to some extent, their interactions with NPCs.

NPC Kaliyo Djannis in Star Wars: The Old Republic

One could even imagine a game where this is a major choice and a crucial element of character customization. Which NPCs you have befriended and which never want to see you again could help shape what content you have access to or otherwise change your character’s journey.

Not every game needs that level of depth, but even having a choice of responses to NPCs, with no major consequences, would be an improvement over the standard paradigm.

It seems like the best route would be to treat MMORPG NPCs more like the cast of a TV series. A small cast of recurring characters that grow and evolve over time, with only occasional guest appearances by other characters.

In this model, the player would be the star of the cast, so to speak, but the NPCs would have a meaningful role, as well. Players could form strong bonds not just with each other, but with the game’s fictional inhabitants, as well, making for a more enjoyable game and greater long-term player investment. Just like in Witcher III…not so much like Skyrim.

10 Free MMO Games That Aren’t Pay to Win

As pretty much any gamer knows, free MMO games are rarely truly free. Servers and new content cost money to create, and developers aren’t running a charity service. Therefore, they need to monetize their games to pay for those things and to pay for their time. Unfortunately, a most games give insurmountable advantages to big money spenders that free players simply cannot achieve. This is pretty frustrating, even gamers willing to spend money, because it means everyone has to pay just to keep up. The ideal system encourages players to spend by providing options to supplement a fun activity, rather than putting that fun activity behind a paywall (commonly referred to as a pay to win or p2w game).

Below is a list of games which should offer fair, free to play content for gamers of all genres, ranging from tank simulator fans to lovers of cute JRPG style MMOs. So which free to play MMO games best eschew pay to win in favor of a fair, freemium model? Read on!

Star Wars: The Old Republic

star wars the old republic not pay to win
In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the pay shop is setup for convenience and access to content. Certain costumes are available only by paying money, but they do not enhance the character’s power. Most players who pay will choose the subscription model as that’s what Bioware incentivizes the most. Paying for the subscription permanently unlocks the credit cap (which can be removed temporarily by free players) , gives players EXP faster, adds rest EXP, and adds unlimited access to special content such as Cartel Warzones and Space missions. However, there are plenty of other options for advancing through both PvP and PvE outside of this special content. Free players can get really far into the game without noticing restrictions and even when the decision comes to possibly pay for the game, it’s not very expensive. In some ways, Star Wars offers a really, really long demo for free players and a subscription simply unlocks maximum fun.

Sounds good? Play Star Wars: The Old Republic here!

Guild Wars 2

guild wars 2 not p2w image

Guild Wars 2 follows a similar model to Star Wars, encouraging free players to switch to paid by offering more convenience and more content. Unlike Star Wars though, players only need to buy the full priced game once to gain access to this content rather than pay a subscription. Most of this content becomes unlocked by the time the player reaches higher levels such as World vs. World at level 60 where hundreds of players fight hundreds of other over keeps, castles, and supply points  and at level 30 an automated ‘looking for group’ feature. These are always free for paid players. Those who buy the game also gain access to daily login bonuses, world transfers, more inventory spots, and more characters slots. Anyone can also buy gems to gain access to cosmetic content as well. Guild Wars 2 is fun from start to finish, which is ideal for any game, free to play or otherwise. Within a few hours, players can decide whether purchasing the game is worth it to upgrade their experience.

Sounds good? Play Guild Wars 2 here!

Armored Warfare

Armored Warfare not pay2win game image

Those who have played World of Tanks before will be happy to see another tank simulator MMO enter the market without p2w game features. Although World of Tanks offers the same end game platform for free and paid players and isn’t a bad choice, there’s a lot more of a grind involved to get to and stay at the top. Armored Warfare doesn’t have as many premium features that players have to pay for in order to compete in top tier combat. The thing that World of Tanks players view as most pay to win is premium ammo, and that’s not something Armored Warfare sells. Of course players will gain access to better tanks faster in Armored Warfare, but the economy in the game is a lot more fair compared to its closest competitors. Instead of worrying about paying in game money just to use their tanks effectively, players in Armored Warfare can instead look ahead to which tanks they want next.

Sounds good? Play Armored Warfare here!


tera not pay 2 win image

TERA is such an anti p2w game that players who don’t care about costumes won’t even see much of a difference between paid and free play until end game. The company seems to make the majority of its money off of costumes and appearance changes, especially for its cuter character models. While there are some really great cosmetic options that may make you jealous, none of those give any statistical bonuses. In the end game, players who pay will essentially have higher drop rates for equipment compared than their 100% free to play counterparts. So free players will need to clear more dungeons or grind for more gold to make up for the RNG differences compared to paid players. But it’s a great system that simply saves paid players time without providing any permanent advantage. TERA really gets the time = money equation right and avoids paying to win. Additionally, better equipment only goes so far because TERA’s twitch based combat means player skill counts for as much as player equipment.

Sounds good? Play TERA here!

Lord of the Rings Online

lord of the rings not pay to win image

Lord of the Rings Online offers a really great free to play model for those who hate pay to win games. Instead of focusing on convenience, the company chooses to focus on providing content to players. This content can be unlocked individually for those who prefer to take their time. For those who play more regularly, a subscription will be more efficient. All of the expansion areas such as Moria and Helm’s Deep and mode games such as monster play must be paid for with real money. Players who spend money will also level up a bit faster, but this has no impact of long term strength capabilities. There are several small benefits for becoming a paid player as well, but access to the entirety of the game world is the biggest boon for those who decide to pay money. Lord of the Rings is something that really can be enjoyed by purely free players, especially those who play more casually.

Sounds good? Play Lord of the Rings Online here!

League of Legends

league of legends is not pay to win image

Although League of Legends’ status as an MMO is debatable, given that players only interact with 9 others at a time, it does offer a great free to play model. As a MOBA, players take on the role of a single champion for roughly a 30-minute 5v5 match. These champions gain levels and buy items in the confines of an individual game, which do not persist between games. The player’s account does level up to give access to runes and masteries, which slightly boost the champion’s strength. However, players are always matched against others around their same level so there’s no benefit in a competitive sense to paying money to level up faster. Where the game really makes money is off of skins for champions to change their appearance and from buying the champions themselves. Every champion can be purchased with real money or in game currency. And the champions that cost more aren’t necessarily more powerful. It’s entirely possible to play League of Legends competitively with a relatively small roster of champions. More champions does provide more variety which can be part of the fun for some in a game like this. League of Legends is absolutely not a p2w game and is a very fair game to play completely for free.

Sounds good? Play League of Legends here!

Astro Empires

astro empires not pay2win image

I’ll start by saying Astro Empires is by far the most pay to win game on this list. However, it is the most fair out of all of the empire building browser games out there that I could find. It’s mainly on this list to provide an MMO browser strategy game that isn’t pay to win for those interested. Whereas most of these empire building games give you straight power for cash, Astro Empires simply caps your maximum strength until you pay for premium time. What’s the difference? Well in a browser empire MMO, like Wartune for example, players can build armies, structures, and resources as fast as they want by paying money. Players can literally finish buildings instantly that take free players over one day of waiting to finish. There’s no cap to this ‘instant building finish’, and it’s easy to see how much of a pay2win game scenario this creates. In Astro Empires, players simply can’t expand their empire past a certain point without paying. So to grow into a massive empire, players much spend money. However, players can’t spend tons of extra cash to get ahead like they can in a game like Wartune. The premium time isn’t too expensive either, and the game can be played without limitations for long enough to get a feel for the game. There’s no fully fledged empire building MMO where free players can truly compete with paid players, but Astro Empires seems the least egregious of the bunch.

Sounds good? Play Astro Empires here!


crossout not pay to win

Crossout blends Mad Max’s post apocalyptic world and crazy vehicular customization with instanced action combat. Game modes range from two team, capture point PvP to ‘survive against hordes’ PvE campaigns. Clan combat should appeal to hardcore players especially as Crossout is moderately sized and competitive.

This MMO walks a fine line when it comes to premium currency. Everything in the game is absolutely obtainable through in-game play and a reasonable (meaning not obsessive) play schedule. That said, players can spend real money to progress faster. While doing so may be fun in the short term, everyone eventually ends up in a ranking tier appropriate for their skill level and vehicle strength. I’d actually argue against spending anything more than $20 for the first few months of play. You’d only be artificially increasing your rank instead of learning to play the game against people of your own skill level. And at some point, that’s going to lead to frustration which sort of defeats the whole purpose of playing free MMOs or games of any kind.

Sounds good? Play Crossout here!


Warframe not pay2win image

Warframe is an example of a game that chooses to do free to play by giving players quicker access to more options and more content. Similar to MOBA champions, Warframes differ in the role they offer to a party and their playstyle but aren’t necessarily stronger than one another. They also must still be individually mastered through in game play so players will not simply be able to reach the top through paying cash. Similar to Guild Wars 2, the premium currency can be sold/traded between players. This allows all players to purchase equipment components and the convenience driven items that comprise the majority of the cash shop. Free players may consider acquiring top tier equipment to be a bit of a grind without paying money. However, Warframe offers a ton of interesting missions that can be completed solo or as a group. Reaching the top is certainly faster with money in Warframe, but all players regardless of spend will cap out at the same power level. If you are more about the journey than the destination, Warframe is a solid sci-fi, action based MMORPG.

Sounds good? Play Warframe here!

Blade & Soul

There’s a lot of grinding in Blade & Soul, but it’s not one of those games where the endgame is blocked off from free players. Paid players can certainly skip some of that grind to speed up the situation, but it’s far from insurmountable (especially compared to something like ArcheAge). Terminology matters, and I’d lump Blade & Soul into the category of Pay to Progress. You may disagree with that terminology and lump all of them in the big P2W bucket. If that’s the case then definitely avoid this game. Blade & Soul offers relatively modern combat in a compelling package of advanced skills. It’s just that in order to see it all in a timely fashion, paying a little bit of money will go a long way.

Sounds good? Play Blade & Soul here!


The path to delivering a fair non-p2w game lies in offering visual customization, gameplay variety, and decreasing leveling grind. There’s plenty of money to be made in this route as some of these titles are the most popular of the free to play genre. It’s a lot easier to develop a successful game long-term when it’s not just paid players having fun. And these 10 free MMO games that aren’t pay to win should give everyone plenty of options to find something enjoyable to play.

Eight Creepiest MMO Locations

As MMO players, we take on the role of adventurers and heroes. We fight evil and save the world on a daily basis. But being a hero often means going where others fear to tread, and fighting evil means facing it in its lair. As a result, we sometimes end up in some pretty frightening places.

These are some of the darkest and most disturbing virtual locales found in the MMO genre.

8: Icecrown (World of Warcraft)

WoW Icecrown

World of Warcraft isn’t a game many would think of as particularly scary, but over its many long years of operation, it has occasionally produced some fairly unnerving stuff.

Near the top of that list is Wrath of the Lich King’s Icecrown zone. Known as the roof of the world or the cold heart of death itself, Icecrown is a glacial wasteland home to the undead Scourge. Every inch of the zone exudes dread, and its land is so choked with the dead that the faction “towns” are actually flying ships patrolling high above the frozen ground, where it’s (slightly) safer.

7: Blue Mountain (The Secret World)

TSW Blue Mountain scenery

Let’s be upfront: The Secret World is going to dominate this list. It’s the only major horror MMO on the market, and even if it wasn’t, it would still dominate through its sheer mastery of creepy ambiance.

One of the earliest showcases of how frightening the game can be is the final zone of the New England region, Blue Mountain. From the lightless labyrinth of the Blue Ridge Mine, to the ghost-infested Franklin Mansion, to the Lovecraftian surrealism of the Moon Bog, to the grotesque living nests of the Draug, this entire zone is a cavalcade of nightmare fuel.

6: Orr (Guild Wars 2)

GW2 Orr

Intended to be the focus of the endgame when Guild Wars 2 first launched, Orr was once a thriving human kingdom, home to the god’s themselves, but an act of reckless magic blasted the once wondrous land beneath the sea, where it rotted for many years.

At the time of Guild Wars 2, Orr has been risen from the deaths by the elder dragon Zhaitan, its vast population turned into an army of ravenous undead.

Covered in macabre ruins and dying sea life, Orr is a surreal nightmare landscape, and the hordes of undead and near-constant world events mean you are never truly safe. In Orr, even the animals — from sharks to chickens — have been risen into undeath by Zhaitan, and this is truly a place where absolutely everything wants to kill you. It is not for the faint of heart.

5: Abandoned asylum (The Secret World)


Exclusive to the Dragon faction, the abandoned asylum is a burned out ruin players are sent to in order to investigate a dangerous sun cult, eventually opening the way to the Egypt region.

The asylum offers a throwback to Lovecraft-inspired games of yore by giving players a sanity meter of sorts. As they delve deeper into the mysteries of the asylum, they recieve a stacking insanity debuff that must be managed by salvaging bottles of medication.

As insanity increases, your character’s grip on reality will fade, and you will begin to see and hear impossible, terrifying things, and if your insanity should reach maximum stacks, you will suffer a grizzly death.

4: Kithicor Forest (EverQuest)

EverQuest Kithicor Forest

A horror from the early days of the MMO genre, Kithicor Forest is a place whose memory can still send a chill down the spines of EverQuest’s old guard.

During the day, the forest was a fairly standard stretch of MMO wilderness. A bit wilder and more confusing than average, but nothing too special.

But come nightfall, things got interesting.

Powerful undead began spawning all over the zone, and the darkness made navigating this already confusing zone all but impossible. Players were left to stumble through the darkness, with few paths and fewer landmarks, hoping they would survive the onslaught of the dead.

3: Karazhan Crypts (World of Warcraft)

WoW Karazhan Crypts

One of the oldest and strangest mysteries found within the world of Azeroth is the crypts beneath the haunted tower of Karazhan.

These crypts are not accessible under normal circumstances, but MMO players being the industrious lot that they are, many have managed to glitch inside. While within the crypts, a persistent heartbeat can be heard, and they contain many strange subzones, by far the most memorable of which is the so-called “upside-down sinners”: chained corpses hanging upside down.

Fear often comes from the unknown, and it is the mystery of the Karazhan crypts that makes them so disturbing. What are they? What is their purpose? Are they a hint of some future content or abandoned plot thread, a random experiment by the developers, or something stranger still?

2: The Nursery (The Secret World)

TSW Nursery 2

Another nightmare-inducing experience from The Secret World, the Nursery is a secret laboratory hidden in the mountains of Transylvania, and it plays a central role in issue seven’s “A Dream to Kill” storyline.

Within the Nursery, the sinister Orochi Group conducted experiments on mystically gifted children and supernatural creatures, pacifying their subjects with a haunting tune known as the Sleepless Lullaby.

But inevitably, something went terribly wrong, and the Nursery became a blood-soaked charnel house stalked by unspeakable terrors.

In the end, it’s hard to say what’s more horrifying about the Nursery: what the scientists did to the children, or what the children did to the scientists.

1:The Fear Nothing Foundation (The Secret World)

TSW Pachinko Model 3

The Secret World’s mastery of horror peaks with Tokyo’s Fear Nothing Foundation, a twisted cult masquerading as a youth self-help group.

It has little of the elements one associates with horror. The environments are brightly lit and cheerful, and there is no gore or jump scares. Instead, it finds much more subtle ways to frighten you.

Chairs move when your back is turned. The player slowly unravels the mystery of what happened at Fear Nothing by finding notes and letters from the children depicting the torture and indoctrination they endured. Through it all, you’re filled with a sense of futility as you realize you’ve come too late to save them, and it all builds to a finale that will haunt you for days, or even weeks.

In the end, the Fear Nothing moniker could not be more ironic.

Six MMOs to Watch in 2016

A new year — and a shiny new site — are upon us, and now is the perfect time to take a look at what 2016 will offer for MMO gamers everywhere. Today, we’ll be covering the titles most worthy of your attention in the coming year, from exciting new entries in the genre to old favorites with interesting new developments coming down the pipe.

Blade and Soul:

Blade and Soul fight

North American MMO players have had a long wait to get their hands on this title, which has been live in Korea for some time, but after years of waiting, Blade and Soul is finally on its way to the West.

This free to play wuxia-themed MMO promises combo-focused action combat inspired by fighting games, stylized graphics, and competitve one-on-one PvP .

It looks like a pretty exciting title, but Korean games do have a somewhat mixed history in the West, and Blade and Soul’s North American release was delayed long enough that some of the initial hype has died down. We’ll have to wait and see how it does when it launches on January 19th.

If nothing else, the martial arts theme does offer a welcome break from the Tolkien-inspired fantasy settings that have long dominated the Western market.

World of Warcraft:

WoW Legion Suramar previewWorld of Warcraft has had a pretty rough go of things lately. The Warlords of Draenor expansion has been harshly criticized for a lack of content, a bizarre storyline, and several questionable design decisions, such as attempting to disable flying mounts in all new content.

As a result, WoW lost nearly half its players in six months, and subscriber counts are now lower than they have been since before the launch of the first expansion nearly ten years ago.

But even vastly diminished from its once dizzying heights, WoW remains the largest pay to play MMO on the market by a significant margin, and Blizzard isn’t taking its decline lying down.

Later this year, WoW is set to launch its Legion expansion, bringing a return of the Warcraft universe’s most iconic threat, the Burning Legion, and at last adding the oft-requested demon hunter class.

Even if it’s not the titan it once was, WoW remains a pillar of the MMO genre, and if Legion does well, we could perhaps see it reclaim some of its former glory.

Star Citizen:

star-citizenThe MMO community loves controversy, and at this point, Star Citizen may have taken the crown for most controversial title in the industry.

Depending on who you ask, the sci-fi MMO is either a promising new space sim, a messianic savior coming to deliver the MMO genre from publisher-mandated mediocrity, the poster child for feature creep and unrealistic ambition, or a shameless scam to harvest cash from gullible gamers without ever delivering a finished product.

No matter what perspective you take, Star Citizen is a fascinating game to watch, and even if it doesn’t launch this year — or at all — it’s already providing endless entertainment. Some of the best PvP around can be found in discussions over the crowdfunded title.

Black Desert:

Black_Desert_SceneBlack Desert is an ambitious new buy to play sandbox from Korean developer Pearl Abyss. Already launched in Asia, Black Desert is hoping to launch in North America sometime this year.

Some of Black Desert’s selling features include frenetic action combat, a dynamic weather system that impacts gameplay, gorgeous graphics, extensive support for player housing, a conversation mini-game with NPCs, and deep crafting and trading systems.

Black Desert is another Eastern game that has long been anticipated in the West, and in a lot of ways, its story echoes that of ArcheAge. Both ambitious, visually spectacular Korean sandboxes hoping to find a following in North America.

ArcheAge has suffered more than a few setbacks and controversies — from server instability to questionable cash shop practices — so a lot of the hopes that once rested on it have now been placed squarely on Black Desert’s shoulders. Will it live up to the hype, or fizzle as did ArcheAge? Only time will tell.

Star Wars: The Old Republic:

SWTOR agent 5Star Wars: The Old Republic went through some big changes in 2015. With the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion, Bioware radically changed the game’s leveling path, along with a number of other systems, to put the focus squarely on the main storyline, rather than the side quests and other filler content that garnered the game much criticism.

Meanwhile, Knights of the Fallen Empire’s new content has thus far focused almost entirely on single-player story content, and that doesn’t look like it’s about to change anytime soon.

This change in direction is very gutsy, and it puts the focus squarely on Bioware’s strengths — namely personal story — but these changes also amount to an attempt to excise much of the MMO elements from SW:TOR, and that has garnered criticism from some players.

2016 is the year where we’ll learn whether Bioware’s gamble has paid off. It will be very interesting to see if SW:TOR continues this focus on solo story, or backtracks towards a more traditional MMO content model.

EverQuest Next:

EverQuest-Next-Screens-Player-CharacterThe third entry in the EverQuest franchise made a big splash when it was first announced a few years ago with its promises of adaptive NPC AI, unlimited multi-classing, a reboot of EverQuest lore, and a voxel-based world to shape or destroy as you see fit. But since then, there hasn’t been much news. EQN’s spin-off/test bed, Landmark, has languished in early access for some time, while news on EQN itself has been scarce.

A lot of fans have grown concerned, fearing that EverQuest Next will never see the light of day. But Daybreak Games insists work on the title is ongoing, and with Landmark theoretically nearing completion, their focus should now shift to EQN.

2016 is the year we’ll see what Daybreak has been cooking up all this time, and whether EverQuest Next is the transformative game it was thought to be when it was first announced.