Prospecting MMORPGs that are free to play with the expectation that you'll find a perfect, immersive, and well-supported title that provides no incentive to feed it your hard-earned dollars is an errand bound to end in one of two ways: tears or disappointment. And sometimes both. It turns out that there's a perfectly legitimate reason no one actually makes a living as a unicorn hunter - unicorns don't exist.
However, with properly scaled expectations and a dash of tolerance, one can manage to dig up quite a few MMORPGs that'll provide a great deal of amazing content without asking for a dime in return. Below you'll find five of the best free-to-play massively multiplayer grind fests, as well as five that are virtually built to frustrate their "free" players into opening their wallets.
10 Free To Play: Star Wars: The Old Republic
Make no mistake, The Old Republic would very much like you to spend money on it. A bevy of quality life improvements, mission rewards, and expansion content is lurking behind the pay wall. But it has gone to some lengths to ensure that the free experience is a good one.
The full class storyline for each character and progression up to level fifty is unchecked, and there's even a separate guild system geared towards ensuring free players have a solid community experience. All told, it's worth a spin, even if quite a bit of the content is held back.
9 Pay To Win: APB Reloaded
Despite APB's troubled origins, the unique premise of a cops versus robbers scenario wrapped up in a MMO-shooter hybrid is still pretty compelling. And making it free to play should make it doubly so, right?
Well, not so much. While it's accessible and playable enough, the cash shop allows pretty straightforward purchases of high tier equipment, essentially providing a perfect dictionary definition of a pay to win scheme.
8 Free To Play: Old School Runescape
Ah, Runescape. While it may not be exactly as former players remember, this retro version of the classic online sensation is very much free to play. There are some limitations, particularly the restrictive play area for F2P players, but there's still an awful lot of content on the table at no cost.
Plenty of quests and skills are open for free players, but if that's still not enough, membership bonds can be purchased from other players utilizing in-game currency, allowing purchasers to enjoy membership benefits if they can grind out the price.
7 Pay To Win: Black Desert Online
Many MMO veterans draw a completely meaningless and disingenuous distinction between a "pay to win" model and a "pay for convenience" model, and Black Desert Online serves to outline why this imaginary line in the sand is largely bereft of cohesive logic.
The concept of "grinding" walks hand in hand with the core concepts of an MMORPG for the most part, and it is the developer's job to make that grind engaging and fun. Purposefully ensuring that grind is ludicrously mind numbing and offering paid options to ease its tedium as BDO does is insultingly manipulative and morally bankrupt.
6 Free To Play: Neverwinter
Neverwinter effectively toes the line between its considerable free offerings and being a pay to win cash cow. But it packs in such an abundance of totally free content that it needs to be recognized for that.
Most everything in the game that can be bought can also be earned with grinding, albeit with a considerable grind. The pressure to buy in isn't too intense until the late game, but that still leaves prospective players with an awful lot of enjoyably free content to tear through on the way there.
5 Pay To Win: Lord of the Rings Online
LOTRO is a bit of an odd duck, as roughly the first thirty levels and a handful of the initial zones are entirely free to play. However, at that point the pay wall hits in brutal fashion, completely locking off any further progression.
The premium currency can be ground out through achievements to unlock further content. But that grind is one of the most totally ridiculous time investments ever dreamed up in an MMO, which is really saying something. It's possible, but only by the thinnest margin, and most players would easily opt to buy the content over suffering muscular atrophy.
4 Free To Play: Tera
Tera's far from a perfectly balanced "freemium" concept, as at the end of the day players can essentially spend exorbitant amounts of money to gain advantages or flip items from the cash shop, but the available content and pacing for free players is actually pretty good.
To be clear, there are an awful lot of "pay for convenience" offerings to ease grinding, loot boxes are definitely a thing, and pointing these things out will spawn an endless, unproductive debate among players. But looking at it for what it is, it's more than possible to play and thoroughly enjoy Tera without emptying a bank account into it.
3 Pay To Win: Anarchy Online
Anarchy Online is a golden age MMO that's still clinging to life roughly twenty years since its heyday, apparently purely on the merit of its integrated cash shop and little else. Character levels, equipment, and even keys bypassing large chunks of content are all up for sale.
That said, it did have a fairly robust set of free content that encompassed the entirety of the game's "classic" content, which was fairly decent while populated enough to foster a community of free players. But with its dwindling playerbase, crashed in-game economy and convoluted character progression, it feels more like wallet bait than anything.
2 Free To Play: Rift
Rift might be a controversial pick here, as it does host a cheese-ridden cash shop offering gear, boosts, and more. Its most egregious offense is locking an actual equipment slot (the earring slot) behind a pay wall.
That said, free players actually do get a pretty sweet deal with Rift. Most of the paid items are able to be purchased with in game currency, and the amount of free content packed into the experience is impressive. There's also a subscription-based progression server that harshly guts the cash shop, but that's a little outside the scope of this article.
1 Pay To Win: ArcheAge
Conceptually, ArcheAge is an incredibly promising title. Its great depth of sandbox gameplay and player-run systems (such as its admittedly radical criminal justice courts) manage to create an environment that few other MMO titles successfully emulate.
However, its cash shop certainly fits the mold. The premium currency can be bought in-game, it needs to be purchased by another player and put up for sale first, creating a sort of pay to win system within itself. It has made some recent strides in limiting the bonuses offered by the cash shop, but at its core, the P2W dynamic is still very much in play.