12 best paid & free MMORPGs to play in 2023, from WoW to Palia

12 best paid & free MMORPGs to play in 2023, from WoW to Palia
Images via ZeniMax | ArenaNet | Square Enix

Written by 

Harry Boulton


2nd Nov 2023 14:00


While you obviously won't be able to play them all at the same time, the best paid and free MMORPGs will give you hundreds, if not thousands of hours of fun, so check out our picks below if you're looking for some inspiration in 2023.

Games like World of Warcraft have dominated the MMO gaming space for many years now, but there have been plenty of strong competitors across multiple different settings that you might also want to consider playing. From the endless dangers of outer space to the grassy plains of classic high-fantasy, the top MMORPGs really do have something for everyone to enjoy.

So, make sure to continue reading below to see all of the best paid and free MMORPGs that you can play right now in 2023, as we've got plenty of fantastic choices that are bound to tickle your fancy.

Best paid & free-to-play MMO games in 2023

Split image of World of Warcraft and Destiny 2
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Images via Blizzard | Bungie

We've got all of the best MMORPG games that you can play right now in the list below, so make sure to check it out.

Unsure of whether an MMO requires a subscription or is free-to-play? We've also detailed the payment structure of each, so you know whether there is an upfront or subscription cost required to play.

#12: Star Wars: The Old Republic

Image of four characters in Star Wars: The Old Republic
Click to enlarge

  • Release date: 2011
  • Model: Free with optional subscription
  • Platforms: PC (via Steam | Old Republic Launcher)
  • Key features:
    • Bringing Star Wars to the MMO space
    • Experience a new original story
    • Play as the Republic or the Sith, with a morality system

If you love Knights of the Old Republic and have always wanted to experience that world with your friends, then Star Wars: The Old Republic will definitely be the best MMO out there for you.

Taking place 300 years after the events of KOTOR, The Old Republic has you side with either the Republic or the Sith as new conflicts arise in a galaxy full of strife and intrigue. One of the key features here is the game's morality system, which gives complexity to your own narrative outside of the standard good or bad split.

It will also never not be fun to use a lightsabre in a game, and The Old Republic lets you experience and enhance your skills in a multiplayer environment that had never really been seen before. It was certainly the fastest-growing MMO ever at its launch for a reason, so if you've not tried out Star Wars: The Old Republic yet, don't wait around any longer and jump right in.

#11: Palia

Image of a character using a glider in Palia
Click to enlarge
Singularity 6

  • Release date: 2023
  • Model: Free-to-play (in open beta)
  • Platforms: PC (via Palia launcher)
  • Key features:
    • Unique cosy gameplay
    • Farm with your friends
    • Solo elements alongside multiplayer

Palia is rather unique when it comes to MMO games, offering the cosy game experience that so many players love from titles like Stardew Valley and Disney Dreamlight Valley but in a massively multiplayer world.

You'll be able to do everything that you love like farming, fishing, gardening, and even a little romance with your friends and many other players - making this perfect if you're looking for a relaxing social experience.

Don't worry if you still want your own space though, as you still get your own private home base that you can customise and decorate how you please, giving you the best of both worlds when it comes to the cosy experience.

It's in open beta right now, too, giving you all the more reason to jump in and give this MMO game a try.

#10: EVE Online

Image of a ship in EVE Online, which is one of the best free MMORPGs
Click to enlarge

  • Release date: 2003
  • Model: Free-to-play, with a subscription option
  • Platforms: PC (via Steam | EVE Online Launcher)
  • Key features:
    • Vast space setting
    • Significant job variety
    • Large player base

Having passed its 20th birthday just this year, EVE Online is one of the longest-running MMO games for a reason. If you love space and its endless frontier, then this game will be absolutely perfect for you.

The possibilities are near endless in the world of EVE, as the game allows players to do pretty much anything they want, from mining to trading to combat, and so, so much more.

If you want to simply run trading routes with your friends through the solar system, then you can do just that - but you can also start your own space pirate network and control outer space if that also floats your boat (or, uh, spaceship).

This MMO's longevity alone proves that EVE Online is one of the best MMORPGs that you can play right now in 2023, and with an unlimited alpha account trial, you can test it for free without the burden of having to start a subscription too.

#9: Lost Ark

Image of four characters stood in front of a boss in Lost Ark
Click to enlarge
Image via Smilegate RPG

  • Release date: 2022
  • Model: Free-to-play, with microtransactions
  • Platforms: PC (via Steam)
  • Key features:
    • Stunning graphics
    • No subscription needed
    • ARPG-esque combat

Lost Ark is a rather rare breed when it comes to MMOs, as it is completely free to play with no optional subscriptions or paid expansions to its name. This makes it perhaps the best MMORPG for newcomers to the genre, as it lets them try it out with no additional cost required.

However, this does come with a downside, as the game can be quite heavy on the grind, featuring an abundance of rather egregious microtransactions that can in turn alleviate this grind.

Don't let these microtransactions get you down too much though, as Lost Ark is still a great game you can have so much fun with with a free account. Not only does it have a massive and thriving player base, but it is also by far one of the most graphically impressive MMORPGs out there right now.

Add on engaging ARPG Diablo-esque combat and you're onto a winner here, making Lost Ark one of the best free MMO games that you can play in 2023. If you're just starting out too, make sure to find out how to earn gold in Lost Ark so that you have some money to play with.

#8: Black Desert Online

Image of a knight in a market in Black Desert Online, one of the best mmo games
Click to enlarge
Image via Pearl Abyss

  • Release date: 2014/2016
  • Model: $9.99/£8.99 with optional paid subscription
  • Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Mobile, PC (via Steam)
  • Key features:
    • High-fantasy setting
    • Complex systems
    • Massive open-world

Developed by Pearl Abyss, Black Desert Online is one of the best paid MMORPGs out there, as it engages in a vast high-fantasy setting that so many players will undoubtedly quickly fall in love with.

Its seamless open world really highlights this too, allowing players to move with complete freedom across the massive world, creating an impressive sense of exploration in the MMO.

While some might see it as a negative, Black Desert Online's steep learning curve and relative complexity will absolutely be a draw for players who relish a challenge, enabling them to dive right into the deep end with no tab-targeting.

It might turn off some players at the beginning, but Black Desert Online is still absolutely one of the best MMOs that you can play right now in 2023, and for such a low cost it is definitely worth a try.

#7: Lord of the Rings Online

Image of the Balrog in Lord of the Rings Online
Click to enlarge
Standing Stone Games

  • Release date: 2007
  • Model: Free with optional paid subscription
  • Platforms: PC (via Steam | LOTR Online)
  • Key features:
    • Explore Middle Earth with your friends
    • Over 15 years of expansions and new content
    • Play across six different races 

Lord of the Rings Online (LOTR Online) was one of the first MMORPGs that I was ever aware of, and as a huge fan of Tolkien's fantasy world, it really did feel like a dream for me to play. You are able to explore the vast lands of Middle Earth, from The Shire to the deep mines of Moria, and even the vast kingdom of Gondor.

While there have been quite a few successful games based on the Lord of the Rings franchise, an MMO really is the dream setting for a world like this, and the fact that it has nearly reached two decades in age shows how much it means to its dedicated player base.

Its graphics still hold up despite the time since it was first released, and it is a fantastic adventure to embark upon even if you don't hold any ties to the series. However, if you're a LOTR fan, this is a must-play and definitely one of the best MMOs you can play in 2023 right now.

#6: Runescape

Image of a mushroom pond in Runescape
Click to enlarge
Image via Jagex

  • Release date: 2001
  • Model: Free with optional paid subscription
  • Platforms: PC (via Jagex Launcher)
  • Key features:
    • Very friendly player base
    • Nostalgic for many
    • Satisfying skills system

You can't go wrong with the classics, and while Runescape (and certainly Old School Runescape) might not stack up graphically to its contemporaries, it is still one of the best MMORPGs that you can play right now.

Perhaps the biggest appeal of Runescape is within its community, which is still as bustling as ever despite the game's old age. It is very welcoming, especially to new players, which makes the game a joy to jump into if you're fresh to the genre.

Combine this with its free-to-play model that presents only an optional subscription model with handy benefits, you really can't say no to giving Runescape a try - especially if you've not picked it up in years.

I remember playing Runescape for hours and hours when I was younger and being able to return to the classic format that I love shows how great Runescape is, standing among the best MMO games despite its age and graphical deficiencies.

#5: The Elder Scrolls Online

Image of players fighting a boss in Elder Scrolls Online, one of the best mmo games
Click to enlarge
Image via ZeniMax

  • Release date: 2014
  • Model: $19.99/£15.99 with paid expansions
  • Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC (via Steam)
  • Key features:
    • Multiplayer Elder Scrolls
    • Explore all of Tamriel in one game
    • Lots of developer support

If you're a lover of the Elder Scrolls series, then you're doing yourself a disservice if you've never played The Elder Scrolls Online, as it is one of the best paid MMO games out there.

While multiplayer mods have always been a thing for the various single-player titles in the franchise, nothing comes close to the feeling of the MMO when exploring the realms of Tamriel.

Play as all of your favourite classes across so many of the series-famous areas like Cyrodill, Vvardenfell, Skyrim, and so much more. There has never been a better place to enjoy the world of the Elder Scrolls than ESO.

As someone who fell in love with the Elder Scrolls from a young age, being able to explore the world with my friends was always a dream. It feels so magical to be able to traverse between all of the different locales, so if you're a Tamriel lover like me, then you definitely have to give Elder Scrolls Online a try.

Furthermore, being far removed now from its subscription controversy at launch, The Elder Scrolls Online has no additional costs outside of expansions once you purchase the base game, which is excellent news for anyone who feels bogged down by the standard subscription nature of MMOs.

#4: Destiny 2

Image of combat in Destiny 2
Click to enlarge

  • Release date: 2017
  • Model: Free-to-play with paid expansions
  • Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC (via Steam | Epic Games Store)
  • Key features:
    • First-person shooter combat
    • Lots of expansions
    • Engaging multiplayer raids

If you love the idea of MMOs, but don't quite gel with the format, then Destiny 2 might be an ideal option for you. Featuring some of the best-feeling first-person shooter action out there, Destiny 2 brings the MMO format to a new setting - and has proven to be wildly successful.

Your time spent in Destiny 2 will be split between PvE raids and PvP deathmatch action, making it ideal for whatever you want to tackle at any point in time. What's more, there is also an expansive narrative in the game that will satisfy any sci-fi fans out there, with a surprising number of emotional moments too and plenty of lore to uncover.

Destiny 2 is a completely free-to-play MMO game with no subscriptions at all - but you will need to pick up the various expansions to engage in the latest content and story updates. These are highly rated by the community though, and do a lot in making Destiny 2 one of the best MMORPGs that you can pick up and play in 2023.

#3: World of Warcraft

Image of the Trial of the Crusader in World of Warcraft, one of the best MMORPGs
Click to enlarge
Image via Blizzard

  • Release date: 2004
  • Model: Paid expansions & subscription required
  • Platforms: PC (via Battle.net)
  • Key features:
    • Archetypal fantasy setting
    • Huge and dedicated player base
    • Lots of tie-in content

World of Warcraft is undoubtedly one of, if not the most well-known MMORPG, and for good reason too. While it perhaps does not exist in the wider public consciousness as much compared to the mid to late 2000s, the game still holds an incredibly impressive player count.

WoW also continues to release top-tier expansions, featuring plenty of story to dig your teeth into, with new races to play as, dungeons to complete and new corners of Azeroth to explore.

It's the quintessential archetype of the fantasy MMO, taking place in a vast and colourful magic-filled land crawling with fantastical beasts, elves, and more. There's so much for you to get up to in-game too, with plenty of jobs to fulfil, skills to grind, and events to take place in.

World of Warcraft is a classic for a reason, and remains by far one of the best paid MMORPGs that you can play as it approaches the start of its third decade - with many claiming that it sits at the top of the pile too.

What is the best free-to-play MMO game?

Image of characters in Guild Wars 2, the best free mmorpg
Click to enlarge
Image via ArenaNet

  • Release date: 2012
  • Model: Free with optional paid subscription
  • Platforms: PC (via Steam | ArenaNet Client)
  • Key features:
    • Fantastic art style and graphics
    • Wonderful fantasy world
    • Engaging combat system

Our pick for the best free MMORPG that you can play in 2023 is Guild Wars 2, as it is still an incredible experience over ten years after its initial release. While there are some paid elements within the game, you can play Guild Wars 2 for free, forever, with only minimal restrictions on your account.

This makes it ideal for anyone wanting a new MMO to dive into, or to jump into the genre for the first time in general. It very much follows the fantasy setting that has remained so popular, with a stunning and unique art style that still shines graphically despite its age.

With an engaging combat system and so much for you to get up to in-game, you will find it difficult to become bored of Guild Wars 2. What's more, the community remains incredibly strong to this day, too, so you will have no fears of feeling alone within the vast world of Tyria.

What is the best paid MMORPG in 2023?

Image of the Viper job in Final Fantasy XIV
Click to enlarge
Square Enix

  • Release date: 2013
  • Model: Subscription and paid expansions
  • Platforms: PS5, PS4, PC (via Steam | Moogle Launcher)
  • Key features:
    • Incredible narrative
    • Final Fantasy in a multiplayer setting
    • Very forgiving free trial

If you're looking for the best paid MMORPG in 2023, then we recommend none other than Final Fantasy XIV as the ideal choice. Not only is it one of the best Final Fantasy games according to our ranked list, but it is also arguably the best MMO that you can pick up and play right now.

While it is classed under the paid category due to its monthly subscription and paid expansions (which are all must-plays), it does have an incredibly generous free trial that has become a bit of a meme in recent years.

Not only do you get the entirety of the 'base game' for free, but you also get the first and second expansions (Heavensward/Stormblood), which comes to at least 200 hours of content, free of any additional charges and subscription fees.

It is within the paid content that the game reaches an even higher level though, with both the Shadowbringers and Endwalker expansions considered true highs of the Final Fantasy series - and the entire MMO genre itself. With the new expansion Dawntrail on the horizon too, there's no better time to start your journey in Eorzea.

As a Final Fantasy fan, XIV perfectly captures the sheer magic of the series and extends the experience beyond the limitations of a linear, single-player experience, letting me be at peace in a fantastical world for as long as I want. 

It's an MMO game so popular that it had to limit new sign-ups around the launch of its last expansion and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. There really are few better choices for the best MMORPGs out there, so jump on the free trial if you haven't already and get started.

So, that wraps up this list of the best paid and free MMORPGs that you can pick up and play in 2023, giving you plenty of options to choose from no matter what you're interested in.

Make sure to check out our other lists if you're looking to see more of the best games that you can play right now in 2023 across lots of different genres. In the meantime, check out our picks for the best free-to-play shooters, as there's definitely something you'll like on the list.

Harry is a Guides Writer at GGRecon, having completed a Masters of Research degree in Film Studies. Previously a freelance writer for PCGamesN, The Loadout, and Red Bull Gaming, he loves playing a wide variety of games from the Souls series to JRPGs, Counter-Strike, and EA FC. When not playing or writing about games and hardware, you're likely to find him watching football or listening to Madonna and Kate Bush.

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