Over the last few years, I have discovered that my playstyle has changed to meet the demands of my curiosity. The games that I enjoy the most allow me to come and go, like a faithful dog that meets me after a long days work. They have to meet certain criteria, and even then have to be flexible enough to bend to my MMO ADD.
So, here's a short, very short, list. This is the hardest list to write, not because it is hard to fill, but because it is almost impossible to cut off. Read on and see if you agree with my top five favorite free-to-play MMORPGs. (In no particular order.) WURM Online: This independent sandbox just keeps pulling me back in. It is a game of virtual survival, both in the wilds and in the community. Players have to meet their own standard of living, either deciding to build as part of an established community or in surviving alone in the wilderness. I plunked down 10 US dollars or so and made my way onto the premium server and out onto a mountain. You can stay on the free server, something I did for a long, long time, but paying grants you access to almost endless areas to settle in. The community is very helpful and friendly and always willing to sell or give the basic tools and items you would need to start a new life. Right now I am learning how to farm and cook my own food, but it has not been easy. I have to watch my thirst and be very wary of giant spiders. Graphically, the game will win no awards. Fortunately, amazing gameplay does not force the need for amazing visuals.
Mabinogi: This little cutie won my heart quite a while ago. I have never found a game that equals Mabinogi's ability to simply give you stuff to do. I know players who have done nothing but pursue perfection in the combat arts, and other players who only have a need for the latest fashion. System after system, Nexon has shown that the older game still has an important place in their line-up, and that development is constant. The team keeps rolling out the updates and keeps pushing the storyline further up the road. If a game can give me almost too much to play with, to experiment with, and to collect, then consider me hooked. Community-wise, it will surprise you by making you re-think how kids play their games. They're remarkably down with building character's stories, and are almost always having a good time. It's a very nice change of pace from the stuffy raider crowds of more "adult" games. Mabinogi has a very special place on my desktop. Free Realms: SOE's golden child receives nowhere near the credit it deserves for being unique, new and innovative. It would be very difficult to name a game that truly allows players to do almost whatever they want, and as flawlessly, as Free Realms does. Even if you subtract the playground aspect of the world and take a deeper look, the game has pretty nifty lore and is as immersive a world as almost any I have seen. Yes, adventure usually only consists of pushing very few buttons to destroy your enemies. But who says that slaying monsters is the end-all-be-all of living virtually? Who says that "challenge" is equal to how many buttons need to be pushed? Free Realms allows players to make and meet whatever challenges they want, to meet with the people they want, and to do it all safely. The game is beautiful and filled with cozy, sunlit nooks that beg to host gatherings. It's a great people-watching game, too. Like WURM Online, there is a "premium" option to go with, but the sheer amount of free socializing, collecting and mini-games to play puts Free Realms squarely in the "free-to-play-with-options" world.
Earth Eternal: Some games are just fun. I'll be honest with you, for the longest time I did not enjoy Earth Eternal like I do now. Once I discovered how easy I could jump in, kill some monsters and build a character, I was hooked. Of course, I was hooked only part-time, being that it is essentially my job to check out other games. So, when Earth Eternal became the Little Debbie snack of my sack-lunch (always there and always fun to eat) it solidified itself as one of my fav's. It is essentially a game set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world of humanoid creatures and the gameplay is from the pretty standard school of combat. Once you gain some ability points, though, and once you realize that your character can be almost any type of combatant that he or she wants to be, the options really open up. Earth Eternal is an easy-to-play, easy-to-download toy of a game.
The Chronicles of Spellborn: Other games get points for being darn beautiful. While graphics are only a secondary concern to me (obviously, look at this list!) it is nice to find a game that speaks almost perfectly to my inner artist. I am in awe of the stylized, larger-than-life feel of the characters and of the world. I love the ever-present sense of humor, but also the way the developers nodded to the darker side of the game. It is a shame that it has sat on a virtual toy-shelf for a long, long time now, but there might be light at the end of the tunnel. According to almost-rumor, the game is due for a re-release with cash-shop in tow. To me, the game needs only a little more to be stronger: sped-up overland travel options, tweaks to help performance, and a couple more options for non-combat activities like collecting, farming or houses. The game is this close to being a dream game.
So, what does your top five list look like? The great thing about making a list like this is that it forces me to be absolutely, painfully honest, even if it means skipping over all the other twenty or so amazing games on my hard drive. But, these are the games that I keep loading and keep reading about. To me they mostly represent the ability to live a virtual life how I want, which is much more important to me than powerful gear or achievements.
It doesn't hurt that they are all fun to play, as well.