With hundreds of free-to-play MMOs to choose from, all of them asking for your time and money, it’s often very difficult to pick the right one. Since this genre usually demands weeks, sometimes even months or years of constant attention, you just can’t afford to pick the wrong one.
One of the most important factors to consider is the population of the MMO in question – you have to make sure the game isn’t a ghost town, so that you’ll always find players to interact, battle and group with. That’s why we’ve made some research and along with our own ideas about the topic, created this top 10, where you’ll find 10 highly populated games, as well as a few more suggestions. We decided to leave some older games out of the picture: RuneScape, for example, requires a subscription to be fully enjoyed, while others such as MapleStory are still populated, but we doubt most of you want to try it out in 2015.
Finally, we’re not judging this on the always inflated registered player count, but more on concurrent players. Let’s begin.
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There’s no hiding the fact that ArcheAge had one of the worst launches ever see in MMO history. It was almost enough to kill the game entirely, but during the next few months things have slowly but surely improved and ArcheAge ultimately got a bit closer to the sandbox MMORPG it was expected to be. While many still hate it based on their initial impressions, ArcheAge has now found a special place among many players and is becoming a healthy MMORPG, with plenty to do, many players to interact with and a PvP aspect that some players love to death. This is a good place to start if you like your MMOs deep and sometimes visually stunning, but make sure that you can endure some bugs and other issues.
It’s kind of weird to think that free-to-play sci-fi third-person shooters weren’t exactly a big thing before Warframe came around. It’s also cool to think that Digital Extremes actually made an effort to deliver a great game and not just a cash-grab fest, like so many other shooters out there. This is a game that delivers style in spades, with the whole ninjas in space concept actually going way beyond the silly idea and turning out to be quite compelling. With plenty of content, regular updates and top quality overall, if a bit grindy, Warframe managed to attract a large playerbase in little time, so if you’re looking for a co-op shooter this is a surefire bet.
We still haven’t forgotten that Star Wars: The Old Republic didn’t have an easy life when it launched as a subscription-based MMO. Luckily, the move to free-to-play was swift and the Bioware game has seen a clear improvement on its playerbase since then. In fact, it is now in a very healthy stage, as Electronic Arts has already acknowledged, and this is only bound to get much better with the new Star Wars movie premiering December 2015. If you’re a fan of the saga and still haven’t played for some reason, we recommend you begin considering it since you’ll want to be ready for whatever content update the game gets after the movie releases.
TERA is one of the best action MMORPGs out there and the support that it’s been getting, especially during 2015, is a guarantee that there will always be something to see or do. This year has seen the release of new dungeons, the new Gunner class, battlegrounds, guild-focused content including skycastles, and there’s plenty more to come. This is a great game and the regular flow of new content makes it a safe bet for those who are looking for an MMO that is going to last a long time – TERA is here to stay and it is getting better by the day. A new class with mechanical arms is most likely coming in a few months too, so stay tuned.
Team Fortress 2 isn’t a spring chicken anymore, but we decided to include it here because it’s constantly one of the most played free-to-play games on Steam and it’s still a great choice for any new player interested in a fun, addictive shooter. This one is still so good and so current that Blizzard is now trying to take a piece of the cake with the somewhat similar Overwatch, which we have to admit is looking quite good and also chock-full of style. We doubt it will have so many players as Team Fortress 2, or now that we think about it, as many hats.
Hi-Rez Studio made quite a gamble when it decided to enter the MOBA battleground with a game that played substantially differently from the rest. Instead of the usual top-down view, the choice of a third-person view made SMITE play more like an action game, and thus requiring a different set of skills that many League of Legends players weren’t used to. Having a roster of gods also stirred some controversy, and the frequent new skins that turn the deities into completely different and goofy characters are bound to keep doing so. However, this risk paid off and then some, with the game becoming a strong name in the eSports arenas and the first true alternative to Dota 2 and League of Legends.
When Blizzard announced Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, the entire world laughed and scorned; now, not many months later, most of those are already addicted to it. This is an online card game that was released to show other card games just how it’s done. It’s not just the Warcraft lore behind it, it’s mostly the fun and addicting aspects of it that managed to bring millions of players to the game. Hearthstone is so big right now and it’s growing at such a scary pace that Blizzard is almost surely going to bet on other smaller-scale projects in the future – it is already inspiring other big studios to do the same, such as Bethesda with its upcoming card game The Elder Scrolls: Legends. If this works, it shouldn’t be long before we get a Fallout card game. Now that we think of it, a Fallout card game would be awesome!
This ‘cheap, asian stuff’, as World of Tanks was arrogantly dismissed by many big publishers before becoming a colossal hit, is still growing at a steady pace and shows no signs of slowing down, crushing everything on its path. It’s a niche game but that is one of its strengths, as the competition was virtually non-existent and whatever is coming now, such as Armored Warfare, has a long way to go to make a dent on it. This is a game with a huge playerbase and is often called the Counter-Strike of tanks, so if you like your shooters tactical, you won’t have any trouble finding a team here.
There was no way that Dota 2 wasn’t going to be a huge success – after all, with the original Dota creator and Valve working on it, it was always bound to get millions of players on its MOBA goodness. This is, of course, regularly one of the most played games on Steam and it’s always growing, always getting new players – Dota 2 managed to have over 1 million and 200 hundred players simultaneously, which is both impressive and scary. But does it reach the population heights of our number one game? We have to say that we highly doubt it. And that game is…
If there’s a game out there that everyone and their moms are playing or at least tried to do so, that game is League of Legends. There’s no escaping the juggernaut that Riot Games has created – it is everywhere and has defined what a MOBA should look and play like, taking its lessons from the few that came before. The community in this is huge and if you’re actually not playing it, you probably know a friend or two that is hooked on it. One word of warning though – this is far from the easiest game to join, so you’d better grow yourself a really thick skin and brush up on your MOBA glossary and tactics before trying your luck.
This is our top 10 most populated free online games and we know we had to leave a few titles out of this, so here are a few more suggestions. Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s new MOBA, is getting quite a lot of players so you could also check it out. Path of Exile, the brilliant free-to-play Diablo alternative, is also sporting a very healthy population (11 million players overall at the time). Finally, War Thunder is getting the attention of many aerial combat enthusiasts, as well as tank warfare fans. These are our picks, but let us know in the comments which games you’re playing that feature a really big playerbase.