Best Free MMORPGs of 2009
2009 is coming to a close and while its been a troubling year for many industries, the free MMORPG market has boomed. I still remember the days when free games were considered second rate amateur products, how things have changed! Today even major Western video game publishers are getting in on the free to play MMO action. The F2P MMO field now encompasses more graphic and genre styles than ever before. Hopefully 2010 will be even more bountiful for gamers, but before moving on let’s take a look at the year’s best:
Release Date: April 28
MLB Dugout Heroes marks an important milestone for the free to play model. The game plays as you would expect a baseball video game to. Players pick a team, monitor their players’ stat growth and take control during the process of pitching and batting during their team’s turn. The real interesting thing with MLB Dugout Heroes is the fact that GamesCampus has an official license agreement with the MLB. This means the game uses the names of real players and teams. The gameplay is simple to pick up but requires practice to master. MLB Dugout Heroes makes the perfect free MMO for baseball fans, but fans of sports games in general will appreciate the level of detail put into the title.
9. Free Realms
Release Date: April 28
The greatest casual MMO release of the year, Free Realms offers a wide variety of activities. Players can battle monsters in traditional MMORPG style or take a break to play cooking, farming, and other mini games. There’s even a whole kart racing mode and trading card game built into Free Realms! The graphics are bright and vibrant and appeal to a large audience. The game may be geared towards kids but Free Realms can be enjoyed by all age groups. The only down side to the game is the fact that many features and classes are only available to paying subscribers.
8. Jade Dynasty
Publisher: Perfect World International
Release Date: May 21
Set in ancient China, Jade Dynasty gives players accustomed to Western style fantasy MMORPGs a new perspective. The gameplay isn’t revolutionary but the interface and graphics are top notch. Players will experience sunsets and sunrises, pass by lush waterfalls, mountains and deserts. Both land based and flying mounts are available, there’s even a marriage system for players who want to tie the virtual knot. Most of the games that made this list rely on an animated art style which are easier to work with but Jade Dynasty deserves credit for taking a more realistic approach.
Publisher: Aeria Games
Release Date: December 7
The fantasy world of Saphael boasts bright, anime inspired visuals and a whole lot of land to explore. The game is highly accessible but still features plenty of content in the form of quests, a unique pet system, and mounts which are acquired at an early level. Grand Fantasia doesn’t have the most original gameplay style, but looks and feels like the natural evolution of previous anime MMORPGs including SEAL Online and FlyFF. Players looking to sink their teeth into a deep, involved MMORPG with cheerful graphics should give Grand Fantasia a try.
6. Lost Saga
Release Date: October 28
This MMO fighting game takes the genre to the next level. With anime inspired graphics and fighters hailing from all backgrounds, Lost Saga battles are always exciting. The fluid gameplay also helps tremendously. While other online fighting games suffer from stuttering/lag, Lost Saga runs smoothly. Players start with access to only one fighter, the Shadow Assassin and can unlock new characters as they play. This is the closest thing to a free PC version of Super Smash Bros that’s been released thus far and gamers should check it out.
Release Date: October 15
MapleStory may of popularized the side-scrolling MMOPRG concept but Dragonica takes it to a whole new level. The gameplay is fast paced and the game does an excellent job of mixing a persistent world with dozens of instanced dungeons. These dungeons can be played solo or with a group and on multiple difficulty levels depending on the level and skill of the party. While Dragonica is a side-scroller, players can still move in three dimensions, at least slightly. The whole package feels like one of those arcade action-RPGs and is well worth checking out.
Release Date: March 23
One genre that’s noticeably absent from the MMO scene is the RTS. Strategy games are generally very popular on the PC so its never been clear to me why we’re not surrounded by MMORTS games. Fortunately, BattleForge makes up for the genre’s long absence in spades. Battleforge is a mix of RTS (real time strategy) and TCG (trading card game) but manages to combine the two to produce a highly playable, fast paced game. Besides the exciting multiplayer gameplay, BattleForge has a full feature single player mode with several campaigns, each composed of multiple stages. Anyone looking for a new strategy game with top notch production values should look no further than BattleForge.
Publisher: Riot Games
Release Date: October 27
Who could of imagined that a Warcraft 3 custom map would eventually inspire multiple stand alone game releases? That’s exactly what happened with Defense of the Ancients, or DotA for short. Several people associated with the free Warcraft mod eventually formed their own studio and created League of Legends. Two teams, consisting of up to 5 players each, pick from a large pool of heroes and battle alongside NPC controlled creeps in a race to destroy the opposing force’s base. The graphic style in LoL is much more animated and an in-game match making system ensures players only battle those near their skill level.
Release Date: June 25
The venerable Battlefield series revealed a more casual side with this year’s release. The free to play Battlefield Heroes is a third person shooter with a distinctly cartoon graphic style. Much of the series’s staples such as varied class kits and player controlled vehicles make a return. The small client size and less realistic graphics make BF Heroes the perfect casual shooter since it will run on a wider range of PCs than previous Battlefield titles. Heroes is the first in the series to incorporate RPG elements where players gain experience, level up, and can allocate earned skill points among several abilities.
Publisher: Frogster Entertainment
Release Date: March 19
The most ambitious WoW clone to date, Runes of Magic is a huge MMORPG that currently boasts 8 classes and 2 playable races. With over 2000 quests and dozens of instanced dungeons to explore, RoM is a f2p treasure trove. Perhaps the game’s most interesting feature is the ability to dual class. This opens up many interesting class opportunities such as Priest/Rogue or Scout/Mage. Instanced player housing and a robust crafting system make Runes of Magic a must-try for fans of the fantasy genre.
It’s important to note that several games were released in North America for the first time in 2009 but have been available in their home countries for several years. We decided not to count those MMOs here but some of them do deserve a mention.
Alliance of Valiant Arms - A visually stunning modern-combat shooter published by ijji. Originally released back in 2007, A.V.A. hit the States in November 09.
Dungeon Fighter Online - An old-school action RPG with arcade like beat ‘em up gameplay. Nexon brought the game to North America in September 09.
Dungeons & Dragons Online - Originally released as a pay-to-play MMORPG back in 2006, D&D Online was converted to a free to play title following an official announcement on June 9, 2009. Today it enjoys a resurgence. The game sticks loosely to the 3.5 ruleset but the instanced adventure based gameplay means DDO caters to both casual players and RPG buffs alike.
Earth Eternal – Our list didn’t include browser games but Earth Eternal deserves a special mention for simply being a huge leap forward in the browser MMORPG field. With graphics and gameplay that rival many client MMORPGs, this is the game to convince players to give browser gaming another chance. It was released on October 13, 2009.
Well that’s it for the 2009 round up. Now its your turn. Let us know what your favorite free games of the year. Feel free to share your thoughts on our rankings as well!