6 Free To Play (Or Almost) MMOs For SF/F Fans

A few short years ago, any massively multiplayer online (MMO) game worth it’s salt followed in the footsteps of the MMO behemoth World of Warcraft, both in terms of content (fantasy themed, quest oriented) and in method of payment (monthly fee). Flash forward to today and there are several big name properties that have gone the free-to-play (F2P) route in an effort not just to differentiate themselves but also to boost flagging sales. We’ve put together a list of 6 of these MMOs that are of interest to the SF/F fan who is interested in exploring these types of games, but isn’t interested in shelling out a lot money.


When Rift was first released, it used the typical monthly fee subscription model, along with buying the game, to grant access. As of June 12th this year, Rift is going free to play. This is excellent news.

What’s Interesting: While Rift uses a generic fantasy setting with nothing story or character race-wise that really sets it apart, what Rift has going for it are: an interesting class structure, a reliance on public quests, and a responsive and active developer in Trion Worlds. While there are the usual 4 class (Warrior, Cleric, Rogue, Mage), what’s pretty cool are that each class has various sub-sets of abilities (called ‘souls’) that focus on a particular area. For instance, you might add a damage soaking soul to your Rogue to give him/her more survivability. Each of your characters can have three of these souls active at once, allowing you to mix and match as you see fit, with a ton of different options. No one else really does this. Public quests are another interesting item. Basically, a public quest starts when a ‘rift’ opens in a particular zone. Monsters pour through and it’s up the general population in that zone to defeat the monsters and close the rift. Everyone who participates gets experience and loot according to how much they helped. Love them or hate them, rifts bring a different way to force people to group and to help you level. Lastly, Trion Worlds has done a stellar job continually pumping out content in the forms of patches and expansions for Rift. It’s a testament to their ability that Rift still has a strong, if relatively small, user base.

What You Get: Typically in a F2P model, free players receive a small subset of content, with the rest being available in either the cash shop, or by ponying up for a monthly fee. Rift promises all free players access to everything the game has to offer, no tricks, no traps. What you will get is access to 2 character slots and 3 bag slots. Items in the cash shop will be cosmetic in nature or will be boosts to your experience/money gains. You can still opt for a monthly subscription that will net you permanent extra XP gains, more character slots, and other perks.

I played several characters up to around level 40 and I thought it was a lot of fun. While being solo friendly, Rift is much more fun in a group and we never had a regular group for this game. With it going F2P, I’m definitely looking forward to playing again.



About a year and a half ago, Bioware released Star Wars: The Old Republic to great fanfare. With a reliance on storytelling and using The Old Republic setting of Star Wars, this was seemingly a can’t miss game. After hemorrhaging players since launch, SWTOR adopted a F2P model this past fall in an effort to attract more players.

What’s Interesting: It’s Star Wars set in The Old Republic, who wouldn’t want that? You can play a Jedi, an Imperial Agent, a Smuggler or even a Sith for crying out loud. And with Bioware’s implementation of Dark/Light points, you can play as evil or good as you want. I played an evil Sith of course. Your character’s appearance even changes based on your actions. Along with playing iconic classes, Bioware’s penchant for writing interesting stories shines through in SWTOR. Each class has a class story and, while some are more interesting than others, they are uniformly well done and worth it to play for the story alone. I also think the different locations you can adventure in are well done and interesting, though Tatooine can become a slog.

What You Get: If Rift’s implementation of F2P looks good (sight unseen as of yet), SWTOR’s seems to be gimped into oblivion. As a F2P character you can access to the class story quests and little else. You access to everything else is severely restricted. For one purchase of $4.99 or more and your account is upgraded to ‘Preferred’ which unlocks the ‘Sprint’ ability and loosens the restrictions a bit. If you want to play without being annoyed to death, I’d recommend this level at least. Of course, there is always a subscription you can pay to get the whole game.

Our group was there, day one, for SWTOR and several of us leveled at least one of our characters to max. But once you do that, you realize, story quests aside, SWTOR is pretty much WoW in Star Wars clothing. We closed it down and moved on to other games. However, for a measly $5, you can download the thing and play through some great stories. I hear the Imperial Agent storyline is terrific. I still have this on my hard drive and I may fire it up to see how it fares today.


Much like SWTOR, Tera: Rising initially started life as a subscription based game. However, not quite a year after launch Tera made the switch to Free 2 Play to stem the tide of lapsed subscriptions. By all accounts, this has been a successful switch and servers are showing signs of heavy use.

What’s Interesting: Two things make Tera: Rising standout: the combat and the graphics. Most MMO combat takes the form of ‘push button/what-a-mole’ where players select the skill they want, push to activate, and that skill affects whatever they have targeted. Tera is billed as an ‘action combat MMO’ and boy is it ever action-y! In Tera, players have to actively target the monsters they want to hit while activating whatever skill they want to use. The combat is much for FPS oriented and rewards those with good twitch skills who can move the mouse and activate skills easily. What results is a very fluid, dynamic combat system that rewards movement and manual aiming. It’s an incredibly fun system to play and makes Tera almost worth it to play just for the combat alone. Add in the really cool world bosses (called Big Ass Monsters, or BAMs), which require a large group of people to take down and this game could almost make it as just a combat simulator. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the graphics. Tera is hand down the best looking MMO on this list. The graphics are spectacular and they are put to good use with it’s wide variety of locations and character models. Just wandering around and looking at everything can be a pleasure. Now, Tera is from a Korean developer so it has a very Asian look and feel, including the cat people character race (Popori) and the scary looking, look-like-little-girls-but-are-actually-hundreds-of-years-old race (Elin). Tera is also takes the ‘chicks-in-chainmail’ theme to the extreme, which turns a lot of people off. Still, there are the usual Human and Elf races so you don’t have to mess with the other stuff if you don’t want.

What You Get: For your free to play dollar, you’ll get 2 character slots per server, a limited number (10) of bonus quests per day and higher listing fees in the auction house. $15/month unlocks everything and you get more bonus quests (to help in leveling), lower listing fees and a cool mount.

We had a semi-regular group playing Tera and it was a blast to play. But, as usually happens, we stopped meeting regularly and the shine really wears off when soloing becomes a grind fest. At the lower levels its not bad at all, but upwards of level 20 becomes drudgery. I still have this on my drive and now that it’s F2P, I’d really like to play again.


LOTRO is the oldest game on this list, being active since April 2007. After several years of expansions and falling subscriptions numbers, it made the jump to F2P in November of 2010.

What’s Interesting: Well, it’s set in Tolkein’s Middle Earth, what self-respecting Lord of the Rings fan wouldn’t be interested? The devloper, Turbine, has been hard at work adding new content, constantly adding new areas to adventure in, like the Mines of Moria, Mirkwood, Isengard and Helm’s Deep later this year. This game is now huge with tons of quests to do. Since The Lord of the Rings is basically the archetype for every fantasy setting, MMO or otherwise, I can’t really call this your typical fantasy setting (though it is). Being Middle Earth, though, has it’s own appeal that other settings can’t match. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the music system in LOTRO. Not only are their musical instruments in the game (lutes and bagpipes among others) that players can play (as in really play by hitting keys) there is also a musical notation system that allows players to create their own songs for their characters to play. And, players can synchronize their playing to create bands playing songs. There have even been concerts and music festivals, created by the players, in the game. How cool is that? No other game even has a music system in it.

What You Get: Turbine’s F2P implementation is a bit different than the others. Downloading the base game gets you tons of areas and quests to right off. But after that, you can buy additional areas/quest lines to play as you see fit, using points you can purchase or earn in-game. There is also the typical cosmetic/mount/boosts in the shop you can spend your points on as well. A paid VIP tier is also available which earns you a set amount of monthly points for you to use and access to even more quests.

Way back in the day I did play LOTRO. I remember it being way too much like WoW for my tastes, despite being in Middle Earth. I’ve never really had the urge to go back, but don’t let that stop you if it seems interesting. A lot of people still play.


Guild Wars 2 isn’t free to play, but neither does it have a monthly subscription. It’s a ‘buy to play’ game, where purchasing the boxed copy gets you the game and everything in it at no further cost. It’s also the follow on to Guild Wars, but you don’t need to have played the first game to enjoy GW2.

What’s Interesting: For a fantasy setting, ArenaNet has done a nice job of creating something a bit different. The races aren’t your standard dwarf/elf/human types but a nice assortment of human/treefolk/wolf/goblin-like characters. I especially like the goblin-y Asura with their penchant for creating crazy engineering marvels. The game also looks good (not as good as Tera, but still good) and it has a very nice assortment of zones to run around in and explore. Much like SWTOR, GW2 has a class storyline that you can play through, culminating in an epic battle with the dragon Zaitan. Depending on how you answered a few questions during character creation the early class quests will be different, until converging about half-way through the game. GW2 is also very solo friendly, allowing you to play most of the game by yourself if you so choose, although the last quest is a group one. GW2 has also take the usual quest-hub idea you see in most Wow clones and created something a bit different, with quests scattered around and not tied-into a specific area. There are also public quests akin to Rift’s, but with a bit of a twist to make them different: some are chains that lead to epic battles at the end. And I mean 40+ people fighting the end boss for 10 minutes epic. And you then you can fight the world dragons.

What You Get: Well, being buy to play, you basically get everything. so how do they make money? Easy: cash shop. In the shop are a bunch of cosmetic items and boosts, not to mention dyes to color your clothing and non-combat pets. But, the really evil thing ArenaNet has done is to implement the Black Lion chests. These chests will drop as loot off of monsters killed in the world. You open them with Black Lion Keys. Said keys are sometimes doled out as a class quest reward, but you can, of course, buy them in the shop. You’ll usually get common or uncommon items out of these chests, but sometimes you’ll get some really nice piece of loot, like a rare dye or crafting component. It’s very tempting to buy just a few keys because, you know, 20 chests in my inventory.

GW2 was the latest MMO our group played regularly and several of us hit max level and have multiple high level alternate characters. It’s fun to play in a group or solo, so leveling is very easy in GW2. As is typical, life gets in the way and some shiny new game comes along and we’ve basically stopped playing. But I still have a ways to go to explore the entire world so I definitely see myself playing again.


Defiance is the new kid on the block, having just recently launched in conjunction with the SyFy show of the same name. In fact, one of the selling points is that stuff that happens in the show supposedly affects the game and vice versa. It, too, is of the ‘buy to play’ type of game.

What’s Interesting: Defiance steps out of the fantasy mold and is unabashedly SF in nature. The idea that the show and game can affect one another is very intriguing, but I’ve yet to see anything really cool come from that idea. It’s basically been characters from the show appearing in an area and handing out quests. That’s really not that interesting. Defiance is also more of an action-y game than the typical MMO, plus it’s nice to have something different in the way of weaponry than your run of the mill swords and axes. Add in three different types of dynamic events and I really want to like this game.

What You Get: Well, everything again! Being only a few months old, I’m not sure what content updates have been applied, aside from the typical bug fixes and such. There is a cash shop the sells clothing, boosts and keys for lockboxes.

I played a little in the Defiance beta and was pleasantly surprised but what I found. It felt like Tera-light combat with bits and pieces of WoW and GW2 thrown in. But we were playing GW2 and I didn’t want to sink another $60 into a game no one else was playing. I still have concerns. The launch didn’t go very well, which is surprising since Trion runs Rift and they should have the experience to get it right. I think the initial shake down period is over, but I don’t see people raving about it. Secondly, the game is tied to the TV show. Now, the show has just been renewed for a second season, but what happens to the game if the show gets canned? What happens if not enough people play the game to make it viable? I’m guessing it’s easier for the show to move on without the game, but who knows? As I said, I am interested in the game. If it ever goes on sale I may check it out.

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