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The best, most popular MMOs to play in 2022 (and why they’re good or bad)

A new year often means new games, but sometimes the best ones are already out there – especially if we’re talking about the MMORPG genre. Here’s a list of 2022’s best popular MMOs to help you decide which one to play.

The massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) genre is something of a mouthful to say, let alone play. The choices seem pretty endless at times, but for those struggling to find the popular MMOs that best fit them, I have some recommendations for you. From the scholarly Summoners of Final Fantasy XIV to the blaster wielding Troopers of Star Wars: The Old Republic, there’s something for everyone in this genre.

For anyone looking to jump into a well-established MMO to start off the new year, I’ve got a list of the top five. As similar as some may seem, each is fairly unique in their own ways. But undeniably, what works for one person, isn’t necessarily going to work for another. So, with that said, let’s jump right into why these popular MMOs are still so successful and better yet, why you play them.

manaan star wars the old republic concept art best mmos popular mmos
Image: Star Wars: The Old Republic / Electronic Arts

Final Fantasy XIV Online

At the top of my list is Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV). Originally released in 2010, the game had some rough beginnings but was eventually re-released under the name Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in 2013. Since then it’s enjoyed a major expansion release every two years – with patches along the way, of course. Its most recent expansion, Endwalker, has seen a recent boom in the playerbase. For good reason too.

Much like World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy uses a tab-targeting combat system. Though this style of combat is tried and true, Final Fantasy has done it fairly well. It has a forgiving and slow global cooldown of 2.5 seconds and many of the classes feel incredibly unique.

What entices me the most, however, is the way that the damage classes are balanced. Rather than one class feeling pointless to play because of a severe lack of utility and damage overall, each one has its place and purpose. It’s one of the defining factors that has kept FFXIV on the top rung of contemporary, popular MMOs.

The story is a large part of Final Fantasy’s draw as well. Although you play the somewhat campy ‘chosen one’, the way that this MMO goes about it makes you feel invested. Every character has a purpose and each expansion is just as well thought out as the last. The story gradually builds upon itself, rather than making you deal with the biggest and most world-ending problem of the week.

But my absolute favourite part of Final Fantasy is probably its community. Pretty much everyone is kind to one another. They all understand that we have bad pulls, or unlearned mechanics to tackle. Best of all, its Sprout system for new players means that most folks will be extra patient whenever they spot that cute little symbol.

Few and far between are the toxic players who screech at you for low DPS numbers. In fact, those assholes are most likely to get kicked from the group instead.

What FFXIV may lack for some players is a proper, balanced Player vs Player (PvP) system. It’s not awful, but it’s clear that the MMO was made with PvE in mind for the most part, alongside its storyline.

Otherwise, everything else you’d want in a popular MMO is right here.

Guild Wars 2

Even as one of the older games on this list, ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 (GW2) can boast is persistent popularity even now. As another of the most popular action-based MMOs, GW2 set itself apart from its predecessors by offering players a stylistic choice based on class and weapon skills.

Much of the choices made by developers make this MMO one to remember and certainly a breath of fresh air compared to others. Best of all, the game enjoys ‘Living Seasons’ between the release of expansions, keeping things lively until End of Dragons’ upcoming release.

The best thing about Guild Wars 2 is its combat. The range of skills in each class, depending on which weapons you use, is a fun way to customise your gameplay. Spellblades, maul-wielding necromancers, and paladins with wands are all archetypes you can toy with at will. The ease of switching between one build to another makes this system incredibly fun and easy to navigate.

A lack of traditional tank, healer, and damage roles means that being boxed into one category is pretty damn rare too.

The PvP combat is just as good. In fact, GW2’s PvP has been hailed as some of the best out of all the popular MMOs about, and it’s not hard to see why. Though I’m not the most adept PvPer, even jumping straight into a quick round of capture the flag was enjoyable. Nobody felt too overpowered or punishing – just my own mistakes. If you’re looking for large scale warfare, World vs World vs World is also an option.

Another complete winner for me was the story itself. Every race has its own starting area and questline, with a few extra customised options thrown in for fun. Eventually, however, it all leads back to the overarching main story. The cutscenes themselves are uniquely animated and many of the characters within the story itself are fairly well written. Even if this MMO suffers from the very same ‘chosen one’ syndrome as many others, it’s executed well enough for my taste.

The community is also pretty damn helpful. Asking for a hand during certain events will usually net you a few extra hands and most folks are plenty willing to revive fallen, roadside adventurers. The chat in PvP was pretty chill too, making GW2 one of my preferred MMOs for newer players to the game itself, or the genre as a whole.

The Elder Scrolls Online

More commonly known as ESO, The Elder Scrolls Online was released back in 2014 and is still going strong today. With an expansion released yearly, alongside 2-4 DLC packs a year, the developers show a keen interest in maintaining ESO’s world. It’s even easier to see why this MMO remains one of the top dogs too, considering the action-oriented combat style and expansive choice in abilities and weapons. Better yet, the large world of Tamriel is at your fingertips here, instead of being stuck in the snowy tundras of Skyrim alone.

Although ESO’s combat system is far from perfect, it’s certainly lots of fun to play with. Boasting unending choices for your own style of gameplay, players are free to mix and match whatever weapon abilities and spells they choose.

That said, to dish out the most amount of damage you can, some builds are far superior to others. Likewise, some classes just have an easier time healing or tanking than others. Either way, it’s the perfectly timed dodge or split second blocks during solo play that really steal my attention.

Its PvP isn’t bad either. Running around in the Imperial City can be a great time as you fend off Daedric foes and players alike. Otherwise, it’s always fun to blast a friend or two during a duel while waiting for a dungeon queue. Speaking of dungeons, the PvE’s pretty fun too.

Most of the normal dungeons are fairly easy to get through, but those wanting a real challenge are sure to find it in the MMO’s Veteran mode, or in Trials.

The story is okay at first, if a little cookie cutter because of its ‘chosen one’ route. If it’s investment and intricacy you’re wanting in your solo MMO play, some other choices exist.

If it’s an aimlessly wandering adventurer, fumbling through catacombs and happening across ancient artefacts? Stick to side-quests! The shorter tales we’re told through ESO’s side-quests are a great substitute and personally? A preference for me. Fans and players familiar with the main stream of Elder Scrolls games will also find this playstyle more familiar – and perhaps more enjoyable.

A main draw of ESO is undeniably its housing – at least, I think so. Some folks don’t care if their hero lives in a hovel, or just wanders aimlessly from town to town. But others enjoy designing and decorating houses and castles that feel as if they’re apart of the world itself.

The creativity offered by ESO’s housing system and vast collection of placeable items is amazing to say the least. Especially for those who enjoy role-playing.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Even as the second oldest MMO on this list, Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) is nothing to scoff at. Its iconic Star Wars setting is one of the biggest draws for most players. But as one of the better sci-fi MMOs out there, I can’t recommend this one enough. Several expansions over the years show a vested interest in keeping the game alive – and there’s another right around the corner promising some pretty fresh new combat choices. Ones that I’m super ready to dive into myself.

The combat keeps to that good ol’ tab-targeting system, but it’s done decently. Most classes feel pretty impactful and I cannot get enough of the hilarious sound of my Smuggler punching someone in the face.

At the end of the day, both the PvE and PvP feel pretty good. The dungeon queues are amazing for DPS players, considering all of the normal ones can be finished with a full group of only damage classes. SWTOR’s PvP is one of my preferred places to go too – it’s simple, easy to understand, and rarely full of complete try-hards in casual matches.

SWTOR’s community is decent too. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but it’s not a vat of toxicity either. There’s some assholes running around and there’s definitely some kinder and more helpful people too. To the latter, I salute you.

Either way, newer players will probably find their questions answered, even if one or two sarcastic responses get thrown into the mix.

On the upside, the stories are some of the best I’ve seen in an MMO. At least, the beginning questlines are. Every single class, whether you’re an Imperial or member of the Republic, gets their own individual questline. Written by the Bioware members of old, a fair few of these class quests are some of the most enjoyable times I’ve had in solo MMO play.

Others are… clunky or somewhat boring, but the familiar dialogue wheel from Mass Effect lets you at least spit out some funny one-liners along the way. At the very least, I’d recommend playing through these quests.

My main issue with the game is its free-to-play lack of functionality, compared to the subscriber model. Too many systems and extra things like inventory space, hotbars, and outfit slots are locked behind a paywall. Worse, only subscribers can reach level 75, whilst free-to-play folks are left stuck at 70.

It’s an easy fix if you’re willing to bite the bullet and fork over the cash. I’d just recommend trying before you buy and dedicating yourself to this MMO specifically.

World of Warcraft / World of Warcraft: Classic

Although World of Warcraft (WoW) was hailed as the king of MMOs for many years, its position has been questioned of late. Some might even say it’s been usurped by FFXIV. As one of the oldest and most popular MMOs released back in 2004, WoW has enjoyed a steady stream of expansions and a loyal playerbase for just under twenty years.

Over those years, the game changed drastically and thus came the more recent release of World of Warcraft: Classic, allowing those diehard fans of the vanilla game to return to their roots.

WoW set a precedent in the MMO world. Many of the other tab-targeting based MMOs on this list utilise a system pretty much based off of WoW’s. With nearly two decades to perfect this system, it definitely shows in the gameplay itself. Dungeons are perhaps some of my favourite things to do in PvE. Especially considering the ever increasing challenge that Mythic dungeons bring. Likewise, it can be pretty fun running around and completing a bunch of side quests.

But the caveat here is a lack of balance. Every patch or so, a few DPS classes or specialisations drop dramatically in damage numbers and get… well, screwed over. The same can be said of PvP as well. Though WoW’s PvP is fairly simple for the most part, the lack of balance between classes and specs can be just as frustrating here too.

Storyline wise, WoW’s initial choices were far better than their more recent ones. Lately, our character feels as if they’re all powerful and particularly locked into the role of saviour. Whereas beforehand, players were one among many, all working together to save Azeroth from villains such as The Lich King.

Thankfully, a lot of the aspects that people found most enjoyable about vanilla WoW and its story content can now be found in Classic.

One of the most unfortunate parts of World of Warcraft though, is its toxic playerbase. Out of all the popular MMOs on this list, this one has the highest concentration of outspoken and unhelpful individuals. It’s sad, honestly.

People focus too much on how another DPS is parsing, often shaming them in front of a whole dungeon or raid. Other times, it’s a case of a simple misclick that turns into a wipe and a slew of profanities. A little understanding or even some constructive criticism would go a long way, you know?