MMOs are massive in so many ways. Across hundreds of games, they bring in 10 billion dollars a year and have audiences that expand well into the tens of millions. In just World of Warcraft, players have collectively logged more time than our species has spent evolving on this planet—over 6 million years. But beneath those hours is the beautiful ideal that anyone from anywhere can become anything within the confines of these virtual worlds (and grind out some epic loot in the process).
We've come a long way from the text-based multi-user dungeons of yesteryear. So to celebrate that awesome lineage, we've rounded up the best MMOs that you can still play today. Whether you want to kick ass as some sort of human-cat hybrid or conquer the galaxy as a ruthless dictator, the MMOs on this list represent the best the genre has to offer. To make things easy, we've broken this list down into categories that really get at the heart of what makes each of these games exemplary.
A special note: an incredible number of MMOs have played a critical role in shaping the genre, but many of them are much older and less populated than in their better days. For that reason, we're focusing on MMOs that still have a lot of life left in them, rather than those that are slowly winding down or have already run their course. But if you want to relive your glory days in Ultima Online or Everquest with classic servers, who are we to stop you?
Table of contents
The best "theme park" MMOs: Online games all about killing bosses and grinding gear.
The best sandbox MMOs: MMOs that, above all else, embrace freedom and consequence.
The best story-focused MMOs: Worlds that have tales worth telling.
The best PVP-focused MMOs: For when you'd rather kill another player than another monster.