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The holiday season. It's often cold and dark outside, you likely have some time off from work/school, and there are only so many family gatherings you can realistically attend before losing your mind. The perfect time to play some MMOs and waste a few hours just running around grinding, looting, and leveling up. To help you decide which game to play, PC Gamer's editors have put together a list of what they think are the best MMOs currently on the market. These MMOs are neatly arranged across four categories: theme park, sandbox, story-focused, and PVP-focused, and as such offer a broad range of options for you to consider.
A few examples:
World of Warcraft
Release Date: November 23, 2004
Payment Model: Subscription with DLC
No other MMO has had a greater impact on the genre and the entirety of videogames as a whole quite like World of Warcraft. For that reason, putting it anywhere but first on this list just doesn't feel right. Though it might be getting on in years, World of Warcraft continues to surprise with expansions. Legion, its latest, liberally borrows ideas from Blizzard's other games like with the new Diablo 3-esque 'Mythic+' dungeons. Goodbye to grinding the same dungeon for the umpteenth time, as Mythic+ adds a weekly dose of chaos by giving monsters deadly new abilities as you race to beat the clock for extra rewards.
Whether you love dungeons, raiding, player-versus-player battles, or just exploring a wonderfully charming world, World of Warcraft has you covered. In Legion, Blizzard really drives this home with weekly activities like PVP Brawls with whacky rulesets like no gravity, Timewalking events that let you revisit old expansion dungeons for cool loot, and World Quests that help you accomplish something meaningful even if you only have 20 minutes to play.
World of Warcraft's problem has always been that people just want more and more of it—and Legion comes pretty close to adding too much to do. The design of its endgame content is superb, featuring bosses and dungeons that always prove why Blizzard is the king of what it does. The path to its throne is littered with the bones of would-be usurpers, but World of Warcraft's unparalleled zeal for bringing the world of Azeroth to life is a force to be reckoned with.
Release Date: May 6, 2003
Developer: CCP Games
Payment Model: Free-to-play with a premium subscription
When you think of modern sandbox MMOs, there's only one place to turn: EVE Online. The 14 years that EVE has been around could fill the pages of a textbook (actually, it kind of has)—but only if you're studying How to Lose Faith in Humanity 101. Its reputation for being a callous, uncaring universe was forged over a decade of war, betrayal, and scandal. But that same spartan culture has also given birth to the kind of camaraderie you'll never find anywhere else.
EVE Online is obtuse and complex as hell, and there will be times where you'll stare at the screen, clueless of what to do. CCP Games gone to great lengths to make EVE easier to understand, but your best teacher will always be the sting of failure. The good news is that last year EVE Online started offering a free-to-play option, letting you dive into its sandbox with a limited set of ships and skills to use. They've since expanded the program, giving free players even more choices of what ships to fly.
Those who persevere will find a whole galaxy of possibilities at their fingertips—and really, that's always been EVE's greatest accomplishment. It's truly a living world where those with the will to rise to the top can find a way—even if that means using all those daggers in the back of the people who trusted them as a foothold.
The Secret World
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Payment Model: Free-to-play with DLC
When it comes to telling a great story in an MMO, the entire genre has something to learn from The Secret World. Not only does it abandon the generic fantasy aesthetic for a gritty contemporary one, it also ties so many different themes together—from the illuminati to vampires—that it shouldn’t make any damn sense, but miraculously it does. Not too many MMOs can say they've borrowed from the pages of Lovecraft and The Matrix and made it work. And like Lovecraft's best, The Secret World is a bizarre page-turner that will have you digging deep to unravel all of its mysteries.
That love of a tale well told is best demonstrated in The Secret World's investigation missions, which require donning your detective hat to search the internet for clues to decipher puzzles. You'll pour over Wikipedia pages and through backwater websites hunting for that one piece that will make the whole picture come together. Earlier this year, The Secret World relaunched as The Secret World: Legends, revamping a lot of the game's weakest systems like combat. The overhaul doesn't necessarily fix everything, but it does go a long way to making The Secret World more enjoyable for newcomers.
Guild Wars 2
Release Date: August 28. 2012
Payment Model: Buy-to-play with DLC
When it comes to player-versus-player combat, few MMOs can ever aspire to do it better than Guild Wars 2. For those wanting a more traditional experience, structured PvP lets you fight in team deathmatch and objective-based modes in that focus on skill and coordination. And then there's the world versus world mode, where different servers come together to wage war across sprawling maps with hundreds of players at once. Participating in sieges and large-scale battles is the kind of fantastical fulfillment you dreamed of as a kid, and you won't need to grind for a hundred hours before you can participate either.
The heart of what makes Guild Wars 2 fun to play is all in its action combat, which emphasizes dodging and movement instead of memorizing complex skill rotations. You'll weave in and out of range of your opponents while unleashing flashy abilities—of which there are many to choose from. Each class is quite flexible in how you want to play, giving theorycrafters enough material to chisel away at their perfect build. With the launch of the new expansion, Path of Fire, there's no denying that PvP took a hit from various balancing problems, but ArenaNet is already making adjustments that will hopefully continue to keep Guild Wars 2 at the top of the dogpile.