FREE MMOs that look better than WoW

How important are graphics to the MMO genre? Make your game look too amazing and you’ll limit the number of players who own a rig that can run it. Set the bar too low, and your game will look like a throwaway Flash title.

It’s been about six years since World of Warcraft released in 2004 and we’ve been wondering how the aging king of MMOs stacks up against some of its free-to-play competitors. So we set our video settings on high and took some screenshots to find out. Check out some of our favorite grindy games with graphics that look as good (or better) than World of Warcraft - minus the monthly fees. None of these free-to-play games look amazing, but after seeing how they stand up against one of the most profitable and popular MMOs in the world, they certainly look more than acceptable.

Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited

European players still need to pay a monthly fee for the privilege of playing Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited (DDO). But since 2009, DDO has been free-to-play in the United States. Micro transactions and subscription fees are optional on these free US servers run by Turbine, but add extra features and perks to your player account, like being able to cut to the front of the login queue line. DDO received mixed reviews, but at least its archers look better than the Blood Elf Hunter pictured below.

Above: DDO (left). World of Warcraft (right). Not all ranged DPS classes are created equal 

Play Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited 

Free Realms

We’ll take World of Warcraft over a casual romp through Free Realms any day, but even though it’s challenging to compare Free Realms’ slightly more cartoony art style against WoW’s, you have to admit that Free Realm’s plain pony is looking pretty good when compared to our Paladin’s epic steed. Fishing looks better, too. Check out those softened shadows in the Free Realms image and compare them against the jagged edges on the arms of our WoW avatar.

Above: Free Realms (left). World of Warcraft (right). Look at how muddy the ground textures look in WoW when compared to a similar area in Free Realms 

Above: Free Realms (left). World of Warcraft (right) 

Play Free Realms 

Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online

Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online (also known as MegaTen) is a Japanese MMO based on the popular JRPG series; it was launched for North American audiences by Aeria Games in 2008 - and is probably the only MMO where seeing a schoolgirl with a shotgun and a giant pet demon isn’t unusual. MegaTen also looks just as good (if not better than) WoW. Compare these two feline mounts and decide for yourself.

Above: Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online (left). World of Warcraft (right) 

While we’re on the topic of Aeria Games, we’d just like to take a moment to point out that they have one of the friendliest communities we’ve encountered.  Part of it has to do with the company’s GMs. They regularly coordinate special in-game events and interact with players. It’s not uncommon to see GMs cruising through low level zones to help newcomers. But the usual MMO elitism amongst players doesn’t seem as common in MegaTen. From our experience, it was always easy to find friendly (and helpful) players for groups at hubs.

Above: Aeria Games is always doing fun stuff with their players. Sometimes we wish Blizzard would loosen up and let their GMs play with their customers the way Aeria Games does

Play MegaTen

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000
  • sticks4god1 - May 4, 2011 11:38 p.m.

    To add something it may also be because of the graphics card why they are so low not just because of the game.
  • Fallen_Pumpkin - May 30, 2010 8:30 p.m.

    I would also like to add, that these WoW screens are NOT on top graphics Yeah WoW graphics aren't on par with the others, but they are NOT that bad on full specs, especially on DK's and in Northrend.
  • Fallen_Pumpkin - May 30, 2010 8:27 p.m.

    You forget, WoW perposly has a lower graphic setting becuase its suppost to be a casual MMO for all ages, not everyone has a hihg spec PC/Mac and WoW runs smoothly on full settings on an average home PC, unlike the others. Also, graphics aren't everything, its all about having fun! Most of these games are just boredom wrapped in nice graphics.
  • TheGodEmperor - May 30, 2010 1:15 a.m.

    I kinda hope WoW will finally get a graphics upgrade is probably coming soon. Hell, water graphics and mechanics are improving come Cataclsym. The thing is, all the examples you gave don't have the polish in gameplay and mechanics and the large servers with nearly entirely open world roaming as WoW does :P that's why it remains king (For now). though nothing is perfect.
  • Jubileo - May 29, 2010 9:50 p.m.

    @crushman, it looks like that now in Northrend, all the pictures he is comparing are in old content, meaning not the northrend nor BC areas with the exception of the gay blood elf area. He is taking screenshots of low end starting areas. I dare you too take on in northrend and ICC.
  • Jubileo - May 29, 2010 9:44 p.m.

    All I'm saying is the Screen Shots that he is posting of WOW are no where near the quality my computer shows while i'm playing. I could care less if he posted a stupid screenshot of his settings. Wow i can do that too! Just look at the particles on the ground, no where even close to what I see when I play the game.. I'm not denying the graphics are not on par with most games, but taking crappy screenshots and comparing them to other games is dumb
  • Arcangel143 - May 28, 2010 8 p.m.

    This is wrong on oh so many levels. I play WoW enough to know that either your lowering settings as you take the screenshot, which is very easily doable, or the screenshots you are taking are very low res. I play with the settings at about 75% max'd out, and its like 10x better then the screenshots you have provided. I can easily tell just by the shoulder armor and how fuzzy the character models look, because mine are ALWAYS very clear and clean. Also, graphics =/= good game
  • itlnstln - May 28, 2010 5:15 p.m.

    well, at least Blizzard can say that it looks better than Runescape....
  • Simper - May 28, 2010 3:10 p.m.

    olololods online better than wow?)))))) woltk better. realy
  • sarlacc000 - May 28, 2010 11:48 a.m.

    WoW also was released in 2005 with a graphics engine from this time. Most if not all of these other games have come out since then with newer and better graphic engines. Perhaps if they were to compare WoW to other MMO's of the same time they would find the graphics were more concistant. It's a testiment to Blizzard that they could make a game such as WoW which has had such a strong following for the last 5 years that people would continue to play it even though the graphical engine had lagged behind many modern improvements made to other games.
  • DrillurSimpson - May 28, 2010 12:52 a.m.

    I think that WoW's strengths lay in displaying everything in like a mile or more radius all at once. (Depending on where you are, the fog may be thicker or none.)
  • Deckard5627 - May 27, 2010 10:05 p.m.

    I think that Star Wars The Old Republic will be the best mmorpd when it is released.
  • Hurricrane - May 27, 2010 9:06 p.m.

    I loved Guild Wars... but Allods I tried because a friend told me about it and it is AWFUL.
  • yayer - May 27, 2010 8:21 p.m.

    guild wars is a good game. it has good graphics and good gameplay. the only dissapointment is the buildings , which u cant go into
  • spideralex90 - May 27, 2010 4:41 p.m.

    This might count as off topic, but anyone know of a good sci fi mmo that will hold me over until SW: The Old Republic comes out? Preferably free, but i may be willing to pay a bit.
  • kor2disturbed - May 27, 2010 4:37 p.m.

    Tyler Nagata has some of my favorite articles on CP. There always so freaking interesting, plus there usually about MMOs
  • reveffect - May 27, 2010 4:05 p.m.

    you hit one of the major reasons why i like to play more free to play mmo's than WoW. not that they tend to look better but the fact that a lot of people in WoW are elitist a holes who get pissed at you and call you a noob instead of helping you to get better at the game. not that there arent any people like that in other mmo's but i run into more of them in WoW than in any other mmo i have played.i have more fun playing games like megaten, mabinogi, and guild wars because the people are friendly and helpful and the GM's actually get involved in the game as well and pull off fun events. there are nice people in wow but they are few and far between.
  • notallgoodnameswheretaken - May 27, 2010 12:52 p.m.

    Also, I'm new here and wondering how you reply to comments. Do you just do it yourself and put: @examplecomment?
  • GhettoReaper88 - May 27, 2010 10:07 a.m.

    completely a piece of trash, games dont soley matter on graphics and anyone who has posted seriously tell me that they have never for the fun gone back to an old ps1 or ps2 game for fun exactly, wow isnt about graphics its so big that they fall short there instead they have the biggest fan base and the most player and you know why that is, its because compared the the other crap mmo games represented here WOW has a hugh back story that bring players in, hell i remember reading Warcraft fiction before wow and loved it that is what got me wanting to play so stop your bitching gamesradar and find something more useful to review. Ghetto Reaper88
  • johnprezioso - May 27, 2010 7:15 a.m.

    Funny thing about "Free" MMO's ---> they don't end up being free. I think I'd rather pay for the game than be spammed with sales pitches for microstransactions.