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


  • hagelbreaker - May 26, 2010 10:46 p.m.

    The lower graphics requirements the more people can play WoW and therefore more money to Blizzard.
  • Jesse1066 - May 26, 2010 11:01 p.m.

    Yet they might also benefit from having higher settings that actually look good.
  • Doctalen - May 26, 2010 11:05 p.m.

    My only question is are any of these actually good?
  • rav3 - May 26, 2010 11:15 p.m.

    guild wars is, totally, without a question
  • Ridgley - May 26, 2010 11:18 p.m.

    It's not hard to look better than WoW. Also, Allods looks like a WoW clone art wise.
  • sabian4005 - May 26, 2010 11:48 p.m.

    Now, I'm not defending WoW, but I can say without a doubt that the graphics you displayed in those images are not on any of the highest settings. It's a six year old game and showing it's age, this is true, but Bliz did try to up the graphical prowess with WotLK. The most obvious mistake is that none of the characters in those pictures have shadows, so no, your graphics were not on "high". Anyway I quit WoW a while ago for lack of time, but seriously if your going to compare apples to apples graphically, at least support your claim with the settings really maxed out.
  • notallgoodnameswheretaken - May 26, 2010 11:53 p.m.

    Is Allods good? I've never played an MMO game before (except for runescape several years ago), but I've heard they're good, and this one is free and seems to have great graphics.
  • TheHolyHandGrenade - May 27, 2010 1:04 a.m.

    Random fact: me and my neighboors all play the same MMO in the summer. Its called Flyff and its pretty good but its grindful
  • Jubileo - May 27, 2010 1:09 a.m.

    I know you need to write stories, but in all honesty either you are on a crappy computer or simply intentionally pasting crappy low reso pics of WOW.. Links below show the true grahpics of WOW
  • GameCraze - May 27, 2010 1:18 a.m.

    Agreeably, Allods Online is really epic graphic-glory. Idk, no offense to people who play WoW, but the game has been associated with those who are addicted to videogames with no lives. Other videogames can have other impacts. No one where I live ever calls a person a nerd for playing Modern Warfare 2... Strange world we live in.
  • GamesRadarTylerNagata - May 27, 2010 1:26 a.m.

    Updated the last page with an image of the video settings screen along with details about the rig we used to run WoW when capturing assets for this article.
  • HunterX - May 27, 2010 1:28 a.m.

    Nice list Tyler, I have one more to add to your list. Perfect World International.
  • mgkyo666 - May 27, 2010 1:56 a.m.

    I wanna play Guild Wars and Allods! Tyler, any advice on what PC I should purchase since I'm pretty sure my old, slightly broken(nicknamed "Old Bastard") PC just wont do.
  • CH3BURASHKA - May 27, 2010 2:04 a.m.

    Nice PC specs. MMO's are a goddamned waste of time: after years of investment, your character is more of a responsibility rather than an escape from the real world. I'll take a 60 buck game over an MMO any day.
  • CrashmanX - May 27, 2010 2:35 a.m.

    @Jubileo you do realize that those are for the unreleased Cataclysm correct? As in WoW doesnt look like that for the general public yet.
  • theschwartzb - May 27, 2010 2:45 a.m.

    Good graphics =/= good game.
  • JohnyApplesperm - May 27, 2010 3:01 a.m.

    Allods is imo better than wow, it also has a cool steampunk/teslapunk look. also, the league can suck my Johny Applenuts, FOR THE EMPEROR!!!!
  • Gobblemeister - May 27, 2010 3:18 a.m.

    Higher Graphics quality also means it takes a tougher PC to handle it. I don't think a PC as basic as mine could play something more graphically powerful than WOW.
  • PhantomDave - May 27, 2010 4 a.m.

    It really doesn't take anything to run Allods cranked specs-wise, and it still looks that much better than WoW. Allods really does look amazing. As far as gameplay, there have been some recent tweaks to it's UI and what have you making it more smooth than when it launched, but it's a pretty good game. For a free game it's well worth a try. The Arisen alone are worth the price of admission. LOL As for Guild Wars....something about that game just never caught on with me. Graphically it's amazing in a quasi-emo sort of way, but I don't know...I never got into it.
  • Spybreak8 - May 27, 2010 4:02 a.m.

    Gah the day I uninstall Guild Wars I read this article. I need to show my friend who keeps telling me why it's smart to pay money monthly for WoW this article. Haha well off to play some more RDR again. I did bookmark Allods though.

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