MMORPGs in 2021: Are They Making a Comeback?

Published: Oct 28, 2021 - Last Updated: Jul 25, 2023

In one way or another, the MMORPG has existed since the early 1990s. Admittedly, the original titles offered very different environments to the ones we know and love today, but they effectively kickstarted one of the most popular genres in gaming history. For almost two decades, the MMORPG vertical was strong, widely appreciated, and diverse, but eventually, a huge downfall in popularity swept in. Now, we’re asking the question about MMORPGs in 2021: are they genuinely making a comeback?

Let’s find out.

What Are MMORPG Games?

To put it simply, the term stands for: Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, and traditionally, it describes fantasy action titles set in huge, open worlds. If we were to pull one name out of the hat of MMORPG games that you might recognise above all others, it would be World of Warcraft.

Image Credit: WallpaperAccess

This beloved title has existed since 2004, and it has easily dominated the MMORPG space. In fact, according to, World of Warcraft is, without a doubt, the number one, most played MMORPG of all time. It’s the perfect example of a traditional MMORPG: many players online at the same time, in a vast, diverse world, grinding upwards through dynamic skill levels.

Technically, the meaning of MMORPG can be taken quite literally – if there are multiple players assuming a role in the same server at the same time, it’s an MMORPG. But, in reality, it goes a little deeper than that, incorporating various membership options, crafting components, complex combat mechanics, and team play.

Here is a list of some popular MMORPG games, for reference:

  1. World of Warcraft
  2. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
  3. Destiny 2
  4. RuneScape
  5. New World
  6. Elder Scrolls Online
  7. Fallout 76

Introducing: The Downfall

There are many reasons why, in recent years, there has been something of a downfall in MMORPG players counts, across the board. Firstly, gaming as a whole has become much more accessible, and right now, it’s estimated there around two billion gamers around the world. To answer the demand, many games released today boast short learning curves, snapshot stories, and rapid reward mechanics.

For example, Call of Duty – arguably one of the most popular video game franchises of all time. When you play Call of Duty, it’s a high energy, high reward experience, it takes very little to understand the game, and you can get involved in a matter of minutes. These days, it’s typical of the modern gamer to not want to sink many, many hours into an MMORPG learning the ins and outs.

Furthermore, esports events around the world have been huge boosts in popularity. With that information in mind, many developers have tacked on esports potential to their multiplayer titles where possible. In the MMORPG world, that’s almost impossible, as the sheer nature of the game isn’t conducive to competitive gameplay.

Although, with that being said, World of Warcraft has enjoyed several years of esports entertainment. You can go as far as to try betting on WoW, but the tournaments don’t receive the footfall that a Fortnite or CSGO competition would, for example.

These aspects, combined with the typical paid subscription models, expectations of grinding, and lack of a ‘modern’ aesthetic all led to the downfall of the MMORPG.

But, MMORPGs in 2021 might be coming back up.

Pushing Power into the Platform

In 2021, the best MMORPGs are making something of a valiant comeback. Recently, we’ve seen a resurgence in free MMORPGs such as RuneScape, but even paid MMORPGs are striding ahead in popularity. While the slightly older, more traditional MMORPGs like World of Warcraft have experienced a drop-off, newer titles are essentially blowing up.

Towards the end of September, Amazon’s MMORPG, New World, was released, to an overwhelmingly popular reception. It rapidly rose to become one of the most-played and most-watched games ever in gaming history, topping charts the world over. The playerbase exploded overnight, and within a month, it had amassed a consecutive player count of around 1.5 million users.

Image Credit: Square Enix

For MMORPGs in 2021, no title explains the resurgence better than Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. This platform was opened back in 2013, but in 2021, it’s marked as one of the best MMORPGs in history, and for some reason, the player count continues to rise at a rapid rate. As other MMORPGs such as Fallout 76 and The Elder Scrolls Online push in to fill the gaps, there’s one clear fact emerging:

MMORPGs in 2021 are definitely making a comeback.

On the other side of the coin, you can also look at how some other games, such as PUBG. For a while now, people have been asking, ‘Is PUBG dying?’

How to Get Started with MMORPGs

From free MMORPGs to mobile MMORPGs, there’s actually quite a diverse market out there. While you can’t partake in esports betting with almost every MMORPG released, you can, of course, get involved by actually playing the games yourself.

As developers start embracing the MMORPG genre a little more, we may see fresh titles on the horizon. While the single player, MOBA, and FPS multiplayer verticals will always be the more popular areas, there’s no reason why the MMORPG landscape can’t enjoy a comeback period.

Fortunately, you can dip a toe in the MMORPG water without parting ways with a single penny. Or, in some cases, you can use specific services to reduce the cost as much as possible. There are several free MMORPGs in 2021 that you can enjoy right now:

  • World of Warcraft (free trial)
  • Tibia (free account)
  • RuneScape (free account)
  • Guild Wars 2 (free account)
  • NeverWinter (free account)

If you want to step it up a notch and dive into some of the best MMORPGs in 2021 that require some form of payment, there’s:

  • The Division 2
  • Destiny 2
  • Fallout 76
  • New World
  • Elder Scrolls Online

Take This With You

Let’s wrap this up with a few tips that’ll help you explore the resurgence of MMORPG titles in 2021:

  • Be prepared to grind for XP, skills, and unlocks – these games are built for the long run.
  • Be aware of subscription fees that come with ‘premium’ memberships.
  • Be ready to meet new people, as the sheer nature of the best MMORPGs means you’ll regularly meet strangers.

As MMORPGs come back up in 2021, where will your journey begin?

Grant Taylor-Hill

Since: February 12, 2021

Grant is a lifelong, multi-platform gamer with a passion for journalism and more than ten years' experience in the industry. He'll try any game once, and when he's not playing them, he's watching them, being as he is an avid esports fan.

See all articles from this author

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