It’s 2020. The shops are full of 4K and 8K ultra-high definition TVs, and Sony even sells a 16k model now. The latest smartphones have more cores than ever, and laptops without SSD hard drives are so last decade. New video games make use of the latest technologies to provide often almost photorealistic graphics on huge maps that load in seconds.
That’s all well and good if you can afford the new technology, but what if you can’t? Don’t fret – we’re here for you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got your nan’s hand-me-down battered old tablet, a laptop thicker than an encyclopaedia, or if you use your family computer (the one with that fan that sounds like a hairdryer). We’ve curated this list of MMO games for low-end PCs that still stand half a chance of running on that potato you call a computer.
Some of these games might be a little older and they might not have the shiniest graphics, but they are all active, and many of them are still receiving updates, patches and new content.
We can’t guarantee that these will all run perfectly well on max settings at 60fps, but if you dial down the graphic settings and try a few out, then we are confident you will find a game that takes your fancy and works with your modest set-up.
Without further ado…
RuneScape (and Old School RuneScape)
An obvious first entry to the list: RuneScape. RuneScape is the world’s most popular free to play MMO with over 250 million players registered. This absolutely massive MMORPG will be familiar to anyone growing up in the early 2000s. I have fond memories of setting my alarm at 6am just so I could get up and smelt ore before school, on what is now known as Old School RuneScape.
Here is RuneScape in a nutshell for those of you who grew up later (or for those who spent the early 2000s living under a rock). It is a fantasy-based MMORPG set in the land of quests and treasure: Gieliner. There are 27 fun skills, and the more you learn the further you will get in the exciting adventure. The world is huge, with cities, towns, shops and dungeons.
For those of you interested in taking a nostalgia trip into the Old School RuneScape servers, it might not be exactly the same as you remembered it. Game developer Jagex have harnessed the power of community: any new content updates (and there have been plenty in the last ten years) are decided by community poll.
Another absolute behemoth of an MMORPG. With this being a list of older games, generally only the biggest and best tend to survive! EverQuest is a free-to-play fantasy MMORPG released around the turn of the century. It is a vast and complex game, and totally enjoyable to play solo or as a group. The graphics are reminiscent of a PS2 or Xbox game – not necessarily something you could describe as elegant beauty, but it gets the job done all the same.
Players can live out their fantasy lives in the realm of Norrath, whether that might be exploring the massive world, battling monsters, finding loot in dungeons, and making friends (or foes) in battle. Just like the previous entry on the list, if you’re planning on diving into EverQuest to reminisce those times you used to play, you might notice a few differences – you can even own your own house now. The game is frequently updated, and at the date of writing has a grand total of 26 expansions.
Guild Wars 1 & 2
Guild Wars saw immediate critical acclaim on its release in 2005, and won countless ‘Best Game’ and ‘Best RPG’ awards.
The game has an instanced approach to gameplay. For those not familiar, instancing in MMO games refers to different zones that are loaded separately as a new copy of the original. It is often used to generate dungeons or non-shared spaces within MMOs. There are arguments in favour of using instancing to improve gameplay, but some also argue that there can be a negative impact by making the game feel unrealistic or not genuine. Regardless, there is one thing that instancing does well: helping the game to have lower computer specification requirements.
The graphics in Guild Wars can be described as basic, but still manage to capture a certain beauty. And Guild Wars 2? Slightly less basic and slightly more beautiful! The second version of the game is also much more active, with most players having moved across.
The original Guild Wars is now in “Maintenance Mode”, meaning there won’t be any more updates. Given the reduced player numbers, you may find it few and far between even bumping into anyone! Having said that, there are still friendly guilds, and perhaps your technical hardware will limit your options to the more graphically basic Guild Wars 1.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
Having graced our presence in 2011, Star Wars: The Old Republic is still very much going strong. This free-to-play sci-fi MMORPG is set in the Star Wars universe, in space. The MMO does feature PVP action, but the game is primarily focused on the (Han) solo experience (puns aside, the game does not actually feature Han Solo).
There are hundreds of hours of fantastic free-to-play story content, so you won’t run out of things to do any time soon. The game is a great experience for new and experienced gamers alike, although any super active players should note that after the hundreds of hours of existing content, updates are now few and far between.
At the time of release, the game was estimated to be one of the most expensive MMOs ever made. That large development spend certainly did something right though – within three days of game launch SW:TOR had over a million subscribers.
You can choose to play as one of eight different classes, each class with its own three act storyline. In addition to class, a player chooses allegiance to either the Galactic Republic or the Sith Empire. Regardless of whether you choose the typically good Republic or the evil Empire, you can still select your own morality anywhere on the light/dark spectrum.
Each player gets their very own starship, and each class gets five companions during the storyline to assist with tasks like resource gathering or crafting. The game now has seven expansions, with the latest being released after a three year gap in 2019.
Whether you’re a Star Wars fan, or you just like the idea of piloting your very own starship through space, we highly recommend giving it a try. And if need any more of an incentive, the games have released some of the best game trailers ever made.
A Korean... and Welsh game? Sure – why not? To be more precise, this is a Korean MMORPG developed by devCAT studio, with game locations loosely based on Welsh mythology. In fact, the name Mabinogi comes from the Mabinogion – a real-world Welsh anthology of legend written around 700 years ago.
This MMO game features a unique graphical style, using edge detection outlining and hand-painted textures to create something of real – but slightly bizarre – beauty. Released initially just in Korea in 2004, the popularity of the game led to its gradual roll-out across the world. This game also makes use of instancing to create different zones of play, reducing hardware requirements, and making Mabinogi a perfect contender for this list.
Playable races include human, elf and giant, and each will start the game in different places on Mabinogi’s three different continents. The game is very much skill-based (fishing, magic, tailoring, first aid, music, cooking etc), and this lends itself to the combat system as well.
The game isn’t all about combat though. Players can create and customise their own homesteads, giving them a space to relax or farm and fish. There is a big social aspect to the game, whether that be inviting your friends to hang out at your homestead, composing and sharing music, or just kicking back and chatting around the campfire.
The game is still plenty active, with a feeling among players that nothing similar has come along since. If you fancy a vibrant, colourful and open-ended game with a friendly active community, give Mabinogi a try.
These should all run and play on low-end computers. We don’t promise that they will run perfectly at all times with a cluster of 200 people having a magic spell battle at 60fps, but then that depends on where exactly your PC is on a scale of potato to toaster. Each game featured has slightly different hardware requirements, so if you find that one doesn’t work then just try another. Who even needs a graphics card anyway?