Elsword is a unique take on the MMORPG genre, considering that it’s 2-D. This free to play title was released in 2007 by KOG; however, there’s no meteoric rise to talk about; the player base is small but loyal.
There are plenty of games like Elsword. However, none have made decisions so detrimental to their longevity. At a time, Elsword had many pits for players to fall in and spend money on the game, and one such pit was making an item essential to multiplayer PvP accessible only through real money. The game also hid skill slots assigned to each character behind a paywall. Hell, the costumes for your characters used to expire, forcing players to spend real money if they wanted to “look good”.
Don’t let that fool you though, underneath it all, there was a quality game that was a wet dream for a 2-D, beat them up, player. Featuring an extensive array of characters that has only grown significantly with time, all characters have their own quirky personality and require the player to learn their moves. Characters also aged as they level up, which I wish more and more games would do. It’s always cool to see a character age signifying a passage of time.
Like Nier: Automata (another title I wrote a piece about), Elsword features an Anime art style with vivid and colourful visuals that is just flashy enough that it doesn’t detract from the action. The game at one point was so popular that it got its own anime, which I haven’t watched, so I won’t comment on.
The game also has a PvP aspect along with the PvE, and it is a sweaty arena filled with players who have played the game since launch. Trying to get into the PvP of Elsword in 2021 is a tough challenge; it’s akin to racing against F1 drivers without knowing how to shift gears. That’s not to say it’s a lost cause. The community though small is pleasant, friendly and willing to help newbies with anything.
The game has since dropped some of its greedy practices of paywalling pretty much everything necessary to succeed in the game, it’s an innovating 2-D side scroller, and there’s much fun to be had even in 2021 with the developer still updating the game for its fans, however, don’t think you can just jump into PvP like some of the games in the list. No, there is some gacha-esque grinding to be done (and by some, I mean a lot) before you can head on to PvP and have a chance to go toe-to-toe with that one guy who’s been playing since beta.
So, without further ado – Here are games like Elsword.
1. Grand Chase
At the time of release, Elsword’s player base primarily consisted of ex-Grand chase players. That’s because Grand Chase and Elsword are like Counter-Strike 1.6 and Source; A definite upgrade to a pre-established gameplay loop. However, things changed in 2015 when KOG announced they were shutting down the servers for Grand Chase, and Level Up Games bought the rights for Grand Chase.
As such, both the games are identical at code, but Level Up did somethings’ different. They allowed progress without requiring any real money. While spending real money was still incentivised, players would have an easier time grinding for in-game currencies than Elsword or the older Grand Chase. Level Up Games also respected the previous developers and, as such, made no changes to their characters and designs, which is always a good thing when trying to retain the old player base.
There’s not much to add here. They are essentially the same games, 2.5-D, sidescrolling RPGs with a heavy influence of gacha games. I won’t recommend this game because as time has gone by, updates and balances have been made that don’t have the best intention in terms of gameplay balancing.
The game suffered from the opposite of what a power creep is, instead of newer characters being more powerful (which is still something I still dislike but a more usual form of power creep). The older characters are becoming stronger thanks to different systems not meant for them being introduced to the game.
2. Dungeon Fighter Online
Dungeon Fighter Online is a Free to play 2-D MMORPG, very much like Elsword and Grand Chase. DFO is very similar to older side scrollers like Cadillacs and Dinosaurs in art style. It features a gameplay loop of going into a dungeon and clearing it for loot and XP, very similar to Diablo (and the slew of clones that followed it). The controls feel responsive enough to make the gameplay exciting.
However, the game is limited by its fatigue points mechanic, which is assigned to each of your characters. Though they replenish every day, it seems a little redundant to change characters to enjoy more of the game as this inhibits progress. You could, like the previous titles, always drop some cash (In true gacha fashion).
There’s not much to add here honestly, it’s a 2D sidescroller beat them up, and that’s its strong suit; however, the fatigue points are a big letdown (for me, at least).
3. Charlie Murder
Charlie Murder is a relatively unknown title unless you’ve actively looked for quality side-scrolling beat them ups. Best played with friends, Charlie Murder is an Action RPG 2-D Beat them up released four years on PC after its initial debut on Xbox in 2013.
The game has a unique art style with a death metal like soundtrack, and while the controls aren’t the best on keyboard & mouse, it’s very intuitive on a controller.
The gameplay loop is similar to any side-scrolling beat them up game, involving item drops on the field to boost stats and also an overall RPG like character stats progression in the forms of tattoos. Charlie Murder is a lot of fun in the co-op setting it was meant for, and for an indie title, it’s very polished if you have a friend to play with, Charlie Murder dishes out a blast of a time and plenty of replayability.
Brawlhalla is one of the more successful smash bros clone to come out in recent years. Developed by Blue Mammoth Games and published by Ubisoft, Brawlhalla is a PvP 2-D free to play game available for every device known to run games.
While it has no strict RPG progression, as you level up a certain character, you’re allowed to mix and match the stats to suit your playstyle.
There are 53 playable characters (or legends) in the game to choose from. All have unique signatures (heavy moves), but normal light attacks are shared in accordance with the weapon the legend wields.
Brawlhalla has a growing esports scene and plenty of people playing it online at any given time. If you liked the PvP aspect of Elsword, Brawlhalla has an even more intricate combat mechanic which doesn’t require you to open your wallet to have a winning chance.
However, Brawlhalla has little to no story (only in the form of written lore in character bios) and pseudo-RPG mechanic, which allows progression by getting better with a character but doesn’t ignore the competitive integrity of the game.
Overall, Brawlhalla is a fun to play PvP game and has been one of my better experiences in the genre.
5. Castle Crashers: Remastered
Castle Crashers is more like Charlie Murder than Elsword, but the quality and success of the game warrants its inclusion on the list. It has an appealing art style with nice tunes to go with them.
Best played with four players who are out on an adventure to save four princesses, encountering many enemies and innovative 2-D bosses along the way. Castle Crashers’ combat can be as simple as spamming the attack button to juggling your foes in the air as they are rendered harmless. Once the juggling mechanic is mastered, players can then look into the unique combos they can pull off, which are very satisfying to discover and pull off the first time.
Castle Crashers also features RPG mechanics allowing you to use your gained XP at the end of each level to improve basic RPG stats (Damage, HP, Magic and, Dexterity). Still, it’s made less tedious by having certain milestones in each of the stats bars that unlock new magic abilities for your character. There is also weapons and pets in the game that boost your stats or give you buffs.
The game features plenty of game modes other than story and even allows two players to fight against each other. However, like Charlie Murder, Castle Crashers is best played with friends.
6. ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights
Ender Lilies would have been higher on this list, but the fact that it’s not a multiplayer RPG game makes me want to place it lower.
If I were to compare the two, it would be like comparing Skyrim with Darksouls. While both are third-person ARPGs, the former allows you to get immersed in a living, breathing world as you bask in the glory of being the hero of Tamriel.
The other is a test of skills that might seem unfair to most people who did not bother to pay more attention to the game, but those who did pass the trials and tribulations were allowed the opportunity to experience one of the most gorgeous looking places to embrace the 7th generation consoles in the form of Anor Londo.
My comparison of Ender Lilies to Dark Souls is not limited to the context of this article; Ender Lilies features similar gothic tones with overarching lore, which, while not as intricate as Dark Souls’ does leave you satisfied. It also features a similar Metroidvania-esque world; you unlock more of an area by progressing forward.
For gamers looking for a more atmospheric and serious tone, 2-D RPG will surely love Ender Lilies.
7. Path of Exile
Path of Exile is another Free to play MMORPG game. However, it’s more Diablo than Elsword. It features a topdown camera as you go through the world with your admittedly weak character, but as you go forward, you could be the reason for the boss music.
Path of Exile is a fairly hardcore take on the ARPG genre that shouldn’t deter casuals or unseasoned players because there’s a little bit of something here for everyone. As long as you have some experience in RPGs or are willing to learn, you won’t get stuck. Those who don’t want to do the necessary planning for their character will have a far tougher time.
Path of Exile, unlike most RPGs, doesn’t feature a skill tree but actually features a skill web. A mechanic that it has since made popular amongst other RPGs.
There is a story in the game, but honestly, the chapters are better used as milestones for progress than for any story content (This is my opinion, and frequent readers might know I care very little for story over gameplay). PoE has a very solid player base compared to the previous 2 MMORPGs I discussed, and with solid Diablo-like gameplay and a skill web (tree) that is not only unique but extensive, PoE encourages trial and error and replayability. Honestly, for a free to play title, PoE is a no brainer.
Gamers of the time predicted the 2-D genre would die off when PS1 came to the market and games like Resident Evil made their way to everyone’s home. However, thinking that a 2-D game does not deserve the same seriousness or cannot be as good as a 3-D game is being naive, and the 2-D MMORPG niche, while it may not have a lot of players, it still has a range of excellent titles to choose from and loads of fun is to be had.
There are many other 2-D side scrollers in the market, like Super Meat Boy and Hollow Knight however, for the purpose of this article, I have only incorporated quality MMORPG/RPG titles, and while PoE is not 2-D, it has very deep RPG mechanics and lore for players to get into.