Mabinogi is a Korean MMORPG developed by Nexon and released in 2004. Being an almost twenty-year-old game, the market for MMORPGs was very different and experimental at the time. The game had a unique take on the genre; instead of limiting stats to certain races or classes, players were free to level up and invest in skills of their choice.
Additionally, there were many social activities that you could participate in with other players and make new friends, including campfires or just sharing food. Mabinogi indeed aimed to be an extension of a player’s life in a virtual world.
Mabinogi provided players with a non-linear path – becoming a sell-sword was just as viable as becoming the head chef for a town. In fact, the game encouraged players to take on roles that were otherwise considered menial and offer them equal rewards as someone who plays the game more traditionally.
Of course, the game is not easy; in fact, picking it up and going through the tutorial is barely enough to get going with this one. Instead, I’d recommend using Google and find guides made by seasoned veterans to understand the game better. However, this sandbox nature of the game was very appealing to many people, and at its peak, Mabinogi had over seven million users.
Mabinogi is a unique experience, and it’s one of a kind. Not many games can replicate the feeling of freedom in doing whatever you want. You could be a blacksmith, chef, or a traditional RPG hero; the choice is entirely yours. However, for a game so unique and appealing, it has its own share of problems.
In 2011 a hacker started using a glitch that allowed them to invite people to their tent and delete their character from the servers. Players lost all the grind and progress in a second. While Nexon was quick to respond and patch the exploit, it was already too late for the player base since most of them had lost all their progress with no hopes to get it back. The community dubbed this incident very popularly as the black robe incident, the most significant cause for the game’s decline.
Another reason why the game has lost a solid player count is because of the monetization and microtransactions. Sometime after the black robe incident, Nexon called to change their market economy, making grind tedious and some items impossible to get; players who didn’t leave because of Black Robe left because of what the game was becoming.
There was a time before when free to play didn’t automatically mean low tier games with grindy end-game content, and Mabinogi would be one of the best examples for a good free to play game, but unfortunately, it ended up matching the description by the end of its life.
Although there are not much games like Mabinogi, I’ve tried to include some that share at least one or more similar elements with Mabinogi.
As I said, there are really no alternatives to the game. Mabinogi provided a unique experience to the players, and though the servers are not live anymore and in places they are, the game is heavily monetized.
Mabi.pro is a custom private server for the game. The community is very well alive, consisting of over 200 unique players and custom content being added frequently.
Mabi.pro is also a region-free server, so practically anyone from the world can join in and have fun.
2. MapleStory 2
MapleStory 2 is perhaps the closest game to Mabigoni; it was released in 2015 and developed by NSquare in association with Nexon and NCSoft.
MapleStory 2 features a third-person perspective and visuals similar to Minecraft with blocky aesthetics. Like most mainstream RPGs, the game features level progression like Mabigoni and allows players to equip various armaments and weaponry. However, MapleStory 2 stood out from other MMORPGs by including PvP arenas and even a battle royale mode, making it an exciting and competitive experience.
MapleStory 2 closed some of its servers in 2020, including servers for the West and Japan. The game is still accessible in other regions, though, and I’d advise players to look at MapleStory’s monetization before deciding to plunge into the immersive sandbox.
3. Old School RuneScape
Anyone who’s into the MMORPG scene has heard of RuneScape. It is considered one of the biggest MMORPG since the dawn of the internet, with the first version coming out in 2001. Old School RuneScape (OSRS) was released in 2013; it improved the 2007 version of RuneScape that was replaced by RuneScape 3.
While Mabinogi and OSRS are different games, the way they handle skill-based character progression is similar. If you enjoyed the relatively free and sandbox experience of Mabinogi, you’d surely love OSRS.
OSRS plays in an isometric top-down perspective and is played in a point-and-click fashion. The core gameplay loop is similar to any other RPG; players must talk to NPCs to get quests and finishing quests to level up and acquire points to invest in character progression.
However, OSRS has many activities like cooking, crafting, smithing, mining, fishing, etc. That makes it more comparable to Mabinogi as a social platform to find like-minded people and make new friends.
OSRS is a tonne of fun, but it is not a completely free to play experience; some of the content is locked behind a paywall, players can download and try the game, but accessing some of the mid/late game content would require dishing out some dollars for a subscription.
4. Project: Gorgon
Project: Gorgon is a relatively newer title that aims to enable players in finding their own path through exploring the world and sandbox mechanics. The game was released in 2018 on Steam’s early access, where it enjoys a steady player base.
The game has mechanics that are unseen even in the most popular AAA MMORPG; for example, all NPCs in the world have their own personality and interests, the quests they give will widely differ and sometimes be morally grey.
While in the end, they are just side activities, Project: Gorgon takes a step forward in humanizing these NPCs, making accepting a quest something to be pondered on rather than blindly accepting every quest you can get.
There are also mechanics in the game that are specifically there to help out newer players, like seasoned players who are getting rid of their equipment because it is too low-tier for them can be picked up from the shopkeeper by a newbie. Most MMORPGs don’t allow trades like this as it limits their money-making ability, and it was a pleasant surprise to see such a basic mechanic being implemented in the game.
Of course, the caveat is Project: Gorgon is not a free to play title, but on the plus-side, it’s not pay to win either.
ArcheAge is another Korean MMORPG that was released in 2013 and developed by XL Games. The lead developer Jake Song dubbed the game as a “Sandpark” game, explaining that it has sandbox mechanics with the structured experience of a theme park.
ArcheAge features a 3D world that can be explored in a first or third-person perspective, and it is undoubtedly the best looking game on the list, all thanks to Cryengine (Crysis, Hunt: Showdown) that really makes the game world feel alive.
In addition, the game features many mechanics that are more fleshed out than most mainstream games; there is a crafting system that allows players to craft anything from standard tools to vehicles. Furthermore, the housing system enables players to build their own houses and decorate them with cosmetics.
ArcheAge is a game that makes it essential to play with other people to win, and this includes securing trade routes and keeping them safe from the other two factions who might try to attack it. These ships need to be built from the ground up and equipped to be ready to battle, if not against playable factions, then against AI-controlled sea monsters.
ArcheAge is a fleshed-out MMORPG experience, and while it doesn’t offer the same freedom as Mabinogi, it still provides more than the standard MMORPG.
Minecraft on this list might be confusing for some, but for those who’ve played Mabinogi, they might understand why. First, let’s get the obvious out of the way, Minecraft is not an MMORPG.
However, it is one of the biggest sandbox games out there, allowing players to craft anything and collect resources to progress their gear and upgrade their base, or perhaps the player doesn’t want to engage in that and just start their own farm.
Minecraft has plenty of online servers that allow players to play the game differently and however they enjoy it. While there’s no skill tree or end game to look forward to, the community is lively and polite, and there are plenty of people to meet here and make friends.
Minecraft offers no RPG mechanics, but it does provide a social setting where you can go off on an adventure with random internet strangers.
7. The Elder Scrolls Online
And for our final game on the list, The Elder Scrolls Online might not feature the same sandbox experience, but if you’re looking for a lively MMORPG with good content and regular updates, ESO might be right up your alley.
The game offers plenty of newly added content, and although the title is not free to play, it more than makes up for it by having polished gameplay and spectacular visuals.
It’s not Mabinogi, but it is the closest thing to it in the mainstream range of MMORPGs.
There is an appealing aspect to MMORPGs, they allow players to lead a separate life in a virtual world where they can make friends and do activities with them. It’s a great way to escape from the problems of reality for a bit and go slay dragons with your friends.