Even though sci-fi has been ever popular in movies and video games, it lacks quality MMORPG titles. Instead, most MMORPGs dwell on fantasy settings, perhaps due to the popularity of Diablo or the lack of logic required to write a fantasy tale.
Believe me; it’s far easier to explain every weird, even as magic, than attempting to explain it with science.
Whatever the case may be, Sci-fi MMORPGs, especially quality ones, are a rarity. Some of the better ones are a mix of Sci-fi and fantasy, featuring extensive plasma-based weaponry with spaceships, but the overarching narrative tends to gravitate towards fantasy cliches.
Again this is most likely due to the relative easiness of writing a fantasy story versus a science fiction story because fantasy allows writers more freedom, but Sci-fi requires some basis in reality.
Regardless of the reasons, I have compiled titles that are either MMO or MMORPGs that feature sci-fi as a core component for this list.
In addition, I have tried to include games that aren’t extremely paid to win or unpolished; however, I think we have to set our expectations a little low due to the nature of MMORPGs.
1. EVE Online
EVE Online is perhaps the most popular Sci-fi MMORPG, developed by CCP Games and released in 2003. Upon release, the game was praised for its expansive scale (thanks to its space-based setting) and complex mechanics.
Honestly, this game feels like something out of Ridley Scott’s Alien minus the Alien part. Players can indulge in several activities like mining, manufacturing, trading, etc.
While most players should look for opportunities to level up and get more powerful, the game is mainly team-based.
It takes a lot of players to work together, to say, manipulate the economy or wage an all-out war on a different faction.
The game also holds the record of the most significant battle called “The Bloodbath of B-R5TB”, where thousands of players went to war which lasted a whopping 21 hours.
Although there’s a drawback to this game, it’s not easy on new players. While most MMORPGs protect new players from the stronger veteran players by not allowing them to combat with each other or walling off certain areas for the new player. EVE has no such restriction.
While this also means more freedom for the player, it opens up avenues for hostility, so keep that in mind before jumping in.
But if you wanted to play a Blade Runner-esque sci-fi MMORPG with off-world mining and space-battles, this is it.
2. Anarchy Online
Anarchy Online is another classic Sci-fi MMORPG. In fact, it’s the longest-running Sci-fi MMO around, developed by Funcom and released in 2001.
The developers continued to push out massive expansions till 2009, so like EVE, there’s a good amount of content here to keep you hooked for days on end.
That’s not where the similarities end though, while the size of the game is much smaller compared to EVE’s Anarchy Online requires players to team up to finish specific objectives, the number of players needed ranges from small-sized squads to full-on large-sized battalions.
Like most MMORPGs, the game world has hub cities full of events that players can participate in and role-play in social areas like nightclubs.
Anarchy Online also allows players to create their own missions and share them with other players. This is great since the grind for level progression consists of 83 different skills that players can master.
Overall, it’s an excellent Sci-fi MMORPG, and if you’re not into EVE’s whole space-based setting, Anarchy Online is a great alternative.
3. Destiny 2
Destiny 2 is one of the more recent but highly popular MMOFPS developed by Bungie and released in 2017.
The game is a mix between sci-fi and fantasy, featuring mythic elements. While it’s not true sci-fi, the game more or less plays like a true sci-fi with an arsenal of sci-fi inspired weapons and armor.
The core gameplay loop revolves around players progressing in the story to unlock new areas and equipment to level up their character and become increasingly powerful.
In addition, players can partake in PvE and PvP activities. The PvE aspect requires players to team up and go on dungeon raids together, which usually end with defeating a boss and getting loot depending on the dungeon’s difficulty.
The PvP is fun and competitive, thanks to the robust gunplay and overall polished gameplay; expect it to be sweaty at higher levels, though.
Although Destiny 2 is not an MMORPG, it’s a great sci-fi MMO experience. If you like First-person shooters, give this one a go.
Ryzom is a sci-fi/fantasy MMORPG developed by Nevrax and released in 2004. Like Destiny 2, the game mixes sci-fi and fantasy elements, however, leaning more towards fantasy.
Unlike previous titles in the list, this game doesn’t support PvP at all. Focusing solely on PvE isn’t so bad, though, considering it’s a freemium game, so there’s never really a reason to subscribe to get a leg up unless you want to skip the grind.
The game features a rewarding and somewhat complex levelling system. As players level up, more sub-levels unlock for each stat; for example, after reaching level 20 in magic, future points will be rewarded to either offensive magic or defensive magic stats.
Ryzom has a reasonably organic world, too, in that the NPCs have different AI depending on their race/species; while it’s not RDR2 levels of realism, it’s not wise to expect that from a game from 2004. Still, it’s better than most games at that time.
It’s a great game and a well-balanced experienced; newcomers will indeed have an easier time here than in EVE Online, that’s for sure.
5. Vendetta Online
Vendetta Online is a sci-fi MMORPG developed by Guild Software and released in 2004. It’s a unique title that features gameplay more reliant on the player’s mechanical skills than the points assigned on their character sheet.
Set far in the future, when humanity has achieved interstellar space travel, players are allowed five professions to choose from, each with their own experiences and objectives.
Like EVE Online, the game is essentially a lot of trading and shooting in space.
However, this game features complete freedom in movement and robust physics mechanics, so much so that the game even features a racing mode.
In combat, mechanical skills come into play, requiring players to lock on and shoot at moving targets in space.
You essentially end up with space dogfights, and again thanks to the physics engine, they are thrilling and satisfying.
The game has had a lot of content updates over the years and is even available in VR, which honestly makes it the best way to experience it.
Overall I recommend this to people looking for a challenge more than what a traditional MMORPG offers and, of course, people who like space battles.
Warframe is another shooter MMO developed by Digital Extremes and released in 2013.
Unlike Destiny 2, which shares many similarities with this one, Warframe had rocky beginnings, but with enough updates, the game has seen steady growth in player numbers.
The gameplay is a hybrid of FPS and RPG with some stealth mechanics thrown in for good measure.
The game follows a linear story around the player character – an ancient warrior awoken in the distant future and a war against three different factions, an alien race, a mega-corporation and Skynet-like AI.
It’s a dystopic cyberpunk setting, and the story is interesting enough to see it through.
The gameplay is excellent but not as gratifying as Destiny 2’s; still, I think both games are pretty enjoyable in their story and gameplay.
7. Elite Dangerous
Elite Dangerous is yet another space-based first-person MMO developed by Frontier Developments and released in 2014.
The game is not strictly an MMO and can also be enjoyed in a single-player, albeit online; this can come in handy since, like EVE Online, the game sports open-play gameplay, meaning that no action is considered grieving.
Of course, newbies might have a tough time here until they learn how to defend themselves and identify hostile ships.
The game offers an excellent variety of spaceships and armor, and weaponry players can customize it with; the world looks quite beautiful and feels vast as players travel from station to station participating in trading, mining etc.
The core gameplay loop of performing jobs to get money and investing in your ship truly never gets old.
Thanks to the fantastic graphics and freedom in movement, it never makes any task tedious (at least not for the better part of the game’s early stages).
Customizing the ship and upgrading it feels like a genuine accomplishment, and it shows the difference in gameplay as players slowly become stronger not only with the upgrades but also mechanically improving as they learn the game.
Overall it’s a great addition to the space-based MMORPG niche and has a lot more activities than its contemporaries. Elite dangerous is a no-brainer if you don’t mind the grind or the open-play gameplay.
Well, that’s my list for Sci-fi MMORPGs, a sadly, relatively unexplored genre in the medium.
There are plenty of others that came and went; these are the ones that stood the trial of time. Hopefully, you found something that piqued your interest.