Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG for Short) are one of the most addictive and engrossing genres in videogames, capable of making some individuals treat the game as a full-time job and replacement for their social lives. Unfortunately, it is this same addictiveness that prevents a large number of the population from properly trying them out, as a lot of people find it hard to invest the amount of time and effort needed to enjoy an MMORPG.
Thankfully for these people, there are a few MMORPGs that are just as enjoyable as anything that's out on the market, but aren't huge time sinks. Best of all, they are free and don't need any purchases to enjoy.
The World's First Action MMORPG: Cabal Online
Cabal Online, which has servers in Asia and Europe, has been dubbed as the first "action MMORPG," and while the veracity of the claim cannot be proven, it is true that it is one of the first online RPGs with combat that doesn't devolve into random clicking while hoping that your stats are better than your opponent's.
Its main selling point is its Combo System, which factors in timing with attacks much like a rhythm game. How good you are with timing will decide whether your attacks will hit or not and just how strong it will be. Additionally, the combat involves blocks, interrupts, and canceling so there is no way you can fight with an experienced opponent if you just blindly launch your skills. The Combo Function is optional, so casual players who are not interested in PVP and high-level competitive play can just treat it like a normal point-and-click RPG.
As for its tendency to appeal to busy people, Cabal Online doesn't require any grinding for skills and experience. There is an option to do that but if you just want to breeze through the game, you can get alz (the in-game currency), experience points, and equipment by doing the main story quests exclusively, which are surprisingly good if not for the poorly translated English.
Some fans have reportedly managed to reach level 100 in 10 hours of non-stop play just by doing quests - level 100 being the point that is considered as endgame because you no longer have any story quests to do and must resort to dungeon raids, PVP, or other competitive events to advance. There's also no need to socialize (although playing an MMO is kind of silly if you're going to treat it like a single player game,) because almost everything below level 100 can be played solo. The rest can be played with a party or by grinding a little bit.
If there is one downside to Cabal Online, it's the fact that the customization features are limited, as equipment is specific to certain classes, and there's usually only one kind appropriate for any given level. There are unique costume options, but you have to spend real money to get those.
In a way, the limited gear customization option works to its advantage if you don't have much time for playing, as you don't need to worry about what to wear or how to farm equipment. Just buy the equipment that is appropriate for your level and be on your merry way.
Play as Someone Who Looks Slightly Similar to Batman: DC Universe Online
DC Universe Online is produced by DC Comics/Warner Bros and Sony Online Entertainment, but don't let that fool you into thinking that you'll finally get to play as your favorite DC superhero - Superman, Batman, Wonderwoman, and all the other licensed characters are mere NPCs (although there is a game mode where you can play as the heroes themselves during PVP). Your character will be someone who lives in the same universe as them, with specific powers that are modeled after some of the superhero archetypes.
DC Universe Online's greatest asset is its game engine, which is a modified Unreal Engine 3, which means it looks properly current gen and will run on any gaming PC purchased within the last 5 years. The engine also allows for massive sandbox environments, where traveling from one end of the city to the other while flying in supersonic speeds will still take a good few minutes.
Gameplay-wise, combat in DC Universe Online reveals that it was developed with consoles in mind, as it plays better and more responsive with a gamepad, but it's still workable with a mouse and keyboard. Combat is more of a beat-em-up than a point and click, but success will still depend on stats and gear.
As for how friendly it is to busy people, the game's maximum level is only 30 - and you can get there in less than a week just doing quests and joining raids and instances. That's not to say that the game ends in a week. The real fun starts when you reach max level, because that's where you'll be able to join other players as they hunt bosses, raid dungeons, and fight against each other.
Gear customization is also fairly decent, and it has one unique twist to it - once you get a new equipment and wear it, the look of that specific gear will now be available even if you change to a better one. This allows for extensive customization and doesn't force you to adopt a new look if you want better stats. Each costume also allows color customization or even an invisible setting, like say - if you want the stats that come with a mask but don't want your hero to cover his face.
Play as Daredevil's 368th Clone: Marvel Heroes Online
Serving as Marvel's answer to DC Comics' DC Universe Online, Marvel Heroes Online is an online action RPG that can best be described as "Diablo 3 with Marvel skins," as it plays exactly like the third person isometric point and click, only with your friendly neighborhood Marvel heroes as characters instead of the usual medieval fantasy archetypes.
Marvel Heroes Online is friendly to time-strapped players not because it has a limited amount of character levels to achieve, but because said levels don't really matter much. You will rarely face enemies that you aren't strong enough to beat if you're paying attention to where you click, and even ultra powerful Boss enemies that you can't handle solo will be manageable, because there's usually other players wailing on the poor little villain at any given time. It may seem unfair, but there's a certain amount of joy to be had as you try to get a few hits in on Venom, while a bunch of other heroes are hitting him with everything they got.
Unlike DC's offering, Marvel Heroes Online lets you play as the official characters like Thing, Daredevil, Storm, Hawkeye, and Scarlet Witch from the start, with the rest of the 100+ available heroes being available for unlock as you progress later in the game and collect "eternity splinters." If you have more cash than time, you can purchase the other heroes instantly through the in-game shop using real money.
Visually, the game is a marvel (no pun intended), as it runs on Unreal Engine 3 as well, along with the Havok Physics engine. The heroes look like their comic book counterparts and the lighting effects are some of the best you'll see on MMOs, though it does get a little heavy on the requirements compared to the other games on this list.
The biggest downside to Marvel Heroes Online is the lack of customization. As proof that DC had the right idea when they prevented players from using official characters, it gets a little boring and completely takes you out of roleplaying when you see 5 other heroes who look exactly like you running around while you're hunting a villain. There are in-game costumes available but it hardly solves the problem, since all it means is that there are now 5 other heroes who look like you, while wearing a different shirt.
These are just some of the more popular and accessible examples of MMORPGs that don't require a huge amount of time investment nor money to enjoy. There are other examples out there, and judging by the popularity of MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arenas) like DoTA and League of Legends, MMO makers are starting to realize that they will be able to reach more people if they create games that can be enjoyed even if you only have an hour or so of gametime available every day.