Here I go, here I go, here I go again. Girls, what’s my weakness? Non-human races. But oh, so many MMOs let me down in that department.
Now, let’s be fair: I greatly enjoy the usual array of races present in most fantasy stories, which consists of five reliable stalwarts (humans, humans with pointy ears, short humans, short humans that are different from the other short humans, and big humans). And there are games that have done great things with the usual suspects. Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV have both done great work in making sure that the playable races are all seen as people by the game’s cultures, and there’s nifty stuff to unpack there. I like elves, even.
But I’m always super happy to find races that are really out of the box and can’t simply be pigeonholed into the categories that I’ve seen before – or if they can be, they’re at least interesting about it. So here are races from various games that are just plain cool.
I honestly believe that Draenei, as a race, are so awesome that World of Warcraft doesn’t really know what to do with them. It doesn’t help that the race has one of the most boring conceivable leaders in a game full of boring leaders. But this nigh-on immortal race that looks demonic, acts angelic, and has been fighting against the greatest threat to Azeroth’s continued existence since before that threat actually existed? That’s pretty cool.
Draenei also have a very distinctive design that also feels entirely consistent. They’re not flawless, and I think they tend to get painted that way in the game because again, the writers aren’t totally sure what to do with them. They’re intensely alien, unlike much of anything that I’ve ever seen, and I’d be surprised if the Tieflings of Dungeons & Dragons didn’t get nudged into their current prominence partly because of the Draenei. (And because Planescape is awesome, but that’s another discussion.)
Always high on my list of nifty races, Sylvari got a big push when it was revealed that the entire species was basically a mole for an elder dragon toward the end of Guild Wars 2‘s second season of storytelling. Suddenly, not does the race have an interesting perspective on the game world on account of being the youngest sentient race in play, but it also has to deal with the fact that it’s a collective threat to the world as a whole.
I also like plants, so that helps.
When I was young, I wanted to be a robot when I grew up. I would still like to be a robot right now. The singularity can’t come fast enough. Seriously, if I could get my brain uploaded to a robot body, I’d volunteer so quickly that it wouldn’t even be funny. I’ve been ready to leave this meat-sack behind for about seven decades now, and I’ve only been alive for a bit more than three. Like, have you seen me? My flesh-and-blood body is ridiculous.
So, yeah. Mechari from WildStar. Sentient hunks of metal. That’s sort of my thing. I’m also down with the various androids in Phantasy Star Online and points related. Basically anything that’s robotic sparks my interest.
4. Au Ra
Adding a new race to Final Fantasy XIV seems like a bad idea just on basic principle. It’s a game all about having one character whom you develop extensively over time; a new race just slows you down on that path. So while the Au Ra aren’t everything I’d like, the fact that the game added a new race which works gets major points.
I’m not fond of the gross sexual dimorphism on display (seriously, the game calls it precisely that) or the fact that we still don’t have a whole lot of insight into auri culture at this point. But they do look good, and they work, and we even had the race seeded for a good long while with Yugiri trimming up the edges. Plus, you know, they’re nifty lizards.
All right, I’m going to be totally fair and say that the Castanics get on the list more for what the race is trying to do than for TERA handling it pretty well. Because I’d argue that TERA‘s attitude toward sex, sexuality, and provocativeness is pretty darn juvenile… but credit where credit is due, the Castanics are one of the only races I’ve seen where the idea of provocativeness is actually baked right into the race as a whole.
Seriously, the Castanics are both designed and portrayed as being the antithesis of prudish reticence, and that’s commendable on some level. It’s a different take on the concept than you see in most MMOs. I’m hoping that at some point in the next decade we see more games tackling the issue of sex and sexuality in a mature fashion, and while I’d argue the Castanics don’t, the fact that the attempt was even made deserves a nod.
Yes, Tyria shows up here twice, although if you want to be cheeky you can insist that I’m just referring to the Charr in the original Guild Wars. I dig the Charr for several reasons, one of which being the simple fact that I’m a sucker for making a previously antagonistic race into an ally. They’re also keen cat-minotaur people, which is just cool in concept. And their home in Guild Wars 2 is the sort of thing you can use as a base for lots of roleplaying.
Seriously, the Charr have every right to be there, and humans who previously lived in Ascalon also have every right to be angry and possibly want them gone. I’m a sucker for conflicts with no clear right side.
7. Anything you can imagine in Star Trek Online
Star Trek runs itself partly based on the strength of this week’s rubber-forehead alien. That sounds like mockery, but it’s really not; the franchise as a whole can either show us something familiar or something completely unheard of. So I was curious about how Star Trek Online would handle that collision of letting you play established races versus playing something really out of left field.
The way it is handled is both satisfying to me and, I’d argue, really cool. My main was a Cardassian captain more or less from the start of the game, and I’ve always been very satisfied with the fact that the game gives me the tools to make a captain of whatever one-off species you want. I’ve known people playing Tamarians, Hirogen, Romulans before the expansion, and countless other unknown species. There’s a lot of variety there, and if it has any weaknesses it’s the simple fact that more options would be nice.
Undead races are interesting to me. Robots, as mentioned above, are interesting to me. So what do I think about undead robot-ish folks in Allods Online? Well, go ahead and take a wild guess.
I suppose it’s a bit debatable whether the Zorai qualify as a completely different race, exactly, but I like them a lot. Admittedly, this has way more to do with their aesthetic than any actual narrative traits, but if I had to pick one reason to play Ryzom, the Zorai would be it. (I choose not to play it anyway.)
10. Sentient tanks that roam the world in World of Tanks
You know, I’m not fond of the gameplay conceit, but the idea of a world populated by sentient tanks is – wait, you mean that’s not the fictional conceit of World of Tanks?
Jeez, why else would anyone play it?