Elves. Dwarves. Humans. Halflings. Gnomes. Hobbits. Dark elves. High elves. Half-elves. Wood elves. Keebler elves. Elvish impersonators.
Are you as tired as I am of the endless regurgitation of stock fantasy races in our MMOs? It seems inconceivable (I do not think that means what you think it means) for a new fantasy title to come out without most of the above races infesting the character creation screen with moldy unoriginality, putrescent stank, and dusty boredom.
That’s why today I’m standing up to praise 10 MMOs that dare to go above and beyond the stale by offering mostly unique and different races than the rest of the market. Hopefully future games will learn from their example and throw off the yokes of generic oppression to give us something bold and refreshing!
EverQuest II: Ratonga
Little rat-people aren’t a huge staple of fantasy, but they are there — for example, Narnia’s Reepicheep or Warhammer’s Skaven. However, most MMO gamers think of EverQuest II’s Ratonga first and foremost when anything small, furry and tenacious is mentioned.
Now I’m a little leery of EverQuest’s habit of merely anthropomorphizing anything the SOE crew saw at the zoo the weekend before, but I have to admit, rat-people are pretty cool. Really, any victory on your part as a Ratonga means utter humiliation for the forces of darkness — “Dude, you got your butt handed to you by a RAT!” — and that feeling never leaves you.
Lord of the Rings Online: Spider Weaver
This may be a bit of a cheat for this list, as the Spider Weaver is only playable in LOTRO’s PvMP (Player vs. Monster Player) area, but it is a character class that can be grown and developed — so I’ll let it slide. I’m so very generous to myself.
While giant spiders are an extremely tired MMO cliché at this point, it’s a whole new bag when you’re allowed to pilot one. Playing a spider — is there anything more wicked awesome? Spins a web any size, catches Hobbits just like flies — look out, here comes a Spider Weaver!
Win or lose in the Ettenmoors, at least you have the knowledge that your mere presence will send a good chunk of the population into arachnophobic fits.
Allods Online: Gibberlings
If Allods Online is known for anything these days, it’s for the Gibberlings. Sure, that word sounded like you were talking shop with a preschooler, but the concept was — and is — pretty far-out for a playable race.
Basically, any player who rolls a Gibberling gets not one, not two, but three playable minions under his control, three minions who fight and act in concert. It’s like you have your own party of sword-wielding guinea pigs, and if children’s television taught us anything, it’s that the smaller the package is, the more unstoppable it becomes.
World of Warcraft: Draenei
For such a stock MMO, World of Warcraft does fairly well in offering up a few interesting alternative races, such as the Forsaken, Tauren, and Worgen. But for my money, it topped the charts with The Burning Crusade’s Draenei — space-demon goat-people.
Sure, the Draenei were as much mocked as they were loved, interstellar blueberries they, but they brought an aura of refined technological power and strength to a game populated by mostly naked Night Elves gyrating on postal service property.
Dungeons and Dragons Online: Warforged
Constructs. Robots. Golems. Totally boss. DDO’s Warforged are all of these and more. While the Eberron campaign setting offered a number of unusual racial choices, Turbine stayed pretty traditional save for the iconic Warforged. Not only does this race have quite a few excellent bonuses (and oddly enough, it’s one of the most preferred Wizard races), but the “look” sets these characters well apart from the Elves, Humans and Halflings. They even have a pretty tragic backstory to boot.
Dark Age of Camelot: Kobold
Seriously, what’s up with fantasy and sci-fi races being blue? I guess green looks too reptile-y, red too demon-y, and yellow too lemon-y, so authors and creators look at the few remaining Crayons in their boxes and pull out blue on a consistent basis.
Even so, the small blue Kobolds of DAOC not only take tiny races in a new, not-photocopying-Hobbits direction, but also give props to one of fantasy’s most endearing races. Kobolds are everywhere in MMOs, but only this game lets you play one. Excalibur!
Ultima Online: Gargoyle
Superheroes may perch on them to look all stoic and broody, but gargoyles are spectacular in their own right. Fortunately for us, Ultima Online took the initiative to make them a playable race, which means that animated dolls (Class Skill: Bed Wetting) are not far behind.
Fun fact: Gargoyles have no hair. Not that you were asking.
Asheron’s Call: Undead
During the long course of our in-game combat careers, I think that many of us look at the mobs we’re fighting and occasionally wonder what it would be like to play as that race instead of the one we’re currently manning. Asheron’s Call, like most fantasy titles, was replete with undead creatures — but the game also allowed you to become one, full on shambling corpse and everything.
It’s nice to see the formerly evil Undead try to become upstanding members of society, but I’d imagine that there are a few stumbling blocks to being truly accepted by those around you. One small misstep by jokingly saying “Braaaains!” at a potluck dinner, and out come the chainsaws and cricket bats.
Guild Wars 2: Charr
What’s a Charr? Imagine a kitty cat that got fused with some sort of beast that specialized in outfit clipping and then took a minor in steampunk. It may not be the most popular race of this game due to its unusual posture and propensity to spit hairballs everywhere, but people who do play Charr in Guild Wars 2 swear by them for how delightfully different they are.
Istaria (Horizons): Dragons
I’ll admit, for an MMO that disappeared off the radar almost immediately after launch, Istaria aka Horizons had one incredibly nifty idea in its noggin: playable dragons. One might think that a Dragon would have a hard time with normal MMO conventions — wearing armor, visiting gift shops, entering populated areas without becoming the target of a 72-person raid — but somehow Istaria-formerly-Horizons made it work.
After all, who doesn’t want to be Puff the Magic Dragon or Falcor the Luck Dragon?