Underused Race Archetypes
by Tyler Edwards, August 4, 2013
Some months back, we took a look at some of the more underutilized class archetypes in the MMO genre. But classes aren't the only area where there are concepts that have yet to be given the proper level of attention. The worlds of sci-fi and fantasy offer many iconic and interesting racial archetypes that have been neglected by the MMO genre.
As before, we'll also be listing some of the games that do feature these rarer races, should you suddenly find yourself wanting to play them.
Pretty much every MMO seems to boast at least one "tiny" race. Be they Hobbits, Haflings, Gnomes, Goblins, or whatever else, there always has to be a few child-sized adventurers running around. But oddly, it's much rarer to see games go to the opposite end of the spectrum and include giants as a playable race.
The reasons for this are almost certainly issues with world design. Doorways need to be large enough to fit all playable races, and twenty xfoot avatars would complicate this rather severely.
But giants need not be enormous. They just need to be noticeably larger than the other races. Perhaps they could be explained as half-giants, or an offshoot of humanity with enhanced size and strength.
Guild Wars 2 features the Norn, who are a Norse-inspired race of giants, and EverQuest and EverQuest II both offer ogres as a giant like playable race.
Plenty of MMOs feature anthropomorphic races based on various animals. Considering how common that is, it's odd that few MMOs feature one of the oldest and most storied anthropomorphic fantasy races: the werewolf.
Depending on how you want to interpret the archetype, werewolves can be savage brutes or noble beings struggling to overcome their curse. Either way, they're a great option for anyone looking to play a character with some intimidation factor.
It seems odd that MMO developers would neglect this archetype. It's not as if shape shifting is a great technical challenge - many games already feature it as a mechanic for some class or another.
If you long to adventure as a werewolf, your best bet is going to be World of Warcraft. Its Worgen are essentially werewolves by another name.
MMO races tend to be predominantly land based. Races native to the water are almost unheard of, leaving a major source of untapped potential for interesting races.
Of course, this makes sense. Very few MMOs have any significant amount of underwater content, and it would be a bit odd for an aquatic race to spend all its time on land.
But it seems like there could still be an opportunity there for a developer willing to display some creativity. Merfolk - mermaids and mermen - are a pretty common concept in fantasy, and they'd make for an interestingly different aesthetic from the usual MMO races.
Perhaps they could be given webbed feet instead of the traditional tails, and a backstory that explains their foray onto land. Perhaps they were driven from the depths by some terrible monster - that could also provide a good setup for a raid or two.
Perfect World International offers an acquatic race called the Tideborn, but otherwise, this isn't an archetype you're likely to find in MMOs.
Robots are one of those things just about everyone likes. Whether you're a fan of friendly machines searching for their humanity or prefer nightmarish killing machines with no soul and no remorse, everyone can find a robot to appreciate. Good luck finding an MMO that lets you play as a robot, though.
Robots are another casualty of the MMO genre's fixation with fantasy. As a primarily sci-fi concept, playable robots are almost unheard of in a genre mainly composed of fantasy games. One could imagine some steampunk or magitech inspired machine races in fantasy MMOs, but admittedly, it's a bit of a stretch.
If you long to play as a machine, just about the only option is going to be the Warforged of Dungeons and Dragons Online. They are magically created race of wood and steel that is as close to robots as you're likely to get in fantasy. Alternatively, you could wait for the release of the science fantasy MMO WildStar, which will offer a playable race of robots called the Mechari.
When it comes to single-player games, it seems you can't swing a cat without hitting a game whose protagonist is some kind of genetically or cybernetically enhanced super soldier. But for some reason, MMOs tend to only let you play the vanilla model of human.
Perhaps it's because this archetype usually only appears in sci-fi, and most major MMOs are set in fantasy universes. Or maybe MMO developers feel it would be too challenging to make enhanced humans look distinct from ordinary humans.
Still, it could be made to work. With so many fantasy games now having some kind of magitech twist, it's not hard to imagine a race of steampunk inspired cyborgs making an appearance, and magical enhancements open up the door to all kinds of fantastical possibilities for enhanced humans. Imagine a race infused with the elements, with skin hard as stone, hair of fire, and eyes that flash with lightning.
Star Wars: The Old Republic offers cyborgs as a playable race, and the Erudite found in the EverQuest games are a form of evolved human, but few other games have anything matching this archetype.
Dragons are ubiquitous in MMOs. If you're an MMO player and haven't killed a dragon at some point, you're not much of an MMO player. But dragons are almost always foes. Rarely, they may be NPC allies. For all their overexposure, dragons are almost never playable.
It's not to figure out why. Playable dragons would simply break most MMOs. They're too big, too powerful, and too different from other races. It's not like dragons need gear. Breathing fire beats a sword any day.
However, there is the idea of Dragonkin - races descended from or related to dragons. These can easily be humanoid, and they don't need to be as godlike as actual dragons. It's odd that Dragonkin are not more common in MMOs. Maybe developers feel it would be disappointing to lack the power of a true dragon, but it seems like a race of magical lizard-men connected to the most iconic of fantasy monsters should still be a pretty compelling choice to a lot of people.
EverQuest's Drakkin are a rare example of playable Dragonkin, though they still look mostly human, and the little known MMO Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted actually allows playable dragons.
Vampires have been "in" for quite a while now, and even before Stephanie Meyer put them dead center of popular culture, vampires were a popular dark fantasy archetype. There's something darkly mysterious about these immortal bloodsuckers.
MMO developers have largely missed the boat on the vampire craze, though. EverQuest II offers the Freeblood as a race of playable vampires, and the upcoming World of Darkness MMO will focus on vampires entirely. Otherwise, you'll likely have to get your vampire fix from outside the MMO realm.
Considering the potential for sparkling, maybe we're lucky the MMO world hasn't tried to capitalize on the vampire fad, but at the same time, there's no need to punish all vampire fans for some of the ways the archetype's been abused lately, and there's plenty of potential for a decent, intimidating vampire race in an MMO.
Half-breeds - individuals who are descended from humans and a fantastical race, usually Orcs or Elves - are a pretty common idea in fantasy. They were a staple of Dungeons and Dragons, and they appear often in fantasy literature.
However, for some strange reason, the idea of half-breeds didn't make the jump to most MMOs. Despite the fact that most MMOs are direct descendants of D & D, half-breed races are rarely playable.
Maybe developers feel that half-breeds would too similar to other races, but then again, developers have never been afraid to offer a variety of races that are basically just different flavors of human.
It's an odd choice regardless. Half-breeds can be a very compelling option because they are a "best of both worlds" combo. Their human side makes them more identifiable and familiar than most non-human races, but they still have an exotic twist from their fantastical heritage.
EverQuest and EverQuest II, ever the paragons of diverse race selection, both offer playable Half-Elves, and Dungeons and Dragons Online and Neverwinter both offer a number of half-breed races.