Saturday Debate: Traditional Fantasy Races
News Editor Garrett Fuller and Staff Writer Derek Czerkaski sit down to discuss the issue of Traditional fantasy races.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.
Alright, sweet, a new MMO! THIS ONE is going to set the bar for MMORPG's for generations to come, I just know it! Let's get this beast installed, and get to playing it already. While I'm waiting, I guess I'll have a look at what races are available for me to play. Let's see here, we've got two human races, but who wants to be a human in-game and out of game? We've got 4 variations of Elves, that's pretty weak. They look like humans, except with pointy ears. Oh cool, Greenskins, yet they're basically just uglier, green variations of humans. Oh there are the Dwarves and Gnomes. Gee, a bearded, midget human race; how incredibly creative. Last, we have 2 Barbarian-like races, more super-sized humans.
What is this crap? Doesn't anyone have anything creative on their mind out there? Twelve unique races huh, because it looks like humans with palette swaps and varied skins to me. How come every race in the history of all fantasy worlds are nearly identical too each other, minus some simple lore details? Don't game developers have any cool ideas? I'd love to play as a spider-race, wielding six weapons at one time, and not being able to wear armor. How about playing as a winged race, where I can fly? Heck, maybe I'd like to play as a mole race, that's capable of burrowing to set up traps, or ambush their enemies by hiding underground. I'm sick and tired of running around playing as the same generic garbage in a fantasy setting. If you're going to offer me unique races, make them truly stand out from the crowd.
The biggest problem is that fantasy races have been with us for over fifty years now, ever since Tolkien used the myths of Norse lore and put humans, dwarves, and elves in a struggle again orcs, goblins, and trolls. Gary Gygax continued the tradition in gaming by making these races the basis for character creation in Dungeons & Dragons. The standard fantasy races have evolved into video games ever since.
One generation grew up with Tolkien, another with D&D, and now a new generation enters into gaming to see the latest take on the same familiar races. These races have been proven and people can relate to them. The Elves with their magic abilities and long life appeal to a certain type of gamer. Dwarves are the rough, tough, brawlers who drink beer and they can appeal to another type of player. These are just two examples, but I think the reason these races remain a solid tool for character development is because they appeal to certain sides of people.
Why haven’t new races been created? Are developers and programmers simply lazy? Obviously, such an undertaking would require a significant amount of time to balance out these abnormal oddities. It seems to me no one is bold enough to set out on such unexplored frontiers. However, it would add new levels of complexity to the game. With humanoid vs. humanoid, it's always going to come down to who has the higher level, and the better gear. However, I think if you incorporated different types of combat, players would have to develop new strategies to conquer their opponents. Think about it. Are you trying to tell me that every race and every battle in the history of every world was fought on two feet, with swords and shields, in an organized manner? I don't believe it.
Balance becomes a huge factor in games when you start introducing new races. Also, if you create new races you must create a theme, history, look, and personification. As much fun as it might be to run around as a spider-like creature causing havoc in a village, the actual development behind giving a player that ability is rather large. I do believe it to be possible; it just takes a lot of work.
The other issue MMOs face is that every game studio out there is trying to snatch up a fantasy or sci-fi based IP. Games like Star Trek, Stargate, Warhammer, and Age of Conan all have very established races and worlds that work within the IP, this way your lore is already written for you. You don’t have to create an entire new set of game mechanics to achieve balance in a lore that already exists.
In saying that, I would still love to see a game that creates an entire new set of ideas, history, races, and lore which distances itself from the humanoid mindset.
There are other reasons for this as well. The community would likely make such a feat damn near impossible to achieve. For example, I would expect that a spider race with six weapons would be able to easily demolish a guy with sword and a shield. But that is part of what is missing in today's MMO's. The fact of the matter is, you can't win every battle by yourself, nor should you be able to. By creating different races, I believe it would bond the community together, not necessarily by choice, but as a means of survival. Citing back to the spider race vs. the human race, I think it would be remarkable to watch a village of human players battle a small horde of the spiders. The battle would be intense, careful strategy would be required to win, but it would be impossible. On top of making the PvE experience more interesting, the PvP experience would be much more driven and intense. Natural in-game rivalries would likely spawn based purely off the player’s actions. Completely different experiences based on which race someone played as opposed to making alts and doing the same, boring thing over and over and over. It could also evoke some truly magnificent story lines and lore for each server. On top of that, crafting could be much more complex and interesting. For once, everyone would be wearing a chest-piece, or a helmet, gear would actually make sense, and won't merely be limited by the devs to try and create some form of difference between player characters.
It doesn't seem to me as though anyone understands this. But I think that to truly reach the next-generation of games, developers are going to have to allow simple MMORPG mechanics to evolve first. What better place to start than by creating truly unique game play experiences for everyone, by giving them truly unique races?.