Reverse fantasy racism
Humans? Yawn. Dark Elves? Been there, done that. Orcs and dwarves? Join the club. By virtue of their similar fantasy settings, MMOs often fall into the trap of giving players too many clichd race choices (species, not nationality) when it comes to character creation. The more homogenous your games inhabitants, the less special each hero feels. But some MMO developers have wisely chosen to think outside the box, offering options to their players that will truly distinguish them from your typical RPG protagonist.
These unlikely heroes (and villains) may not be the stereotypical image of fantasy leads--but its that rare distinctiveness that makes them so special. To catalogue every last MMO race, would be madness; instead, these are the playable MMO races that infuse refreshing diversity into the game worlds they occupy. You wont fit in with the masses if you play as members of these races--and dammit, thats the way it ought to be.
Warforged (D&D Online)
D&D Online would feel woefully incomplete were it not for the presence of the Warforged, a fan-favorite race of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise and all-around buff brawlers. Like steampunk-style robotic constructs, only more wooden, the Warforged were built for battle and given sentient awareness through magic, without any thought of what would become of them during peacetime. As social outcasts, theyve taken to questing as a means of escape, which is one of the more nuanced motivations weve ever encountered in an MMO. It also doesnt hurt their appeal when these stoic giants look like muscular golems that could pummel you with their bare, artificial hands in place of a sword and shield.
Worgen (World of Warcraft)
Yeah, the Worgen are pretty much just werewolves; wanna fight about it? World of Warcraft is no stranger to anthropomorphic animal races--just look at the noble Tauren or the recent Pandaren newcomers--but Worgen are unique in that they didnt start out so hairy. As one of the only MMO races with purely aesthetic shapeshifting, morphing between their Worgen and human forms at will when out of combat, youre essentially getting two characters in one with these unlikely Alliance allies. Their starting zone is particularly interesting, putting you smack dab in the middle of strife between an onslaught of wolfmen and an unsuspecting Victorian town full of soon-to-be-post-humans. Insert Team Jacob joke here.
Gibberlings (Allods Online)
Three heads are better than one--just ask the Gibberlings, Allods resident cute, furry race that likes to travel in packs. These adorable, fun-loving triplets give you three characters for the price of one (rare for an MMO besides Granado Espada), and have adapted nicely to Allods spacefaring travel thanks to their familiarity with fishing and boating on their home turf of Isa. Their diminutive size doesnt ding their combat abilities, thanks to their agility and clever coordination (emphasized by the fact that they have a Trickstar class role). The first time you lay eyes on their stacked shoulder-standing animation, theres a good chance youll fall in love with these precious critter trios.
Sylvari (Guild Wars 2)
Just because theyre plant people who protect the flora and fauna of Tyria, doesnt mean you have to call them hippies. The newest race to roam the Guild Wars realm, their very being and beliefs revolve around the gigantic, magical Pale Tree that birthed them. While developing to maturity in their golden pods, they participate in collective dreams with the rest of the botanical populace, developing a natural curiosity and an affinity for adventure. Upon, uh, blossoming, they hit the ground as lithe green-skinned explorers whose personality is dependent on the days Cycles. Also, they make for awesome-looking Thieves.
Chaos (Warhammer Online)
Grotesque human-demon hybrids with a penchant for slaying the innocent, the disciples of Chaos are some truly freak dudes and dudettes. Devoted to gnarly, plague-infested gods and offering their bodies as vessels for otherworldly horrors, playing a Chaos character is essentially throwing purity and righteousness to the wind. Their hideous Marauders are instantly recognizable thanks to their mutated arms, replaced by scythe-like tendrils or tentacles, while the gaunt Chaos Zealots wave around gruesome totems with glee. If you think the Empires humans are cool, but wished they worship more devils, the armies of Chaos will welcome you with open arms--and claws, if necessary.
Miraluka (Star Wars: The Old Republic)
The Miraluka have no eyeballs. While many would view that as a severe detriment to ones combat prowess, this humanoid race has the tenacity to turn it into a strength. Like Neo in The Matrix Revolutions, these Force-sensitive adepts have compensated by honing the powers of the Force to grant them an ethereal kind of sight. As such, they feel drawn to the ways of the Jedi, and are quite capable with a lightsaber despite their vision disadvantages. Theyve also made a fashion statement out of their condition, covering their empty eye sockets with sleek masks and headdresses. Talk about making the best out of a bad situation.
Yes, they may be targeted at the lolicon slice of the MMO player pie chart, and seeing them cavorting around in skimpy armor makes us extremely uncomfortable. But its that refusal to back down from socially deviant design that makes the Elin so intriguing as a playable race. As disciples of the goddess Elinu and the female counterparts to TERAs Popori, they are staunch defenders of nature, and are supposedly older than their pre-teen-school-girl appearance lets on. Say what you will about their aesthetic, but theres a certain appeal to prancing around as a bunny-eared lass wielding a sword thats three times her size.
Troll (Dark Age of Camelot)
Dont confuse these lumbering juggernauts with the lanky, voodoo-obsessed natives of World of Warcraft, lest you get a boulder-list fist to the face. As members of the Midgard kingdom, these mountain-spawned behemoths look like theyre made of stone and hit like it, too. Easily the most intimidating race roaming the DAOC battlefields, they make up for their slower speed with raw, unadulterated strength. Which comes in handy often--otherwise, theyd have to endure nonstop teasing of sharing their racial namesake with a nonsensical 80s toy fad.
Ratonga (EverQuest II)
The awesome thing about the Ratonga is how boldly they fly in the face of dated EverQuest clichs: Instead of killing rats to level up, YOU ARE THE RAT! Besides their diminutive frames and adorable rodent faces, this neutral-aligned (formerly evil) race is best characterized by their cutting intellect, which they often employ for personal gain and mischievous manipulation. Their agility in combat matches their quick wit, and their racial traditions align with their trickster-like nature. On top of all that, they create great opportunities to reenact scenes from Mouse Guard, Redwall, and An American Tail: Fievel Goes West.
The concept of dark elves is a dime a dozen in MMOs--but the Kelari are different. Instead of corrupt, plainly evil foils to their High Elf counterparts, the Kelari had to take refuge in the jungle for practicing beliefs that dont fall in line with the rest of the Elvish society. Their supposedly paganistic ways promote spiritual equality--essentially, they treat their gods as equals rather than almighty deities. But the powers that be didnt take too kindly to their pomposity, and corrupted the Kelari priests with tainted spirits that made them mad with dark magic. Such is the cost of trying to organize your own religion within the Rift universe, it seems.
Tellarites (Star Trek Online)
Whats most interesting about the impish, argumentative Tellarites isnt the race itself. No, its the statement they make about the player whos assumed their form. Choosing to create your avatar as one of the most butt-ugly, visually distressing beings, to play for hundreds and hundreds of hours, says a lot about you--and were not even xenophobic. You know what? If masquerading as a bearded pig person makes you feel empowered, go for it--just dont expect any kindness in the cold void of space. Also, Tellarites love to eat dogs. Thats messed up.
Accretians (Rising Force Online)
Taking on giant monsters with only a thin layer of armor protecting your fleshy, vulnerable body parts? SCREW THAT, said the Accretians--lets put our brains into sweet-looking robots and use those to fight instead. As the only remotely distinct characters in RF Onlines three races, the Accretian Empires citizens are somewhere between cyborgs and straight-up automatons. They seek perfection through technology, and view knowledge as the ultimate power. But like any MMO race, they take breaks from their intellectual pursuits to lay the smackdown on uppity wildlife. After all, you cant expect to obtain supreme omniscience without grinding through a few kill quests.
Race you to the finish line
For more MMO-related goodness, check out our list of the Best MMORPGs or watch the races of Guild Wars 2 dance in their underwear.