Is your character race purely cosmetic?

There is a long tradition, stretching back to the earliest MUDs, that players have a choice of fantasy races for their characters. It has become part of the MMO scenery, even though in many games it will never much affect your play. So is a race just cosmetic, just another way to customise your character visually?

PvD posted awhile back about how races are sold in the cash shop for EQ2X at the moment. You can buy options for that game in packs of three, and each pack is arranged to offer one popular race with two less popular ones. Other than that, there’s no rhyme or reason in the selections. This puzzled me as a concept – the idea of picking a race because ‘it was included free in the pack with the one I actually wanted’ feels like a very unintuitive way to make that choice.

I was minded of this because I have a friend who has a really strong preference for playing elves. If a game doesn’t offer elves, her interest drops. One of the things she is most excited about in Cataclysm is the ability to play a blood elf warrior for the first time. And this has nothing to do with game elements like racial abilities. She just likes elves. If she played EQ2X I don’t think she’d be too thrilled to see the elf races split between packs (she’d probably just pick the one she liked best and not bother with the others, whereas she’d have paid more for a pack that included all of them.) I know others who always play humans, and prefer to pick a human character who looks as close to themselves (in some idealised form) as possible. So some players go into the game with a vague idea of how they want their character to look or act and pick the race that fits it most closely.

For other people, the most important thing about picking a race is any in-game advantage. So optimal racial abilities or starting areas would play a bigger factor in the choice. If racial abilities change, these guys may take advantage of a paid race change in game.

Others are more interested in aesthetics. Which race looks prettiest or most badass? Which race/ class combination has the coolest looking armour?

And in some games, that’s pretty much it for racial identity. It’s all about how you look and whether you get any minor mechanical perks. EQ2X for example does have racial lore, but it isn’t equally emphasised for all races. You can easily go through a starting zone that seems to have been designed for another race without learning anything about your own.

When races are more than a collection of stats and a skin

Warcraft certainly wasn’t the first game to emphasise racial starting areas and lore. But their commitment to doing so has always been quite impressive. When you pick a race, you’re also picking a starting zone in which you’ll have about 20 levels worth of race specific content. (Unless you’re a gnome or troll, in which case hang in there for Cataclysm!)

This is fertile ground for roleplayers, who might go with the strongest lore or most appealing backstory. As well as their own starting areas, races have their own architectures, racial leaders, history, and in-game racial stereotypes. So gnomes are not just small and squeaky but also crazy scientists with silly names. Forsaken are sarcastic, deadpan, and have no moral compass. Dwarves like beer and blacksmithing (is there any game in which this is not the case?).

Racial lore is about to get a huge boost in Cataclysm with the addition of Archaeology to the game. I think this is going to be one of the most popular new mechanics that the expansion brings. And as a side-effect, it adds more oomph to the races and their backgrounds.

Why is this big at the moment? Because of course Cataclysm will add in two new races to the mix. They’ll have very solid racial abilities, new lore, new cool models, and since players like new stuff anyway they’re bound to be heavily played. And also, many classes will have new racial options in the expansion.

This is most striking for druids, who soon will be able to pick from two races per faction instead of just one fixed choice. And one of the most asked for screenshots from the beta was the picture of the new troll and worgen druid forms. I’m thinking this shows that a lot of people are mostly about the aesthetics with their racial choices.

Is it mostly about the looks for you? I wonder if people tend to pick their first character based on look/feel/ prior idea and maybe explore the lore of other races after they’ve played the game and are making alts.

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19 thoughts on “Is your character race purely cosmetic?

  1. I picked my first class ever by the feel and looks of it: Tauren. I was very much drawn to their lore and the thing I’ve been pretty disappointed with WoW is the fact that the racial lores are so wasted after you go from the starting areas to the ‘great big world’. It all becomes a equalized mess.

    The racial selection should in a bigger part in the game than it currently is. Then again, the game isn’t RPG per se, but a game which is balanced so that the racial differences -except the visuals- have no play in it.

    Currently it would be the same if all the races would be the same.

    C out

  2. Well in DDO, race is quite a bit as important as the classes and can even have some rather “extreme” effects [like Warforged which can't wear armor but embed crystals into their bodies...kinda like that Stone Golem in Dragon Age] .

    Some type of builds [class configurations] you simply can’t achieve with the wrong race. However i must say the looks of the race play a large enough roll that i might be discouraged from rolling certain classes that depends on said race [Drow in DDO looks horrible to me. but yet come with some of the best statistics for certain classes so i tend to look avoid drow].

    In my case, i don’t have a specific race-type preference, but they must be stylish at least. Extremely small races and races that are depicted poorly i don’t like to pick [despite their advantages in certain areas] . In general and even in DDO which have somewhat “hardcore” rules going [if you're new to DnD rules] , Human seems to be overall a “safe bet” and they’re usually stylish and comes with a familiarity to them. So it’s no surprise i inevitably end up with a human type race.

  3. Funnily enough I was talking about this just the other day.. I rolled a gnome warrior because I couldn’t resist because it was adorable, but added, of course it’s not racially optimal :(
    So I think while I’d always look at advantages it wouldn’t stop me rolling something lacking them, and at the same time I wouldn’t roll a character I didn’t feel comfortable with simply because it did have advantages – like a male ogre (me bash) for instance :P

  4. I picked on looks and lore. Not that I would not check mechanics.

    Back in the early days, Undead Rogue with the old “Will of the Forsaken” was the RoXXoR combo.

    But not in hell I would play such a cliche ridden species. And thus I played a male human Paladin and later a female human Warlock.

    P.S.: Sorry, Spinks! ;)

    • Hee, no need to apologise. But I am amused that you think human paladin is less cliched than forsaken rogue (you actually don’t see that many rogues around these days in general to be honest.)

      • Hehe! :)

        Hmm… right after the launch they were popular but soon I got reduced to healer and lost interest. Then followed years of Paladin jokes that usually involved how many days it takes for a Paladin to kill a mob.

        Then I rolled a Human Warlock. During that time it was supposed that you have to be a Gnome as Alliance Warlock! :)

        And yeah, then came the Horde of Blood Elf Paladins (pun intended) and the Death Knight / Paladin love of the 3.x patch that changed the Population to 101% Paladins and DKs… hmmm. :)

        … and in December even cows will become Paladins!!!

        I wonder if Mor’Ladim / Morgan Ladimore will still terrorize Duskwood after the Cataclysm.

        P.S.: My best friends played Undead Rogue and Gnome Warlock, “based on your recommendation”. God, I don’t need enemies.

  5. All my characters have been chosen because thats what I wanted to play….not for min/maxing.

    Most have been chosen for reasons of background/rp excluding only my current main (/shame) who was chosen simply as I wanted to play a shammy, my Missus was rolling a Tauren Drood and I couldnt face an Orc as I still dislike the model. As it turned out the min/maxing suited but that was happy chance.

    But normally I come up with the class I wanna play and choose a race that fits the background and rp elements I want….even if I then never Rp with the character…

  6. For me, first of all the race must have eye-appealing looks, and I think I’m here with the majority of the players – look in WoW, players tend to pick the same 1 troll female face and 2 female undead faces, just because they’re “cute”.

    I always play females, and if a race is some kind of asexual monsterfolk, then I will avoid it, also if the females are particularly ugly, in WoW even Orc females can pick some eye-appealing looks, but this is not the case in other MMOs. I wouldn’t either pick a race which has non-humanoid faces, the character portrait is something I have all the time on my screen, I was a pretty sexy face there.

    On the other hand I tend to avoid playing Humans in favour of more “exotic” races, even in the games where Humans have superior racials. I prefer long-lived, “noble” races as opposed to those “short lived and savage”. However “noble” doesn’t equal good for me, they can be “evil” races, but rather in the way of Forsaken than Orcs, cunning and malicious than just brute.

    As much as I like having “good stats and racials” for my class, if the race physique doesn’t appeal to me, I would cross out that option even if it’s “the best”.

    I don’t mind if the race is tall or short, both have its disadvantages, big tends to stuck in doorways or cover your screen too much while raiding, and small has that frog-perspective and you don’t see details of your awesome gear. :)

    And yes in any game I usually have favourite race (will be my main, mandatory, even if racials aren’t the best), to “tolerable” races that will be good candidates for alts, and the races I cross out at the beginning (the ugly, the stupid, the ones without females or where females have restricted classes). For example WoW has 2 races I wouldn’t play, Tauren because they’re too “monster-like”, and Humans, because I don’t play Humans. :)

  7. I find it hard to separate looks from lore in terms of why a race appeals to me.

    I like orcs. Gruff, tough, straightforward a nice counter to the rather vain and posh elves. Is that lore or looks?

    I think each race has a personality that is a composite of both. It also is inherited from other games and media so my attitude to orcs has been shaped over 30 years from Tolkien, through D&D, RPGs like Might & Magic, RTS like Warcraft 1-3 through to modern WoW, Lotro and EQ2.

    Often the race will vary a lot from game to game or even within a franchise. The hatchet-chucking trolls of Warcraft 1 felt very different to current WoW trolls. When did you last see a Troll chuck an axe?

    The short answer is no, it’s not purely cosmetic, but it is mainly about the personality of a race which is partly formed from the race’s appearance.

  8. I would say that visual appearance tends to be the strongest factor in what race I will originally choose, but afterwards it’s other things that either make me create *more* characters of a race, or be dissuaded from creating them.

    Almost all of my characters are now Draenei, but initially (when I was completely new to WoW) they were far from my first choice. They were a bit odd-looking. But the more I encountered them in the world, the more they intrigued me. My second character was a Draenei mage. I loved their starting zone and story – and how their story continued once Outland was reached. I just haven’t tired of them at all. They “fit” for me!

  9. i need to find attachment & similarity to playing a certain race; I remember playing the Gibberling race in Allods online only b/c they were the only race on the ‘good’ side that could play my favorite class. They were short, furry, TEDDYbear-like animals that had two others following it.. no matter how much I loved the class.. i hated playing the race.. and shortly quit after.

  10. Pingback: Spinksville: how does your character race affect you? | MMO Melting Pot

  11. For me race is largely cosmetic or at least based on a concept of roleplay. I’m not really interested in a races stats or abilities and I wouldn’t pick a race just to be the “best” at a certain class. Sometimes having odd race/class combinations can actually be a heck of a lot of fun.

    Regarding EQ2X, yeah the race pack combinations are a little strange but then my guess is that they’re made that way to force people to buy multiple packs in order to get all of the Elves for instance.

  12. I’ve recently written a post on how I choose race in the games I play and asked other MMO gamers what their reasons are to roll a specific race, maybe you like to have a look :)http://raging-monkeys.blogspot.com/2010/09/why-do-you-play-another-race-in-mmos.html

    as I explained there, to me it has a lot to do with identification and immersion. this is especially the case in the MMO genre. I found it interesting to hear why other gamers do not necessarily choose their race the same way as me.

  13. My first race choice was Draenei. I had gone through about 5 or 6 ten day trial accounts when I finally decided that I wanted to buy the game, so during that time Blood Elves and Draenei were off-limits. So the logical thing to do upon purchasing and unlocking those races was to roll one of them as my main, so I did.

    After that I just go for a very ambiguous look and feel. I decide on a class first, then I try to find a race that just “feels right” to me. It’s totally unscientific and completely random and totally depends on what kind of mood I’m in, but that’s how I roll.

    Cataclysm will be tricky given the plethora of newer combinations, but ultimately it comes down to an instinctual feel of what I will enjoy when I’m on the character selection screen. There is no logical planning whatsoever on my part.

  14. I do miss a useful Shadowmeld. When you could drink while melding, it was a real boon.

    And let’s not overlook the value of wisping post wipe. The hours saved can’t be underestimated, I don’t believe. ;^)

  15. I’ve always been a fan of the Tauren in WarCraft. Something about being a fairly spiritual/philosophical race that can stomp you flat appeals to the sense of absurd in me. I like the notion that there’s unmatched power there, bridled by choice.

    So yes, race matters, but only inasmuch as my interest in the lore and role playing matters. That’s not always true, but it is for WoW, at least.

  16. Pingback: /AFK – Racism Edition « Bio Break

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