Why is it that we can actually say the phrase “standard fantasy” and have people understand exactly what we’re talking about? Think about that for a second. We’ve become so entrenched in a set form that fantasy actually has a standard now. Not standard Tolkien, not standard Dungeons and Dragons, just standard fantasy setting. We’ve been here too long folks, and it’s fine we got out. Let’s see something new, new races, new worlds, new ideas. We need something to really change-up the formula and get these fantasy worlds to be full of fantastic adventure again.

New Playable Races:
This is a big one that is really dragging things back. We need new playable races. Remember the standard fantasy setting, now think about it. Ready to name the first four races that come to mind? Elf, Human, Dwarf, Orc, in that order. Elves always live in the forest and are tall, magical, aloof buggers, Humans are generally the ones screwing everything up and are never really masters at any one thing, Dwarfs are short dudes who live underground and get sentenced to death if they ever speak without an Irish accent or are ever caught being sober, and Orcs are usually the villains, sometimes not, who are brain-dead lunks that run around murdering everything often with little reason outside of the enforced alignment of Stupid Evil. Hey, there you go, four races done to death in everything that can be described as fantasy. Sometimes you find a game that tries to break this mold, but hilariously it’s almost always for the Humans or Orcs. Think about World of Warcraft for a second. Yes, you know that game. Stop playing coy. Orcs in that game literally were Stupid Evil until very recently in the time line, and now fight to regain a lot of what they lost. Way more compelling that short guys who drink forever and pretty elves who live in a tree. It only took 2 expansion packs for those two races to really get anywhere fun. Blood Elves though, oh my the back story. On a whole the Horde were at least trying to break the mold from time to time, and often in very refreshing ways. But… they are still ‘orc’ and ‘elf.’ We need something new, or at least a new take on it. Enter Guild Wars 2…

With their own take of the elf race. Still absurdly pretty and beautiful beyond reason? Yep. Living amongst nature? You bet’cha. Not a great start since we just nailed two of the biggest clichés about this race. Thankfully, we’re done with that. Sylvari don’t live with nature, they are nature. Literally an entire race of plant-people, born from a Tree. That’s… fairly new. We don’t often see non-animalistic characters, really. A race of people who are actually plants? Not only that, but most of the aloof uncaring and long-lived elf tropes are hurled out the window. The first book for Guild Wars 2, Ghosts of Ascalon, actually gives an age for the entire race. Keep in mind this isn’t much before the game starts. Ready? Sylvari are 25 years old in the first book. They haven’t even died yet by any means other than violence in the world, and not a single one has seen their third decade, let alone century. This young race is also portrayed as very curious and observant, watching to learn everything they can about the strange world they were born in and what their own place in such a world is.

Did I mention they were an actual race of plants?

That’s… different that the usual ‘Elf’ trope we’ve been forced to swallow for a while now. I’m actually looking forward to this race, and hilariously the first time I’ve been wanting to play an MMO just for the races it contains and not for the game itself. I’ll cover my disagreements with GW2 later, probably after it comes out, so we’ll save that rant for another day. For now, I just want my Sylvari.

New Explorable Worlds:
This is the other thing that bugs me to death, why are we always stuck on boring old earth? Go look at any MMO, you’ll see that a lot of it takes place on a very earth-like planet, no matter what the world actually contains. Odds are good, however, that there will be dozens and dozens of ruins everywhere, usually within walking distance, that no one has ever found until you walk an NPC/Item over to them and suddenly everyone knows where they are. What ever happened to world-changing magic, or actual ruins that are out-of-the-way and a treat to explorers? Actually, let’s just forget everything for a quick second and look at a couple of screenshots.

World of Warcraft, Westfall

And before people start complaining, yes, they updated the world in Cataclysm. Now, this is an extremely hated zone of mine, just because it was so bland and dull. Everything looks the same and the colors are too close together on the spectrum. It’s just… boring. The forests of Ashenveil felt the same, it was just a bunch of trees with a few lakes in and about. It felt no different from Stranglethorn Vale, which is kind of a bad thing since once is supposed to be a forest like you’d see in North America and the other is a rain-forest you’d find in South America. Those two things are pretty different, but they felt the same. Now, one expansion later….

World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade, Zangarmarsh

Much better. This place actually felt like an other-worldly bog, a place where you didn’t want to be. Blizzard did an outstanding job coming up with a unique feel to each zone, having them all feel like alien worlds. The problem was that any one of them would have done to make a sufficient alien world, but they were all crammed together, often with no transition. It just made the entire world feel schizophrenic and slap-dash instead of the evocative alien world they were going for. What ever happened to designing worlds, now we just get zones that last for an hour or two if your lucky before being pushed off to the next one. Don’t game devs ever think we’d like to stop and smell the marsh-roses for a little while?We like new ideas in our worlds, but we also like to be able to enjoy them as well, instead of the high-speed sightseeing tour we have now.

*Side-note: I would kill to see the Underdark of Dungeons and Dragons fame. Seriously game devs, an entire subterranean world, underneath a more ‘normal’ one? I’d be okay with that, since the whole of the world is now radically different. As long as the Underdark is every bit of horrifying and exciting as it sounds everywhere else!