Last week we got the word that Lord of the Rings Online has a new race in the pipeline — the Stout Axe Dwarves (which, as someone noted on Twitter, can pretty much refer to all of Lord of the Rings’ Dwarves). We know that this race will have a new starting area, be a little taller than the current Dwarves in the game, and offer a female option (a first for LOTRO — at least from the player’s side). We can presume that they will have different racials and animations.
Almost as soon as this race was announced, I started to hear familiar rumblings from some quarters asking the question of whether this actually added value to the game. Is it just a cheap cash grab? The easiest way to add a race in a game hemmed in by lore? And where oh where are my playable Ents already?
Playable racial variants seem to be a minor trend among MMOs lately. DDO has several of them (such as Deep Gnome and Aasimar Scourge), LOTRO brought in the High Elves back in 2017, and World of Warcraft of course has been going whole-hog with allied races ever since the pre-Battle for Azeroth patch.
When a new race isn’t completely new at all, but rather a reskin or an old race spruced up and given a few new minor abilities, is that really enough to warrant an inclusion? It’s not a flashpoint for controversy, but I’ve seen people taking sides on this. Some love them, and some see them as only slightly better than pointless.
Yes, they may be cash grabs and easy ways to get “new” races in the game from a development perspective, but I do think that racial variants offer value to MMORPGs — because they matter to some players. Making characters in MMOs are all about choice and personal expression, who you want to “be” in this virtual world. The more options, the better. I think it’s as simple as that. If it makes some people really happy to have them, then what skin off your nose is it to have it in the game, even if you don’t play it? There are lots of races I don’t play, but (other than Elves) I don’t begrudge their inclusion.
In World of Warcraft, I’ve considered allied races as a rather tantalizing carrot worth chasing, and I’ve gotten a rush over the past few weeks as I’ve unlocked two new ones (Kul Tiran Humans and Dark Iron Dwarves) as well as a minor Night Elf variant. I might well never play any of them, but there’s a satisfying feeling to having them as a future option if I want to try one out. And any excuse to roll up an alt is a win in my book!
As for the Stout Axe Dwarves, I’m betting that LOTRO is going to do the same thing as it did with Mordor and include them in the pricier editions of this fall’s expansion as well as sell them a la carté. That means we won’t be seeing as many of them in the game, but the allure of having a female dwarf is going to send some players in a happy frenzy to roll one up. It also helps to keep this MMO in the spotlight, and that’s definitely a good thing for 2019.