Good ideas. Now tell me. If you remove orcs from the equation, and have another, completely new race, preferably not even humanoid in nature, but still go with your ideas. Is there something of value that would have been lost by the replacement?
Yes I'd say there is.
On a more shallow level, you lose the body type. At the moment we have two diminutive races, two medium races, and one large race. That means if you prefer the larger physique, it is go aumaua or bust. You might reply that a brand new race could still offer an alternative large humanoid physique, but creating a large humanoid that will be truly distinct from orcs, aumaua, qunari etc. is significantly more of an artistic challenge.
I would also say that the familiarity of orcs can be a conceptual strength. For the same reason why Obsidian chose to have elves and dwarves; familiarity coupled with innovation is a strong mix. You could contrive an original race that is reminiscent of, say, Persia. Then you can put that wonderful original creation in a room next to an elf and a dwarf, and hit your audience with a brain-full of thematic dissonance. For some it will seem great, for others it will just seem foreign. Or you can take that inspiration and attached it to orcs, using two familiar ingredients that no one expects to be combined, and create something that is simulataneously familiar but also entirely novel.
They key point here is that Obsidian aren't trying to completely break free of familiar high fantasy. They chose familiarity with a new spin on it. If you are going to take that route, I would say it is better to own and embrace it. Get more familiar races in there, and do a better job of reimagining them than your competitors. Expecting Obsidian to leave it at elves and dwarves and then do everything else as entirely new is to accept that elves and dwarves will forever stick out like a sore thumb.
I've never seen anyone do anything interesting with Orcs or Goblins(the ONLY exception for Goblins is, funny as it sounds, Harry Potter) , but I HAVE seen them do interesting things with elves and dwarves, repeatedly.
That's rather my point. Elves and dwarves have been thoroughly explored. Obsidian might be breaking new ground on dwarves, but celtic and/or native american elves are not remotely original, and their worth in the setting will derive entirely from the quality of Obsidian's writing rather than their own innate originality. The fact that you've never seen anyone do anything interesting with orcs means everything imaginable is still there to be done. As I said in the post you quoted, I don't understand why think Obsidian would be bound to repeat the poor writing of other worldbuilders.
The PoE world is being built in a renaissance period. The powerhouses of the time in reality were states like the Dutch Republic, The Hanseatic League, the Italian states, France and the wealthier parts of the H.R.E. The nomadic steppe peoples had been pushed out of the Russias and their time was O-V-E-R. The arab world was FAR past it's prime(it's widely held to have peaked around 1100-1300. This isn't to say that everything in the PoE world must derive from the Earth at that time, but rather that it's not the eternal middle ages seen in pretty much every other fantasy setting.
The setting is taking its inspiration from the Renaissance. That doesn't mean that the world has to correspond state-by-state to the Renaissance's political landscape. Aumaua for example are quite a departure from the "powerhouses" you identify. This setting could have a Renaissance equivalent of a nation that wasn't prevalent during the actual Renaissance, couple that nation with the familiarity of orcs, and produce something new to the genre.
If you cast Orcs as any of those types of civilizations, they'll just be what they always are: low-tech, low-rent tribal militarists with some goofy priest-driven theocratic structure bolted to their seat of gov't. Want to cast them as the monolithic empire with a higher level of development but retaining the same silly themes? Maybe ripping off the Ottomans/Fatimid Egypt and some far eastern culture? Congratulations, you just made the Qunari!
Except Qunari are not the only possible outcome. A failure of imagination on your part is not a rigid restriction that binds the very subject matter.
Tolkien's Orcs are no better than demons. They're animals. They're inspired by a version of the nomadic steppe peoples that never existed except in the imaginations of historical revisionists of the romantic period who saw those events not as the mass, gradual migrations that they were but rather wholesale demonic invasions by monster people. They are not fertile material for creating an interesting, intelligent, high-performing, thought-provoking race of people. They're always going to be a fantasy re-fit of the Arab, the Hun, the Mongol, the Turk, or the Oriental.
Make me a well-written nation of Orcs based on 1600's Holland/Venice and I'll accept that they might be useful for something other than providing guilt-free cannon fodder and a vehicle for bad writing.
So you're disqualifying arabic, turkic, and oriental civilization all in one fell swoop? Any mix of those influences is automatically tired and without value? Have I missed a slew of games where the evil, stupid, conceptually-useless orcs came in arabic and chinese packaging? You're just dismissing any potential reimagining of the race that isn't European as being inherently without value. You're projectingyour own failures of imagination, and I guess your own aesthetic biases, onto the genre as though they are some universal law. They're not. Potential is there, simply no one has tapped it yet.
I get the feeling that both my respondants here are quietly resentful of elves and dwarves being in the setting, and taking a stand against orcs as a "no more!" gesture. I sympathize, I do, I was in the same boat when the project launched. By this "original or bust" stance you are bringing to the discussion is the projection of something that is not Eora and never will be. Obsidian has accepted the baggage of genre familiarity, so the fact that something has been done before and done badly is not a difficulty.
Edited by Sarog, 04 August 2014 - 01:13 PM.