There certainly is memorable character design out there in our AAA titles, it's just that the environment is very different now. If pac man weren't so established as a golden oldie, I'm sure far fewer would recognise it, I mean the modern renditions of pac man have very little to offer besides just looking odd (which is by no means purely a positive). Another change has been how games offer immersion. In TES and Mass Effect you're given a rather bland character on purpose so you can superimpose your own decisions on top. Sure they're recognisable thanks to advertising, but it's a conscious decision not to make them too unique. On the other hand the characters in Mass Effect itself are instantly identifiable to anybody who's had any contact with the series. With recognising outside of a fanbase, that almost all boils down to publicity.