Massively Forgotten Features – Character Customization

This is a feature that many MMOs pay lip service to but only one thus far has actually achieved.  Character Customization.

I am male and I am not afraid to admit it.  I play with dolls.  Paper dolls that is.  No, not in the real world but in my favorite type of game, the MMO.  The paper doll is the term used for the portion of the character sheet where the players sees what gear their character is currently wearing.  While the gear, or more specifically, the gear’s stats has an integral part in the mechanics of the game a great many people take pride not only in the stats their gear provide but the look their gear gives their character. For as long as I have been playing MMOs there has been a problem.  When the best stats come on one piece (or pieces) of gear eventually you end up looking like an extra for Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones.

Character Customization is what MMO developers put into the game to address this problem of clones.  Most let MMOs today let you adjust your character’s face to a few different styles, hair to a few different styles, color of skin and hair and what not.  However, once the player has chosen all of those details they are quickly covered up by the army stat-driven clone gear.  Hair and face covered under a helmet.  Skin tone covered by armor.

However, one game really broke this mold.  Well, more like shattered it, ground it into the ground, collected the dust into a canister, dumped it in vat of acid which they promptly blew up with a 10 megaton nuclear bomb.  That game is City of Heroes.

City of Hereos introduced a simple concept.  Stats are not tied to gear.  Make your character look any way you want.  Decked out in armor?  Fine.  A business suit?  Fine.  Army fatigues?  Fine.  An outfit straight out of the pages of Victoria’s Secret?  Fine!  No bonuses, no penalties.  Dozens of choices across a slew of body parts.  Colors and patterns galore.  I think when City of Heroes launched they claimed they had over a billion variations that a character could have.  Since then they have released many more costume options.

Lord of the Rings Online runs a close second.  LotRO provides two extra outfits (for a total of three) that the characters can wear whatever they want.  The first outfit is the only one whose stats count.  The other two are just for looks.  LotRO just does not have the immense variety of pieces that City of Heroes offers but I think it is a good model for MMOs who insist on having stats tied to gear to follow.

The reason I bring up this feature was the puzzling choice Blizzard made with the release of their Wrath of the Lich King expansion for World of Warcraft.  In WLK Blizzard adjusted the new capped content to be more accessible to a larger portion of its player base; the so-called casual players.  The casual players who most often will care about how gear look as much, if not more so, than its stats.  So it is puzzling in this release that was geared to include the casual player more than the previous two releases would provide such a stunningly boring variety of gear for the players.  All the gear generally falls in two or three primary patterns and come only in the same three very dark and  dark colors.  Even so the variety of their gear exceeds that of some other MMOs which offer people only one choice in any given level range so I suppose that is something.

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