More character customization, please

Nerfbat hates current MMORPG character customization, and I can't blame him. Either the artists cop out and force the players to screw up their characters' propotions or they offer a very limited set of options from which to choose from. You then spend 90% of your time looking at the characters from a faraway viewpoint where you can't even see their faces, even when they're not helmets or or other armor. And when they do, it feels like you're surrounded by clones. Everyone wears the same gear and thus look the same.

However, there are games that do customization right. Wrestling and boxing games are a good example, and GTA: San Andreas isn't bad, either. These games do allow you to customize everything from body shape and facial features to clothing. They have presets but allow the player to fine-tune their avatars up to the most minute detail. But this model also has caveats that MMORPGs can't ignore. In most fighting games, your character's clothing has no effect on his statistics (except in Def Jam series) and all action is up-close and personal, leaving ample opportunities to marvel at your avatar.

MMORPGs are a bit tougher, because your gear is a direct gauge of your character's strength. Even if a particular item looks like crap, you have to wear it for the stats. And most of the time, there are only a few or no choices if you want the best gear. A tauren warrior in full tier 5 gear will always look like every other warrior in tier 5. In WoW, this problem is made worse due to the fact that only a few of your items change the way your character looks, especially with casters. A robe covers your pants and boots, and gloves cover your bracers. Your ranged weapon and your offhand are hidden when you're not using those. That leaves your main weapon, robe, gloves, belt, shoulderpads and your hat. And if you wear a tabard, that hides your chestpiece.

Having the tier 0-2 sets available as different recolored versions is a good start. So is having both robe and vest versions of cloth gear. But a better solution would be to increase the ways to customize your character. Animations should be changed to display pants and boots under robes. All enchants should be visible, and so should ranged weapons, gems and trinkets. But WoW could also steal one idea from the venerable Ultima Online: being able to wear clothes over your armor.

One other improvement would be decals. Decals are partially transparent detail textures on top of the existing textures. Other games use decals for tattoos, facial hair, logos, scars, fractures, bullet holes, scorch marks and other additions. With these, even a fully armored character could be made to look distinct from others.

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