Customisation and lack thereof

I did something unthinkable the other day: I signed up for another MMO, namely Champions Online. Now, I don't intend to start talking about it a lot, not least because I haven't actually played it enough yet to have much to say, but it has inspired me to talk about something WoW-related anyway, namely character customisation.

Champions is a game that allows for a metric crapton of customisation whenever you create a new character (with the potential for some pretty hilarious results). Other games offer pretty detailed character customisation as well, and often when I hear people talk about such games they make a comment about how WoW really fails in that area because everyone looks the same.

While I really enjoyed fiddling with all the options that Champions offers so far, I still feel the need to defend WoW in that regard. I mean, I wouldn't mind if female Tauren could have more than four different hairstyles, but at the same time it really doesn't really strike me as a huge problem that they don't.

The thing with very involved character creation screens of any kind is that they are a sort of mini-game of their own. You can easily spend half an hour or longer composing just the perfect character in there. It's a kind of artistic exercise: Can you transfer the image you have in your head onto the screen with the tools available to you?

But then you actually start playing... and it matters very little what eye colour you chose for your hero or what kind of belt they wear. Most of the time you won't even notice, since actually playing requires you to zoom out to a certain extent and pay attention to other things. Sure, when you zoom in to stand still and ogle at your creation it looks great, but how much time do you usually spend doing that?

As far as actual gameplay is concerned, giving your character a custom look only really serves two purposes: to make sure you're reasonably comfortable with what you're looking at (numerous are the tales of people who created characters and then deleted them again because they realised that there was something about them that they just couldn't stand to look at for longer periods of time), and to sufficiently distinguish yourself from everyone else so you and others can still recognise your character in a crowd.

Now, I admit the latter used to be a bit of a problem for druids, but this has been addressed with the different fur colours for feral forms and hopefully trees and moonkins will receive the same treatment eventually. Sure, there are only a handful of different colours, but how often do you realistically find yourself playing with more than four other druids fulfilling the same role as you?

Druid forms aside, I have to say that I can't recall ever meeting another character in WoW who looked exactly like one of mine. Sure, a lot will have the same hair style for example, but even with the limited options available, running into someone else with exactly the same face, skin colour, hair style and hair colour are fairly slim. Or maybe that's just me being biased because I mainly play a female troll who doesn't have that doe-eyed face and tiny tusks.

Also, let's not forget the huge customisation offered by armour! Admittedly a lot of people will go after the same pieces of armour at endgame, but unless you're playing on a server where every other guild clears the top raid content on a weekly basis, you're unlikely to run into many people who're actually wearing all the best-in-slot gear for their role. More likely most of them will have done a fair bit of mix-and-matching with whatever they happened to get their hands on, giving each of them a unique look.

Yes, being able to give your character a very unique look right from the start is pretty cool as well, but very much disconnected from the quality of actual gameplay. In fact, character creation that is too involved can even become a bit of a barrier when you first start playing. My first Champion still sits at level two, not because I didn't enjoy what I've seen of the game so far, but because it took me so long to get her looks just right that I found myself with very little time left to actually play before I had to log off again. Comparatively my first ever character on WoW didn't take more than few minutes to make (even with me being a complete noob at the time, reading all the class descriptions and so on), leaving me with much more time for my first play session - and by the time I was level six I was hooked.

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