Series: Choosing MMOs – character customisation

This post is part of a series on how to approach choosing between the vast selection of MMOs now available. The intro post of the series is available here.

Although I often use the shorthand ‘MMO’, I am actually always referring to MMORPGs on this blog. There are other massively multiplayer sub-genres such as the MMOFPS shooter games like Planetside 2 for example. This post is about RPGs or roleplaying games which have a very long history stretching back to pencil and paper gaming long before computers were capable of running a game like Everquest or World of Warcraft.

As usual for the series I’m taking this aspect of MMORPGs and breaking it down into three key criteria I consider important for the genre.

Character appearance

One core concept of most roleplaying games is the concept of character customisation, that you create an alter ego to inhabit the game’s world and then play the role of that character during the game sessions. In an MMORPG the first thing when you have installed and registered the game is to create a character.

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The core idea here is that you should have enough variety in the choices you make so that characters aren’t all carbon copies. We in theory play MMOs to be ‘around’ other players’ characters (even if we want to play solo mostly). If every character you see is a carbon copy of yours then immersion isn’t likely to be very good in that game. So appearance and race choices should permit you to build a character that you like the look of and that you are interested in playing. Ideally the game should offer a good selection of body types (e.g. not just stick thin or muscular) and enough customisation of hair styles and skin tones to suit all tastes.

Character class 

Character class choice is also very important in defining your character in the game world. Beyond just the mechanics of how you will play and what role you may have in combat (e.g. tank, healer, dps etc), class can also represent your character’s place within the imagined world and how that character will be viewed. Even if you have zero interest in actual in-game roleplaying, the class you choose can still has some impact on the game (e.g. in SWTOR you’re choosing a specific personal story arc lasting the whole 50 levels!).

Character progression

Customisation doesn’t stop at character creation however, most MMORPGs follow their pen & paper roots and allow for some form of character progression which offers the player new abilities or skills and ideally some meaningful choices of a path, specialisation or set of skills to choose from. Making choices about how your character will develop is important I would conjecture for you to identify with a character in a lasting manner. Most games have character levels and a level cap, following the standard model of character progression for the majority of pen & paper RPGs. But a good MMORPG also offers some form of alternative advancement – ways to customise or improve your character that can carry on after you reach the level cap.

This post could attempt to address end-game progression including gear progression or faction reputation but those systems are more specific to individual games, the core concept of the series is to keep the posts generic enough to allow for comparison across games, so I’ll leave end game progression systems aside.

Here’s the usual scorecard for rating character customisation:

Score
(1 low; 5 high)
1 2 3 4 5
Character appearance Basic choices, but few races and no non-humanoid options. Most characters look alike. Some race choices,at least one or two non-human races. Some choices for faces and hairstyles but many characters look alike. Good race choices. Good selection of faces and hairstyles. Limited body types. Good race choices. Detailed customisation of body and features. Excellent race choices including unusual/non-stereotypical races. Detailed customisation of body and features including wide selection of body types.
Class choice Limited class choices. Classes have a clearly defined set role. Good class choices. Classes have a clearly defined set role. Good class choices and classes can specialise in different roles as the character develops. Wide class choice with some unusual options. Classes can specialise in different roles as the character develops. Wide class choice with some unusual options. Classes can swap specialise in different roles and can swap between roles through an in-game mechanic.
Character progression Limited character progression  through gear only. Limited character progression tied strictly to initial class choice. One solid character progression system while leveling (e.g. talents). One solid character progression system while leveling and alternative advancement at level cap. Multiple character progression systems while leveling and at cap (e.g. talents + glyphs).
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