I’m not strongly motivated by the appearance of my characters; I’d rather they avoid the pastel-shades pyjamas look of the early Burning Crusade era WoW, but so long as the clothes aren’t jarringly mixed styles I’m generally ok. Some MMORPGs make this easier than others, through a variety of methods that collectively I’ll just label appearance systems.
Some games make these systems into actual gameplay features, others treat them as a rather meta-level feature that is just there to use. The latter type allows you to change your current gear’s appearance, usually by replacing an item’s appearance with that of another that was previously owned without affecting the current item’s stat bonuses or other gameplay benefits.
World of Warcraft, transmogrification
Generally I’m a fan of these simple and easy to use systems, since as I noted character appearance isn’t that big a deal to me. I acknowledge that to other players making outfits for your characters is a big part of gameplay, even a self-made type of content if you will. But it’s just not that motivating for me. I’ve never been interested in doing transmog runs of old raids in World of Warcraft (transmogrification is Blizzard’s term for WoW’s appearance system). The transmogrification system is deep and fairly easy to understand. It’s nice that you have a catalogue of collected appearances per item type/slot, and can even optionally see uncollected possible looks. However, I have two issues with WoW’s transmog system that make me very unlikely to use it. Firstly unless you have an eye-wateringly expensive mount, you can only transmog at NPCs in major cities – and you know that as soon as you pay some gold to create a new transmog outfit, the very next dungeon run will see something drop that ruins the look – travelling back to the transmog NPC every time you want to change looks isn’t fun gameplay in my view. It also goes against other streamlining that Blizzard has implemented in the past, when glyphs were first introduced you had to go to a special station in major cities to apply them (sound familiar?). Secondly there are a number of rather silly restrictions on transmog, not a being able to transmog to weapons you cannot wield, nor transmog to white or grey quality items (despite some of those having really unique or cool RP looks).
Star Wars the Old Republic, custom gear and colour-harmony
Star Wars the Old Republic launched with an unusual system with the orange-quality custom gear that was/is mostly about its appearance as all the stats come from purchased or crafted modifications that you slot onto the gear. It’s kind of the opposite of the normal way of applying older gear’s appearance to whatever you are currently wearing. At some point while I was away from the game the custom armour system was sidelined/expanded on with the outfit system. I’ve not really investigated the system in more recent returns to SWTOR, though I do greatly appreciate the “match to chest” option to do a colour-sync across gear based on the pallet of the chest armour. That’s a super-simple and super-easy way of making most sets of gear look half-decent with one check box.
Lord of the Rings Online, simple and powerful
One of the better appearance systems that I actually use is in Lord of the Rings Online because of just how useful the wardrobe system is (having a special bank for appearance gear is rather nice) and how easy it is to maintain a look as you level up and gear up.
Everquest 2, appeance gear *and* mounts
A second notable mention is Everquest 2. It has an equally intiuitive appearance gear system, but uniquely (I think) you can have appearance mounts – so you can use a specific mount for its speed or stat bonuses, but use the radically different appearance of another mount because you happen to like its looks. Again, that’s something I do use when I’m playing in Norrath.
Which style of appearance system do you prefer? Are there any must-have features?