I think one of the main reasons I play mmo’s is for the increased customisation we have available..that and interacting with others of course. I’ve played many single player games and while they still have elements of customisation in how you look and how you play it isn’t on the same level as mmo’s. Even the restricted experiences seem to be better than most.
Unfortunately in recent times there seems to be a decline in this facet of mmo’s. They still contain elements of cosmetic and build customisation but the available options, and how you use them are become less and more restrictive. The simplification of the genre has been a steady process over this generation and while combat and quest structure seem to be the most obvious I’ve also noticed a decline in how much control we get over our characters.
Many games are now developing systems where there is very little room for error. It all mostly seems very safe and even when it isn’t and you can make mistakes that prove less than optimal there is really no penalty as you can quickly and easily correct it. Decisions and choice no longer matter when the decision is easily erased… it is meaningless in a way. Many older games are even streamlining their systems further so that people are unable to make an mistakes in the first place. It has become less about the character and game play we want and more about what the developers have designed for us.
I’ve also seen a decline, mostly in the fluff I love amongst the bigger publishers. Cosmetics, character appearance and other areas have become more of a non-essential area in development or, at least not a major focus any more. Being unique and having things that represented you as a person and as a character used to be a major reason behind community engagement: Housing in Ultima, Settlements in SWG, City of heroes and character creation and outfits. So many wonderful systems but they are the minority.. an outlier against the usual.
That is my impression as a Western gamer anyway yet, just across the great internet divide other games seem to be getting this so right.
I was having a go at the Korean open Beta of Blade and Soul and was amazed at the amount of customisation they allow. So many different options regarding hair, colour, eyes, face structure and many other options to pick from. And then you have the variety of sliders and such that let you manipulate near ever single aspect of the character.
This of course still has certain Asian sensibilities that focus on the cultural and personal interests different then our own, which are rather off-putting at times but there are ways to minimise this based on the options provided. Widening waist, rounding face, nose alterations and such but there is only so far you can go. That is of course why we need a NA version…
It reminds me of Aion in the available options. They let people create near anything and I actually like this more than other options. Yes there are some true abominations out there, hideous creatures spawned from the depths of hell but it actually feels like a nice contrast to the rest out there. The only alternative is to restrict the options we get but then we get more into the territory of creating perfect stereotypical dolls. I like the flaws you can design in and rather loath their extinction of late in the games I usually enjoy.
I’m sick of the focus on combat mechanics now and I’ve barely been in the genre that long, I like combat… no I love it but I would much rather it be an addendum to a variety of other mechanics that interact, that form a strong foundation for a game that is to be played more. Allowing people to create something that is more personal to them is a part of that, giving options to really create not simply to rearrange.