World of Warcraft: Character Customization
Editorial by Garrett Fuller
On the verge of the Burning Crusade expansion I wanted to ask the question to Warcraft players how you view your character. In playing many MMOs we all stick by our avatar very closely going through the trials of leveling up to the end game. Since Warcraft has been at its end game for over a year (being out two years) now many players constantly look for ways to tweak their character out and make them better. In this aspect Blizzard has given us a loot based system. The classes and races themselves are balanced to some degree (I know Will of the Forsaken tips the scales a bit). It is in the loot that players win and use that really makes the difference. The other way to boost your character is by gaining faction with various races or creatures in the world and using that faction to buy more loot. With another ten levels being added to the game, is there a chance we'll be able to customize out characters without having to grind raid dungeons or PvP instances to get the boost we need?
I know I know we'll get more talents, spells and abilities. Do those things really make the difference when playing? Yes they do on an even playing field. The bottom line of Warcraft is you are only as good as your loot. The game was designed this way to keep players going after new items for further enhancement. One of my biggest complaints about Warcraft has been character or avatar customization. If I am an orc shaman with Ten Storms Gear, an Aurastone Hammer and a Red Dragonscale Protector, I pretty much look like every other orc shaman with those items. There is no way to set your character apart at that point. The look of your character stays the same. Some games allowed players to at least dye their items for a customized look. Warcraft does not, everything is the same and we all have to wear it. I know this seems like some thing small to complain about in the grand scheme of things, but don't you like having the ability to give your character something that is uniquely his or her own? Being the top MMO in the world right now, maybe it would be nice to have yourself stand out a bit more in the population of seven million players.
Moving beyond the look of an avatar, what about the depth of the set up that players are given? We get talents to customize things, these are quick and easy to figure out and most players use a spec that is the best for their given class. Once you get to the end, if your spec works, there is little reason to change it. Again we hit a dead end. I have not changed my spec as a shaman in over a year. It works for what I need to do. Warriors basically have two choices: defensive tank or PvP crit-warrior. The same holds true for most classes. My point about talents is when you really get through the experimental stages to find out what works, many players settle on what is best for their class. This holds true in any game, but giving players another level of customization to their characters might be a nice addition. I guess for me it's the depth that Warcraft goes in building your character, it can be shallow. Don't get me wrong I am not asking for this huge immersive character building experience. I do think however that developers should give players ways to have depth in abilities while still keeping the game in balance.
Finally let's talk about loot, gear, equipment, items, all of it. This is where Warcraft has become very unbalanced. Players who reach sixty with all blue gear will get crushed by a player in epic gear. I understand that player has gone through a lot to get the epics and they deserve them, but why not give the gear bonuses in other areas besides damage and attack speed. If all weapons did the same damage at the end game and hit for basically the same DPS overall it may allow fights to go on longer and allow players to reach into a different bag of tricks for PvP. Make epic weapons give players a bonus to other areas. Boost strength or stamina a little more, I can even see boosting the crit-strike chance. It is really the DPS that drives these weapons and armor over the edge of balance. In a way developers have created the perfect system to keep players raiding and pushing for the next best thing. Still, there should be ways for every players to compete on an equal playing field or at least a field where you are level sixty, have a few epics and blues, and don't get crushed by a Tier three mage with all the gear possible.
I know there are some opinions in this editorial that people may question. But that is why we bring up these topics, to get you to question the balance and design of games. I wish there were more ways to customize World of Warcraft. I think Blizzard owes it to the players who have stuck by the game for two years now. Fortunately, myself and all the shamans of the guild look pretty good together. Kind of like a football team. Maybe with the expansion we'll see a deeper level of customization in the characters we play. In the feedback, let us know what areas you think Warcraft could improve on as far as character customization goes.