It’s no secret that I enjoy customizing my toons in MMOs, despite the fact that I’m the kind of player who always sticks to the same character. Truth be told, many players spend large amounts of time adjusting their future online avatars, depending on the options and their personal approach to the game. And the rules are really simple there: the more options, the more details available, the better. Being able to make choices is king – and yet, CC (character creation) is still a neglected area in many MMOs which always struck me as somewhat bizarre considering the genre. Which other games rely so heavily on long-term play, character progression, immersion?
With the exception of Aion maybe (which I haven’t played), I’ve never seen particularly satisfying CC in any of the MMOs I’ve played. If I had to choose though, I would roll with Age of Conan which did offer a lot of sliders not just for facial features but body proportions and height. I really believe the latter is one of the gravest oversights in most MMORPGs, the option to make taller and shorter folk. Instantly, there is so much more variety standing in a busy town square where not everyone is of same height or body size.
From what ArenaNet has presented of GW2’s CC this far, I think it’s safe to say that we can expect an unparalleled amount of customization options, not just for hairstyles, faces and skintones but even things like deciding on your type of starting armor or preferred head gear. Dyes are a particularly big deal in GW2 and come with their own interface (if the guys from Yogscast can be believed, there are several hundred dyes available ingame).
So far, so good. Only when a friend asked me what race I was going to play in GW2 the other night, I realized that I apparently hadn’t checked out the CC options well enough before. I was actually rather enamored with the Norns from the very beginning; I often play human characters in MMOs, but that in itself isn’t such an interesting choice. With the Norns, we get a second human faction of barbarians next to the classic humans – a tall, muscular and rough-looking, fur-wearing tribal people, obviously inspired by northern European stereotypes (there be vikings). This is how ArenaNet introduced them, anyway –
“The norn are a race of valiant, shape-changing barbarians. Boisterous, strong-willed, and passionate, the norn are an independent people that swear fealty to no single being. They thrive in their mountain stronghold by the sharpness of their senses, the quickness of their wits, and the strength of their massive forearms. They are guided in this world by their Spirits of the Wild, who embody the virtues of the mightiest beasts. As a people, they are quick to anger, even quicker to smile, and treat each new day as a personal challenge“
Wahey, sounds alright with me! There’s even a female character on display for the Norns, instead of Conan the Barbarian and she doesn’t look like a ballerina. But back to my friend now –
– “A Norn, seriously? Did you check youtube? The humans all look like barbie dolls”, he said. But surely, he was wrong. Maybe the humans looked like that, but I was talking NORNS and also GW2 has awesome character creation so we can fix that, right?
The whole cast of the Bold and the Beautiful
So, I started youtubing. Norns, humans, female CC, beta state. Almost instantly, that selection will take you to Yogscast where I picked this video first, and was immediately met with the male commenters swooing about how “dazzlingly hot and beautiful” all the human female characters were and how “90% of them look like Megan Foxx which isn’t a bad thing”. I had half a mind of stopping the video right there, but there’s not an awful lot of other beta videos currently up in such quality and detail.
Unfortunately, they were right in that all the faces they chose to switch through in the video, were the same type of bland, supermodel pretty with mascara and lipstick. The presets basically go from one doll face to the next and while I’m not opposed to attractive characters myself, I found them extremely boring. Where’s the variety? Where’s the normal options without make-up? How much “uglier” can people go from there if they like to?
I don’t get alarmed that easily, so I kept checking more videos, bravely ignoring the usual mass of beyond stupid youtube troll commenters asking the “replygirls” to shut up (is there any place worse than YT?). Even if the human models should look like painted dolls mostly, the Norn would have to look much different!
How wrong can you be? Perfect skin and faces, make-up, pouty lips. Pretty much the same look as the humans. Seriously? Last time I checked the male Norns, they actually looked like the battle-hardened, muscular race from the North they’re supposed to be and less like their human brothers. Granted, the Norn body types look more muscular for both sexes (overdone too for the males), at least. Anyway, I kept watching the female Norn video and…..whoa, boobs!
Now, I had just assumed the Yogscast guy chose to go with the massive boobs for his Mesmer which is his choice, the outfit included. But then, enter the first female NPC whose even bigger rack would make the curviest bartenders of the Oktoberfest pale in comparison! Another warrior from the cold North – so battle-hardened and muscular, her boobs grew instead of getting smaller! /sarcasm off
The bare midriff almost gets lost among that much bullshit. For the record: huge breasts with no sense for gravity would bother me less if they weren’t also presented like this and so completely out of the initially built-up racial context.
At this point, I went a little desperate. You see, I can try ignore other players wearing silly armor ingame or even creating anatomically laughable characters for themselves somewhat (if not completely), but I am really not looking forward to get it in my face from NPCs too, let alone on my own character model. Especially not if this is supposed to be the race of athletic fighters. Is this really it for the Norns?
Weighing the good and the bad
Well, from all I was able to gather yet, not quite. The make-up apparently is fixed to the faces at this point, but might become a slider of its own in the final CC versions of GW2. Oddly enough, for all their other options ArenaNet have also not introduced eye color this far (right now eye color is linked to the face). The facial similarities between Norn and human females are however a fact, sad but true. On the bright side, the face options aren’t as one-sided as most videos show: as can be seen in this longer video, if you manage to make it through all the “princess territory”, “damsel in distress” and “Disney” comments (/puke), there are in fact ways to mess with the facial presets (see 05:20 onwards) and make them more unique or less nauseatingly attractive, if preferred. On second thought, you might really want to turn the sound off completely on this clip…
As for body types, it appears that players will get to choose between several set models. There are definitely a few leaner and more muscular ones for Norn females too, but if you’re looking to deviate much in terms of skinny or fat, you won’t find that in GW2. As far as breasts go, even the “smaller” Norn breasts are fairly big and a perfect, round shape. I don’t necessarily expect MMOs to feature “boob sliders”, as this forum discussion goes to debate, but considering the vastness of GW2’s CC I was expecting them to at least give the same proportion choices as we’ve seen in AoC or Rift. Flat chests do not seem to exist or else they’re very well hidden (?)
I guess this all sounds a little sobering for anyone looking to create more normal looking, badass human females in GW2, but I’d like to point out that I’ve deliberately focused on the negatives for a change, not the positives. It goes without saying that the polish of GW2’s CC is brilliant – never have there been so many great choices in hairstyles, colors or skins, so many unique features nor that many extra details to configure for the player. The graphics style and textures are beautiful and a lot more realistic than for most MMOs. For the most part, I am extremely pleased.
There are also of course, the non-human races. I’ve left out Sylvari (yeah I know, Syl needs to play Sylvari…not), Asura or Charr. In the latter’s case, I actually applaud ArenaNet’s choices for the female models very much: instead of going for round breasts in a bikini, making the beastly race a goofy parody of itself and giving females additional human traits like long eye-lashes or god forbid make-up (hello Worgen!), they stuck to a much more realistic approach, giving female Charr six mammal glands subtly hidden behind a piece of cloth. Their faces look ferocious just like their male counterparts, so cheers to ArenaNet on this one.
As for the “what about the menz”-question; I don’t like the male humans in GW2 either. They’re perfect Ken analogies to Barbie, although there too you can amend a few things via individual sliders. The Norn on the other hand come with slightly more physical variety and clearly set themselves apart from the humans, with much more savage, mean looking faces and scrubby hair to reflect their culture and origins.
Overall, I don’t expect much change in GW2’s character customization until launch. This late into development and with more betas incoming, the focus will lie on other aspects of gameplay that are ultimately more important. I will reserve my final judgement of GW2’s “bare midriffs quota” until I’ve seen more and firsthand. I guess it’s fair to say though that in terms of gender clichés, its otherwise illustrious customization sadly falls behind games such as Skyrim or Age of Conan and does not quite manage to offer as much variety as it offers choices at a first glance. I expect to meet a lot of awfully beautiful, bodacious people online this year.