Character Assessment #1: Dungeons & Dragons Online

Character creation is single biggest determining factor in determining whether I will enjoy playing an RPG. I can play any game for at least the beginning levels, no matter how god awful it is, if I have an investment in the unique character that I have made to play in it. As important as picking a class, start zone, and stats are to actual gameplay, the appearance of the character tells me most about they who the are and the choices they have made in the past. I like to make characters whose appearances are based on people who I know as well as famous faces. Sometimes, I will start with an idea and go where tools take me. If a character creator is really good, I will play the game just spend time with my creations.

With the introduction out of the way, here is the first post in my series about graphic character creator systems in RPGs and MMORPGs. I have a number of them planned out for the future, but now roll a D20 for a spot check and see what we find in Turbine’s 2006 release, Dungeons and Dragons: Online.

    

The first and most remarkable aspect of the DDO character creator is that the only visual aspect that you can shape is your character’s face. The body of your character with be the stock, race and sex specific body type. Therefore, no super-muscular Elves rebelling against their genes and no ultra-buxom human slaves wenches hypnotizing opponents before slicing off their heads. Not being familiar with the D&D Eberron campaign setting, I thought I would need help imagining the type of person I wanted to play. Often, in the process of changing some random details of a character, a spark will be ignited inspiring some look or style or archetype that I want to try to evoke. By limiting my options to the face alone, I had to rely more on the combat aspects to help me discover who I wanted to be in-game.

Combat roles and character stats are far more important to a Dungeons and Dragons game while sitting at a table with your friends rolling dice. If I were new to the MMORPG genre, but more acquainted with the tabletop game, it might be less disappointing to me than I now find it. I assume that Turbine doubted that their audience would be bothered by their lack of attention to character appearances. That DDO is still profitable after six years in the competitive game-space of MMOs attests to fact that Turbine knows its audience. It also helps them that DDO is not simply a WoW-clone and has some pretty good gameplay value. However, that is not what we’re discussing here.

I was put off by the emphasis on combat in character creation because D&D, based on my experience with the 2nd edition, is about role-playing, wherein combat is a role-play choice. I want to know who I am going to be before I figure out how. Fortunately, while going through character creation, I was watching Mel Gibson in “Edge of Darkness.” I decided that I wanted to create an older character who wore his years with heaviness.

I’ve Never Heard of Body Fat

DDO Human males are all in their prime, physically, without the uncontrollable gut spread that I was looking for. They could look older by giving them the Fraiser Crane bald and bearded look, but the humans still lacked solidness and weight. So I went with the only one of the three other free races that fit the bill; Dwarf.

Do Ye Have Any Donuts for Me?

The options in the screenshot above of my character Boppin Steelrib are the only options you have when it comes the appearance of your head and the color of skin. The armor is based on the combat Style, Class, and Path choices I made before finally getting to his pick out a face. There are no sliders to adjust width, length, or depth of facial features. DDO has a Mr. Potato-Head style character creator where the player picks out lips and eyebrows, though not shrink or stretch chins or cheeks. Players have a few major area from which they can between:

  • Hair Styles
  • Eyebrows
  • Eyes
  • Noses
  • Lips
  • Facial Hair Styles

The number of options for each one of these depends on the sex and race of the character you create. Both sex and race are on tabs before the tab for face options. In this Free-to-Play game, non-subscribing players cannot try to put together a face for the premium races. That is a mistake. Letting fool around with premium content will tempt me to purchase it.

With only four races to choose from in the Free-To-Play mode, players should expect to be able to make a  subtly unique-looking character. Realistically most players will pick options that do not cause their characters to stand out for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, I expect that most player will care more about their character stats than how close together their character’s eyes are. Once the characters have their helmets on, they are only look-alike silhouettes anyway. Even if I were the type of player who imagined that his RPG character was a representation of himself, I think I get frustrated by my inability to myself in the game. Ultimately, I view my characters as protagonists in a collaborative story. The collaborative effort in character creation did just barely satisfy what I wanted to do. I won’t be making any alts though.

Grade: C

If you’re interested in a DDO character creation guide that deals more with character stats, check out this video.

If you’re interested in DDO in general, check out the DDOCast news podcast (itunes).

-Casualslacks

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