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Breaking down Guild Wars 2's character creator

Justin Olivetti
The second Guild Wars 2 press beta weekend has come and gone, and Massively was there every step of the way. Stay tuned throughout the day today for even more guides, impressions, videos, and Q&As to get you ready for the highly anticipated sequel to Guild Wars.

In just the few minutes that it takes to traverse the 10 screens of Guild Wars 2's character creation process, I'm left with one overriding thought: This game looks ridiculously good. Ludicrously so, even. And I didn't even enter the game world yet!

I always love a good, in-depth character creation system, as there's a joy in spending a good amount of time making exactly the sort of character you want to play. Unfortunately, most MMOs have stripped this process down to the bare basics, which is why I'm pleased to announce that it's actually a mini-journey in and of itself in Guild Wars 2.

The point of this process isn't just to make a character but help you grow attached to this person and get to know him or her through it. What are this character's motivations? What branch of his or her profession is the most appealing? How did you become a hero? What obstacles do you have to overcome?

Instead of playing the game itself, I took some time over this beta testing weekend to dissect every step of the character creation system and bring my findings back to those of you who want to start building your character in your mind.

Sylvari head options
Part 1: Race

The first few steps of Guild Wars 2's character creation are as straight-forward as can be. On the initial page, you'll choose your race: Charr, Human, Norn, Sylvari, or Asura. In this past weekend of testing, both Sylvari and Asura were disabled from testing, so I wasn't able to report on their looks and choices.

Part 2: Gender

Male or female. It's a doozy. Take your time.

Part 3: Profession

All eight classes are available for play in the beta. I thought it was a neat touch that whichever you select, your character's outfit, background, and ambient noises will change as a result. I really liked how the background was a mixture of the static painted image and moving parts, such as the embers swirling around the Elementalist or the gears revolving near the Engineer.

Part 4: Appearance

This is the screen where you'll probably be spending the most time, fine-tuning your looks until you've sculpted the character that suits you best. There's a dizzying array of options here, starting with a basic height slider and physique selection. Be it muscly, hairy, thin, busty, or sculpted, there's a good-looking option available (no overweight or ugly people allowed through Tyria's customs, I guess). Charr get the extra option of fur here, and Norn can select from a fine display of tattoos.

Head options allow you to choose not only your character's face but his or her skin tone as well. Hair styles and colors are, as always, fun to play with, and within five seconds I had a Legolas-lookalike prepped for my Ranger. Human and Norn males get an extra option here -- facial hair -- whilst the womenfolk will have to go without. Additionally, Charr can pick their horns.

Next up are your facial details, and it's here that simple "pick a box" selections morph into sliders. I'm personally not crazy about sliders for character creation, as it's too easy to make a freakishly weird-looking person. Just for kicks, I threw all my eye sliders over to the right and discovered I'd made large cat eyes. Aaaahhhh!

The final part of the appearance page has you choosing your outfit's color scheme. The upper body, lower body, and footwear areas can each be shaded with three different colors, and there are 23 colors from which to choose.

Part 5: Character choice #1

Once the look of your character is complete, it's time to start building the groundwork for his or her own personal story. ArenaNet does this through a series of four choices that are the launch pad for your personal in-game story. Think carefully about each, for they will have long-lasting consequences.

With each of these choices, additional exposition is provided at the bottom of the screen to give you an idea about what this choice entails. The first choice is the only one that's dictated to you by your class, and whatever you choose will change the initial appearance of your character.
  • Elementalist: "I study all the elements, but I wear a gem that symbolizes my love of _____." (Water, Fire, Earth, Air)
  • Warrior: "I wear _____ on the battlefield. Because of this, I am recognized and given proper respect." (A spangenhelm, A cap helm, No helm at all)
  • Guardian: "As a symbol of my dedication, I wear _____." (Conqueror's pauldrons, Fanatic's pauldrons, A visionary's helm)
  • Engineer: "The most useful tool is my _____." (Universal multi-tool pack, Eagle-eye goggles, Panscopic monocle)
  • Ranger: "My pet ____ fights at my side and guards my back." (Three pets are offered based on your race. This will be your starter companion.)
  • Necromancer: "A Necromancer's closest companion is death. In acknowledgement of this, I mark my face with a symbol of a _____." (Trickster demon, Skull, Ghostly wraith)
  • Thief: "In my line of work, it's important to understand the power of _____." (Anonymity, Determination, Subterfuge)
  • Mesmer: "A Mesmer's mask creates an image. I choose to look out from behind a _____." (Harlequin's smile, Phantasm of sorrow, Fanged dread)
Part 6: Character choice #2

This is a personality choice that's universal among all three races that I tested:
  • Universal: "Trouble may come, but I use my _____ to overcome it." (Charm, Dignity, Ferocity)
Part 7: Character choice #3

The seventh page concerns your character's basic background -- where you came from and how you got your beginnings.
  • Human: "I was raised _____." (In the streets, By common folk, Among the nobility)
  • Charr: "I am proud to be _____." (A Blood Legion soldier, An Ash Legion soldier, An Iron Legion soldier)
  • Norn: "The most important quality of a great hero is _____." (Strength, Cunning, Instinct)
Part 8: Character choice #4

I like to think of this choice as a connection to the game world, something that happened in your past that still influences you today.
  • Human: "One of my biggest regrets is that _____." (I never searched for my true parents, I never found my sister's body, I passed up an opportunity to perform in the circus)
  • Charr: "I would die for my warband, especially ____, my sparring partner." (Maverick, Euryale, Clawspur, Dinky, Reeva)
  • Norn: "At a recent celebratory moot in Hoelbrak, I _____." (Blacked out, Got into a fight, Lost an heirloom)
Part 9: Character choice #5

The last choice is about a backstory fact that your character had no direct control over.
  • Human: "Everyone said I was blessed by _____ when I was young." (Dwayna, Grenth, Balthazar, Melandru, Lyssa, Kormir)
  • Charr: "They tell me the soldier that sired me is a _____." (Loyal soldier, Sorcerous shaman, Honorless Gladium)
  • Norn: "When I was still a kid, I had a vision. A Spirit of the Wild spoke to me and offered me its guardianship. That Spirit was a _____." (Bear, Snow Leopard, Wolf, Raven)
Part 10: Summary and name

It's here that your character's looks and background are summarized in a short story that weaves together the choices you've made up to this point. If you approve, you "sign" the story and thus enter your name as your final step. As with the first Guild Wars, you can have a two-part name.

From then on it's time to enjoy a gorgeous cinematic that introduces you and your race. Depending on the choices you've already made, the cinematic will be tailored to reflect your background.

Even a Bookah like you knows that Guild Wars 2 is on the way, but it takes an Asura's intellect, a Human's charm, a Sylvari's wisdom, a Charr's passion, and a Norn's love of strong mead to dive into beta and make sense of a game this complex. Fortunately, we have all five on the Massively staff. Enjoy our previews, guides, and our weekly GW2 column, Flameseeker Chronicles!