When I think of The Elder Scrolls Online character creation or MMO character creation in general, my thoughts usually extend beyond the mechanical idea of what my avatar looks like. I'm usually contemplating motivation, history, and skillset as well. When I'm creating a pen and paper character, the actual appearance of the character is secondary to what the character could do or where he came from. Of course, I always end up drawing the character, but the art was born on the character sheet.
MMOs, and frankly most RPGs, do character creation backward. They usually start with the appearance of the character when it should start with some sort of history or class. But there are some very important elements that every MMO character creation screen should have and still more that I'd like to see specifically in ESO.
I don't remember where I first saw the triangular body adjustment character creation mechanic, but I really like it. I know that many of the adjustments can be handled with direct sliders, but the triangular slider limits the parameters of certain features at the same time it makes the creation process more organic. For instance, most body sliders made triangular prevent players from making a tubby guy with six-pack abs. Triangular sliders allow you to see immediately where your character falls in the thin-fat-muscular scale.
Too many MMO character creators focus on the character's face. In reality, most other players do not recognize your character by his face. Body shape and clothing play a greater role because the camera is so far away most of the time. If you're honest with yourself, I think you'll find that those elements are most important to you too since you're staring at the back of your character throughout most of your gameplay.
Because players see the body of player characters more than they see face, it's important that ZeniMax includes body tattoos and other marks like scars. I would be extra happy if it included body marks that would bleed onto the head in some way like warpaint that covers half a character's face -- Age of Conan offered this feature, as do so many other games. I would love to see that extend down to the rest of the body in ESO, for example.
It's only logical that Argonians will not have the same features as the Human races, but there are three human races and three elven races. I'd like to see something that distinguishes those races from each other. Fortunately, I think ESO will deliver. In their latest AMA, developers answered specific questions about the character creator. When asked about hairstyle differentiations, they explained,
There are currently 24 hairstyle choices per gender in the character creation system. Some of these choices are shared between races, but each race has some unique hairstyle options. Hair color and eye color are also specific to each race and align with established lore. For example, Wood Elves have an option for black eyes that is not available to any other race.
Not everyone is beautiful, especially in a world as unforgiving as Nirn. We should be able to make grizzled, war-worn characters. We aren't playing an anime game, after all! When someone gets hurt, he should retain a scar; he should also grow old without still looking 24. Fortunately for those who like to create aged characters, there is at least a beer-belly option. "You'll be able to individually adjust several parts of your character, including a slider for the stomach," the developers told us in the aforementioned AMA.
Now, I don't believe that ESO should go too far toward ugly characters, as was done in Skyrim. It was hardly possible to make a good-looking character in that game without mods. I wasn't looking for a runway model, but seriously, don't make the options just 20 shades of ugly.
In western RPGs like the Elder Scrolls series, it's important for our characters to grow and change the way we see them growing and changing. It's even more important in MMOs that our characters change because we will usually play these same characters for years. For roleplayers, it's even more important because we like to tell our own stories with our characters, and physical changes happen. And what if you selected something during character creation that you just don't like and want to change? Do you reroll?
Unfortunately, the ZeniMax response to this issue was a bit vague and incomplete. ESO fan Therese Ström asked, "Will it be possible to change your hairstyle or other appearances (like tattoos) in-game after you have created your character?" The developers didn't exactly answer the question but did say this: "Over time, players want to change their appearance as they develop their characters, so we do have plans to release additional hairstyles, tattoos, adornments, etc. in post-launch content updates." I can assume that there will be some sort of barber shop, but that's not exactly what the developers said.
I believe that character history is just as important as character looks in ESO, even more than in other MMOs, and character history directly impacts what the character looks like. I would also like to see these background choices play into the types of choices we have. As the ZeniMax reps said, "The other races do share some of the hairstyles and adornments, but each race will have its own subset of unique hairstyles, adornments, and body markings. Dark Elves, for instance, are the only race that has House sigil tattoos." But I would like to see it take the next step. I'd like to see those House sigil choices, for instance, be available only to certain Dark Elves who have chosen specific historical paths.
Let me know what you think are the essentials for character creation. Does character history play a big role in what your character looks like? What other elements play a factor in how you design your character?
Each week, traverse the treacherous terrain of Tamriel with Larry Everett as he records his journey through The Elder Scrolls Online, an MMORPG from ZeniMax. Comments are welcome below, or send a message to email@example.com. He promises to keep the arrow-to-the-knee jokes to a minimum.