Actually, the first and most important stop for an MMO gamer is the character creator. When you're in beta, it might not be as important because the character will be tossed away in a few short weeks. However, in the live game, this character will not only be the same one you might see for years to come; it's also a reflection of you as a player. There are some players who insist on playing the ugliest races in the game, while others want the prettiest or the strongest. Personally, I lean toward playing female characters. I'm not sure what that says about me.
The creation of our character says so much about us, so it is extremely important that western RPGs and especially MMORPGs allow us to express ourselves. The Secret World's character creator has its good elements and its bad, but the most important part is how much Funcom's version allows us to express our personalities.
The gritty setting
Before examining a character creator, you must first understand where the game takes place and how that impacts the ultimate result. The Secret World focuses on conspiracy theory in a modern day setting. It's the underbelly of today's society, if you will. "Everything is true" is the motto for the game, from alternate dimensions to Atlantis. If it's unbelievable, believe it's in The Secret World.
Characters created for this world reflect the seedy and sneaky nature of the game. One of the first things I noticed was that the characters' looks weren't extremely pretty. That's not to say they were ugly by any means, but they aren't what you would call super-model gorgeous like you are able to find in other MMOs. I'm OK with that. Personally, I don't like my characters to be too pretty; it takes away some of the realism. Even male characters can be over-the-top pretty or muscular in MMOs. The Secret World shies away from that, thankfully.
However, as I mention in the video below, the variety in these gritty faces is very shallow, so much so if any two characters happen to be wearing the same hair style, it will be difficult to distinguish one from the other at normal playing distances.
The variety in the polygons
I know that judging an MMO by its character creator is a lot like judging a book by its cover, but publishers who believe in the book they are selling will spend a lot of time on the package they wrap around the pages of prose. At the same time, some book jackets can be misleading.
Based on what I've seen of TSW this week, Funcom needed to spend a little more time on the cover art. There seemed to be a lot missing from the character creator beyond the variety of faces, although that's part of it.
To compare apples to apples, you have only to look as far as Funcom's other MMO, Age of Conan. When that game was released, reviewers clamored over how in-depth that character creator was. Personally, AoC's character creator impressed me with how realistic I could make the characters look and how much variety I had, not only in faces but in body types as well.
The Secret World has one body type for female characters and one body type for male characters. The hair styles and make-up are very limited in both scope and color. I completely understand the desire to avoid over-burdening the client while keeping the game realistic, but I believe most choices are far too limited. The only exceptions are the skin colors. Although these are limited to three per type of face, the colors are very reflective of the ethnicity of the people represented in that face.
I've put together a video of the character creator and opening sequence, so instead of just taking my word for it, judge for yourself. The video is only about 15 minutes long, and I show off every option available to you currently, along with the opening cutscene for the Illuminati.
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