I think one of the draws of some games, especially some RPG’s, is the ability to customize the characters’ looks. Sometimes it’s pretty simple, and sometimes it’s really complicated. When I read reviews of RPG’s in particular, a big deal is often made of character customization – how deep it is, how complicated it is, just what it can do, or if anything is absent. MMO’s in particular tend to be pretty heavy in the character customization game, both in the creation and in the later parts of gameplay.
For me, this is one of the reasons I will start a game, and a potential reason for me to keep with a game, or if I drop it if I get bored. For example, I’ve been playing Star Trek Online ever since it went F2P in 2012. I’ve done just about everything I give a single care about doing, many multiple times. And I’m not really digging the direction it’s been going the past year or so. So, why stick with it? In part, because of the character customization. I have more than 20 current alts, with several I’ve made and deleted over the years. The character customization is very deep, while not being too complicated. Not only can you customize your PC, but you can also fully customize all of your bridge officers. And not only that, but you can customize your ships too! It’s great. In fact, it’s so great that the few problems really stand out – limited color pallets, same colors sometimes don’t match on different outfit pieces, and do on. There’s a reason people say the real endgame is space barbie.
And part of why I wanted to get into FFXIV and Elder Scrolls Online was some fantasy character creation, with the ability to get more gear and nice outfits. FFXIV has really delivered, even though I’m still in the early game. ESO, though, has been a bit of a disappointment, personally, despite the very wide array of outfit pieces. To get into why, I’ll have to explain a bit of theory.
The way I see it, there’s a three-way continuum for how outfits can go: a sexy-cute-cool continuum. For these purposes, I’ll define ‘sexy’ as ‘designed to emphasize the (ideal) physical form,’ ‘cute’ as ‘designed to invoke a feeling of youthfullness or childishness,’ and ‘cool’ as ‘meant to looks awesome’. Not exactly scientific, but it’s one of those things where ‘you know it when you see it’. And these are sort of objective; while a ‘sexy’ outfit might not be particularly sexy to you, or me, it’s clearly meant to be that way, as opposed to cute or cool.
(And of course, there’s another axis orthagonal to this spectrum, which I’d say is something like ‘extremeness’. Kinda like a contrast, or darkness/lightness spectrum. So, say, the traditional Amish dress, and a gothic lolita cosplay dress, would both be at the ‘cute’ corner. The Amish dress would be at the unextreme end, while the gothloli dress would be at the extreme end. In fact, I’d say most of the things normal people wear normally would be at the unextreme end, somewhere on that triangle.)
I’m going to give some examples, from Granblue Fantasy, for both male and female characters. Male is a bit harder, since what (straight) dudes, which is what most game devs are, would find cool, others would find sexy. And ‘cute’ male outfits are few and far between, for the same reason.
And of course, there’s everything in between.
My problem with ESO is that almost every piece of gear, and even the outfits, are weighted towards the ‘cool’ corner. Some of the cash shop outfits are heading towards the ‘cute’ corner, but even there they’re pretty much all at the less extreme part of that spectrum. And of what few things are at the ‘sexy’ part of the triangle…they aren’t very sexy to me. I mean, this is I think the sexiest outfit available for PC’s:
And that doesn’t do a whole lot for me. Part of it is that I’m more into the lower body, and that’s completely covered. But another part is that the character model itself doesn’t lend itself to much sexiness, at least as far as they’ve made sexy outfits. Look up there: if you didn’t have the bra thing, would you even know it’s female? (The male version of this outfit is just that without the bra.) Heck, there are boob window dresses (common in Vvardenfell, especially in the Telvani areas), but because of the anti-cleavage body models, and the dress colors that tend to match the skin tones of the NPC’s, it’s hard to tell that that’s what they are.
Now, it’s pretty shallow of me, but if I’m going to make a female character, I want her to look quite different from a male character I could have made. If I just wanted some cool armor (and especially a cool helmet), does male or female even matter at that point? What I want is a female character that is sexy and/or cute, somewhere on that left side of the triangle. Or in the extreme part of the center.
This is just a minor complaint about ESO though. It’s quite the fun game, with lots to do, and the cool armors and outfits are quite cool. But the character customization and dress-up isn’t the thing that’s going to keep me coming back for years and years.