Personalising your avatar in an on-line world is big business. This is obvious to anyone who’s wandered around Second Life for more than 10 minutes and seen the millions of purchasable ‘looks’, or spent a few hours creating their own rock legend in Guitar Hero 5 (a huge collection of menu options for changing everything from how pointy your chin is to which way your nose curves). In those games however, the look is purely cosmetic. Those of us who play Massive Multi-player Online Roleplaying games (MMO’s, MMORPG’s, MMOG’s, whatever you want to call them) have different needs from our character’s equipment.
Traditionally your equipment both defines how you look and how you perform. Armour provides protection from enemy damage and improves your innate abilities, weapons affect how much damage you deal, and accessories (jewellery, shields, and other esoteric items) provide magical benefits beyond your wildest dreams. Sometimes, they also make you look good.
Wearing a newly acquired and hard won breastplate with pride because those around you can tell what it is and where you got it is fine, until the colour clashes with your hair or your choice of boots. And should Hobbits be penalised for not wearing any shoes while other races benefit from run-speed enhancements or other funky abilities?
Lord of the Rings online offers a system which allows characters to both personalise their look, but also benefit from the best equipment they can acquire using the outfit system. In my inaccurately named ‘short review of Lord of the Rings Online‘ I commented that I’d not had room to talk about the outfit system, and so this post is filling that gap.
When the system was first introduced it was only open to characters who had made level 20, until then, your appearance was decided by the equipment you were immediately wearing. Now however, as long as you’ve had any one character reach level 20 or beyond, all of your characters can use outfits. It’s a nice touch. The outfit system basically gives you 2 extra inventory layouts (outfit 1, outfit 2) covering the visible items – head, shoulders, gloves, legs, feet, chest and back (cloak). Weapons and shields are currently excluded, and since you can’t see jewellery that’s not included either.
The system lets you cosmetically equip items in the various slots, the item actually moves back into your general bag inventory, but the slot now retains the appearance of that item. You can destroy / sell the item itself and still retain the look. You then choose which of the three outfits you want to show to the world, your regular appearance based on equipped items, or outfit 1 / 2 from the cosmetically equipped items.
So you’re free to wear the most effective equipment even if it makes you look like a jester who’s done too much acid, while still maintaining some sense of style with one or other of the outfits. Maybe you have a casual look for lounging around the Prancing Pony or your Kin House, or two different armour sets for looking mean and really mean. You might like to look like a Pirate on Thursdays but have your regular hunting garb on the rest of the time. Lord of the Rings online allows you to hide / show various slots too (so you can turn off your hat indoors), and this works just as well for outfits.
If you kept the original item that you have cosmetically equipped, you can replace an outfit and get it back at a later stage, however if you sold / destroyed the item and replace it in the outfit system as well, you have to find another one before you can cosmetically equip it again in future. To go with this system, Turbine have added a lot of purely cosmetic items to the game. Hats, cloaks, and various pieces of clothing which offer no character benefits but which look pretty or high quality or unique. Sometimes these are player crafted or reputation related purchases, and sometimes they are creature drops or quest items or special event rewards. There are various NPC vendors around the world who also sell items such as backpacks (instead of cloaks), quivers, and other purely cosmetic items.
Overall the system is flexible enough to give you options, but restrictive enough that people don’t end up with 200 outfits and you’re never sure who is who. It allows you to customise your appearance, wearing a matching set of armour which looks good but might not present the best stats, and allows roleplayers to engage in more realistic activity (you tend not to sit in the bar in full plate with a face visor unless you’re expecting it to be invaded by 200 orcs).
My previous experience of appearance was EverQuest where you were tied to how your gear looked, although you could tint the items (and you can dye items in Lord of the Rings Online), and people spent a lot of time and effort carrying around sets of gear so they could change how they looked. It consumed bank / bag space and was a pain in the neck. Lord of the Rings Online’s solution is much more preferable, allowing you to look how you like but not forcing you to waste bank space. It’s easy to use, quick and fun. I’m sure people would like further outfit slots, and I know I would be interested in allowing weapons and shields to be outfitted cosmetically, but despite those missing features, it does work.
Here’s three screenshots of one of my characters in his three different outfits. The first screenshot is how the character looks wearing his actual gear (he has a full set of matching armour, so doesn’t look too bad at the moment),
The next shot is wearing the Heavy Armour set from Forochel (thanks to Grete, who worked to earn the reputation to make this armour in-game),
And lastly, his previous look, using a faceplate helm (which his beard ruins) and a set of armour he crafted,
He doesn’t have a casual outfit at the moment – but then when you spend all your time killing orcs in Moria, who needs to wear a shirt.