Character design in MMORPGs. Today: LotRO

I’ve read about the designing of tutorial zones and how important those are from different MMO firms already (definitely from Blizzard and Bioware Mythic)… how new players judge a game by the first 15 minutes of playtime. Now, I know that this is important. It’s definitely made me quit and immediately uninstall games before! But I don’t just create a character and jump into the game. I spend a good portion of time creating a character. The longer it takes me to find something I like (because of choices, not because they’re all equally ugly!), the more attached I already get to my character and consequently, to the game.

I guess when World of Warcraft came out, the standard was still to choose between a few premade options. Not comparable to Aion where you can change everything, even the bridge of the nose, its tilt, length, height, width,… So nowadays, I’m a bit upset when I don’t find something comparable to Aion and rather restrictive like WoW. But the game could be a bit older and/or even with its restrictive character design, it could still give me lots of options! But quite often, I find rather ugly choices. It just makes me wonder how those could pass QA. And I’m not just talking about personal preference. Not everybody wants their dwarves and goblins and elves to run around with a mohawk and that’s okay. ;) I’m talking about things where it looks like somebody found Photoshop on their computer and played around with it for a few minutes.

Of course, I come with an example! 5 examples even.

As much as I like(*) the Lord of the Rings, I find LotRO disturbingly restrictive sometimes. Yes, I know there can’t be unicorns or giant geese as mounts, but it’d still be – purely theoretical, of course – a nice variation to the zillion different horses (and goats).

What I don’t get is why they don’t at least try to make the most out of what they can do (apart from having the runekeeper as a class! ;) ). Their elves and humans look so much alike that aside from a chubbier face and shorter ears, I find it very hard to distinguish between humans and elves (the females, at least). Of course, they do not look drastically different from each other. But why not use the few options you have… like different hairstyles. I just can’t picture those elves with their different lifestyles going to the same barber shop than your standard human. And when you choose between different “head” options, I can never see a real difference in their faces. It seems a bit lazy and a tiny bit too subtle maybe.

Anyway. That’s a minor detail, I guess. One of my biggest pet peeves in the game is the design of the female hobbits. They’re my favourite race in the game but I usually only have one hair style (with my monthly allowance, I’ve maxed my character slots to get more bank space and most of my new characters are hobbits ;) ). Personal preference for the most cases and… well, the ability to properly see in at least 5 cases. But judge for yourself:

They don’t fit the hobbit’s head at all. Why were they even released like that? Is there ever a chance we’ll get a revision and the hair styles are fitted properly? I actually like the one in the middle of the top row. But not like that. *sigh*

Fortunately, we can always wear those über pretty hats that Turbine keeps designing for our characters so we’ll never have to see our characters’ hair styles again, right? ;)

(*)There’s no “love” here because, I admit, I haven’t actually read the books yet (only started the first of the trilogy). I refuse to say that I love something only because I saw the movies.