7 MMO cosmetic wardrobe systems, ranked

Here’s a little thought exercise I’ve been going through lately after having a discussion about cosmetic systems on the MOP podcast. We had been asked which was the best MMO wardrobe system, which I initially thought was an easy answer… and then, long after the podcast was done, started to revise my response. Ultimately, I asked myself how I would rank the systems present in the MMOs I’ve played the most in the last, oh, five years or so, and this is what I came up with going from best to worst.

WildStar

There’s a lot of factors that go into a truly great cosmetic wardrobe system, and believe it or not, WildStar checks off most of those boxes. It’s got great armor design, plenty of cosmetic pieces, a system that remembers loot you’ve collected, multiple outfit slots, two dye channels, fun dyes, and an accessible system (which is a change from launch, which required you to talk to a specific NPC). I adored being able to create and wear different outfits based on my mood, and I was often torn on which one I liked the best because they were all pretty awesome. WildStar usually get a lot of props for its housing, but I think its wardrobe deserves praise too.

Guild Wars 2

Initially I had put Guild Wars 2 at the top, but upon further reflection, I had to acknowledge that there are two big flaws with its wardrobe system: It makes you pay to change individual slots (via transmutation charges) and it doesn’t allow for multiple saved outfits. Apart from that, it’s pretty brilliant, with several dye channels, loads of colors, expressive pieces, and all the buttflaps you can stomach. Finding and obtaining skins is an enjoyable metagame for GW2, that’s for sure.

RIFT

On paper, RIFT has almost the full package. It remembers skins, has multiple outfit slots, is ridiculously easy to use, involves weird cosmetics, and so on. Other than the dye cash shop and the smaller color range, I’d say it was almost perfect… except that I just don’t like about 90% of RIFT’s armor designs. They’re not bad, per se, just not what I want to be trouncing around in, and there are strangely few store outfits that even slightly tempt me to purchase. Probably shouldn’t complain; better armor art and I might have gone broke.

The Secret World

TSW’s strength in cosmetics is that it’s a rare MMO that uses modern outfits rather than fantasy/sci-fi ones (for the most part) and is thus a fashion that is more identifiable to players. People in TSW just adore dressing up their characters, sometimes the more outrageous, the better. Wonderful array of choices are offset only by a lack of dyeable outfits (although some pieces come in multiple colors) and no multiple outfit saves. It’s nice that there is a convoluted fashion to even equip cosmetic weapons, but it really should’ve been more like the regular outfits in accessibility.

Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO sits squat in the middle of this list with plenty of strengths but plenty of weaknesses as well. On the plus side, it’s another MMO with a community that does a lot of dressing up, and the game has done a lot to make this as robust as possible. Dyes, multiple outfits, varied designs, cosmetic weapons, etc. But on the minus side, the wardrobe itself is a little creaky and unfriendly, especially when compared to how many MMOs these days are saving EVERY new design whereas LOTRO has a hard limit. And you have to manage it by hand. Plus, the dyes aren’t that great, with only one color channel for (most) pieces and the dyeable area often being small.

World of Warcraft

For a major MMORPG, World of Warcraft suffers from a kind of lackluster system. Admittedly, the fact that it has one and it’s gradually improved is far better than launch, but seriously, transmog is pretty sad when you compare it to the field. No dyes, no multiple outfits (I’m not really that keen on just changing gear’s appearance rather than having a separate and toggleable cosmetic outfit), no way to do it on the fly, new gear overriding older transmog looks and requiring more money for new transmogs, and no quick check boxes to turn off helms and capes is all in dire need of addressing. To its credit, WoW has fabulous and fun armor design, which goes a long way to smoothing over the issues presented here.

Star Trek Online

Let’s throw in a couple of Cryptic efforts to be well-rounded. STO never really impressed me with its outfits. Sure, you could mix-and-match uniform elements, there were some (but not many) colors, and you had a small handful of outfit slots. But generally you aren’t collecting new looks while you play (most uniforms are simply bought through the store), and the interface is a little unwieldy. Sometimes it’s just more interesting to let your gear do the visuals for you, since they can be more detailed and futuristic.

Neverwinter

At the bottom of the barrel, Neverwinter does the absolute bare minimum to qualify as an MMO with a cosmetic system while making it as unfun as possible. Two cosmetic-only slots for specific items, no thank you. It’s a system that you learn about in the tutorial and then promptly forget going forward.

Now I know that there are plenty of other MMOs out there with great wardrobe systems, like EverQuest II, but I wanted to rank ones from games that I was most familiar.

6 major MMORPG launch days revisited

wildstar plans

One of the neat things about having a long-running blog is that it inadvertently turns into a historical document chronicling major events. In this case, Bio Break has been around since 2008, and I’ve gone through several major MMO launches since then. I thought it might be fun to look up the day one (or day two) posts talking about those experiences to reshare them with you.

Guild Wars 2 (August 2012)

“Guild Wars 2.  Is incredible.

“Playing it live feels so much different than beta, and I’m so glad I have a character to actually invest in.  But even more than that, this is just a game that exists to wow you left and right.  I’m sure that there are those who have become immune to in-game beauty and details, and only see the numbers and min-maxing, but that’s missing the point here.  It’s a game where I felt fully justified to spend the first hour just gawking around like a tourist instead of killing things, and I’m forever going off the beaten track to explore.”

WildStar (June 2014)

“As you may have heard/experienced, it was anything but a smooth beginning.  Due to a purported DDoS attack and a kajillion people trying to cram through the login servers at the same time, we simply could not log into the game.  We got to know the little running hamster, the theme music, and our account passwords very well, however.  It was 4:15 before I could log in, and by then going back to sleep wasn’t much of an option.”

RIFT (February 2011)

“All in all, I’m pretty impressed with the game performance.  No crashes for me, and everything flowed just smoothly.  I did roll a Dwarf Bard, and I’m pretty pleased with the choice.  I’m a Medieval Guitar Hero and proud of it, baby!  I splashed in a bit of Riftstalker for the teleportation spell — being able to jump ahead 25 feet every so often is a ton of fun, as well as a helpful escape button if I got over my head.”

Star Wars: The Old Republic (December 2011)

“On a lark I tried to see if I could log in at 6:30, and lo and behold I could.  Servers were up about ten minutes after that, and I began the process of reserving the eight character names I picked out.  When I finally logged in, it was to a ghost town — not a single soul in the zone, not a single voice on the chat screen, nothing.  I’m not saying I was the first in game, but it almost felt like it.”

Champions Online (September 2009)

“Framerate issues notwithstanding, I had a great time last night.  It was fun to see a lot of friends in the game (and the @name system is growing on me, for sure).  I even spent a bit of time learning the ropes of the crafting system, which is pretty useful — you can make your own inventory bags, which is certainly useful.”

Neverwinter (April 2013)

“While the character creator is really skimpy and the Foundry reportedly in shambles, the core game itself looks fantastic and is pretty fun to play.  It’s more action/arcade-like than a traditional MMO, but for some reason it works here.”

Neverwinter: Opening an old Door

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According to my sometimes faulty blog records here on Bio Break, the last time I played Neverwinter to any degree of regularity was… January 2014. So, y’know, it’s been a while. And this isn’t even a post to say that I’m back full-bore into the game, just that I’m stopping back to say hi and see what’s up.

Neverwinter keeps adding more and more content to the point where I feel like there’s a mountain of soloable stuff out there that I’d like to see sooner or later. Just looking at the campaign pages (what’s a campaign? Have I ever done one?) was intimidating.

I flirted with the same-old idea of rolling up a new character and taking it through the whole game, but I need to stop doing that when returning to MMOs all of the time. After all, I have a perfectly serviceable level 57 Trickster Rogue on the character creation screen who not only has a lot of time invested in her but probably some money as well. The only downside here? I know nothing about her, Jon Snow.

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Well, I remember very little at least. It’s been almost three years after all, and the game has changed a lot since then. The big disadvantage of picking up an old character that has a lot of hours under its belt is that you just feel silly and stupid and lost for the first hour or so playing it. Sure, some of it comes back naturally, but the rest requires some careful reading of tooltips, reallocating talent points, sorting through a bizarrely full inventory, and trying to suss out what you were doing when you last left the game.

While Neverwinter isn’t always very clear and concise when it comes to gear (and I have a rant coming on MMO gear complexity soon), at least the somewhat limited hotbar and talent build was easy to figure out. I mean, this is the kind of game where you just jam down on your left mouse button and your character goes to town while you admire the visuals. I started waking up those long-dormant memories of how much I liked seeing this TR dance about, throwing about decoys and slashing the enemy to ribbons.

And for all of the headache of figuring her back out, I was rewarded with a character who is already stocked with a healing artifact, two mounts, and five companions, including my ghost lady who possesses mobs and makes those mobs attack each other. I’d forgotten about her! Favorite companion ever. Should take her with me to other games.

door3

After a while I had to close down the menus and just play the game for fun or else I might go a little mad and run from the computer. It’s in this that Neverwinter’s design perfectly aids the returning amnesiac, because you really don’t need to remember any quest details or objectives. Simply follow the yellow sparkly lights, son, and kill or click whoever is on the receiving end of it. Don’t question, just act. That’s the Neverwinter way.

As mindless as that is, it’s relaxing too. I am down in the middle of the magical chasm that severely damaged the city of Neverwinter back when, and there are all sorts of morose spellplague victims and apocalyptic visuals to encounter.

Small detail that I like: The NPC quest giver voice over persists even when you leave the screen. The voice acting is decent, but having it go on while you’re on the move does a great job delivering lore and setting without forcing you to stop and read paragraphs of text. Kind of like the fantasy equivalent of audiobooks or podcasts. Just listen while you’re on the go.

Some of the fights were a little tricky as I got used to my character again, but it was amazing how fast all of this came back once I got going. I did replace just one skill, however everything else is the same as it was back in early 2014.

Is Neverwinter the perfect pick-up-and-put-down MMO? I can see it as such, same with Star Trek Online. Not always polished but usually pretty enjoyable, and I’ll take the latter over the former any day if I had to choose.

Six MMOs I’m considering playing this fall

We’re now deep into September, which means many things for my life. It’s the start of the school year for my job, what I always see as the MMO expansion season, and the onset of the fall and preparation for winter. As I settle comfortably into both World of Warcraft and RIFT right now, I’ve been considering what I might add to my roster for the remainder of 2016. I have several options in front of me, and if things calm down a bit more, I might be playing one or more in the near future. So what’s being considered?

1. Project Gorgon

It’s not a question of whether or not to play Project Gorgon, it’s just a matter of when. I hate this whole early access nonsense, because you never really know when to leap on board, even when the games go into quasi-persistence. There’s three thoughts here: Just play it already and roll with the changes that are sure to come, wait for the Steam early access release that should come by the end of the year, or really hold out for the official launch in late 2017.

I have to weigh waiting for more features and less chance of partial wipes with the fact that it’s more-or-less persistent now and there’s already lots to do. My thinking is to hold out for the Steam release and then take it casual from there.

2. Master X Master

Not technically an MMO — yet people keep calling it more of an MMO than almost any MOBA that came before it. I took a look at some previews and really found myself warming up to its PvE side, various characters, and fun gameplay. I’ll definitely take a look when it releases, but how long I’ll stay is a huge question mark.

3. Neverwinter

Yeah, I might go back to Neverwinter. I always have a soft spot for Cryptic games, and Neverwinter is actually doing huge right now. Loads of players, lots of content added, several platforms — and the assurance that this is a game that has a long future ahead of it. Would like to try a new character and perhaps make it further than I did in the past.

4. AdventureQuest 3D

Currently this title is eyeing an October release, and while it’s most assuredly going to be very content light when that happens, I’ll be putting it on my phone as my go-to mobile MMO. I want a pocket MMORPG and this one, given enough time and care and affection, could blossom into one worth playing. The enthusiasm of its devs and community is downright infectious — and there is no cure.

5. Elder Scrolls Online

I picked up a very cheap copy of this a while back and it’s been sitting on my shelf like, “Play meeeee!” And I’ve been ignoring it because I’m a jerk to video games like that. It’s a case of a game that I really haven’t spent a lot of time in, has shored up its weaknesses with a lot of content, has a promising future, and could be a potential if I want to give it a go.

6. The Unknown Dark Horse Underdog

And then there’s always the possibility that moods and whims might lead me somewhere else entirely. Oh, at times I’ve looked at RuneScape, Trove, WildStar, Marvel Heroes, and even Guild Wars 2 as possible fall entries, but most of those might be best left alone… for now.

I have a separate list for 2017, although that’s much more in flux at the moment. Fingers crossed for a better year for new and upcoming MMOs!

6 things that bug me about MMOs that I like

bugmeI think we’re always loathe to outright criticize MMOs that we really like in fear that it will push players away from games that are otherwise terrific. But if you are too scared to do so, then you gain blinders and lose perspective.

Thus, this is my small Monday morning measure of attaining balance by admitting to six things that kind of really bug me about MMOs that I like.

WildStar: For a game that has made such a big, big deal about customization (and excels in this in many areas), the fact that classes can wield one and only one type of weapon (set) vastly annoys me. In most MMOs you can choose from different weapon types and experience different visual flair and animations, but here? What you got at level 1 is the same at level 50.

The Secret World: This game’s wonderful storytelling and nuanced body language is sometimes undercut by faces that are ugly and border on the uncanny valley. The facial art style doesn’t gel for me the way that it should and serves as an irritant when I’m trying to get into the tale.

Marvel Heroes: This game’s social tools are really lacking, I’ve found. There needs to be support to join multiple supergroups, better supergroup tools, and a proper LFG tool. Fast track these, Gazillion!

Star Wars: The Old Republic: I do love that the game has housing, but coming from other MMOs like RIFT and WildStar, it can’t help but fail to live up to the industry standard. I am not a fan of the clumsy hooks and placement interface that makes sorting through one’s decor far more tedious than it should be.

RIFT: Such ugly armor. Such ugly. It makes the awesome wardrobe system weep in frustration. What is up with the armor artists in this game? Why must we all look like first drafts of a ninth grader’s fantasy portfolio?

Neverwinter: Cryptic not only failed to live up to the insanely high standard it set for character creation in City of Heroes, but failed to live up to the industry medium in this respect. I am stunned how hard it is to make good or interesting-looking characters in this game with the sub-par customization options on display. Do they even know how hair looks?

Neverwinter: A ravenous frosty treasure chest to call my own

astoriaYesterday marked the final day of my Neverwinter holding pattern.  Ever since the winter festival began, I effectively hit the pause button on the game, first to get the fawn companion for my cleric, and then to just have my two characters stay in the zone so that I could log in once a day and get may daily star of fortune.  18 days and 18 stars later, and I was able to buy the frosty mimic pet for each of my characters.  With that, I’m able to say goodbye to the festival and continue with my adventures.

I named the mimic Astoria (I’ve decided to start reusing City of Heroes zone names for pet names, just because) and it is quite welcome to join my Rogue on her journeys.  I really need a tanky pet to run defense from time to time, and from the skill descriptions I’m seeing, the mimic is quite tanky and taunty indeed.  Of course, it’s just a baby pet right now, barely level 4, and I’m dragging it through level 52 areas, so every fight is him gamely going up to a bad guy, taunting it with a lid slam, and then getting whacked to death in one blow.  But he’s learning and he’s leveling, and I have high hopes that one day he’ll be more useful than a mascot.

Currently I’m going through the Chasm zone, which is one of the more visually stunning areas I’ve seen in an MMO.  Parts of it reminded me of Inception, with the world rolled up partially.  It’s a place I dearly wish I could fly around and explore properly.

It’s also causing me to be really on my toes.  Oh Mylanta, I can die super-duper-quick these days.  I have my tricks and I know how to use them well, but in the wrong spot or against too many enemies, I will find myself losing the DPS vs. my health race.  At least it’s a flashy and fun death.

And so Neverwinter remains a strange anomaly for me in my gameplay.  I have pretty much no emotional investment in it.  I’m not connected to a good guild or any friends that play.  I don’t really crave it.  Yet it’s kind of a comfort food, an easy choice on any given night to log in and go a little further.  I’m already level 57 and will probably hit 60 without trying before the month is out.  When I get to the end of the zone chain, I don’t really know what I’ll do, because I’m not going to go on the dungeon gear treadmill.  I might just stop, as with Star Trek Online, and consider that an effective “game over.”

Knowing that, it doesn’t deter me from playing like I would elsewhere.  It’s a good filler for now, a substitute for the time and action-RPG feel that I used to have with Guild Wars 2.

Neverwinter: Choosing companions

Companions are simultaneously one of the most intriguing and one of the most frustrating aspects of Neverwinter, not to mention a subject that I’ve been pondering for a few days now.

They’re a cool idea, if not utterly unique to this game.  Every player can equip a companion to help round out his or her combat style.  Some companions tank, some heal, some DPS, some crowd control, and some merely buff stats.  Every companion levels up, can be equipped with gear, changes appearance at certain level milestones, and gives players a specific buff when equipped.  You can build up a stable of companions to rotate through, which is a good idea since the time spent training them can get lengthy.

Cryptic knows that companions are a big money maker for the game, which is why you can only buy basic (white) companions for in-game gold.  These only level up to 15, versus level 20 for green, level 25 for blue, and level 30 for purple.  Getting up to level 30 is attractive because it opens up a third companion skill that’s often quite helpful.

So the way Cryptic makes money on these is multi-fold.  First, to upgrade a companion’s quality to the next level takes a huge chunk of astral diamonds, which can either be graaaaadually ground out or paid for via Zen.  Then, there are companions that cost both astral diamonds and Zen, and naturally these are pretty darn good (although a purple companion on the Zen store is around $30-$35, so yeouch).  Some companions only come with Finally, special companions are a major attractor for the lockboxes, since you can’t get those any other way.

Now I’m pretty much a cheapskate when it comes to this, which means I’m the type of player that Cryptic probably hates: Invested in the game but very unwilling to drop money unless it’s a special occasion.  I did purchase a ghost companion for my rogue, but now that I’m working on a cleric, I’m not as inclined to do the same.

Fortunately, I have options.  I’m fortunate to have my account flagged as the hero of Neverwinter thingy, so every character I make gets a purple-quality panther from the get-go.  It’s a pretty straight-forward attack pet, but I am not complaining about getting a free purple.  Then I get the free white companion at level 15, which I chose a tanky guard.  I don’t think he’ll be useful in the high levels unless I can upgrade him, but it might be nice to have when I’m facing certain bosses.

I’m looking forward to the holiday event starting Thursday, since two of the rewards you can earn are companions (including a frosty mimic chest which looks awesome).  That’ll be my goal, since I missed out on getting the skeleton fighter from the Halloween festival.

For upgrading purposes, I’m being very diligent with both praying twice a day at altars (since you get two chunks of ADs that way) and working on my leadership profession on two characters.  I’m up to 69,000 ADs, which isn’t a ton, but at 300K I can take a white to a green.

While the animations and attacks by companions are cool, I do wish that they’d banter a bit with you a la SWTOR.  Maybe that’s too much to ask for this game, I don’t know.  More than that, I hope that some of their AI would get fixed.  Sometimes my companions just take too long to get into a fight, showing up right as I deliver a death blow or completely ignoring other enemies.  That’s less good.

Anyway, while companions might be a money pit — or a money web — a little patience in this area pays off.  At least there are options instead of a hard wall that only money can climb.