Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Collecting and Managing Cosmetic Rewards

Monday's post (I'll get off the topic eventually.... maybe) got me thinking about how games in general are offering more and more options for mounts, titles, and other cosmetic rewards. This set me off on a survey of the cosmetic rewards I've got amongst my characters.

Titles of choice

WoW's sorry excuse for a title selection system in action - this thing could really use a better UI now that there are so many titles in the game.

- In WoW, Greenwiz already owns 14 titles, and could pick up a couple more from upcoming world events. Ironically, my current favorite is one I've had since long before the achievement system rolled out all the new titles. Greenwiz earned the rank of "Knight" in the pre-TBC honor grind, and now happens to be a member (with the rank of Knight) in the guild Knights of Honor. It's not a very common title anymore (players received only the highest rank title, so only players who reached Knight and no higher prior to 2007 - and who have not subsequently switched characters - can possibly have this particular title), and it's appropriate for where I am in life.

- Allarond, over in LOTRO, owns probably dozens of titles. LOTRO offers a bunch of titles PER ZONE for grinding random mobs, and players are obligated to unlock a fair number of these for trait upgrades (unfortunately making those titles not at all rare). On top of this are titles for specific questlines. Ironically, given the variety available to him, Allarond wore the title he was created with for pretty much his entire career. I can make a melee DPS character in any number of games, but only one allows me to roll up Allarond of Gondor.

- Lyriana in EQ2 hasn't been around for that long, but she already owns both a prefix AND a suffix title. The suffix, Knight of Bayle, came from a quest that is available for players who join via the referral program (yet another reason why you should never start a new EQ2 account without a referral). The Prefix, Wayfarer, is one of five titles per class available via the game's Alternate Achievement system. You unlock a title when you purchase the final ability in one of the game's AA trees (the original tree, not the two newer ones), so you can actually choose to display your spec (especially if yours happens to sound halfway interesting. I'm sure there are more interesting titles, but this isn't a bad selection for a month-old character.

- Cheerydeth the second didn't have that much time to rack up titles in Warhammer, but she still owned a fair number by the time she was done. Warhammer offers up even more titles than LOTRO, including options for just about anything, such as being killed by a given class in RVR, finding hidden stuff while exploring in PVE, or even clicking on yourself. Sadly, I don't remember what title I was using, and poor Cheery's former server appears to have disappeared into limbo.

Riding in Style
- Greenwiz's mount count is currently well over 50, including a variety of slow ground mounts (never used), fast ground mounts (see Monday's post for more on this), slow flying mounts (again, never used), and fast flying mounts. Sometimes I use a random mount, sometimes I just drag a favorite onto the mount spot on one of my side bars.

- Allarond owns only one mount, but he was actually able to upgrade it to a holiday version during an easy world event that happened to fall during a free re-trial weekend. Other than a few such alternatives, it doesn't really seem that the game has a focus on obtaining mounts. If I recall, there were some rep rewards and a PVP option, both of which decrease the chance that being attacked will dismount the player. There also may or may not be goats in the game these days.

- Lyriana technically owns a slowish mount because I bought the most recent expansion in an actual retail store. She never rides it because it moves slower than she can fly unassisted, and being on a mount prevents her from using her wings to glide. It does seem that mounts are relatively uncommon, though the very best actually offer you stat bonuses.

- I don't actually remember the mount situation in Warhammer - Cheerydeth the second certainly didn't get that far.

Cosmetic Outfits
- WoW doesn't actually have a cosmetic outfit system. You can cobble one together, but it replaces your actual armor. You also can't even dye your existing armor, as Blizzard is saving re-colors for use elsewhere in the game (i.e. the 10/25 man versions of the same raid). This is a niche that I'm surprised that Blizzard hasn't expanded into yet.

- LOTRO and EQ2 rolled out cosmetic armor slots at around the same time. In LOTRO, I'm not really using my cosmetic slots yet because I have a matching set of crafted armor (and have even dyed it). I may shift these items into my appearance slots if/when I outlevel them, just to preserve my current look.

- In EQ2, on the other hand, I routinely check every quest I complete to determine whether some of the rewards LOOK cool. I'm leveling quickly and replacing armor on a regular basis, so I'd actually rather get a permanent cosmetic upgrade than a very temporary minor upgrade to my real stats.

I was very excited to discover a questline a few days ago that offered a full set (well, 5 items of a 7-piece set, but I don't display my helm and already had a chest piece I liked - these items are unbound, so you can always buy the missing pieces later) of matching green healing leather. Lyriana isn't a healer, but she is very happy to have armor that matches her wings. On the downside from SOE's standpoint, I hypothetically never need to think about my appearance again, as I'm not depending on them for stats. (See Tipa's blog for the horrible truth of what might be lurking under your appearence armor.)

Lyriana's new green gear.

- Warhammer doesn't have a lot of cosmetic options, and can't for PVP reasons. They do, however, allow you to dye your outfit one piece at a time or, even more convenient, all at once. You never need to look like a hobo if you don't want to.

Unique looks versus variety
As I wrote on Monday, cosmetic items offer a fine line. If your character has as many options as Greenwiz, they really do lose much of their significance. The idea that Lyriana can now have her own distinctive look for the entire rest of her career in EQ2 if I want is appealing, in the way that Green's one faithful horse was back in the day. On the other hand, choices are good, especially if they provide fun for players AND incentives that the devs can add to the game.

I'm not sure where the right balance is. Much as I enjoy collecting stuff in WoW, though, I'm afraid Blizzard has taken that side of things a bit too far in the name of providing more timesinks in lieu of more original content. Then again, I'm still doing it, so is it really all that bad?


  1. I had thought before about why WoW had no armor dyeing. It would make sense in the lower levels when your gear often doesn't match.
    But I believe the reason they don't have armor dyes is because they want the armor to be recognizable.

    My husband though brings up a good point that the reason is more for performance issues. Wintergrasp is already laggy, I can't imagine what it would be like if I had to render everyone's dyes as well.

  2. Wow that is serious WoW. I got the Ambassador title about six months ago and I thought that was a grind. I can't imagine doing more. I have seen people with The Exalted title...seriously mad gaming.

  3. It seems odd to me that having removed grinding things like Furbolg rep and Fire Res gear because players complained so bitterly about it Blizzard have added optional and rather pointless grinds to WoW and the take-up has been phenomenal.

    I'm incresingly isolated as one of the conservatives who am not particularly enamoured of the new achievement system. I don't mind seeing the little window pop up when I do something. But I think things like collecting 50 pets are just utterly cringeworthy.

    One thing I am starting to see is that people seem to prefer ostentation over effectiveness. Most players on my server (a new re-roll server) are far more interested in getting the Scarab Lord title and a legendary mount than in running level 80s and raids. We got the Broodlord's head on Sunday and the guild has since disappeared into the bowels of Silithus to grind carapaces.

    My thinking has always been just the opposite - I'd rather have a powerful character than a showy one, rather finesse a difficult encounter than grind grey mobs for 80 hours.

    But for most people the cosmetic progression is every bit as important as the ilvl progression.

  4. I love the sound of those LOTRO & EQ2 appearance slots.

    I rue the day I disposed of my purple Pimp hat from HFP for some other ugly but better functioning hood.

    I don't show my head piece purely because my hairstyle is nicer that 99% of the hats available... but I would have kept that pimp hat forever if I could have put it in a cosmetic slot.

    I actually picked up a gray hat yesterday, and found that I had to keep retrieving it from the vendor after each auto-sell... it looked just like a "straw fishing hat". I think I want to keep it, though whether the bag slot is worth it I don't know.

    I think such a system in WoW would do away with some of the QQ (Like when TBC was released, and there were no spellpower robes and people were annoyed that their mages no longer looked like wizards).

    With that sort of a system Wintergrasp would survive, as they are already existing models, just replacing the actual worn items.


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