Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Trouble With Transmog

"After all... the true end game is looking awesome."
~ Belghast the Aggronaut, Rubber Band Thief
Since my recent return to World of Warcraft, I have not become involved in the Transmogrification game in the sense of running old content to pick up cool pieces. In fact, I avoided the original system entirely, knowing that before the end of the summer, it would replaced by the revamped version for Legion. If not for a major flaw (which I will discuss below), I could have avoided it for quite some time, given my focus on new, lower-level characters. Most MMOs have come up with various systems to help people express their sartorial preferences. As has been mentioned with some regularity elsewhere, having some kind of color matching or dyeing system in place goes a long way toward making "original" outfits that don't look like you stepped out of a clown's closet. Outfit systems that allow players to project an image independent of what they have equipped for attribute boosts are even better.

"I Feel Pretty, Oh So Pretty"

Achillea with Elara, Smashing!
Star Wars: The Old Republic has a fairly decent cosmetic system. Your mileage may vary, of course; partly depending on your subscription status. The paired-colors dye system is somewhat cumbersome, but this is mitigated by the match-to-chest feature. With one or two really awesome pieces, MtC helps me look cool without necessarily breaking the bank. And while BioWare at one point restricted player characters to cosmetic outfits that matched the armor class of the gear they could actually wear, a lot of the coolest stuff was Adaptive, matching whatever "hardness" the character would typically equip. Eventually, BioWare developed an outfit system that would allow the player to "imprint" a piece and still use it for other purposes. This meant that I could more easily match my Trooper Companions to my own uniform; whereas previously, I had to have two matching pieces for each slot.

With the KotFE expansion last fall, SWTOR eliminated gear-based stats for companions, (among other things) making it even easier to dress them them sharply. (Mako always wanted Mando armor!) In the meantime, the outfit system was broadened so that my character can "wear" anything, regardless of armor class. Additional outfit spaces are available for credits or cartel coins (RMT), but I am not sure what the ultimate limit is. It also costs an increasing amount of credits (based on character level) to imprint outfit slots. My only real criticism of SWTOR's cosmetic system is that if a given outfit slot is empty, whatever piece is in the actual stats gear slot is visible and doesn't necessarily match. "Bare-skin" versions of each slot are available through the random loot Cartel Packs, but high demand items (notably, the gloves) go for extortionate rates on the Galactic Trade Network. Since I have not been running top-end content, it is easier for me just to leave the slot empty if I want to go bare-handed.

Rift's outfit system is even more versatile. It's been a while since I played, but as I recall, several outfit spaces were available, all with independent slots. And you didn't have to worry about gear pieces showing through if, for example, you decided to leave your hands bare for a given outfit. Rift was also the first game I played that had a dye system allowing me to alter the colors of my gear. While dyes could get pricey on the player auction house, you could still look elegant. And unlike SWTOR, Rift's primary and secondary dye slots could be filled independently. The biggest drawback to the outfit system seems to be the outfits themselves—that is, the art design. But that is a different post all together. The last time we returned to start new characters, Scooter and I splurged on RMT store outfits to make our toons look fabulous.

Guild Wars 2 has an excellent dye system that almost makes up for the lack of actual variety in the costume choices. The system was expanded at some point to be accessible account wide. I tended to prefer some of the more easily obtained dyes, leading my daughter to refer to my characters as Christmas Girls. I don't recall being able to alter outfits independently of stats gear, but it's been a long time since I played GW2, and I know there are various outfits on offer in the Gem store (RMT).

Another cosmetic system worthy of mention is The Secret World, where they've completely divorced fashion from stats. And the costume pieces go into a "closet" where they are easily retrieved. While there are lots of outfits and pieces based on achievements—meaning occasionally you can show off your accomplishments—most of the people I saw were dressed in things that fit their (or at least their characters') personal sense of style. A few drawbacks: no dyeing system, but most costume pieces come in a variety of colors, such that I rarely felt like there weren't enough choices. Also, as of the last time I played, there isn't a built-in way to save entire outfits. However, there is at least one excellent add-on that enables you to do just that. Lastly, while the costume interface is arguably both minimalist and a bit cumbersome, the same can be said for the rest of the TSW interface. You just get used to it.

But what about Transmog?

Which brings us back to the new Transmog system. I can't speak to the way transmogrification worked before WoW v7.0.3; however, it seems to be the most cumbersome costume system I have yet to experience in an MMORPG. Prior to the Legion pre-patch, for instance, I could go to the Interface settings and hide my head piece, and my back piece at will. And now that functionality is part of the transmog interface that is only available when interacting with the transmog vendor in a single capital city: Stormwind for the Alliance, and Orgrimmar (I assume) for the Horde. There may be other places to do transmog, but the point is that the places are limited; whereas, at the least, hiding the head and back slot pieces used to be available anywhere in the world, because it was part of the Interface settings. It's still "free" to hide those slots (and now shoulders, as well), except for the time and perhaps coin required to get to the transmog vendor. And each piece must be hidden (or transmogged) as I acquire it. For a game with a reputation for making things ever more convenient ("dumbing down the content"), this a serious step backward.

Why does all this require me to go to a vendor anyway? Why could it not be done from anywhere? Half of the transmog interface (the images of my acquired pieces) is available at all times through the Collections window. Just like I can use that interface to summon my mounts and minipets, why could I not use it to transmog my stuff at will? Contrast this with the new talent system allowing folks to switch between all specs at will, in any resting area (i.e., Inns and Capitals)—or for that matter, the costume systems of the four other MMOs I have mentioned here.

Also, rather than making cosmetic costumes independent of stats gear, each piece must be transmogged as I acquire it, if I don't like the look. And still no dye system. It is my understanding that the color/texture system Blizzard uses won't allow for dyes. However, based on only my current transmog "inventory," they are fond of "dyeing" the same patterned piece a bazillion different ways back at Blizzard studios. Are they doing that "by hand" the way I might use MS Paint?

Now, to put this all in perspective, transmogrification is not a make or break system for me. Blizzard has done a lot to make outfits less random at the lower levels, at least if you're using quest reward gear. But in a game where most of the customization/creativity that players crave is tied up in their character's appearance (as opposed to, say, housing), you might think Blizzard would have done what they used to do best, look at what other developers are doing, and do it better.
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  1. Blizzard is doing with the Appearance collection just like they did with Pet, Mount, Heirloom and Toy Box collections: get people to rerun old world, dungeon and raid content to remind us how much content they've made. And implement it as cheaply as possible.

    They tend to make their changes incrementally. Assigning the appearance of one item to another is probably easier than allow players to assign the appearance of an item to a slot. Plus you've been able to collect gear to change your appearance since vanilla. They've just made it more convenient for you.

    And aside from any programming limitations, the current system is a great gold sink:
    - A mount with a Transmog NPC on it costs 120,000g (less depending on rep)
    - Each new piece of gear requires a fresh trip to the NPC (which if you are rich means "outside")

    I believe they made the system the way they did out of convenience to them. Slapping existing appearances on other existing gear, making it account wide and calling it a day.

    What would you have been willing to give up in Legion to have Blizzard spend more time implementing a more flexible appearance system?

    1. Hi, thanks for commenting. :)

      Considering I haven't played Legion, yet (nor has anyone not involved in betas), I don't know what might be worth the trade-off. Also, having played since Vanilla, I'm not sure what you mean by collecting gear for appearance sake. Prior to patch 4.3.0, you could might swap out pieces for appearance, but you ran the risk of less than optimal stats. That changed with Transmog.

      Slapdash, call-it-a-day work is not something Blizzard Entertainment has a reputation for. Polished improvements on prior work of others and themselves is.

      However, perhaps I wasn't clear about my issue, I have no problem spending gold to change my characters' appearance or costumes. My beef with the revised system, as stated in my post, is the change of an interface function into a vendor function, and one that for most players requires a trip to a specific capital city. As far as gold sinks (which I did not complain about), Blizzard accelerated the need for them in the first place with the literal gold mines they put in the Garrisons (which at least a few players have never seen, much less taken advantage of). I certainly have no beef with the idea of collecting gear by running old content. My last year playing prior to my recent return was spent running instances, simply for the enjoyment of playing with friends.

      And lastly, regarding Blizzard's incrementalism, I will grant that some of the systems they implement in an evolutionary way; however, the expansions are littered with systems that were introduced then abandoned when Blizzard didn't get them just right. Garrisons being the latest example.

    2. My point about Vanilla was that people DID swap pieces for appearance. They LOVED collecting that final piece of a set. Doing holiday events just for the costumes. Clogging their banks, regretting deleting old pieces. Blizzard tapped into that. Add systems without disrupting the existing gameplay. Added Void Storage, then Tranmogrification, then the account wide Appearance Collection.

      As for the interface function becoming a vendor function:
      For players who ONLY want to hide their helm, back (and now shoulders) its a pain. I mean you have to go one back to your main cities (boy does this place look busy) and since you have access to account wide appearances, why not fix those gross boots. But now my chest doesn't match. And those gloves look too bulky........ Dammit Blizzard! I promised myself I would never get involved in any of this crap, I just wanted to hide my helm! :)

      Overall I'm a big fan. I have the mount. I'm running the crap out of old content on multiple toons, even with the same armor types, cuz, well RNG. Switching Transmog outfits based on your spec is especially satisfying. My Frost spec looks all frosty and Fire literally looks hot. No vendor required for the switch, just a spec switch. And when you get new pieces, just reapply your saved outfit with a single button click at the vendor.

      Because all of this is so easy and satisfying I've outfit several lesser used toons I never would have outfitted otherwise. Addons and eventually Blizzard will make the UI better. But for now I think it works.