I had an interesting conversation with some folks last week that started because of the cost to swap specs in the current WoW: Legion alpha build. It got me thinking about the various costs and restrictions associated with the activities I enjoy in MMOs, how they differ between games, and which ones really rub me the wrong way.
For example, I love the cosmetic system in WildStar. It is flexible enough to let you unlock the appearance of almost any item in the game regardless of whether you can equip it or not. The costs come from unlocking more outfit or item appearance slots, and purchasing and applying dyes. It mostly feels fair because it is a somewhat rare event to make a whole new outfit. Once you have one put together you can swap to it at any time for no cost. It does highlight a major inconsistency though. Item appearances get unlocked across your entire account, but dyes do not. The system that seemed so flexible and amazing on your main suddenly feels unnecessarily restrictive on your alt. Somehow having one part of the system account-wide while the other is not feels worse than restricting the whole thing. The overall system feels unfair because the restrictions are not consistent.
This brings me to the upcoming changes to WoW’s transmog system. The announcement at Blizzcon touted account-wide transmog, and that got me really excited! As people asked for clarifications and folks got their hands on the alpha they discovered the restrictions. Sure, unlocks are account-wide. And they are going a bit above and beyond by unlocking the appearances of quest rewards for all the quests your characters have completed. The big caveat is that for item drops you can only unlock the appearance of gear that is appropriate for your class/armor type. This severely limits the usefulness of an account-wide transmog system, and potentially really frustrates RP-ers who routinely equip multiple different armor types to achieve a particular look for their characters. The excitement of account-wide transmog feels suddenly hollow if I still need to run an old raid on a character of every armor type to unlock all the appearances I want.
Now this is the part where some folks might speak up about all the potential reason why the system is good this way. I just really want to highlight the huge inconsistency in how the rules are applied, and that is what makes it feel so frustrating and unfair to me. Here is an example. Say I have a pally (plate wearer) and a druid (leather wearer). To get full use of the transmog system I have to collect appearances separately on each. Meanwhile, my buddy with a rogue and druid (both leather wearers) only has to run something once to unlock items that can be shared with both of their characters. It is this situation that puts the lie to claims that the limitations are good for the “prestige” of earning an appearance, or that it encourages replayability or generates content. When two players experience vastly different restrictions just because of the classes they happen to play, that’s simply not fair and it makes me just angry enough to rant about it here on my blog for a few minutes.
There have been hints that the dye system in WildStar may indeed eventually become account-wide. I am not nearly so hopefully about that sort of change for WoW’s transmog system. It is funny how restrictions on a non-vital system like cosmetic wardrobes can still generate really strong feelings from the player base. Mostly, I just wish that the devs would try to make sure everyone has a level playing field.