It's difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions from dabbling in the handful of Korean MMOs that make it to this hemisphere. The next one coming down the pipe is Asta: The War of Tears and Winds, currently in open beta. By all accounts, that one is a straight WoW clone, as have been many other Korean MMOs I've briefly played and enjoyed over the years, like Loong, Argo or Aika.
The Korean gaming market is reportedly so extensive, with gaming so much more deeply embedded in broader popular culture than in the West, that you might imagine there would be space for almost any kind of innovation or novelty to find an audience. Whether the drive behind such change is aesthetic, creative or primarily an attempt to carve out a commercially viable niche in an extremely competitive market I wouldn't care to guess. Neither do I know how open the average Korean gamer might be to novel, idiosyncratic or unfamiliar ways of doing things in game.
Looking at both Black Desert and Blade and Soul from a western gamer's perspective, though, some of the design decisions do seem peculiar. When I collected my Cherry Blossom earrings from Hunt the Seed Merchant in Heidel yesterday and slipped them in it really got me to thinking about how strange and alien to a traditional, western MMO gamer the whole gear and appearance systems in BDO might feel at first blush.
Black Desert has a famously hyper-complex character creation engine. It allows you control not just over the basics like hair, eye color, build and height, but over everything down to individual muscle groups. Daum was so certain this would appeal to the western gamer that they released the whole thing as a standalone to promote the game.
And it worked. There was a ton of media coverage as everyone jumped in to make the ugliest characters imaginable, clone celebrities or just squee about the possibilities. I didn't take the trouble to try it for myself but even then, like a few other skeptics, I couldn't really see what the fuss was about. Most of the screen shots that proud creators were posting looked somewhat bland and rather samey.
When I got to use it for real, though, I was quite satisfied with the look I was able to achieve for my Tamer. The real let-down didn't hit until later.
Whatever the strengths or shortcomings of the character creator itself, the thing that never occurred to me, nor, I suspect, to many people enjoying playing around with it, was that it makes precious little difference how much control you're given over the face and the muscles when you have next to no say in what clothes your character is going to be wearing.
For a while after launch there was an undercurrent of discontent rumbling across the forums and the first impressions pieces. After all those hours spent tweaking characters to get them just so it seemed that out there in the world those subtleties were had to spot. Everyone looked disturbingly alike and there was a slight sense of disbelief as people began to realize that no matter how many upgrades they got their armor would go on looking much the same.
What's more, since BDO has absolutely no concept either of "Bind on Equip" or level restrictions for gear, most players will want to latch on to the very best armor and weapons at the earliest opportunity and wear them forever. The faster you get your character geared, the fewer differences in appearance you'll see.
There are a lot more slots than that, though. There are seven slots for jewellery and accessories with stats plus, of course, the weapon. I don't believe any of those display except, obviously, the weapon and, less obviously, the Trinket, which, for a Tamer at least, adds a neat fluffy dangler to the hilt of your sword, a bit like the old tiger tail a boy racer would have fixed to the whip antenna of a Ford Cortina circa 1975.
Inside the outer ring of traditional gear is a an inner ring of Costume slots: Helmet, Top, Shoes, Gloves, Main and Secondary. All of these display. Oh, and there's an Underwear slot, too. That displays but only, thankfully, when you're in your own house. I don't think we want to pursue the implications of that particular aesthetic decision too rigorously.
All of those can be toggled on or off to mix and match. Finally (I think) there's a row of three more toggleable slots along the bottom for Head/Ear, Eye and Nose/Mouth/Chin.
That is where my Cherry Blossom Earrings go. And they look great. I'm really pleased with them. I feel the hours spent grubbing around in the shrubberies for seeds and sitting on a rock waiting to pull weeds were well worth it. Just like the hours spent in character creation were. Provided I want to spend my gaming sessions zoomed in on my character's face I can consider the whole enterprise a complete success.
If I want to see my character change and grow in appearance in long shot, however, it appears I'll need to pay a visit to Daum's notoriously overpriced cash shop, although there is a limited in-game crafting option available if you buy a house and convert it into a Costume Mill. There's one in Calpheon, although I doubt I'd ever have found it without the help of Google and this invaluable spreadsheet.
In time I may edge carefully down that rabbit hole. It would certainly be a goal and I'm finding myself a touch short of those in this game. For now, though, I think I'll make do with whatever generic look my gear gives me, accessorized occasionally by such freebies as might become available through holiday events or log in bonuses.
Luckily I quite like how my character looks right now. It's certainly a lot better than some of the horrific fashion and dye disasters hurting the eye and the soul from Calpheon to Altinova as players with more money than taste begin to cut loose their creative drives.
Like everything in Black Desert and Blade and Soul before it, getting dressed is a learning experience. I feel I'm still some way short of being able to tie my own shoelaces but at least I can put my jumper on the right way round. The next step is going to be playing with dyes.
I hope they come out.