A couple of weeks ago, The Witcher series was on sale on both Steam and Origin. With the enhanced edition of The Witcher at the low price of $1.50 and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings at $2.29, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to finally play one of the most talked about story driven games. I’ve heard great things about the game, some people even comparing it to the Dragon Age series (which I adore). Now, I’m not one to pass up a good story, especially one with choices, but something seems to be stopping me from actually starting the game up. Believe it or not, it has a lot to do with the lack of character creation.
In The Witcher, you play as Geralt of Rivia. Apparently, he’s a bad ass monster hunter for hire. But, like I said, I haven’t actually played the game yet. I’ve been spoiled by games like The Sims, Dragon Age, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim where character creation was pivotal. In The Witcher’s defense, those are all games whose story is all about the character the player wants to be. The Witcher is like some other games in which the character is given to you. You can make choices, but at the end of the day, you are playing as Geralt and experiencing his story.
This unwillingness to play may also have something to do with my life, because who isn’t burned out after a long day of work or school? Regardless, it got me thinking, how important is character creation in a game? Often times, people ask me what my fascination with video games is. My answer to them is always the same, interactivity. A story is being told, and I am an active (rather than passive) participant of it. We can break down the interactivity of storytelling in games even further. There is the kinetic story, which follows a strict linear story line, games that have none, like the Sims, or games such as Dragon Age and Mass Effect which allow the story to change depending on the choices you make.
When character creation is implemented, it allows the player to further immerse him or her self into the game. You create the character that you see on screen, and this doesn’t just regard full character creation but customization as well like in The Division. Being able to change a companion’s clothes, regardless of changing their features, also gives the player added control of the story. This is because the player tweaks the aesthetics to fit their vision of the world within the game. I’ve concluded that character creation’s vitality is dependent on the game that you’re playing.
Take a game like WWE 2K16. It has a host of real wrestlers from the television show to choose from. You can be anyone from Andre the Giant to John Cena. A high appeal to the game is the creation features. Throughout the series, there have been many opportunities for the player to create their own wrestler, entrance video and music, way their wrestler walks out on to the ring, and even the arena they wrestle in. The character that I make can interact with very real characters that I watch on television. I can even go as far as creating my own match cards and manipulating what happens. In this game, character creation is not vital but it enhances the experience. You can very well play with the characters and arenas already given to you.
What about the Sims? Character creation is the selling point for The Sims 4. EA has boasted that you can change the features of your sim by dragging body parts, unlike any of the other games in the series. You even have control over how they walk, sound, and the way their family looks as well. In a game like this, character creation is vital. You have full control over the character (or characters) that you want to play, the town that they live in, the people they meet, and how they interact with the world around them. Its appeal comes from the fact that it’s a platform for the player to create their own story, rather than giving them one. Therefore, the character creation cannot be substituted for a pre-made character, without hindering the player’s experience.
These are just two examples of games that utilize extensive customization and character creation assets. A series like Uncharted does not need character creation, because the story lines are linear. If we take out Nathan Drake, we don’t have the same iconic series. Therefore, I’ve determined that character creation is a necessity in certain kinds of games. Customization is a different story entirely. It should be utilized in more games. In Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning’s outfit changes depending on what armor you equip. This is limiting (of course) because you can’t have both your favorite looks and best stats. For example, I hated the dress that Lightning had to wear for one armor, but I needed it because it was resistant to fire. Regardless, it is a step in the right direction.
I don’t see how customization can hamper the intended story for a game. In the zombie mode for Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, the game takes place in the 1920s. Obviously, it’d be strange to have a character wearing Google Glass. To keep the feel of the game, the developer can limit the customization options to clothes of that period. If a character would wear only certain types of clothes, the developer can lay out a few templates for the player to choose from. It is this added interactivity that allows us to relate to the world of video games, while still being able to make it on our own.