Any modern game developer who knows a thing or two about his customers – us, players – is aware that customization of your playable character is one of the cornerstones for the game experience. Even single player titles with pre-defined protagonist learned to do this: ranging from haircut changes to allowing transmog or skins of armor, weapons, pets and vehicles, for example, latest titles of Assassin’s Creed series, or Star Wars Jedi.
For an MMO, it’s a current must – to untie character power from its looks, and developers went along this path to different extents. One of the most brilliant solutions was presented by Blade and Soul imo: your outfit is only your outfit, and character power scales through trinkets, rings, earrings – in other words, the items that don’t display.
Transmog and customization in general to myself is one of the core things in any game given and a subject to collection. Through transmog alone, you can roleplay and swap roleplay of your toon as a different personality, to stress certain character features.
Is your priest a calm, devoted village healer, or a fanatic of merciless Light, intolerable to any Shadow manifestations? Is your warrior a barbarian berserk, a ravager, or a ranked veteran? Is your rogue a ninja, a government spy, or a member of the gang? Does he/she want to display faction allegiance? Does he/she try to mingle with current expansion environment and locals, embracing their lifestyle and outfit style, or wants to remain true to his legacy and origins all the time? Transmog and customization allows to answer all these questions and define it all – not to mention the fashion experiments, valuable on their own.
Today, let’s have a look at WoW and FFXIV – the two MMOs I currently play. TL;DR statement before we begin: both games have well developed customization systems, but both have their pros and cons.
Let’s start with probably the most insignificant feature of customization: pets.
WoW has an enormous, vast pet system which developed into its own Pokemon-like mini-game as far as Pandaria in 2012. It has its own battles, achievement system, quests, PvP, and naturally pet types and their individual combat perks. Considering customization: the game allows to tame (catch) almost every critter in the open world, and rewards with thematic pets for achivements, quests, dungeon and raid content. In other words: when you move to a new zone or a new content, you’ll get new dozens of pets to tell “hey, I’ve been there”.
On the downside, this vast amount of pets and the system as a whole somehow diminishes their value. Pro pet battlers have their limited range of to-go champions, like Zandalari dinos from Isle of Giants or Anubisath Idol, and common critters from new expansions rarely if ever make it to battles. Pets being so common, they would rarely be summoned and displayed nowadays in the open world. Mostly you see a certain person boast a new raid or promotion pet, or a pet with unique feature (Bonestoooorm!), and never a generic zillionth hamster or butterfly from a new zone: what got into collection, stays there until further notice. It’s a trap to an extent: Blizzard is naturally obliged to provide tameable versions of all new creatures, even if it has little sense in the long run. Well: in any case, more options is good option: if a certain weirdo player would like to run with an ugly spiky bug, why shouldn’t we allow that?
FFXIV has less pets, zero tameable critters in the open world, and no pet battle system – so the pets are comparatively rare and have more meaning as a flavor thing. If a location is populated, say, with wolves, walking plants and wasps, you don’t get their smaller versions into your collection – although certain memetic creatures like Goobbue make it to your list.
One of the most precious things in FFXIV pet system is chibi-versions (or baby-versions) of the notable lore characters. Kawaii, or cute approach runs deep in Japanese culture, any notable Japanese franchise would have chibi-merch of their characters (from shirts to action figures), so it’s no wonder this idea made it to the game. They are given for certain steps in lore, or may be a boss drop – a smaller version of boss, which makes them even more valuable.
Remember how Harry Potter got the small living version of Hungarian Horntail dragon he got to fight in Goblet of Fire and was allowed to keep it, to remember his endeavor? This is exactly the same thing. Of course, we’d like that in WoW: to have a chibi-Kel’Thuzad instead of a mawsworn knight minion, or a little Jaina after we finish Siege of Boralus lore? Blizzard went as far as rare promo murlocs bearing character features (Grommash, Illidan, Anduin and Sylvanas so far), which is plausible, but imo not enough.
Long story short, FFXIV players have more love to their pets and would gladly display them in cities while being idle.
Conclusion: it’s opposite sides of the scale, and I think neither wins here. Blizzard has more pets, all sorts, everything you see is tameable, and a great system devoted to pets-only, but this range hurts their value, being a hostage of the complex system which is to be developed constantly. FFXIV pets have more value, but pets are really rare and you have less to choose from.
Mounts are probably the biggest vanity option in game character customization – and the only one that remains. With raging transmog, legacy farming, and character boosting, a casual can walk in a mythic raid set, while a mythic raider may have a vanilla axe and vanilla pants displayed, period. But mounts you cannot mask over, and they would display your drop luck or high end achievements, which many use only for that reason, not because the mount is convenient.
In terms of roleplay though, it is super important to reach as many options as you can, and WoW is an undisputable winner here. Basically you can get and ride almost every animal and creature that runs loose in game (for example, all 3 types of Korthia creatures – shardhide, razorwing and devourer), not to mention specific models designed for raids and other activities, and a relatively small but shiny range of shop and promotion mounts. Recolors could be groaned at as a new amount of rep, gold, currency or other farming work to be done, but they’re also important: for example, my paladin rides a snow white Kul Tiran horse, but my rogue and death knight picked the coal black Drustvar version of the same mount. Could they swap? Never.
FFXIV mount list can be placed on a single wiki page – with all the details – and so the range of mounts is not too great in comparison. The biggest plus (or minus) of FFXIV mount system is its quirkiness – as developers went totally rogue and wild with the designs. They do not care at the very least for keeping the world ambience intact, and strangely, it works. You can spot a bright yellow chicken which made it to the otherwise bleak game out of a colorful children’s program or a bathtub, and every mount can fly here – including polar bears. Of course, there are vanity options too, as some mounts have a rare drop rate from bosses, so they also deserve a gratz and guilty stand out happiness of the owners.
Conclusion: WoW is a winner in customization, but FFXIV allows you to go wild.
Character Creation, Barbershop / Aestethician and Payed Services
Before Shadowlands expansion, I would say that Square Enix is an absolute winner, but in the current expansion Blizzard added a drastic number of character creation and customization options – like skin tones, haircuts, hair and eye colors, tuning face and racial features, tattoos and what not.
Currently FFXIV wins in two areas: one, it is possible to tune body size, two, the palettes of skin, eye and haircut undertones which would make a professional designer happy: dozens shades of pink, brown, green, blue and all other colors to choose from, and as wild as you can go. A the same time they’re lacking in some areas: for example, you can’t really tell a big difference from a very limited number of face options.
In WoW, you get admission to barbershop immediately after you arrive in a big city – you can head there straight at level 1 and be able to change everything you need, including gender swap (!), for a very small in-game gold fee, which became even smaller in Shadowlands. Let me stress that: everything. You get all the number of options that you had at character creation screen.
In FFXIV, the access to barbershop – aesthetician – is gated behind level 15, was it? In other words, if you’re not in favor of your haircut by level 10, you need to wait until attunement questline becomes available, and only then you can summon the barber at big city inns.
The biggest downside in FFXIV is this: you get a limited amount of options at barbershop – it’s just face, haircuts and haircolors, and special features like tattoos and such. No body tuning, and not even the eye color! So for example, you made a cool bloodlust warrior with bloodshot, red eyes, and then decided to go for priest aka white mage (as the game encourages you to stack classes/jobs on a single character) – well, you cannot recolor your eyes blue.
The only option to do that in FFXIV is a Fantasia vial which is basically a race change item. Once you use it, you’re entering a complete character creation screen and recreate you character from scratch: maybe it’s just an eye color, or you could swap race, gender and/or name. Crap news: for something that drastic, it’s given for free once and only you reach level 50, and the rest Fantasia vials you buy for real money – $10 to change your eye color from green to blue.
Conclusion: WoW became a lot better recently with customization options, cutomization is available in-game from level 1 at a wink and for a very small in-game fee, and payed, real money services now reduced only if you want to change the race – everything else is available in game and for in-game gold, including gender swap.
FFXIV character customization is gated behind questline, and has limited in-game options even compared to character creation basic feature list, reduced roughly by half, while demanding real money for several vital basic changes like eye color. But WoW color palettes are absolutely no match for FFXIV, which beats Blizzard options by a mile.
Transmog / Glamour
And finally, transmog – or glamour.
Access: in WoW, it’s again level 1, a small amount of gold which scales due to character level and income, and a question of reaching a capital city. But you cannot change transmog where you like unless you’ve bought a transmog mount for a reasonable but still pricy fee of 120k (still my best spent 120k in game).
In FFXIV, glamour is yet again gated behind questline, but then you can change transmog in any given place at will. The price is reasonable too, and should not be taken into account. So in terms of gating, FFXIV fares it better in the long run.
Costs: WoW needs some reasonable amount of in-game gold, period. FFXIV uses specific crafted/auctioned expendable items, one item is burned for one piece glamour or removal of glamour – price at higher character levels is not that big, but you can find yourself run out of items in a most unconvenient moment.
What Items Can You Mog Over? Everything visible. There are differences in what items display in both games – for example, FFXIV does not have shoulder or cape item slots, but necklaces and rings show on character unlike WoW. In any case, everything that is displayed on a character in both games can be mogged over.
You can hide and show helmet in both games on click and for zero price, but WoW goes further, as you can hide all slots except for weapons and pants.
Mog Range: WoW is an older game, so naturally it has more sets and quest items for mogs, but all in all they are comparable in terms of how many mogs you can get. Open world, raids, special events and features offer multiple opportunities to earn items for your collections.
Dyeing, or recolors: ah, this is where FFXIV shines, and this is one of the most plausible features in glamour. As transmog works, you can always dye over items once you unlock this feature – you only need to buy or make dyes of the desired color. And the range is simply fantastic: about 20 shades of red/pink, for example. This alone could drastically change your view: for example, this was the bleak initiate color of the dragoon set
(I wonder, it may even already have black recolor, but still):
And this is what we get if we add a bit of red hue:
Outstanding, isn’t it? Like a totally different character and vibe! Now imagine a hundred of other options which you could apply to the very same piece: festive, peaceful, solemn, fiery…
WoW is losing this race – which is not even a race, but for a reason: recolors for WoW sets and items mark different types of content, for example, raid difficulties or PvP, so they serve as an achievement mark. Again, it’s how system works, so I won’t vote for drastic changes here, but FFXIV option is truly refreshing.
But there is one final thing where WoW wins FFXIV by a thousand points, and it is: interface.
WoW’s transmog interface is truly amazing. You have collections tab, you can mog over the whole raid or PvP set once you collected it, and it all happens in one window with convenient piece-by-piece swaps, while retaining the previous adjustments, not to mention the ability to save the custom outfits. Oh, and the most important thing we had since Draenor: once you got an item, its look is now forever available for mogs in your collection, and you can dispose of the item itself.
FFXIV interface is… awful. You can only try on one piece at a time, the character window is super small, the amount of clicks you need to perform is devastating, and you don’t see a model preview in the list of items – every time you have to pick “Try on” from a drop menu to even know what that item is. There is no collection too: you have to carry all model items in your bags to use them for mogs or put them in a storage (btw you can’t glamour out of storage, can you?). In other words, it’s awkward and inconvenient. But worth all the worry in the end :) And to be fair, dye interface is cool.
And so, in general both games are heaven for those looking into customization of their characters – with differences, of course, and certain narrow points they tried to cope in their unique ways, while sharing a number of common approaches. What WoW wins in numbers – FFXIV makes up with a more thorough customizations and attention to the items you already have, and I would not vote for the systems to bleed into each other due to certain approaches and restrictions.
I only wish FFXIV developers put some work in their interface, because their glamour system deserves it big time, and also made paces in character appearances customization without spending real money. Eye color, come on! :)