Why Is Character Creation Always So Disappointing?

If there’s one thing we love in video games, it’s a good character creation system. Whether you’re playing a sharp-suited, smooth criminal in GTA Online, a buxom warrior princess in Skyrim SE or a Mad Max-alike in Fallout 4, creating a unique and personal character can often evoke more of an emotional connection than a pre-designed protagonist whose style and backstory is already in place.

With that said, why are character creation systems in games so limited? With the power of current generation consoles, we should have the tools to create incredibly unique and diverse characters, but look at the likes of Destiny, The Division and Ghost Recon: Wildlands. All these games are predominantly online and designed to be played for months and even years, which means you’re going to be spending a long, long time with the character you create, existing in a world full of other player characters. You want your character to stand out and look cool, right? Yet in all three of these games, the character creation consists of mixing and matching from a few preset faces and hairstyles leading to everybody ending up looking generic and boring. Unlocking new gear and shaders is all very well, but the characters don’t feel personal.

The previously mentioned Skyrim SE, Fallout 4 and GTA Online are nowhere near as deficient in this area, but still inadequate. GTAO’s heritage system is terrible clunky and should have been dropped at the conceptual stage. At least you can create a unique face with it. However, a limited and bland selection of hairstyles and only one body type for each gender feels very limiting. At least there are tons of clothes to help create your own style. Skyrim SE and Fallout 4 offer more flexibility but the only way to get really good-looking characters in either of these games is with the help of third party mods. How come hobbyist coders can do it for nothing but the love of the game and yet a company with Bethesda’s resources can’t?

We have to go all the way back to 2008 for the best, most flexible and comprehensive character creator ever in a console game. That game was Saints Row 2 for Xbox 360 and PS3. You could choose gender height, physique (anything from obese to ripped to skin and bone), customise every physical and facial element, select from multiple animation styles and choose from three different voices for each gender, giving six in all. You could even create gender-bending characters by using a male voice with a female character or vice versa. There were hundreds of clothing items. You could change the colour of every single one and layer multiple items on top of each other completely unique looks. It was amazing. And it was nine years ago. How is it that this is still the best console character creator out there?