Appearances are everything.

My newly minted Hunter on her newly purchased mount

When I was heavily into World of Warcraft, I used to spend hours figuring out exactly which pieces of gear I needed. I made lists of every single piece I wanted, with some alternate choices, and carefully noted where they dropped. I did this for heroics, for raids, for everything. It was one of the things I enjoyed most (strange, I know).

And back in BC (that is, Burning Crusade) the tier gear you got from raiding was gorgeous. My Priest got wings for shoulders and a halo for a helm. But somewhere along the line, Blizzard made the gear less distinctive. There were no more halos, no more wings. The gear really became nothing more than stats. I looked remarkably like everyone else and slowly my interest in getting gear dissipated. And my interest in raiding finally disappeared altogether.

Last month, the unthinkable happened and I quit playing WoW. Quit raiding, quit it all. But I couldn’t give up MMOs altogether. I started playing RIFT, which I love (despite the fact that it seems so very WoW-like). I reactivated my Lord of the Rings Online account. I started playing Everquest 2 Extended (the free to play game).

RIFT is a lot of fun – so much fun it’s a whole ‘nother post. But what’s surprised me the most is how much I’m enjoying LOTRO and EQ2x. One of the big reasons I’m enjoying them is actually a bit embarrassing for someone who used to be relatively hardcore: cosmetic appearance items.

With no desire to raid, gear is all about looks for me now. I want the characters I play to look a certain way and I don’t want to spend hours upon hours upon hours trying to get it. I don’t care about having the bestest stats – I want my character to look like it belongs in the world.

In LOTRO, with the gear I have so far (at level 14) my character pretty much looks like a clown (left). But by chucking a few ‘Turbine Points’ and thus some hard cold cash at it, I have a beautiful hooded cloak and a ‘comfortable robe’ in which to do my exploring (right).

Before and after: the wonders of appearance armor

In EQ2x, I paid the $7 so I could play a Fae – I loved the whole fairy aesthetic, the wings, everything. But it was discouraging to see her flying around in a maroon robe, looking like an escapee from the set of ‘The Flying Nun’. A bit of Station Cash and presto she’s got a gorgeous white embroidered Gi. Maybe not quite in keeping with the lore, but she looks exactly as I want her to now.

Aethene the Fae Wizard and her mystical mount

And yes, I also bought a mount. Well, two mounts – one in LOTRO and one in EQ2. Because running around is incredibly painful and time consuming. And because it’s a freaking unicorn, people!

MMOs for me now are all about questing and exploring, and immersing myself in the story. I love LOTRO because the environment is beautiful and the lore is (obviously) amazing. The epic story quests that you used to need a group for are now soloable, which means I won’t need to miss them because I can’t (or, in my case, don’t want to) find a group. In Eq2x, you have conversations with the quest givers and I find that wonderfully immersive. And it’s kind of ‘old school’, which I like for reasons which escape me.

Being able to purchase these items improved my experience in both games immensely. With the exception of the increased movement speed of my mounts, the purchases don’t make the game any easier. But now my characters look like I want them to from the very beginning. And that makes the games that much more interesting for me.

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