January 20, 2009

Thoughts on the Character Builder Beta

With the full version of the Character Builder looming for subscribers by the end of this month, I would like to share my thoughts on the Beta version. Sorry for the late review but I wanted to play with it a little longer before coming out with a verdict.

One thing's for sure that I will say about the Character Builder is that it is fast. I whipped out my first character in almost less than five minutes. The option of using a pre-build character based on race and class or rolling a whole new character from scratch, either way is a very quick process. All you have to do is make choices, click them and you're almost done.

The comprehensiveness of the builder is also definately a plus. Although the feature was locked for the beta but being able to customize the builder to show only certain books and Dragon issues in the build options will prevent the sense of being overwhelmed by too much choices (or should I say 'power creep'). This also takes into consideration that not all DMs will allow every supplement or setting that is being released in their game.

However, even with just Adventurer's Vault, Martial Power, Player's Guide to the Forgotten Realms and a few issues of Dragon, it is still a very daunting list.

For the interface, I appreciate that they have the section which shows what powers actually do and below that is the calculation of modifiers, although I have noticed a few mistakes and bugs. However, because of the calculations being shown, I think the point of choosing powers should be after, rather than before, choosing of equipments. 4E powers are so heavily modified or dependent towards equipment that it would save a small hassle to pick the equipment before the powers without having to switch back to see how the powers and equipment complimented each other.

I think the screen which list the options for feats and equipment need to be much bigger because it can easily become a very long list and sometimes you would have to scroll a long way down to see your options. I think the same problem for powers would soon be prevalent if more core and splat books are released along the way.

My biggest love for the Builder is at the end of the process. I really love being able to fiddle around with the layout of the character sheet which from my experience can really increase the speed of combat. The printed power cards is a great bonus to that.

Overall, while in its Beta stage I will say that Wizards did exceed my expectations with a few surprises and it does show that they have put alot more thought and effort in building the Character Builder than those who expect it to be vaporware. I would say that the Character Builder is heading towards the right direction and already the potential of reducing character generation from hours to minutes is very evident.

But I also will say this upfront. When I generate a character, I don't only just build them. I plan them. When I approach the builder with that in mind, it does not fulfill all my needs but that can't be blamed. It's a character builder afterall, not a planner.

I like to weight my options and while I'm not a extreme min/maxer when I play but I do believe in creating an efficient and functional character that suits with my character concept. Also I do like to experiment with different builds, feats, power and equipment combinations. With the amount of data stored in the builder I thought it would be easier to do just that that but it turned out to be a greater hassle than advantage.

The Character Builder is just a bit too linear in the process for me. Although you may argue that the builder actually allows you to skip the steps but it doesn't allow you to start character generation without first picking a race and a class first. I could sometimes base a character concept on a certain feat and power combination and go backwards from there which is made all the more frustrating by the small screen to view all your choices. I find myself actually having to open my books just to work with the builder more effectively which is ironic if you think about it.

I also prefer to do the math by hand. Not only is the beta calculations not 100% reliable yet but I do want to know what factors are taken into account. Still the character builder is useful for double checking your math in that respect.

In the end, I'm just an old-fashioned kind of guy. When you are writing your numbers and class features on your character sheet with a pen or pencil, you really feel that your character is coming alive. With the builder, the painstaking process that we still enjoy is over almost effortlessly. It's convenient but the builder does kill the charm of creating YOUR very own character that you created by hand.

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