Thursday, November 18, 2010

The NEW Character Builder

I’m really not picky. When Wizards of the Coast announced 4th edition, grognards everywhere groaned, but I couldn’t wait to try the new system. When WOTC announced the Essentials line, forum members pitched such a fit that I had to avoid the message boards for a while, lest my eyes roll all the way out of my head. Every time WOTC makes the slightest change to anything, they get blasted for it, while I try to ignore their unpleaseable fanbase and enjoy the change. I don’t like everything they do, but usually I think the good outweighs the bad and I’m willing to go with the flow. But this new Character Builder is hard to accept.

On 11/16/2010, WOTC released the new version of the Character Builder. The old CB was an actual program you could download, and I loved it. The new CB is a web application, and so far... I'm not as impressed. Now, to be fair, this new version isn't really complete. Most of the things I hate about it might improve in the future.

For starters, right now it’s buggy and incomplete. Of course this will be fixed in the future, and the only real scandal there is why they decided to release it so early. It’s actually hard for me to use it long enough to really get a feel for it, since it crashes a lot.

You have to be online to use it. So if you were hoping to kill some time building characters on your laptop between wi-fi hotspots, you’re out of luck. And because it runs on their server, it's slow. Not insanely slow, but slower than the old CB. This isn't likely to improve much, because you are running this over the internet. Button-clicks that used to work instantaneously now have to load like a web page.

Of course, this also means you have to have a subscription to use it. “Duh,” you say, but I only bring it up because it wasn’t necessarily the case before. With the older CB, you could pay for a one-month subscription just to download the CB and get the newest update, and if you were happy with the content, you could wait a few months before updating again. As long as the program stayed on your hard drive, you could use it. So if you didn’t require all the latest feats and powers, you could basically pay as much or as little as you wanted to. But now, you have to stay subscribed if you want to use the builder.

And for that unreasonably high subscription price, you only get to store 20 characters on their server. This is ridiculously low, IMO. In the old Character Builder, a character data file is usually less than 200k. So for our $70+ a year, they can only afford to give us 4 megs of space? Some gaming groups share a single subscription, but with only 20 characters that’s going to be hard. But then, that’s probably one of the things WOTC was trying to prevent anyway. On the bright side, with everything stored on their server, there's no more transferring your character file back and forth between your desktop and your laptop.

It doesn't have an option for normal-looking 4e character sheets. It gives you a choice of two styles. One is the Essentials style, and the other is a new style I hadn’t seen before. While I do like the new style sheet, I hope they add normal 4e sheets as an option. Preview:

Essentials Style:
New Character Builder Style:

The program’s interface is simplistic, and seems designed for D&D newbies. It suggests classes for you based on combat role. I’m not against that as an option, but I would like them to put in a “Beginner/Expert” toggle switch that I can set. If I go to the trouble of loading up the program, I usually already know what class I’m going to build.

Oh well. The older Character Builder didn’t work well when it first came out, and it took a while to work the bugs out. The difference is, I really liked the old CB from the first time I used it, bugs and all. So far using the new one is onerous.

In a way, the project was doomed from the start. The web program was not designed to give WOTC's customers any sort of improved experience. No, first and foremost, it was created because WOTC was worried about piracy. The old character builder has been illegally downloaded a lot, so they decided to put the CB online instead. I can't fault their motives, but I wish they hadn't rushed it.

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