Guild Wars 2's Sylvari Race is a Pleasant Twist on the Elf Archetype... But it May Not be Twisted Enough
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and MMO fashion
Last week, ArenaNet revealed the two previously unavailable Guild Wars 2 races and areas in time for the most recent (and final) beta event. I'm incredibly excited for the game's August release (I've already gushed about it here) so I leaped at the chance to play around with them.
The Asura are pint-sized technological prodigies (with occasionally questionable ethics) which will no doubt satisfy almost anyone who likes playing dwarven or gnome-like races in their fantasy MMOs. As for me, I'm much more interested in the Sylvari, who are the closest things to elves in Guild Wars 2. I love the race's lore and their aesthetic (including the brilliantly bio-luminescent details on their bodies), which is miles away from anything I've seen in a playable race for an MMO before.
As cool as I think sylvari are, I'm still not entirely convinced that I want to play one myself. Here's why:
It comes down to three words: Dressing the Part.
I realize now that my expectations for the Sylvari may have been unrealistic. I had read an early post on the ArenaNet blog about them that had gotten my hopes up that they would have more unique/contextual equipment pieces than other races. It was something that sounded completely fascinating to me, and it sounded like it would offer a lot of variety... and look incredibly cool. Here's what the post (from August 2011) said:
Sylvari grow their armor and much of their clothing. Their bodies create petal-like coverings, vines, and leaves that they shape into pleasing garments. When they wish to remove the garments, they simply shed their petal clothing as a human might cut their hair. Some sylvari wear armor made by other races or weave clothing in a more traditional manner, just out of preference.
Maybe in the year since then, ArenaNet has realized what a tall-order designing that much race specific gear would be because, with a few minor exceptions, sylvari wear the same clothing as every other race in the game. Yes, I know how unreasonable creating enough gear to fulfill this statement would be, but the incredibly detailed plant-like Sylvari avatars look almost ridiculous in the drab (by comparison) leather and cloth gear players wear in the first 20 or so levels of the game. When you create a Sylvari character, most of the class previews show the gorgeous race-specific armour I was expecting, a little tease before you're swaddled in the plain old starter clothes every race wears. It seems that the only time before level 10 that you get to wear anything that looks even remotely like with the sylvari are supposed to wear is when you're disguised as an evil sylvari (pictured above)... or in your underwear (pictured below).
More to the point, I can understand wearing this armor later on after leaving their home area and venturing out into the world, but when you're in the Sylvari homeland surrounded by other Sylvari wearing plant armor and clothing.... It just feels odd and out-of-place to be rewarded with human clothing than no one but player characters is wearing.
Am I overthinking this? Absolutely. Should I have expected entirely unique gear? Of course not. Is there a chance that the assets for some rad low-level sylvari outfits just weren't finished in time for the beta? Totally. But may also be a case of lore extending a bit beyond the game itself, and unfortunately it made for an aesthetically inconsistent experience. When it comes to MMOs, I'm not a roleplayer. I treat games like games, and I don't play a character. However, when I'm constantly asking myself "why am I wearing this" or "why am I doing this", it pulls me farther away from being immersed in the world.
Maybe I'm too picky (or a bit too obsessive), but if I do play a sylvari character I definitely won't be playing them in the Sylvari homelands. Instead I'll head to the human or the norn areas, where I won't have to ask myself why another plant woman wearing leaves just gave me a tailored leather coat.Tweet
Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.