A fashionable history lesson
First, let’s start with a little history lesson on how things got to the state they are in, for those who may have missed the early days of the game. At launch, transmutation stones were an item that took the skin of one item and gave it the stats of another. If you liked the look of a piece of gear you found, you couldn’t just salvage it for the skin as you can now; you had to keep it in your bank until you wanted to transmute it. It was essentially the same as World of Warcraft’s old transmog system.
Then there was the town clothes system. This set of cosmetic clothing could be activated at the push of a button, but reverted to your armor when you entered combat. The idea of town clothes was, as the name implies, that your character doesn’t run around in heavy, uncomfortable armor all the time and in fact sometimes changes into a more normal, casual outfit during downtime. By default, players got a generic set of race-appropriate clothes, with the gem store offering a variety of unique options, such as shirts, hoodies, cargo shorts, fuzzy quaggan hats, and various types of glasses. You will recognize several of them as skins or outfits that cycle through the cash shop today, but sadly some of the pieces are no longer obtainable.
Town clothes differed from outfits in that pieces could be mixed and matched, so you could wear your Silk Brocade Vest and Shirt with your Bunny Ears if you wanted to. They could not, however, be mixed with armor; town clothes and armor went in separate slots and could not be transmuted.
ArenaNet, however, felt that the town clothes system was underutilized (and let’s be honest, it was probably not performing as well in the cash shop as the studio wanted). Players pointed to the fact that town clothes toggled off when going into combat or switching maps, and they couldn’t be bothered to toggle them on just to show off their (generally relatively plain looking) town outfits. So, for better or worse, we got the outfit system and a streamlined transmutation system. At the same time, town clothes were converted to gear skins, tonics, and outfits.
The biggest advantage that outfits have over skins is that they cover all of your gear, so not only can players wear whatever mismatched skins they acquire while leveling, the developers and artists don’t have to worry about how they might interact with every existing skin in the game, meaning they can be developed and released more quickly and easily. Also, it opens up possibilities that normal gear skins lack because of potential clipping issues, such as full-length dresses and coats.
I believe that a lot of the frustration directed toward the outfit system began as resistance to change away from town clothes. Players are frustrated that outfits give them less creative freedom, less opportunity to make their character look unique. With the benefit of hindsight, though, I think outfits are more appealing. It would have been great to have both, but realistically, I think this has given us a wider variety of better quality choices.
Outfits and skins, by the numbers
Now that that history lesson is over, let’s get back to the original thesis: dispelling the myth that ArenaNet releases almost exclusively outfits and little to no armor skins. There are currently 90 outfits in the game (including the various town clothes outfits, which are no longer available), and the Guild Wars 2 Official Wiki currently lists 462 pages in its “armor skins” category.
Reddit user Skyy-High posted some detailed research into the skins released during each expansion and living world season (thanks to our commenter Yangers for bringing this post to my attention!). Skyy-High counted 17 full armor sets that include all six skins for all three weights, as well as 15 individual gear skins. I can understand that this may not be as many skins as you want, but it’s difficult to argue that it’s nothing.
Granted, these numbers may look weak next to the number of new skins that, say, World of Warcraft or The Elder Scrolls Online release in the same period of time. But I also appreciate that Guild Wars 2’s cosmetics feature substantial unique geometry and are rarely if ever just bodypainted on to your character’s mesh (or retextures of old sets).
The eye of the beholder
When this topic comes up, I often hear cries of, “but all of the outfits in the cash shop look way better than the skins you can get in-game!” That’s wholly a matter of opinion. When the subject of Guild Wars 2 outfits came up the other day in Massively OP’s work chat, our own Carlo Lacsina said that, while he has bought a handful of outfits, he has a lot of buyer’s remorse because none of them really stand out from normal armor skins in his mind. Similarly, Sam Kash chimed in that the only outfit he owns is one he got for free because he simply isn’t tempted by them.
I obviously think a lot of outfits are better looking than armor skins, otherwise I wouldn’t have paid money for so many outfits (all of the characters you see in these screenshots are mine and/or my wife’s, and several are in outfits). But there are some skins that I think are really cool, and some outfits that I think are really not. Fashion is subjective. I have days when I flip through all of my outfits like a corny movie montage and end up building a custom outfit from skins to get the exact look I want. Then there are other days when I’m happy I can just throw on an outfit and not worry about customizing every single slot. I’m happy that ArenaNet gives me options.
I know some people are really bothered by the pervasive buttcapes, which seem to plague outfits much more than armor skins. I get it, ArenaNet seems to have a weird obsession with “modesty flaps.” I sometimes wonder whether 3-D artists just get so tired of staring at characters’ pelvic regions or asking each other “Does this texture make my butt look big?” that they just don’t want to deal with it sometimes. More realistically, it might be the Charr’s fault, since tails tend to make armor design difficult. If buttcapes aren’t for you, there are outfit options out there, but they are admittedly few and far between.
Whatever your opinion on outfits is, it is valid because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But if you prefer armor skins, I don’t really think it is fair to criticize ArenaNet for neglecting non-outfit cosmetics. I think it’s interesting that when doing some digging for this post, I ran across this video from Flameseeker Chronicles on Old Massively, wherein our own Richie Procopio was making a very similar argument in 2013, less than a year after the game launched, against the idea that all of the new armor and weapon skins were being delivered in lockboxes. It just goes to show you that while the details have changed a little, this conversation – and the misperception itself – is not new.