I can't wear the best armor in RPGs because it makes me feel like an idiot – now I've rejected Fashion Souls and embraced the schlub meta

Baldur's Gate 3
(Image credit: Larian Studios)

Is it just me, or is there something very satisfying about dressing your character in an RPG like whatever that world's equivalent of a normal person is? Speaking personally, unless the penalty for ignoring optimization is completely brutal, I'm going into fights in whatever the setting's equivalent of jeans and flannel is, stats be damned. And when somebody rolls up in a golden breastplate and fiery helmet, or LED-speckled cyber bodysuits… Well, they can't help but seem a bit silly now. But why is that?

Replaying Ghost of Tsushima in preparation for the PC release was where I remembered this habit really coming to the fore. The first "armor set" you get in that game is just some light traveling robes, pretty nondescript compared to the ornate kabutos and cuirasses you'll get later. Paired with a broad straw farmer's hat, Jin basically looks like everybody else, just one in a crowd. Later on you start unlocking gear that's more befitting of a dread avenger - ghoulish face masks and ancestral plate armor - but I found myself pretty lukewarm on that stuff, always going back to the robes and straw hat.

Style over substance 

(Image credit: Sucker Punch)

But that was only the beginning. It happened again when my Baldur's Gate 3 Monk spent most of the campaign wearing the most nondescript camp clothes I could find for them: a light tunic and breeches that felt like Faerun's answer to sweatpants and a t-shirt. Admittedly, the Monk lends itself more to this choice, being a class that eschews equipment and armor in favor of unarmed combat, but the usual choice for such a character is elegant, free-flowing robes, not a dockworker's spares. Same thing occurred again in Cyberpunk 2077, where V slouched around Night City in a bomber jacket straight from the charity shop discount bin, and my Sea of Thieves avatar was never happier than when he was in frayed shorts and a threadbare vest, rejecting the various plumed hats the game was pushing me towards.

Many people call this sort of thing "fashion souls", where a character's armor is chosen for style rather than stats, but I'm not sure that's exactly what's happening here - mainly because my characters never look very stylish. Those aforementioned golden suits and pre-order gear I was harping on - those feel more like the fashion souls mindset in action. Sporting some glamorous cape and metal wings is very different to the pragmatic, function-over-form gear I like to see characters stuffed into.

Sea of Thieves

(Image credit: Rare)

I think I'm just enamored with the idea that a hero is so much cooler - and more human - when they don't start off looking like a treasure pile. When the Arisen vaporizes a griffin with eldritch fire in Dragon's Dogma 2, it's more impressive when they're not wearing an enchanted helmet sprouting diamond-studded platinum antlers. Frankly, vaporizing griffins feels pretty average for somebody dressed up like that, almost hardly worth mentioning. But bringing a monster down while dressed in worker's overalls? That's a badass.

It's not just aesthetic though - it's a matter of storytelling and relatability. Good narratives tell us to root for the underdog, the everyman, somebody who has so much further to go. They set out with patchwork clothing, muddy boots, and rusty weapons. It's not their equipment that takes them to the finish line, but talent, skill or hard work. Contrarily, it's the villains that have all the expensive toys and nothing to overcome.

So next time you're starting an RPG, especially one where class or power or revolution is a central theme, I recommend you dress down, not up. Try to look like the people you're fighting for, whatever that means in that world, even if you're "transmog-ing" yourself to get there. Any extra strife it adds will only make you love your protagonist all the more, and be all the more motivated to beat down those absurd enemies who made sure to layer on platinum armor and hair gel before leaving the house that morning.

 My love of Rise of the Ronin is weird, because I can't stop playing or stop thinking about Ghost of Tsushima 2 and Assassin's Creed Red.

Joel Franey
Guides Writer

Joel Franey is a writer, journalist, podcaster and raconteur with a Masters from Sussex University, none of which has actually equipped him for anything in real life. As a result he chooses to spend most of his time playing video games, reading old books and ingesting chemically-risky levels of caffeine. He is a firm believer that the vast majority of games would be improved by adding a grappling hook, and if they already have one, they should probably add another just to be safe. You can find old work of his at USgamer, Gfinity, Eurogamer and more besides.