From: Eastern Nebula
Perhaps for you, Kull, characters deserve no better than "meh," but I'd personally beg to differ.
Take Stellaris for instance. You'll often find players role-playing the lives of various characters in Stellaris (recent example here), even though they are even more abstracted than in Distant Worlds. Characters in Stellaris do not exist physically in the galaxy as they do in Distant Worlds (on ships, stations, and planets). More so, characters in Stellaris only have one or two traits, whereas Distant Worlds characters have multiple traits and can improve over time. Lastly, each character in Distant Worlds has a history log, tracking the events they've participated in, whereas in Stellaris they do not.
Point being, if players can fantasize about the lives of abstracted Stellaris characters, ones without a physical location, history log, and less personality traits... that says something about the potential role-playing that can be done with Distant Worlds characters.
So, Kull. You don't like role-playing, but that doesn't mean other players don't. Characters, to me at least, were an important part of the playing experience.
Don't get me wrong, I LOVE role playing. But you can't do that with DW1 "characters", because they are worse than 1-dimensional. There's no personality of any kind. New traits appear almost randomly, and they have little to do with existing "personality type" (of which there isn't one, anyway).
Real characters? Interesting? Ones that you can actually care about as individuals? Bring it on. More of the DW1 type of character? Spare me.
It's true that your imagination has to do most of the work in DWU, but that's no different from most other generated (and not scripted) characters in strategy games. In this case, the roleplay is based on:
- What your character actually ends up doing in the game;
- What their skills are.
In the case of skills, DWU provided an interestingly large and variable array that actually, taken together, shaped unique characters - something that Stellaris doesn't have, with instead a much larger variety of avatars (cool, but not rich in terms of actual character design). And I think this is still the best way to do it for generated characters, because it would be very time-consuming to create a pool of variable dialogs based on potential character personalities, or otherwise would be frustrating to have just a few tailored characters you would get to use in every game. Sure, that's what happens in, say, Star Wars titles, but then the story that unfolds is much less your own.
Total War games - Attila in particular - are very good at character design, because they add XP and rpg-like skills to their characters. DWU also provided character skill progression, but I wouldn't actually want to have trees with skills to choose from, because choosing a character's evolution is less immersive to me than just watching it as actions unfold. So, in that sense, DWU's system is still top of the line for me. It might just need tweaks when it comes to presentation (including avatars) and the relevance and immersion of dialogs.