Character generation is indeed a difficult topic. I like the possibility to customize, but I also like playing the cards you are dealt. Perhaps some middle ground could be found?
I would like to suggest one such option. I read that non-combattant Brothers are likely to be introduced – smiths, healers and the like, who are part of your company, but not represented as fighters. I think in this lies great potential, for the game as-is right now but for character creation as well. You as a player are at the moment not represented in-game. Of course, you give the orders and make the decisions, like a sort of “invisible general”, but you can’t see yourself and don’t have any stats. Now, if a “court” or “staff” or “council” that featured the members of your company who do not fight was introduced (like the above-mentioned smith), that would exactly be the place where you as a commander could be represented. You could have your own picture and maybe a few stats or skills that would influence your company and that could be chosen at the set-out. Of course, you’d still appear on the battlefield, but I actually think that is a good thing as that way no one gets frustrated when their “player character” dies.
I think this suggestions has a lot of advantages. The player has a representative, there’s a possibility for customization that influences the game, the (possible) non-combattant “staff” gets another element, and there’s no risk of creating supersoldiers or min-maxing the fun of the beginning away.
That’s actually not a bad idea, though I still have my doubts. I like not having a face in the game, as it takes away the confusion between what the UI is supposed to represent and who the player character is meant to be. That is, am I actually the character when I am inputting the commands or am I inputting commands for a character, who then executes them as if he were me. Abstracting this to the UI being the player is how it is currently done. Giving you an avatar reinstates the seperation, since you can now see ‘you’. It would also be strange how the enemy leaders do take to the battlefield, while your mercenary leader does not.
Come to think of it, are companions planned for enemy factions as well?
I like it better than customising your starting party, though. This would be your actual avatar, rather than a surrogate, while you avoid the problem of the player focusing their attention on the avatar in battle, since they don’t take part.
Just spitballing here, so I might actually come to vehemently disagree with myself, but you could have the player need to choose between useful traits for the strategic map. Like Mountain Expertise allowing you to reduce the movement penalty of mountainous terrain. That might put too much emphasis on how important you are as the head of the company though and infringe on the abilities of other companions (I can imagine there being a Mountain Guide companion). I’m not sure yet how you’d implement it in both a meaningful and balanced fashion. It’s important thought that the direct influence of an avatar like that in battle should only ever be felt through the players their tactical choices. No stats buffs or special abilities.
I’d really need to see more of what the planned companion system actually entails before I can get a clear idea of whether it would fit, though.