I can’t deny it, I’ve seen it happen too many years in a row now: Christmas is the season when I do stuff. Random stuff. The first time I tried blogging – something I’d never had any interest in whatsoever until that point – it was in the Christmas season, and though the blog (it was just a personal place for rambling to friends and was entirely unrelated to WoW, by the way) got abandoned as work picked up again in January it did lead to me noticing and beginning to appreciate many of the blogs which I now follow regularly.
Another thing I first tried over Christmas which I’d never had any interest in until that point was alting. Is that a verb? Probably not, but I’m going to use it as one anyway. I was very disciplined about having only one character when I first started World of Warcraft, and I did not so much as glance at the character creation screen until this one character was level 60 and fully kitted out with an epic mount and stuffed birds on his shoulders. But then quite suddenly, during mid December, I got the urge. I had seen a rogue doing amazing combinations of sapping and pulling in Scholomance (back when the place was a nightmare to five-man) and wanted to try it myself, so I rolled my first ever alt.
And once again I find myself alting towards Christmas. There are two classes that I’ve never played to at least level 40: Death Knights (I mucked about with one on the beta servers, which was technically level 55, but I don’t think that counts) and Paladins. That makes Paladins the only class I’ve never healed with at maximum level and the only class I’ve never had the slightest interest in playing myself. But as before, quite suddenly and with no warning, I got the seed of the beginning of the glimmer of a “I wonder…” thought. With patch 3.3 allowing us to mail heirlooms across factions, I had been considering starting the Horde shaman that Chayah very nearly was. Then quite out of the blue I wondered about starting a paladin instead. I mucked about with the character creation screen and, despite my previous disdain for the Blood Elf story and models, quite unexpectedly found myself with a level 1 male blood elf paladin with a name and RP backstory and a look that I really liked.
I ran up to kill my first mob and… autoattacked it until it died. That was a pretty low point. Everything, I thought, that I have ever heard about paladins is absolutely true. This is never going to work.
Somehow I got past those first couple of levels and became fascinated enough with the character to hook him up with some serious heirlooming (courtesy of Chayah’s sixty gazillion spare emblems). At the same time I was reading WoW.com’s series on The Low Level Tank and figured it would be most intriguing to level the guy as protection.
Now here’s where all those levelling changes we’ve seen in the last year and especially the past couple of weeks start to come into play.
First potential problem: No access to gear support as I’m on the opposite faction to my “mains”. 3.3 solves that. A quick trip to Silvermoon (and then to Ogrimmar to train the weapon skills) and I was packing the valor lookalike shoulders and chest and a freakin’ huge axe. Later I added a one-handed sword to use while tanking. Seriously, heirlooms are really really great. Some of them make your character look a bit daft, but these ones suited my blood elf perfectly.
Second potential problem: Cashflow! My orc hunter got abandoned in TBC, so I have no same-faction level 80 character to efficiently earn money. I’ve gone double gathering on my alt and am finding the mining change in particular – that is, getting all the ore out of a node in one swing – very pleasing, as well as the fact that you can no longer fail in the attempt to gather something that’s within your skill level.
Third problem: Travel. Running around for forty levels without a mount became almost intolerable after the first couple of times. Similarly upon reaching Outland, not being able to fly until you’ve already left (and then being grounded in Northrend) is very frustrating and time-munching. That’s all changed now of course: at level 20, just as running everywhere was starting to be a serious pain the in rear (well, feet), I got my first mount. I’ve noticed that when getting my mount at level 40 on previous alts, it’s felt like too little too late – you’re already starting to wish you had an epic mount by that point. Now, of course, when you reach level 40, you can have an epic mount – and flight at level 60, and Northrend flight as soon as you arrive thanks to the heirloom! It’s all frightfully sensible and really helps the levelling process be more fun. For me, as somebody who’s not interested in just grinding to max level as fast as possible but rather wants to take time to enjoy the storylines on the way, the earlier mounts actually provide more time and opportunity to stop and enjoy the immersion more. Less time spent travelling is more time spend reading quests, exploring the world, going on frivolous side-journeys.
Fourth problem: Instances. The new LFG tool has totally and utterly annihilated the pain and chaos of trying to get a low-level instance group going. It’s amazing and wonderful. The only gripes I could mention would be that it’s so easy to skip key instance quests and even to have no idea where an instance is in the world – but those are small issues compared to being able to jump into an instance on-demand with increased rewards to boot. And the quest thing is, really, something that’s been an issue for far longer: most instance quest chains are far too obscure, lengthy, involved and demanding to be completed by most alts.
Fifth problem: Future. There’s so much to do in the endgame now that if you can enjoy the levelling process itself, there isn’t really a problem of what you’ll do when you get to max level. And the ability to change your character’s name, gender, race and even faction means that if you do end up with a high level character that you suddenly wish was that race and that faction, you can just put a few coins into Blizzard’s coffers and make it happen. Wonderful.
Final problem: Grinding. I could write a whole post on this one, actually, and I plan to! But briefly: I think WoW is a victim of its roots. As much as it managed to improve on past MMORPGs with revolutions like quest-driven levelling (actually something of a late afterthought, hilariously enough) and generally being more accessible, it was still pretty punishing at release. Each successive patch and expansion has generally made it more accessible, friendly, fun at the higher levels, but has done little to address these things at lower levels. The reduced XP requirements to level from 20 to 70 have helped dramatically, as have heirloom items’ 20% boost to all XP (at first, remember, it was only 10% and only for XP from kills). But still there are too many throw-away quests with too little reward which are basically guided grinding sessions, and it’s still too hard to find those quests which are really important from a lore or reward point of view. Bear in mind that I say this as somebody who levelled four characters in Anarchy Online and who is therefore well aware of how “easy” WoW is in comparison.
But yeah, the grindiness of the game has been dramatically reduced even for lower level characters, and that’s great.
Usually by the time I get a character to level 40, I know if it’s got any “future” – and if the answer is no, it stops there and eventually gets deleted. (Unfortunately, characters that I’ve really enjoyed in the context of one expansion have been utterly gutted by changes to the game in the next, so I do have alts abandoned at levels other than 40 – but they were all once max-level characters that I really enjoyed.) My paladin has a bit to go before then. At present the main effect he’s having is making my bear more difficult to play! See, when I get a new character, it takes a while for the groove in my brain to be settled enough that I can play it without thinking too much. This same groove is what helps me jump from one character to another without suddenly getting very confused – my brain just switches from one familiar “groove” to another. Now because I’m in that place where I’m having to think so hard about what I’m doing on my brand new alt – there is as of yet no groove – when I go to my “main” (main tank, anyway) my brain finds itself sort of stuck still trying to create that groove for the alt who is playing the same role. And as such the two characters bleed into one another and I temporarily forget how to play both. It’s quite amusing.
At any rate, I like my alts to be fairly well played and well geared and generally well looked-after. This means that I’m not the sort of person who can just roll an alt to mess about with and then abandon it – I always feel very sad about abandoning characters and will try to resurrect them repeatedly to find that “groove” where I can enjoy them. This is the reason why I’ve still not tried all the race/class/faction combos that interest me and why my new paladin alt was my first time through the Blood Elf starter zone! Although this does leave only the human starter zone (I know, I know – weird one to have missed out on) and the Death Knight starter area to explore on potential future alts. But sadly I’ll have to start deleting old, now abandoned but once much-beloved characters before that could happen. Maybe we’ll get more character slots in Cataclysm, or some other more revolutionary advancement of the way players’ alternate characters are managed.
Cataclysm, after all, looks set to be new alt central – loads of new/changed low level zones and quests, loads of new race/class combos and of course entire new races to try! Still, I’ll personally probably stick to my main characters until a fair way into the expansion’s lifetime, as that’s what I’ve always done. At least, until Christmas rolls around again!