Picking Alts, and Seeing how the other Half Live

One of my favourite parts of going to a new restaurant is poring over the menu.

You scan over the different items, mentally imagining how they might taste. You pause at foods that you either don’t get often at home, or that bring back fond memories of previous meals. Then you change your mind at the last minute for no reason, and spend the rest of the evening suffering menu envy at all the dishes (that you passed up) being ferried to everyone else’s tables. It’s great! If nothing else, you leave with a mental list of dishes that you want to try next time. You could skip several steps by picking something familiar on your first visit; you won’t hate it and can compare it to previous dishes (I do this in Indian Restaurants, for example). Then you can try something new if/when you go back.

Alts can be this way also. You pick one because it sounds like a nice flavour combination and maybe it’s been a favourite in the past. Then  you get a flash of menu envy when someone else wanders by with an especially cool looking buff, or being able to do something your character just can’t, or generally acting overpowered. I have rolled alts before because I thought a spell had an awesome casting animation, or because I thought their role in one particular fight was really cool. I’ve rolled alts because I thought it must be fun to res people, or because I had a cool name in mind for a pet. I’ve rolled alts because a particular set of gear looked really good.

Watching other people play different classes or roles is one of the big motivators in picking alts. Especially if you have friends who really enjoy their characters. So is reading cool forum posts, watching videos, or anything that makes you look twice at another class and think … wow, menu envy. I want to do THAT.

Or there is also the related route of picking something because no one you know plays it. Maybe you are more of a risk taker, and hope you’ll be the one to give them menu envy.

Many Alts, Many Points of View

I’ve been thinking about alts because in Warcraft right now, I don’t have a whole lot to do on my main character when I’m not raiding. One random heroic instance a day for frost badges, and I’m done.

Like a lot of other players, I have a clutch of level 80 alts. (As an aside, there was a time when having several alts at the max level meant that you were extremely hardcore; now it is pretty much inevitable if you have been playing awhile*) So those could also run a heroic dungeon for frost badges every day also.

With the dungeon finder, it’s never been easier to gear up an alt, and get some playing time in groups. More players are doing this now than ever before. There are fewer other endgame grinds to take up game time, plus there’s the lure of frost badges which can be used to buy the very saleable primordial saronite, if you don’t need it yourself.

So really, the playerbase should be getting better at seeing other classes’ points of view. We should be understanding that some classes are harder to play than others because we have more time to try it. Some roles are more involving. Some tasks more taxing on a caster rather than a melee, or vice versa. It’s way easier for me to put up high dps numbers on my death knight in instances than on my warlock, for example.

I’m not sure that this utopia of broad understanding based on all walking in each others shoes is happening though. Yes, lots of people are playing lots of alts. Yes, more people than ever are dipping their toes into the murky pool of tanking or healing for the first time.

Maybe this is going to be a longer term trend. Maybe as it becomes more baseline to have multiple well-geared alts who are just one tier behind a main, we will have more empathy for the other classes based on our own experiences with them. Right now, I’m more likely to be impatient at people who persist in being blinkered by a single class or role.

Do you find that playing multiple alts or roles has opened your eyes to their issues?

* Note: This does depend on how casual a player you are, I know some people have been playing for years and still don’t have a level 80.  But they are outliers.

Everquest 2: Dragons vs Fae

This week, Arbitrary and I were determined to get our dragon ladies to level 20. I’m not sure if level 20 means anything really significant in EQ2 but when we first created the characters, we were given a quest that gave out a title if you made 20 within a limited amount of time. So it seemed like a good waypoint.

In practice, with the various levelling bonuses and recruit-a-friend bonuses, the actual levelling side was very quick and easy. And since we’d paused at around level 18 last week (OK, maybe we did sneak an extra session in over the weekend) we knew it wasn’t going to be overly traumatic to pick up the last two levels.

Gorowyn: City of Falling off Ledges

Gorowyn is the Sarnak city, and we’d wound up near one of the entrances so it seemed a shame not to go and explore. It is built inside a huge cave with different tiers of the city on ledges. You get around using lifts and pulleys and moving gondola-type things.

It wasn’t really a very convincing city. Seemed more like one of each sort of ‘necessary’ NPC (ie. class trainers, profession trainers, vendors, quest people, guards) laid out in standard pattern. And a pub, which I liked. I just think it lacks any sense that NPCs actually live there, and I wasn’t picking up much of a racial flavour to it either.

One thing we did like was that when you talk to the guards, you can ask directions to people by name. So if you are looking for a quest NPC, you can type in their name and the guard will illuminate a glowy trail leading you towards them.

There was also a certain amount of falling off ledges. I’ll come back to this as it seems to be a theme in EQ2 cities.

How are the dragons shaping up?

After our brief encounter with dragon civilisation, we decided to go on to the next quest hub and do what we do best – mass genocide.

Now when we created these characters, we picked them because we thought they looked cool. We noted that Sarnak were listed as evil (races in EQ2 are divided into good races, evil races, and neutral ones) but in the starting area we hadn’t seen much evidence of this. Sure, we were wandering around and decimating the local ecology but that’s just what characters do in these games, right? I hadn’t seen anything that tipped the Sarnak onto the evil side of the scale.

I think our genocide expeditions, where we were sent out to exterminate the opposing race via slaughter, biological warfare, and starving them to death kind of righted the balance on that one. I was almost disappointed when one of the NPCs stopped us and told us to go back to the city for more orders but it turned out to be OK. We were just being asked to halt the genocide because our dragon lords had decided these bird guys might (just might) be more useful alive.

I do like the writing so far. The quest NPCs don’t come across as being stupid, and don’t treat you as if you were stupid. It’s all very businesslike.

This particular quest hub was much more old school than the previous one. You know the setup where there’s a load of mobs out in the field, and a quest hub. And you get sent out to the same place on five different occasions, each time going a little bit further into the mob area, until finally you get to kill a named mob and they let you move somewhere more interesting?

It was that.

So at level 20, I’m quite liking the Fury. I’m not loving it, but there’s an element of ‘been there, seen that’ involved. Also, it’s a bit off-putting that anytime anyone asks in trade chat what classes are good, everyone tells them to play a Fury.  I’m also figuring out roughly how the buffs work – I think buffing characters have a concentration stat that controls how many buffs you can have active at any time. Some of the buffs are more like auras (ie. you put them up, they stay up until you cancel them, and they affect your whole group), others are timed buffs that need to be recast. There’s a runspeed group buff which has been a particular favourite.

I also get my first shapeshift at level 20. I can turn into a lioness. Rar! It’s a form with some melee combat bonuses (hadn’t thought the Fury was a melee class but what do I know) and more amusingly you can also cast spells in lion form and it has a silly cast animation.

I was amused that on one occasion, Arb ran in somewhere and pulled a ton of mobs by accident (or so she claimed!), I was healing, it was all a bit chaotic. When it calmed down we looked around and noticed that we were still alive and the mobs weren’t.

And I was like, “I don’t think my heals are all that good.” *facepalm* They’re fine, evidently.

She’s not all that thrilled with the Shadowknight, and part of that is not really grooving on the look of the class. At level 20, I look way better in my leathers than she does in her plate, and that’s not really inspiring. It may be that high level plate looks better but it’s hard to say from where we are now.

Checking out other classes

So the dragon duo was working well, we’d seen the dragon city and killed lots of stuff. But somehow we didn’t really love the characters. It seemed a good time to explore alternatives. EQ2 has tons of classes, and it was easy to make a list of other options that we both thought were interesting. Then we had to figure out which combination could end up with the same faction and starting area.

I am very impressed with at least one aspect of the class design. It feels as though you can get a good sense for how a class plays from very early on. I’m not sure if it’s an accurate sense but from scanning forums and talking to people, I think it could be. So the Fury is a healer/nuker with lots of buffs who relies heavily on DoTs/HoTs. The Shadowknight is a solid AE tank with some magical effects and buffs thrown in.

The next combination we decided to try out was Monk (unarmed fighter, it is tankish in nature but not really, if that makes sense) and Dirge (rogue type support class with lots of buffs). Both these classes are further in concept from types we have played before, which is part of the appeal I think.

Arb is still keen to try tanking, but hated the look of the plate armour. So the Monk, with its cool animations and ability names seemed like a good fit. I was bored of casting and wanted to hit stuff – didn’t really fancy the Warden so I picked on one of the other melee support classes.

The Dirge does remind me a bit of my burglar in LOTRO although I think I prefer the Dirge so far. You get to move around a lot in combat, and there are positional attacks and various stuns and debuffs that are set off by your melee moves. In addition, it has a ton of useful buffs. So more of a buffing than a debuffing class I think. Not sure how much of a problem it will be to not have a healer but there’s only two of us and not a full group, and the Dirge’s melee-oriented buffs might work out well.

We ended up picking Fae for our race which meant we got to check out the Fae starting area. I think Fae as a race may be a bit thick. They name their local landmarks things like ‘Drippy Cave’ and ‘Orc Hill’ and the NPCs act like idiots. I suspect the writers were going for a childlike gleeful view on life. We rolled our eyes and got on with it.

The best thing about playing Fae is the wings, which look awesome and also mean that when you (inevitably) fall off ledges, you actually glide gently to the ground instead of crashing down like a brick.

We did notice that this duo was more fragile than the tank/healer combo, but that just meant that we had to be more careful with the pulls. Drippy Cave (I can’t believe I walked into a place called Drippy Cave) was a trial by fire. We picked ourselves up and went back there about three times before perseverance and ‘not acting like bloodcrazed lunatics’ won out and we finally cleared our quests there.

I’m finding the area much more charming than the dragon starting area. I’m sure this is intentional but the introduction to the Fae city is also simply more engaging than the dragon equivalent.

So what’s next?

I think the aim now will be to get the Fae alts to 20 also and then decide which we feel like playing. The nice thing about playing as a duo is that we don’t feel any pressure to hurry to endgame so it doesn’t really matter if we futz around at low levels and try to work out what we want to play.

I still haven’t had much of a chance to look at tradeskills or the EQ2 cardgame, both of which I’m curious to try.

One thing I do feel about the game is that they throw a lot of complexity at you deliberately. There are mechanics which are simply more awkward than they need to be. The skill system is one of them. As I understand it, you get to learn two versions of every spell – and they’re both on the same cooldown. You can upgrade them separately so every time you either go up a  level or upgrade a spell, you’re supposed to check your spellbook to make sure you have the current best version of everything on your hotbar. But I could be entirely wrong, there’s just a lot going on that I don’t really comprehend.

I’m thinking that they’re aiming at players who love the idea of being thrown into an incomprehensible world and trying to figure it out. And I say this with no irony intended. It is quite an engrossing experience and a lot of players adore the challenge of complexity.

It just feels very … old school sometimes.