Saturday, 13 February 2016

Warcraft Weekender...I'm an altoholic

My name is Stephen, and I'm an altoholic.

Hmm...who to play today?

No, that's not a spelling mistake and I don't have a drinking problem. In the parlance of World of Warcraft (and most MMOs, actually), you have a 'main' and you may, if you're so inclined, have 'alts'. My problem is, as you can see from my character login screen, I have too many alts and I can't decide what to play.

Your main is pretty much as it sounds; this is the character you think of as your main character, the one you spend the most time and effort on. It'll be the one you level first when a new expansion launches, the one you'll focus on getting gear for and the one, if you're like me, you've put to the top of your character login screen. For me, this has always been my Warrior. He has changed race, faction and even name a few times over the years, but he is still the character I think of when someone says 'what's your main?'. Currently, he's a Troll, sporting huge tusks and a big red mohawk. An 'alt' (short for alternative character) is any character that isn't your main, but which you still actively play to some degree.

Ya mon

It's important to know that 'main' doesn't necessarily mean 'favourite' and, indeed, my Warrior has fallen out of favour on numerous occasions over the years, whether due to boredom or significant changes to the class which I didn't like. No matter the reason and no matter how long he might be sidelined, through the good and bad, buffs and nerfs, I still consider my Warrior as my main character.

Now, I always play Warrior types in RPGs. Be it older stuff like Baldur's Gate or newer stuff like the Dragon's Age series, if I can be a Warrior (or Fighter, as some games refer to them), then you can bet dollars to donuts that I'm gonna be a Warrior. But oddly enough, Warrior wasn't my first class in World of Warcraft; no, my first character was a Gnome Rogue. I can't remember why, on installing the game and finally getting past the insane server queues, I picked Gnome Rogue over Warrior. Possibly I wanted the smallest, most irritating race and the sneakiest, most irritating class. 

He was ugly before the new player models were brought in, but now...*shudder*

Whatever the reasons, it wasn't long before I also rolled my first ever Warrior, a Gnome by the name of Wee Mad Arthur (named after a Discworld character). I instantly fell in love with the class and, as a result, the tank role. In an MMO, there is usually something referred to as the 'holy trinity' of player groups. This trinity is comprised of the tank, the healer and the damage per second (DPS) players. In WoW, groups are usually either a 5 man dungeon group or a 10-20 player raid group. Regardless of the group's size, they always need people to fill the tank, healer and DPS roles.

The tank's role is to, essentially, get the attention of all the enemy monsters and hold that attention so that said monsters don't run about twatting the more squishy healer and damage-dealing players in the group. The healer's job is to keep the tank alive so he can keep the monster's attention and the DPS role is to just kill stuff as quickly as possible. Personally I always preferred tanking because I find healing stressful (plus you basically spend your time playing whack-a-mole with people's healthbars to keep them alive rather than watching the cool fight), and I find just doing DPS pretty dull and disengaging. 

Tanks tend to have the thickest armour and both Warriors and Paladins use sword and shields to tank, a style I've always enjoyed (I was so happy when they introduced Gladiator Stance for Warriors in Warlords of Draenor, and so disappointed when they announced they were taking it away again in Legion). Back in the original version of the game, which is now referred to as 'Vanilla', Warriors were the only viable tanks as long as they put points into their Protection talent tree. Sure, Druids could turn into bears and Paladins had their own protection tree, but back then those classes could barely do anything other than heal and people rarely, if ever, trusted them to tank (this all changed come the Burning Crusade). Being a Prot Warrior was like being a rock star back in those days.

I'd almost forgotten that the talent trees used to look like this...

You see, way back then, there was no Looking For Group tool to automatically find groups for you and there was no grouping across server; if you wanted to do a dungeon, you had to stand in one of the major cities (mostly Ironforge for Alliance and Orgrimmar for Horde, as they had the only auction houses back then) and spam the 'Looking for Group' chat channel. But tanking is a stressful role: you're front and centre of the group so, if you're bad at it, everyone can see and everyone can tell. The tank is usually the first one to get blamed if and when things go wrong, too, so not many people played as a Protection Warrior as a result, meaning tanks were in short supply (incidentally, despite the game now having five classes that can all tank, tanks are still a much sought-after role to the point where Blizzard offers them additional rewards through the 'Call to Arms' system when queuing for random dungeons). 

Again, this being before the LFG tool and cross-realm servers, if you were known as a bad player, everyone on your server knew and you got blacklisted, making it that much harder to join a group. But if you were a good player - particularly a good tank - you'd get dozens of other players whispering you as soon as you logged in, asking you to tank dungeons for them. I loved those days; everyone wanted to be your friend and everyone wanted you in their group. Sadly, those days are mostly gone; the addition of the LFG tool, cross-realm servers and the general toxicity of the playerbase means that the sense of community in the game has all but eroded. No one is accountable for their actions anymore because, once the dungeon run is over, it's unlikely you'll ever see those players again, so what does it matter if they're a complete and utter asshole?

Anyway, Wee Mad Arthur is called Morkins these days, and he's been sat at level 70 since the end of the Burning Crusade expansion, back in 2008, neglected and alone...

Est. 2005 - "Hi, will you please play me again?"

Back in Vanilla, I had three characters: my Gnome Warrior Morkins, who I eventually came to consider my main, my previously mentioned Gnome Rogue and my Dwarf Paladin, all of whom I took to max level (then 60).

Partway through the Burning Crusade expansion (released 2007), I decided that I wanted to play on Horde rather than Alliance. I'd dabbled with the Horde a few times, mostly on a Troll Shaman (who I still play), but I never got out of the 20-30s. But the Alliance guild I was in fell apart and a friend of mine decided to take the opportunity to move full time to the Tauren Druid he was playing on the side, and so my Undead Warrior was born (incidentally this is still the Warrior I play to this day, although as I said, he is currently a Troll).

It's worth pointing out that this was in the days before Blizzard offered faction and race changes for real money - if you wanted your Warrior to be another race then, by gum, you had to make a new one and level him up from scratch! This was also in the days before achievements, before account-bound mounts and before any of those nice, quality of life things we take for granted now. But I also still wanted to play my Paladin and Rogue, which meant creating two new Horde characters and levelling them up to level 70, too (I'd already got all three Alliance equivalents to 70 prior to switching to Team Red).

Around this time Warriors were pretty rubbish at tanking, so I switched to my Paladin, Lansellius. It was also around this time that Protection Paladins were so good and so overpowered that I used to have to tank the 10-man raid, Karazhan, with half my gear missing in order to take any damage and gain threat to keep the monsters' attention, or I used to pull every single mob in the Black Morass dungeon at once and AOE them all down. Sadly, poor Lansellius has also sat unloved, unused and still in half of his gear at level 70 since 2008...

"I'm so very, very lonely!"
When the Wrath of the Lich King expansion was released (November 2008), and with it the exciting new Death Knight class, I decided to ditch my Warrior and Paladin and join the band wagon. Thus my undead Death Knight was born. When Death Knights were released they were hugely overtuned and could out-dps and out-tank any other class in the game. It took Blizzard the whole two-and-a-bit years of the WotLK expansion to get DKs to a place where they were stable with everyone else but, man, it was a bumpy ride, with a constant stream of buffs and nerfs: really powerful one week, terribly weak the next, as Blizzard fine-tuned the numbers.

My Death Knight, wielding a sword so big I couldn't fit it all into the picture...
Eventually I ditched my Death Knight due to what I felt was a clunky rune resource system and went back to my Warrior (what could be more simple than how a Warrior does damage? Get hit, get mad, use that rage to hit back as hard as you can!), but it was also around that time that I first really dabbled with the other classes.

I leveled my Shaman up to max level (then 80), followed by my Priest, Warlock and Hunter. The Cataclysm expansion eventually turned up (2010) and that's when the altitis really hit hard: pretty soon I had one of every class except mage at level 85, including a third Paladin, who I leveled from scratch because I refused to pay for a faction or server transfer for my other two. Then Mists of Pandaria arrived (2012), I made a Monk (which is an unbelievably fun class to play and who I consider my second main, or main alt, depending on which way you look at it!) and all my classes got to 90 (again, except Mage. I always wanted a Frost Mage, mainly because of how fucking annoying I used to find them in PVP on my Warrior, but I could just never get on with them, really, so he's still stuck at 82). Now, here we are in Warlords of Draenor (released 2014), and I'm once again getting itchy feet over who to play,particularly who to play first when the next expansion, Legion, turns up (Summer 2016).

You may know that I recently returned to WoW after a year off, using my free level 100 boost to get a Druid to max level. 'I know what will cure my altitis!, I foolishly though, 'a class that can do everything!', but it wasn't long before I quite fancied a go on my Monk. I then thought I'd check in on my Warrior, see what he'd been up to in my long absence. Oh, but there's also my Shaman, he's Enhancement spec and a lot of fun. Hmm...I quite fancy having a bash at my DK again, finish getting him to level 100. Oh, Priests are looking good in the next expansion, maybe I should level my Priest. And my Warlock! They're a fun class, what with the demons and the cool armour! Could always go back to my Paladin, see what they're like these days. My Hunter was pretty fun, and I like having my pet dog Watson by my side in game form (although as a blue fox)! Rogues are always good for a laugh, particularly in PvP where you can be a proper bastard, sneaking about and killing folk unawares...and I suppose there is that mage...actually nah, he can sod off.

All my characters! From L - R: Top row: Night Elf Druid, Troll Shaman, Undead Warlock
Second row: Undead Death Knight, Dwarf Hunter, Dwarf Paladin
Bottom row: Undead Priest, Goblin Rogue, Pandaren Mage
Two larger pics: My Troll Warrior and Pandaren Monk, my two 'Mains'
And so goes my eternal dilemma; I can't pick a class to play and stick with without getting distracted by something shiny on another class and wanting to play them instead. I sometimes envy people who can show such dedication to just one character, but then I think of all the fun they're missing out on by not trying the other classes and I don't feel as bad.

So, who will I play in Legion? Admittedly, it'll probably be my Warrior, or at least he'll be first, but my Monk is giving him a serious run for his money in terms of 'who's my favourite?', so who knows what the future holds? The only thing I know is I probably won't make one of the new Demon Hunter class...

Source: Blizzard Entertainment least, not for a while!


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