Alt reality

As I have written over the last few posts, I am starting to develop some of my alts in Legion. What I should say is I am trying to do so, but it is a long, frustrating road. This was driven home to me last night as I was working on my little gnome destro warlock, who has herbalism and tailoring as professions. It seems like everywhere I turn, every part of progression for this alt runs smack dab up against huge roadblocks, usually in the form of dungeon or raid requirements but also in the form of very specific zone progressions, for even the most basic accomplishments.

All I wanted was a few upper level tailoring patterns and to complete the Champions of Legionfall achievement so I could finish up my last two class hall order advancement ranks.

What a journey through frustration it has been. And no, I have not reached either goal yet.

Start with the tailoring. I had only gotten as far as getting the blue tailoring items. So I dutifully took up the quest line again. Just the basic quest line (38 quests, some of which are time gated) requires the running of 3 separate dungeons. This gets you two upper level (“imbued silkweave”) items. However, to even get there, you must complete enough of the Suramar quest line to get the Suramar City mask, as all your upper level items must be crafted in a certain Suramar building. If you want to craft useful bags, you must run two mythics — upper and lower Kara. Additional upper level items — beyond the chest and bracers you get from the basic quest line — require achieving exalted with multiple (four, I think) factions and completing one or two additional quests. After you do all this, you will be at skill level 1 for your patterns. I am assuming the remaining skill levels are parsed out by the RNG gods at some rate similar to Nomi’s recipes, which is to say one or two every few months, assuming you pursue them every day.

Late edit: You can, in fact, buy several of the imbued silkweave patterns, level 1, from vendors scattered about, and they do not all require exalted rep or extra quests.

Champions of Legionfall achievement. The kicker for this one is, it requires completion of the entire previous class hall campaign, which is a 47-quest project that includes two required dungeons, Black Rook Hold and Vault of the Wardens for warlocks. I got to step 36, which is Vault, and was stymied because I could not find a group to do it. Frustrating does not really begin to describe it.

Here’s the thing. Most of us did these quest lines on our mains — Yes, they were annoying because Blizz designs quest lines not for the fun and enjoyment of the players but rather for how long they can drag them out and thus improve their MAU metric for the stockholders. But we and our friends were doing similar ones at the same time, and we usually had some help with the dungeons and even the raids later on for higher skill level patterns and recipes. But when you are leveling an alt, it is unlikely anyone else in your guild is at the same spot in their alt progression. Even if you are in an active and helpful guild, it is a real imposition on guildies to ask them to run a specific normal or heroic dungeon just so you can get that one recipe or that one warlock class hall campaign quest completed.

Yes, I know there is the auto group finder and the custom group finder. They are useless, especially if you are a dps. Over the weekend, I waited a total of 3 hours to get into a Vault group, and was unsuccessful. There were a total of zero custom groups forming for that dungeon, which is a crap shoot anyhow since my lock hovers around 870 ilevel, and of course that is garbage if you are looking to join a group for anything. I tried forming my own group Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and the most interest I got — during prime evening play time — was 2 additional dps.

Basically, I have hit a wall on my lock for advancing either my profession or my order hall campaign — and thus, of course, also my gear progression since I cannot so far unlock my third relic slot and thus my artifact weapon level seems stuck. Could I prevail on one of our guild tanks or healers to help me run Vault or the Karas? Yes, but honestly I have already done that for the previous dungeons I needed, and I am someone who hates to beg for help especially if it will inconvenience others. My other option is to beg to be included in some of the mythics and M+ runs they do several times a week, but that, too, would be pure charity as I would have to be carried in order to complete them.

And the requirements for dungeons and raids to progress are not even the worst requirements of the game. Some professions require running rated battlegrounds to progress. Rated battlegrounds! Not just random ones, but rated, where if you are not a dedicated pvp player already in a regular group, you must ask a group to carry you, and in doing so they likely will diminish their own rating just to help you out.

These kinds of dead ends are the most demoralizing parts of Legion, in my opinion. There are no alternate paths, no player options. If you don’t want to give up (which is apparently fine with Blizz, they seem to be in dream-smashing mode these days), there really is no way to get past them other than to hope for some good luck.

Which, in a way I guess, kind of summarizes the state of the game these days: hope for good luck. Skill and perseverance are becoming less and less important, unless you are talking about persevering in rolling the dice.

Blizz has done a few superficial things in Legion to “help” alts — speeded up some of the champion mission times, added the catchup mechanism for artifact research, made flying account-wide. I am not knocking those things. But they have, as usual, failed to acknowledge a basic flaw in their design, much less do anything about it. Or worse, they know it is annoying and frustrating for players — that it limits the potential for advancement for many — and they do not give a damn. I do not mind running long quest chains to achieve my alt goals, and I grumble but do not really mind grinding things like reputation to advance my alts. But when I get to the point — multiple times for almost every progression goal — where there is nothing I can do on my own to advance, when I must either beg or hope for assistance from others, then I feel stymied and angry. And that is NOT fun.

Alt weekend

I had a busy weekend in WoW. Nothing spectacular, just found myself with some windfall time on my hands and decided to spend it playing. As there is nothing much left for me to do with my main except grind out AP, I turned to my two most developed alts — balance druid and destro warlock. It was an interesting study in comparisons and contrasts.

Both are ranged dps, which is my solid role preference in WoW. I do have a couple of melee dps and healer alts, and they provide a nice break sometimes, but I always come back to ranged dps as my niche play style. Having said that, there are further distinctions among ranged dps, but the one that makes the greatest difference to me is mobility. Hunters used to be the most mobile of all ranged classes, and even after huge mobility nerfs to them in Legion at least BM hunters probably retain that distinction. So I am coming from that background as my baseline for determining “mobility”.

As I wrote last week, I have spent quite a bit of time lately developing my balance druid, and I am enjoying it. Her ilvl is around 890, but in all honesty she still has pretty crummy gear. Two legendaries, but one is just the crafted stat stick, worthless except as an ilvl booster, in my opinion. No tier gear, no BiS trinkets.

I was invited to a couple of mythics and mythic+ runs on her over the weekend. Pity runs, if I am truthful, but my guild is pretty good that way. Also, several of my guildies are building up alts now, too, so we end up taking turns running mains in order to carry some alts every now and then. My boomie dps was dismal, of course, but I was encouraged that it was not always bottom of the dps pile — there were moments of decent play.

The one thing that still dogs me with balance druid play is the extreme slowness of it.  Cast times just seem excruciating to me, like I could start the cast, go make a sandwich and get back just as it was finishing. I suppose this is an indirect reflection of my crummy gear — I have not even come close to really stacking the haste I need. The Icy Veins class guide goes so far as to rank haste and mastery above the primary stat of int (!) One of the consequences of this horrible slow play style is that I tend to overuse my instant casts — kill pace while soloing and even in mythic dungeons is such that there often is not enough time to get off a casted spell before the mobs die. So instant casts are frequently the only viable ones. Also, my muscle memory is hunter-honed, so I have a twitchy tendency to just interrupt a long cast in favor of an instant one. A lot. I am hoping I can get over this as my gear improves and I slap myself upside of my head often enough.

My lock also has crummy gear — even worse than my druid — right now hanging around 830 ilvl. Zero legendaries, not even a crafted one yet. But here’s the strange thing: even at a 60-ilvl difference, the lock feels much more powerful than the druid. I am relatively fearless at engaging mobs and elites with my lock, whereas with my druid I am super-cautious, almost always waiting for other players to show up before engaging anything higher than around 5 million health.

Some of that, I think, is because when I solo with my lock I run with a tank pet. Not only does this give me some breathing room when casting, but it is also the play style I have learned with my hunter since my earliest days of playing. So I am used to it.

But beyond the familiarity of using a pet, the lock play style — even though it is primarily a casted class — seems much more lively and engaging to me than balance druid. It seems mobile, whereas my druid does not. I am not sure why. Both balance druid and destro lock have casted spells as their primary power and some instant casts for setup or dots. Both require a certain rotational sequence to achieve high damage, and if that sequence is interrupted by the need to move, it suffers a bit. (Less so if you are skilled, more so if you play like I do.) Yet I find destro lock play not only more enjoyable than balance druid play but also more effective. Yes, destro lock has big casted spells, but the cast times seem reasonable, not M-A-D-D-E-N-I-N-G-L-Y S-L-O-O-O-O-O-W-W-W-W like for boomies.

The difference reminds me of the difference between BM hunters pre- and post-Legion. There is some major shift in play style, in class/spec philosophy. Prior to WoD, hunter development was guided by someone who understood the whole hunter “feel”. Starting in WoD, this was no longer the case, and hunter development seemed to be only about numbers no matter how awful the feel. It seems, from my very parochial view, that there is a similar lack of feel for balance druid play style, whereas those developers working on locks still retain it. Even though balance druid and destro lock have the same basic damage mechanics, one is horribly clunky in its implementation and one is lively and fun.

This, to me, perfectly describes Blizz’s problems with class development — they just do not get it for several classes, nor apparently do they care to, but for the ones they do get, it works out nicely. 

Last week I thought that my balance druid would become my primary alt as Legion progresses, but now I am not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, I am still having fun with it, but a weekend with my lock is starting to change my mind. (Yes, I am fickle. Sue me.) The one thing that has thus far soured me on my lock in Legion is — and I know this sounds stupid — the class hall. I have never been a fan of the dark, fire-and-brimstone-with-overtones-of-torture-and-anguish environments Blizz seems to love, and this dismal environment is only compounded by what I think is a horrible layout for the class hall. I am getting more familiar with it now, but I still wander around a lot looking for stuff. Honestly, a big reason I have not played my lock much so far in Legion is because I dreaded having to do business in that class hall.

At any rate, it was a fun and relaxing weekend. And my little kick-ass gnome warlock is back!

Why do you have alts?

My plan today had been to write about the effects T2 is having on alts, but The Grumpy Elf beat me to it, and honestly he did a way better job with it than I would have, so please stop by and read his post. But thinking about alts and the shabby — in my opinion — way they have been treated in WoD got me to thinking about the various reasons people have them, and the various ways they play them.

I will take myself as an example, because I think I have a representative number of alts but I am not what you would call an altoholic. My main is a Worgen hunter, and my alts are:

  • A level 100 Night Elf hunter (who used to be my main but who has fallen behind in WoD, due to not being with a decent raid team for most of the expansion, but who still has most of my account achievements).
  • A level 100 Pandaren monk who is my healer.
  • A level 100 Gnome destro warlock.
  • A level 100 Human arcane mage that I have never learned how to play and that spent over a year being a bank alt.
  • A level 91 Night Elf balance druid. (See mage comments above.)
  • A level 90 Pandaren elemental shaman that is mostly a bank alt but that I had fun playing around with in Mists.
  • A level 18 Human priest that is strictly a bank alt.

Over the years I have created a lot of alts, but I deleted most of them and the ones above are the ones I am left with for now. The first two alts I ever created were my druid and my mage, and my newest alt — created in Mists — is my lock.

The only reason I have ever created alts is to try out play styles on non-hunter classes. You will note that with the exception of my healer all my alts are ranged damage dealers. This is because so far I have not been able to really get into melee style game play. I have tried every melee class but never stuck with them beyond about level 60 or so, I end up getting really bored with them and deleting them. I chalk this up to it being a bad habit of mine, and I still intend to pick a melee class and level it to max, just haven’t picked out the right one for me yet. I have toyed with the idea of making a strong melee off spec for either my druid or my monk, but again I have not devoted much time to that. But it is still an option.

The other thing about my alts is that they are all Alliance. I have tried a couple of Horde side alts, but my imagination is so strong and my game immersion (can’t believe I am actually using that term) is so great that I cannot shake the feeling that I am being a traitor, so I always end up deleting them. Plus, to be honest, I think all the Horde races are disgustingly ugly, and I just can’t enjoy being surrounded by them. (I know, I am shallow!)

Of all my alts, I enjoy playing the healer and the lock the most (not counting my alt hunter, because nothing could be more fun than a hunter). I like the healer because it is so completely different from damage dealing. I find healing stressful while I am anticipating it, challenging while I am doing it, and fulfilling when I am done. If I were not mainly a hunter, I would be a healer.

I like my lock because she has a ton of personality. She is tiny and cute but totally kick-ass. If you met her in a dark alley, you would back away as fast as possible because one look and you would know she is no one to mess with. In Mists, the destro lock play style was great fun, but it has become less so in WoD. I still find it engaging, just a tad slow and tedious to get going in that you have to build up your embers before you can have fun spending them, and you are pretty much dependent on standing still to do well. And locks are fun to level and quest with because like hunters they have their own private tank.

Anyway, this is not about the things I like or don’t like about each of my alts, the point is that I created them in the first place to play them. If/when I create another melee class it will be because I want to explore that play style.

If you believe Ion Hazzikostas, that is the only “approved” reason for creating and having alts. But I have another reason for maintaining my alts (and I suspect many of you do, too). I take care to ensure that between them they have all the relevant professions, so that I can be self-sufficient with crafted gear, enchants, glyphs, gems, mat gathering, etc. Apparently Blizz frowns upon this and is taking steps to make it more difficult. But it remains for me a very strong reason to have them, and I don’t intend to change. (*sticks out tongue at Blizz*)

In addition to exploring different play styles and being self-sufficient, a third reason I have alts is to be a good raid team member. I feel like having a couple of viable alts is the responsible thing to do if you are on a decent raid team. They don’t have to be top performers, just viable in a pinch. This means that you should do your best to have them raid-ready by gearing them as best you can and by maintaining some level of proficiency with them.

The last reason I have for alts is as boredom insurance. As expansions wear on and you have done pretty much all you care to do on your main, you can always turn to either a new or existing alt and experience the expansion in a new way on them. I guarantee you that T2 will be a completely different experience on my mage than it was on my hunters, for example. Same with LFR — it may be the only way I can get close to raiding on my weaker alts, so it will be quite a bit different from my hunter LFR token-hunting reason. As I have mentioned, I was never bored in Mists, even though it went on for a long time, and I attribute most of that to being able to spend quality time with my alts.

So that’s it. I enjoy alts, I have multiple reasons for creating them, and I wish I had more time to play them. I also wish T2 was not such a hostile environment for them. I intend to create more alts, especially as WoD ages. They are a way for me to keep the game fresh, reminding me again of the reasons I started playing in the first place.

What about you? Why do you have alts, or if you don’t have any why don’t you?