WoW! Thoughts! — On Alts in Mists of Pandaria

Thoughts on the relationship between alts and endgame content in Mists of Pandaria

One of the focuses of Mists of Pandaria has been to ensure that after level-capping, players would struggle to become bored; and Mists has clearly been successful in that regard  (as I noted a few weeks ago).  In fact, with patch 5.1 now live and the Operation: Shieldwall and the Dominance Offensive quests available, there’s even more to do at max-level.  While this is encouraging to players who might otherwise run through content quickly, there is one type of player has been severely affected by this: the alt-oholic.

Previously in Warcraft, if you enjoyed the questing experience, when you hit the level cap all you could do was play through low-level quests.  This could be done with your level-capped character in an attempt to earn the Loremaster achievement, or (especially before the introduction of achievements in Wrath) you could create an alternate character and experience the content at an appropriate level.  The nice thing about leveling an alt was that it ensured you got a different experience by giving you different class and race mechanics, as well as the option to level in a completely different way.   If you leveled your main through questing, you could try to level your alt through dungeon-running, or PvP, or questing in different zones.  If you happened to choose a character of the opposing faction, there was even more new content to experience.  Furthermore, Cataclysm encouraged players to roll alts, as additional race and class combinations were introduced in addition to the reworked zones for levels 1-60.  Alts were a great way to continue to enjoy Warcraft when the tedium of playing the same character in the same situations would start to encroach upon the game.  Playing an alt was a valid playstyle, and encouraged in so far as it gave people who might otherwise quit one more reason to stick with the game.

The problem in Mists, now, is that there is so much to do as max level that there is little time to play an alt.  Whereas before playing an alt might be something to do when your main completed his twenty-five daily quests; now, the only limit to the daily quests one can complete is how many reputations a player feels like advancing.  At some point leveling an alt needs to become someone’s priority over advancing their main character.  For people who focus entirely on advancing different characters, that choice might come sooner; and it is harder than for those who simply prefer to focus on one character until they run out of content.

Additionally, the changes to Achievements further de-emphasize the alt-playstyle.  While there are account-wide achievements that encourage raising different characters to 90 or skill-capping various professions, there is less motivation to attempt achievements on an alt given how achievements are displayed.  Once any character (main or alt) completes an achievement, all characters see that achievement as completed; even if they were not the character used.

When looking over the list of achievements to work on as an alt, the majority of the achievements already appear filled in.  Empty checklists such as the achievements tab can be quite persuasive at encouraging people to replay content; and even if the checkboxes are technically unchecked, they do not appear that way, and that can be discouraging.  Moreover, if all achievements are the same, why not earn them with your max-level character which can do them easier as opposed to someone who is lower level?  Players may still have the urge to play their alts, but it’s an urge that is more easily quelled.

Furthermore, since achievements, mounts, pets, and titles are all account-wide, the only task that needs to be completed by alts (aside from leveling) is the max-level reputation grind.  The Grand Commendations that were introduced in patch 5.1 make this easier, but alts just give players an opportunity to re-run the same dalies that they ran before.  While some people might enjoy the reputation grinds, and with rotating sets of dailies at each faction hub to keep content from becoming too stale, the opportunity still exists for players to get burned out on the content with their second character; if it doesn’t happen sooner.  After grinding Klaxxi to Revered once, are players necessarily going to look forward to facing the same grind again? Even if it is quicker?  Then again, the players in question did endure zones like Uldum multiple times…

As the Grand Commendations seem to indicate, Blizzard is aware of the issue.  But I’m not sure what can be done, and I’m not sure if Blizzard would want to fix this.  The true endgame of World of Warcraft remains raiding.  While LFR has opened raid content to more people, Blizzard has been working to ensure that more people can handle the types of challenges a raid will throw at them.  Increasingly, more and more raid style mechanics, such as placing graphics on the ground to indicate “fire” and alerts when bosses are about to use a threatening ability, are being placed into general quest experiences, or randomly out in the world (The Elite racial mobs, for example).

Blizzard is using this content as opportunities to expose players to the types of challenges they will get in dungeons or raids and to make them more comfortable attempting such challenges.  If a player is going to learn how to address this as a certain class, it doesn’t help them to learn a different class as well.  Not that people can’t handle learning how to play multiple classes, but from Blizzard’s perspective, why would you even need to master a second class when you have the first one down cold?  The philosophy seems to be “play your class through Pandaria, master the mechanics, gear up, and then enter raids.”  At no point is the player expected to level their alt, and Blizzard has designed the game to this degree.

Some alts are worth creating just to check out the various starting zones (I’m sure most people have a Pandaren monk that’s now joined a faction, but hasn’t done much beyond that).  After the effort that Blizzard has put into the new starting zones since Death Knights in Wrath, it’s worth checking out those zones; but a character that was created just for the starting experience is not the type of alt affected by this.  There are players who endured the later Cataclysm zones multiple times to have multiple characters ding 85.  These players are the one’s affected most by the explosion of endgame content.  And these players are not who Blizzard is concerned with.

If you could handle rerunning Deepholm for a third, fourth, or fifth time, then you are not in danger of quitting the game.  You’ll find a way to play and replay the content no matter how droll it may become.  The players Blizzard is concerned about are the type who hit 85 on one character, don’t see anymore yellow question marks, and then sign off for good (or until the next expansion).  Blizzard has done an amazing job at introducing content to retain them.

Players with multiple alts won’t quit, but it will be interesting to see how long it takes them to get everyone to 90, if they are able to do it.  Personally, its taken just under a month to go from 80 to 85 and then 85 to 90 on my main.  In Cataclysm, it took three months to level my first alt through those last five levels.  Two months into Mists, that alt just reached 86.  I have no idea how long its going to take to ding 87, let alone 90, and I’m fine with that.  And I’d expect Blizzard is quite fine with that too.

WoW! Blurbs!

Patch 5.1 has made Landfall!  New reputation grinds!  Old reputation grinds made easier!  Valor point upgrades for gear!  Warlock green fire!!! 5.1 is Whoa Crazy Crazy!!!

The Cinder Kitten pet is now available!!!  Buying one is probably better than actually setting your cats on fire, even if those bastards deserve it for vandalizing the Christmas Tree…  Plus it helps Hurricane Sandy Relief!!!

50% off the Blizzard Store Mounts.  All the prestige of a sparkle pony at only half the price!!!

Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz

Senior Producer

Host of WoW! Talk! and The Tauren & The Goblin. Sometimes known as the Video Games Public Defender. Wants to play more Destiny and Marvel Heroes but WoW is all-consuming. Decent F2P Hearthstone player. Sad that he lost the Wii that had Wrecking Crew on it. Would be happy if the only game ever made was M.U.L.E. Gragtharr on Skywall-US. Garresque on Ravencrest-US.

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