Massively Overthinking: How do alts fit into MMORPGs in 2022?

I love the nightlife, I love being marched in front of an enemy...

Last weekend, my play group took a second batch of Guild Wars 2 alts to Cantha, and we found ourselves a bit grumbly about having to repeat some of the content. As MOP readers noted, most of the cutscenes are unskippable, and some of the account-wide masteries require extra fussing to work on alts, which… well, I suppose it’s not a huge departure from Guild Wars 2’s schema from the last few years, but it’s mildly annoying since I’ve always considered Guild Wars 2 to be incredibly alt-friendly, as in you’re playing an account rather than a character. That’s one of its big selling points.

Then again, before End of Dragons launched, I was playing Lord of the Rings Online, which is decidedly alt-unfriendly, as I’m reminded as I march a third character through Moria and grind up yet another set of factions and unlocks and virtues. Compared to that, Guild Wars 2 is definitely the right place for an altoholic.

I want to talk about alts in today’s Massively Overthinking. Are you an alt-character kind of person in MMOs? What types of benefits do you expect from MMOs for your alts? Which MMO is the most alt-friendly, and what is it doing right? Where do alts fit into MMOs in 2022?

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I love alts. I feel like I don’t get to experience the game to it’s fullest without trying out as many classes, races, and characters as possible. That said, it normally leads to a single character that I end up playing the most and a slew of other characters sitting endlessly in stasis.

When it was around, I always felt that Marvel Heroes was one of the most alt-friendly games around, with boosts and advantages available when multiple characters were owned. Of course, most of the monetization for that game relied on selling costumes and the more characters a player owned, the more costumes they would tend to buy.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I find alting compelling and therefore way trickier than it should be in a lot of MMOs. I generally want to experience a lot of the personalities in the game, several classes and races and builds and appearances. Unfortunately, there are still way too many games that punish gamers for spreading out, although it’s a million times better than it was 10 years ago, no question. I go into those alt-unfriendly MMOs usually intending to stay narrow to try to make it to whatever passes for endgame, but I’m terrible at this. I mean, even in MMOs that lock you to one character per account, I still have the urge to alt. So I wind up gravitating to MMOs that reward or at least tolerate alting.

So what does that mean for me? Account-wide unlocks on a grand scale. “Bring the account not the character.” Minimal grinds on alts. Easy stuff-schlepping. Shared unlocks. Shared storage. As I said in the intro, Guild Wars 2 is usually great about all of these, and so was Guild Wars before it – I see a lot of MMOs building on what Classic Guild Wars pioneered, frankly.

As a second example, I’d say that City of Heroes still stands alone in terms of being a great game to alt in. It’s not replete with shared account goodies or muling, but both its live version and its rogue servers make alting the whole point of the game, which to me is validation for the playstyle.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I absolutely am an altoholic. I never used to be one until I started to play City of Heroes, which has an endgame that basically was, “OK, you hit cap, now try out something else, and also here are some alien squids.” Of course, that evolved over time to include other stuff, but I always rolled new characters instead of dealt with whatever else was added at the top end. In fact, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what high-level CoX play is all about. I did, like, one Hami.

As for benefits from alts, I just like them to feel so different that doing the game all over again feels fresh. This can be successfully done to varying degrees, and I sort of have to remind myself that I’m just doing the same thing all over again, but the new look and feel of a fresh class or character can make all the difference.

Alt-friendly MMOs obviously include CoX, but I also have to give a nod to Lost Ark considering it’s basically designed to have alts help your main character farm materials, currencies, and other stuff and even has systems that apply passive benefits to every character in an account. I also seem to believe that Black Desert is pretty alt-friendly as well, though that is perhaps debatable and most commonly only feels that way when the game runs its seasonal servers.

In the end, I think alts still fit the grand scheme of MMORPGs, provided different classes or characters grant that breath of fresh air I mentioned before. It’d be nice if more games had “tangible” benefits to having an army of alts, but personally speaking, the change of scenery they can provide is more than enough for the most part.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): I feel Bree’s pain because, yes, I’m a huge alt person! I have an embarrassing number of alts in GW2, a game where respecs are free and gear, all things considered, isn’t that hard to get. I got back into LOTRO over this past fall/winter and put a lot of time into it but saw almost no new-to-me content because I started not one but two new characters on the shiny new Shadowfax Legendary server, then decided to come back to my regular server, only to roll a new alt there too. So I did a lot of vanilla and Moria content, but nothing past that, because I got stuck in an alt loop. I was having fun, though, so I’m OK with it!

I find the experience of trying a new class and/or race fun in and of itself. Incentives like extra buffs or leveling gear are nice, but not necessary. That said, I hate it when my characters feel isolated from each other. There needs to be an easily accessible shared bank (preferably separate from my character bank) or at least the ability to easily mail multiple items to myself.

I think of all the MMOs I play, Elder Scrolls Online probably has the best alting experience. Alts have real benefit with things like crafting dailies, and the fact that you can basically do any of the story in any order means that you never have to run the same old content on every character. SWTOR is a close second, but ever since all of the storylines got merged, it has been a lot less appealing in that respect.

For anyone upset specifically about the Guild Wars 2 masteries in particular: They’re not technically locked to the storyline, but you do need items to use them – namely, a fishing lure (which can be bought from fishing vendors in each Cantha zone, the easiest to get being right outside Arborstone) and a jade bot power core (which can be crafted by jewelers). The story starts you off with free ones, but you can still get them without the story. That makes it slightly less terrible, but still fairly annoying, especially since the game doesn’t really explain that to you. I would like to see at least some of the basic jade bot functions like zip lines be accessible without a power core, and fishing lures added to the list of items for normal vendors, alongside other gathering tools.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I do love me some alting, most notably when I come back to an MMORPG after a long absence and want that “fresh start” feeling along with getting to know the game again. Alting does have a dark side of trying to keep up with an ever-growing stable of characters, which can turn from a fun time to an exhausting chore. So in the recent years, I’ve started to focus down to just one character per MMO to play at a time. If I roll an alt, that becomes my main until it is not.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): I love alts. That’s why I keep buying character slots in Black Desert. New class, new slot.

I don’t enjoy the same old grind with every alt though. If I didn’t have levels 1-55 down to an art in BDO, I wouldn’t be able to stand it. I appreciate being able to skip the initial tutorial in games that allow it. Elyon springs to mind immediately because I am currently playing that. But there is something better.

I miss the separate starting zones from the earlier version of EverQuest. Different scenery, different quest lines, different experience, before being funneled into common adventuring areas. This does get to be a problem when low level population drops off and you don’t even see another player until level 40, but I feel like there are better solutions than running everyone through exactly the same experience every single time. A choice of starting areas, NPC mercs, stuff like that. (Yes, I know you can still choose your starting zone, skip the tutorial, and hire NPC mercs in EQ. And that’s great. But most games don’t do it that way. )

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I’m not really much of an alt kind of player. I usually find my main and stick with it unless it absolutely does not match my preferred theme and style preference. I’m a pretty boring kind of player. I just want a paladin or something similar. I might go for a life-stealing class as well but that’s second to the paladin. In Guild Wars 2 I played Guardian almost exclusively until Path of Fire came out. The thing about being a paladin I like is the healing and the DPS. The Guardian’s elite spec in that expansion was way too support-focused for me. I didn’t even unlock it. So at that point I played my Necro alt as a Reaper.

The exception to my focus on just my main is for reward purposes that offer some easy loot for alts. If I can get dailies on multiple characters without much effort, even if it’s just login rewards, then I’ll create and walk through alts for that. Sometimes there will be extra achievements for each class that you can earn independently.

Also, if there’s some good team play reasons that require an alt due to class restrictions I’ll keep some in the wings. As much as I enjoy my paladins, sometimes the party just needs a dedicated healer, so I might keep an alt setup for that purpose too.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I am a well-known alt addict. In The Secret World — a game where there’s barely any reason to roll more than one character,and absolutely no good reason to ever have more than one character for each of the three factions — I had five characters. And that’s not counting the character I made to play through Secret World Legends with a friend.

I think for a game to be truly alt-friendly, it needs two things: at least some degree of account-wide progression (even if it’s just shared mounts or the like) and multiple leveling paths so you’re not just repeating the exact same content with every character.

If we’re talking the most alt-friendly games, I think Star Wars: The Old Republic has to take the crown. It not only has numerous ways to share items and progression across your legacy, it also has unique story-lines for every class. It doesn’t get better than that.

A close second would be Guild Wars 2. Nearly everything you could want to be account-wide is, and at least early on there’s some diversity in leveling content, although the personal story is pretty lame and most open world zones are only cosmetically different.

Beyond that, you get into more flawed examples of alt-friendliness. World of Warcraft does a lot right, but the extreme grinds at endgame make it difficult to play alts in the only content Blizzard pays any attention to. ESO supports alts very well, but most of its builds feel very samey, so there isn’t a lot of appeal to rolling alts in the first place. Lost Ark actively encourages you to play alts in a variety of ways, but it’s far too linear to be a true alt’s paradise.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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