Massively Overthinking: Changing ‘mains’ in MMOs


When I first started MMOs, the idea of mains and alts was bizarre to me. Why would I spend time on a second character when I could be making my first character even better? That assumption quickly gave way as I spent time in the world and wanted to branch out to try different playstyles and personae.

And yet, I still have a “mains and alts” mindset: There’s my real character, and then there’s the fleet of alternates who never quite rise to the top… well, until they do.

For this week’s Massively Overthinking, let’s play storytime with our characters. Tell me about a time when you were deeply invested in a main character in an MMO and then switched allegiances entirely – and I don’t just mean dabbled in an alt; I mean changed mains in a big way and never looked back. Has it ever happened? Do you do this often? And what made you take that leap?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I can think of two examples off the top of my head that I think really illustrate how I go about choosing my main character. The first was in the original Asheron’s Call. Certain builds were stronger than others, and being self-sufficient was generally viewed as important. I’ve always been more of a team player, so I made a warrior that would be fairly good at resisting magic while dishing out melee damage – a mage killer for all the high-end magic users I saw in the instruction book. However, in practice, there was only like one other guy super interested in grouping, and when we did that, people were blown away at the content we could handle by ourselves without perching or abusing mechanics, aside from collision detection for things like chokepoints and physically intercepting mobs. Heck, he didn’t even have to play healer since I was taking virtually no damage maybe 80% of the time. Naturally, though, when I had to play solo, it could get rough, and after he got too busy in real life to play, I used an alt that was more self-sufficient. But that was still one of my favorite MMO characters.

Similarly, I’d wanted to be a bear tank in World of Warcraft since I heard about them in beta, but at launch, it wasn’t terribly feasible. I did end-game raiding mostly as a Druid healer, but ended up switching to a Discipline Priest and on a different server on a different faction to play with a friend. And I ended up switching again after a few years because raiding got old, but Wrath of the Lich King brought Death Knights, and I immediately saw how viable they could be as PvP tanks. Yes, I could do PvE too, and I did when guildies really needed it, but I loved being the unmovable object people would whack on in the game world but could not escape until someone’s friends arrived. Even then, I could sometimes hold out 2v1, and didn’t mind my lack of kills because, again, I prefer to have a build that works well with others. Eventually, though, most people just wanted to PvE, but I’d changed so much at that point that I just quit the game. The more group-oriented I can be with my character while receiving support from a community, the easier it is for me to change, but when that support is gone, I cave and play something soloable.

Andy McAdams: I don’t know that I’ve ever switched and never looked back. I get really invested in my characters – in the unique fingerprint of 1 and 0s that my character uniquely mine. It’s not a rational response, I get that. But I still have my OG Troll Hunter from Vanilla that’s low-level, from back when I thought that whites in WoW were like whites in DnD – that is, usable. My Belf Rogue is the same one that I rolled during headstart of BC, and I even have a Figureprint of him. My Priest is from around a few months into Wrath, I think, but he’s still around. When I switched to Alliance with my husband, the first thing I rolled was… a Priest. Now that we’ve switched back to Horde, I’m jonesing to move my Horde Priest and Rogue over to our new server because i want to play them instead of spending the two hourrs to level a new one from 0-60.

In short, no – I get emotionally invested in a specific sequence of 1s and 0s

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I usually role a bunch of alts with the intention of experiencing all the different classes and play styles, but the amount of time required to nurture so many characters through the same content always becomes burdensome. At the same time, deleting a character who I’ve taken the time to create and form a canon backstory for is also difficult for me, so I end up with a character who I play most often and a stable of unplayed alts.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I actually don’t do this a lot! I usually find my way to the right character class for me early on. However, I have a few notable exceptions, and the big one is in WoW. I ran a Protection Warrior as my main character to main tank for my guild, then I switched to a Discipline Priest for the first part of Burning Crusade because we just needed healers more (and honestly, Protection wasn’t super satisfying back then), and then I had a Survival Hunter whom I used mostly for PvP. But I also had a Resto Shaman on the back-burner once Alliance could roll them, and I fell in love with her, so I went full Shammy main for Wrath of the Lich King, and that was that from then onward: finally found the right class for me, at least up until I quit for good. (I did keep the old Hunter and Warrior around as my favorite alts, at least!)

Honestly, my Guild Wars 2 main character (Berserker) is also not my favorite, but she has completed the most stuff, and she pairs really nicely with my husband’s squishiest toon, so I just stick with her as my main. If it were just me, I’d probably have given up on her a long time ago in favor of my Ranger or Holosmith. The opposite was true for me in Classic Guild Wars; I went into Nightfall planning to play my old Monk or a new Paragon, but then I went back and bought Factions and realized it was gonna be the Ritualist life for me forever. Genuinely one of the best classes ever added in an MMORPG, and I’ll die on that hill. That’s my girl up in the header pic of this post!

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): My primary character in Final Fantasy XIV transformed from a wet-blanket miserable-to-play awful thing into a far more bright and sunny phoenix that rose from the ashes of my wiping it out.

After about several years of being depressed at the thought of playing the character from both a mechanical and roleplay standpoint, I effectively turned an alt into a new main. This alt was practically the antithesis of my original character in every sense, from height to mannerism to class. It was singlehandedly the best decision I have ever made in that game, quite literally changing my life from both an MMO and a personal level.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): It’s happened sparingly in my time, but it has happened. Usually it’s because one of three reasons: (1) I switched servers and didn’t want to pay for a character transfer, (2) the devs nerfed my old main into the ground and I couldn’t stomach to play it any longer, and (3) I felt like a completely fresh start after a long time away from a game. But for the most part, I’m still playing some of my core mains in games like LOTRO, SWTOR, and WoW that I’ve had for many years now.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I still basically keep to the mains-and-alts lifestyle. I got very close to switching mains in GW2 when Path of Fire came out. I always play a paladin type of character, but I do like to play classes that have lifesteal abilities as well. So I had a Necro, but my heals and DPS prevail. Then PoF came out, and the book Guard took center stage. Super dull. Raid meta GTFO. So I went back to the Reaper Necro. I always liked the idea of it, but my Guard tended to win out before. However, by that point I was getting a bit bored of it too, so I went all in on the Reaper. It’s so dang strong that I loved it. I probably divide my time 60/40 these days with my Guardian edging out the Reaper.

However, the one time I fully changed mains was when Nightfall came out for the original GW. Before that, I had mained a Warrior/Monk or even a Warrior/Necro for years, but when the Dervish dropped, I was sold. It could play with enchants for pumping itself up while then dealing since big hits. It was the total package for me.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I’ve been an alt addict pretty much from the moment I set foot in the world of MMOs, so for me the line between “main” and “alt” has always tended to be a bit blurry. My happy place is jumping between multiple characters more so than focusing on one. That said, if you’re looking for stories, I do have a bit of a tale to tell: I spent nearly my entire World of Warcraft career trying, and mostly failing, to make my Rogue my main.

When I first joined in Wrath, my main was a Blood Elf Mage. I tried many alts, but the one I liked best was my Human Rogue (if I’d known I was going to love the class so much, I’d have made her a more interesting race, but she grew on me as a person, and I could never bring myself to race change her). While my Mage was my focus, my Rogue did make it to level cap and do some endgame before the expansion ended.

By that time being a Mage had lost some luster, so I resolved that my Rogue would be promoted to main in Cataclysm. But then shortly after the expansion arrived, I rolled a Paladin, and I found that I really enjoyed playing a Holy Pally, and that my guild really needed a healer. Once again my Rogue became a supporting cast member.

Flash forward to Mists of Pandaria. I had become mortally burnt out on my Paladin, and I’d lost interest in my Mage entirely, so he got taken off the roster, and the Paladin got back-burnered. I planned for a newly levelled Warlock to be my caster alt, and I swore that this time, my Rogue would be promoted to main.

Well, as it turns out, the Warlock changes in MoP were spectacular — I maintain Mists Demonology is probably the most fun build the game has ever had — and Rogues got severely beaten with the nerf bat. Meanwhile Monks barged onto the scene with a design ethos that was apparently, “We do exactly what Rogues do, but better.” My Rogue was still in the mix, and she even got her legendary cloak before the end, but she was once again just an alt, and my Warlock was very much the star.

Then comes Warlords of Draenor. The Rogue class still wasn’t in a great place, but neither was anything in that benighted expansion. My Rogue was the first to step foot in Draenor, and she ended up being the only character I played significantly in that expansion simply because I didn’t care to spend any more time in it than necessary. At long last, she had become the main, if only through happenstance.

Legion was my final expansion in WoW, and it was at that point any semblance of having a main dissolved. My primary goal there was to complete every class hall story, so there was never any one character that stood out as more of a “main” than others. Still, my Rogue did get more play than most. After several expansions of Rogues being systematically stripped of pretty much everything that had once made them fun, the Legion revamp breathed new life into them (it was the Warlocks’ turn to have all their cool stuff ripped out and given to a new class), and I had a blast with the new Outlaw spec.

Even though she was only truly a “main” in one expansion, and only by default, when I look back at my time in WoW, my Rogue is the character I think of as my main. She’s the only one I played at endgame in every expansion during my tenure. Whatever struggles the class went through, she was always dear to my heart, and I could never give up on her. These days I name a character after her in almost every game I play (and that character is usually my main), and most of the female characters I play are modeled after her in some way, be it a similar face or hairstyle. She also lives on as my avatar here on Massively Overpowered.

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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