WoW Factor: The curious treatment of alts in World of Warcraft Dragonflight

    
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Hey, dude.

So now that first impressions are out of the way and I can focus on other things like making sure that my alts get up to Dragonflight in World of Warcraft, I realized something unusual. It was a very minor thing at first, but as I started doing a bit more planning it became clearer and clearer until there was simply no ignoring it: We kind of have less reason than usual to bring alts up through the game right now.

“What?” I hear you yelling at the screen. “This expansion is incredibly alt-friendly! We finally don’t have borrowed power nonsense or any of that! Are you high?” And to that I say: Not today! That’s more of a weekend thing. But cool your jets just a little because yes, this expansion is definitely much more alt-friendly than others. My statement is not about its friendliness to alts; it’s about its overall utility toward alts. That’s a different discussion.

Let’s just start by recapping all of the many, many ways in which Dragonflight is more alt-friendly than usual, shall we? For one thing, dragonriding and the glyphs associated with it are all account-wide. The campaign questline is explicitly a one-time thing, and once it’s done, players will just hop in with alts right into the meat of the expansion’s endgame. Major things unlocked via Renown are all account-wide. A lot of rewards are even explicitly cosmetic, which makes them even more account-wide than usual.

By contrast, let’s look at Shadowlands. Not only was Renown tracked separately across all of your alts, but every single alt started at zero and wasn’t even automatically allowed to skip the main story until reaching a certain point. There was a lot more irritating crap to take care of, and late-game catchups for the process were even more annoying. Dragonflight definitely makes it more straightforward to go in, get new alts going, and start exploring the Isles. Good changes. Very needed.

Here’s the thing, though: What do you actually need your alts to do?

I’m not just being snarky with that question. While the game has always been designed that you do not strictly need alts, there’s also a strong sense of alts accomplishing things that would be impossible to accomplish on a main. No, I’m not just talking about silly nonsense like “my seven alts for pushing world first on the same class and spec let me use the one with the best luck to actually push for world first.” I mean serious differences.

Hello, Thanos Lite.

For example, in Legion the various Order Halls and artifact weapons had stories and unique rewards you could only get by taking part in these campaigns. Story quality varied wildly, but you did have at least a motivation for taking on all of these different stories. In Battle for Azeroth you had two very different factional storylines to follow over time, which theoretically meant you wanted at least one alt on both sides. (Not so much in practical terms because wow did that story stink, but the idea was there!) In Shadowlands you have four separate Covenants, each with different cosmetic rewards, and if you wanted to collect every appearance set from every Covenant you’d probably need a minimum of 16 alts to pick up everything.

Why would players do that to themselves? I don’t know, but if you really wanted that to be a thing, you had the option. Maybe you really like how the sets look, I don’t know. Some of them are nice and they have decent parts. And if you really want some future Night Elf Warrior to be rocking wood-based armor, well, here’s your option.

Now, ask yourself this: What, exactly, are alts going to be unlocking that’s unique to that alt in Dragonflight?

The immediate answer is to say that alts can unlock appearances that your main can’t use… but that’s actually incorrect. Unlocking cosmetic things is account-wide, and while your alts might have to actually be the ones buying the unlocks, they will not have to unlock the option themselves. You don’t pick one faction to focus on to the exclusion of others; these unlocks are equally available to everyone. Big community events all unlock for your entire account when you reach those renown levels.

In fact, there’s not a whole lot for an alt to do aside from… gear up and gamely tag along behind your main. Time spend raising your alt’s Renown would basically always be spent better raising Renown on your main, first and foremost. If you’re looking at how to take on the game and make the biggest impact on your overall progression at any given moment, your main should be the focus and your alts are there when you don’t have much to do on your main. Period end.

This even extends elsewhere. There are two actual choices in terms of dragonriding talents, and they don’t really make for a different build. There’s little to no reason for you to worry about that. Heck, there’s not even another factional story to explore!

I've looked at clouds form one side now.

You might think I’m just talking out of both sides of my mouth; I’m simultaneously saying that this expansion is more alt-friendly than ever while lamenting that there isn’t much to do on alts. But that’s not really the point. The former is just plain objectively true. Your alts no longer start on the back foot, helped substantially by the fact that actual Renown-gated gear rewards are even easier to get for alts once you’ve spent some time building renown as you unlock boosts once your main reaches a high enough rank.

But alts are less necessary than ever. You have more pressure to pick a main and be done with it instead of having multiple characters you want to keep on roughly analogous tracks. In fact, alts mostly have an asset with world quests coming less frequently and a strict limit on how often you can participate in major community events; there’s far more opportunity to reach a point where you can just park your main with everything acquired and have something to do with someone else.

I find that interesting. Not better, not worse; if anything I lean toward “better” because not being forced to keep multiple characters caught up at all times gives you more options for playing the game without feeling like you’re missing out. But if you’ve grown accustomed to WoW’s cadence over the past few years and expect to feel like you’re missing out without constantly taking on an ever-expanding list of chores every single week, it’s the sort of change that’s going to require a bit of adjustment.

And it’s interesting to see this change, both because it means a different style of playing the game compared to what most WoW fans are likely accustomed to at the moment and because it’s a different sort of focus in terms of overall drive. You’re not going to be penalized if you’d rather do a whole lot of things on multiple alts, but it’s clearly not as much of an expected play pattern any more. That’s something the designers apparently want to alter, and it represents one of the actual philosophical shifts worth noting for future development (unlike most of this spurious “third era” nonsense).

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with almost two decades of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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