I really enjoy battleground healing on my Druid, Cynli.
She spent most of Cataclysm as a level 70 twink, and while she was effectively my main in 4.2, I haven’t played her much of late. That’s okay. We can go through cycles with our toons, hopefully they’ll forgive us.
The changes to BG scaling in 5.2 made me return my attention to my wayward druid, unlock her, and set out leveling her though PvP with a vague goal of either 80 for Herald or 85-89 for even more Mists-level PvP fun. Picking her up again has been a genuine pleasure. She’s the only toon, and I mean this very seriously, she’s the only toon which I feel completely comfortable displaying the Battlemaster title on in BGs aside from Cynwise. On everyone else I’m keenly aware of my limitations as a player playing below my potential; with these two, I feel like yes, I am as good as this title proclaims me to be.
Druid PvP healing is fun, hugely mobile, more than a little overpowered in the 70s, and gives me a different perspective on the game. I do things I wouldn’t ever dream of doing on a DPS character with Cynli – take the flag and go over to a Horde-controlled base, just to taunt the 4-6 DPS there with their inability to take down a single healer – but ultimately there’s still a sense of fun that comes from playing a character that I’m good at playing. Even though I know that I have a lot of room for improvement, the convergence of competence, confidence and cool toys makes for a character I love to play.
We’ve come a long way from the Druid which I deleted twice out of frustration.
I have an alt of every class. I didn’t use to – I used to delete alts whenever they bored me – but I’ve tried to stick with ones that I find boring, give them great outfits, learn the basics, and then put them in a corner where they don’t bother me too much. When I want to dabble with leveling they’re there, waiting. I might not be Great with them, but I can be Fair to Good, and that’s almost always more than enough for PvE leveling content. It irks me when I can’t perform up to the level I’m accustomed to in PvP, though. It really irks me. I know it’s a matter of getting fluent with a class, of having the muscle memory down for what buttons to press when you want something to happen, and that fluency takes time. When I’ve switched PvP specs on Cynwise, I usually need 2-3 weeks to get back up to speed so I don’t feel like I’m flailing and letting everyone in the battlegroup down. Weeks! The first few days are terrible, I hate it, it’s one reason I stopped switching specs in PvP so often (and why I’ve never really gotten good a Demo PvP) – I hate feeling like my primary avatar is incompetent, because my skills are lacking. Dismissing that feeling of incompetence on an alt is far easier than on a main. You have to focus to be good, and you can’t focus on mastering 11 classes at the same time.
Well, I can’t. Maybe you can.
THE COMPETENCE TRAP
This story is from a while ago, so my apologies if you’ve heard it before.
I had someone roll an alt and whisper me a pretty standard question – what class should they play for PvP?
I answered their question with a question in return: what do you like to play?
“I like playing all of them.”
“Okay, what class do you feel you’re good at playing?”
“All of them. I’m equally good with all of them.”
Now, because I’m polite, I didn’t respond with what I really thought at that moment. But if you say that you’re equally good with all classes, you’re saying that you’re equally bad with all of them. (The personnel manager in me also says that you lack self-awareness and don’t know your strengths and flaws, and to expect overinflated evaluations of your own performance. But I digress.) There are 11 classes with 34 specs in World of Warcraft now, and you’re going to find that some are better suited to you than others. Classes appeal because of the playstyle, the mechanics, the function and power of the class. Maybe it’s the fantasy of the class which appeals, or the role, or the character. Maybe it’s the outfits.
But soon, competence appeals. As you learn to play it, becoming good at playing it is its own reward. You become good with the class and spec, and then great with it, and then you log over to another alt and … aren’t.
So now the other class is at a natural disadvantage because of your own competence with another class. There have to be reasons for flailing around on an undergeared alt, struggling through the initial learning curve, gearing up, making things click in your head, that makes the effort worth overcoming the skill gap. Sometimes it’s because of social pressures – your raid needs an X to fill a different role, too much competition on certain rolls, missing buffs. Sometimes it’s because you just don’t like the old class anymore because you or it changed. Sometimes it’s just to see how other classes play.
I have 1 main and 11 alts, one of each class, and I do not play them all equally well.
The ones I play well make me want to play them more, and playing them more makes me play them better, which widens the gap.
THE LEVEL OF PLAY TO WHICH WE ARE ACCUSTOMED
I have friends who have lots of alts, and I have friends who have a few alts, and friends who have no alts, and it all seems to work out pretty well for them. Some folks can hop on a new class and be brilliant in no time flat. (Rades is particularly good at this, by the way. Little known fact about him.) Others stick with the tried and true and add alts very slowly, carefully, keeping their rosters pruned like a well-tended garden. Some are like me, and it bugs them when they can’t be good on an alt. Others aren’t fazed at all and just soldier right on through, leveling them up and getting the job done until they are good with them.
(I admire those folks. Wish I could take a page from their book.)
I personally can only be really good – really really good – with one spec at a time. I should probably amend that to one spec per role at a time, because I’m able to compartmentalize things like “this is how you tank” and “this is how you heal” and “this is how you ranged DPS” pretty well since they’re different activities. But even with that amendment, there’s a level of play within a given role that I’m accustomed to. There’s a class, a spec, where I feel like yep, this is as good as I play. Sometimes that changes – I used to feel really confident tanking on my Death Knight, but that was as a Frost tank back in Wrath – but as the years go on, I get settled in and never seem to achieve the fluency with a new spec as I do with an old one.
(I think it’s also probably still fair to say that even between roles, there’s only one spec that I’m best at at a single time. I am not nearly as good of a tank as I am a ranged pvp dps.)
That idea of the level of play to which I am accustomed really strikes me when I’m playing PvP. I don’t like being bad at a class in a BG. I really don’t. I can play all of my alts relatively competently in a PvE environment – in 5 years I’ve learned how to quest on pretty much anybody with an attack button, how to tank an instance or heal the tank through an instance. (My struggles with leveling in PvE are far more attention and interest-related than skill.) But I queue up for a BG and weaknesses come out. Sometimes I get through it, figure out ways to make it work. I know how to play the BGs and can (usually) contribute.
But on some alts, I just … flounder. Knowing how to heal a 5-man doesn’t always translate into knowing how to heal a BG. Being able to DPS through a pack of mobs doesn’t mean that I can win a 1:1 against anyone but a really weak opponent.
Those alts depress me.
Other alts surprise me. Folks told me to keep going with my Resto Shaman, switch to Enhance for a while but that Resto didn’t really get going until the mid-60s. You know what? They were right. Much happier with my performance as a Resto Shaman at 70 than at 50. I’m not great with her in PvP, but I’m not floundering anymore. There were definite toolkit problems there that got fixed later on. It’s tough sometimes as a novice to really identify those times when it’s you, and your lack of skill, versus the spec not working right. When you’re an expert, sure, those problems are apparent. But learning? Maybe it’s me.
My Shaman and my Mage are illustrative examples. I rolled a shaman because I sucked at them and wanted to not suck anymore. After about 2 years of dinking about on her, I’m no longer terrible and wondering when I can delete her. I’m slowly climbing that competency curve. My mage, on the other hand, started off strong – PvP on a low level twinked out mage is a lot of fun – but has gotten progressively weaker as I’ve leveled her. Is that me? Is it the class? I assume they’re fine, or reasonably fine, at the higher levels – so why does she suck to play so much in the 50s-60s? Is this just something to get through?
It’s tough to look at an alt and just say, you know, I could probably quest on you, and maybe do some dungeons, but the content I can do competently at your level is just painful.
I’d rather log on to someone I could be a rock star with.
ALTERNATE WAYS TO LEVEL
My Rogue is level 85 now. I don’t play a Rogue well at all, but she’s level 85 through a lot of pet battles. My Death Knight went from 80-85 solely through mining. My Paladin, Mage and Shaman have more than their share of levels solely from cooking dailies. These are, perhaps unsurprisingly, alts that I don’t feel all that great about playing. There are other ways to level aside from questing, dungeons, and battlegrounds, and I’ve tried out a lot of them.
I have really mixed feelings about using alternate ways to level. Part of me likes it, because I can skip over those parts of the content where I have trouble retaining any interest at all. Oh boy, time to get lost in Blackrock Mountain. Oh boy, Hellfire Ramparts with a fresh DK tank, yay. Oh boy, Utgarde Keep. Again. Doing pet battles or archeology or gathering at least lets me feel like I’m getting something out of the deal, be it a stash of gold from gathered materials or a leveled profession in addition to a leveled character.
But I’m also reminded that I’m using those alternate means of leveling because I don’t like playing the character. If I choose to level with something that could be done on any character on that specific alt solely for the experience gain, I’ve fundamentally said that playing the other parts of WoW don’t appeal to me with that toon.
Oh, if I do them as part of the leveling process those alternate means of experience gain are great. Pet battle and gather while questing? Perfect XP boosts. Grinding out a bunch of mobs for professions? Hey, at least you’re in combat and learning how the class works. Leveling by mining and hunting rare mobs in Pandaria on my DK has been the opposite experience I had in Cataclysm because I have had to learn how to play her to do it. I don’t have to quest, I hunt Karasang rares for their BOE drops and sweet XP. The rares are all challenging encounters, but not impossible, so I’ve actually watched my DK fluency rise again while leveling. I even felt confident enough to take her into BGs last night! I felt the competency gap, I was squishy as all getout, but I didn’t feel like I was floundering and a failure.
But I don’t know any more about playing a Rogue than I did when she was 70 now, because she’s the product of pet battles. I leveled her for her crafting skills and that was really about it.
When I find myself leveling solely through alternate means, I should probably take a long look at that alt.
THE FEW VERSUS THE MANY
This post started out with me realizing how much I really enjoy playing my Druid. I might have a lot of alts, and a lot of healers even, but when push comes to shove I know who I want to be playing in a battleground.
There’s a dynamic tension within a computer game like Warcraft that just doesn’t exist in a traditional RPG between multiple characters. In a tabletop or live-action RPG you’re pretty much expected to play one character per session, and probably only 1-2 characters over the course of a campaign. I played V:MET for 12 years and only played 5 characters total. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything by not playing a Nosferatu or Malkavian. When I played AD&D, I didn’t ever feel like I should play a Barbarian just to experience everything. If I wanted a Barbarian, I switched to one – but there was no need to have a Barbarian rolled up so I could have a crafter or fill another role. If I played a Ranger, I played a Ranger and worked within the limits of that class.
MMOs have concepts of roles and factions. There are in-game abilities which are restricted to certain classes. There are limits on professions which require multiple characters to learn. Even your social circles are limited – you can only be on one server and one guild and one faction at a time. You might still only play one character at a given moment, but you’re able to have a whole roster of characters to work around game-imposed limits. You don’t have to have additional characters, but if you want to bypass those limits an alt is the way to do it. Hybrids have an advantage here in that they can change roles in a single character, but it’s not a fix to profession, server, guild or faction restrictions. You also don’t really know how another class plays until you play it.
I have 11 alts, one of each class, and it kinda stresses me out. I’m trying to embrace having what – to me – is a lot of alts, because it seems like a good way to experience the whole game of Warcraft. But those classes I struggle on sit there on my screen, reminding me that there’s work to be done, a project which is not finished, and it’s not a fun project. There are times I want fewer projects, to just have the ones left which I really love. Then there are times I try to convince myself maybe just 4 characters would be enough, one for each role. Then it’s 5, because I need someone to play on the other faction with. Then it’s 8, because why not have the 4 armor types represented on each faction? And then once you have 8 you might as well have 11. But I don’t love playing all 11 of those alts. I like them well enough, but I don’t love them. I have them to cover my bases.
Do what you love. It’s hard for me to log in to a toon I don’t love playing when there are options which I do love playing.
And yet I do.
This game is weird.