I’ve never been one to play alts in MMOs. The first character I made in Star Wars Galaxies (the first MMO I really stuck with) was a Human Commando. There wasn’t any particular reason why I chose to play as that other than because I thought it was about as much of a blank slate as you could get in a world where fish-looking dudes could be magic laser sword wielders. I’m not a terribly creative person so I prefer to let my character’s identity evolve as I play.
Having brought him into the world in 2006, I stuck it out with this character until the day Galaxies shuttered in December 2011. Over time the character became an extension of myself – the version of myself as I might have been if I existed in the Star Wars universe. More heroic, more stylish, and certainly more stubbly than my baby-faced teenage self, but a version of myself nonetheless.
The Commando profession never really resonated with me in any particular way, but at the end of the day, it’s only really a set of abilities on a toolbar. Is there really all that much to be derived from that?
Over time I grew into my role as a tank – one which I adopted out of necessity on behalf of my guild needing one. I got the gear and learned what I had to do to for us to win. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed it any more or less than I would have if I had been designated the healer or DPS role.
Honestly though I can’t say that with any certainty because I never tried any other combat class in the game.
I did make a Wookiee Entertainer and an Ithorian Trader but these non-combat professions were a completely different kettle of fish. Regardless, I never particularly felt any affinity for either. I simply couldn’t connect with them because as far as I was concerned my Human Commando avatar was me in Star Wars Galaxies. The two were inextricably intertwined.
Playing as one of those two alts made me feel as though I was playing a game, but playing as my Human Commando made me feel as though I was living in another (virtual) world.
On the whole, I think having a roster of alts is a given for most players these days. Back in the days of yore one account would often only allow you one character. Only the truly dedicated and the wealthy would stump up for multiple subscriptions so for good or ill you were kind of forced into having that affinity with your avatar.
Nowadays most games will let you play just about as many characters as you could ever want. And don’t get me wrong, I think that’s a good thing because ultimately it gives you the choice to experiment as much as you want, and it ultimately provides better value to the customer.
Alt’o’holics are gonna alt and the fact that this has actually become less monetised in the era of the cash shop is a downright wonder.
It’s still not something that I personally feel compelled to do.
The Old Republic is the exception. As a Star Wars lore nut, I played through all eight of the class stories. Still, it was my first character that I returned to when it came to playing through all the expansions (whose stories change little between each class).
At first, I thought it was because they were a Jedi Knight and thus offered the closest thing to the ‘canon’ experience. On reflection, I think it may have been because I’d actually just made that link between character and game. Even though I preferred other class stories I still wanted to continue seeing the world through his eyes.
In the two games I’ve recently invested a sizeable amount of time in I’ve played a Summoner in Final Fantasy XIV and an Elemental Shaman in World of Warcraft. I bloody hated both classes for most of the levelling process.
I honestly don’t know why I chose either.
But I stuck through it and slowly but surely I learned the ropes and grew to appreciate its nuances. I learned my rotations and learned where I fitted into a group.
I think there’s something to be said for that. I could’ve rerolled a bunch of characters until I found one that I felt comfortable with right off the bat (or I might not have found one at all and just bounced straight off the game).
In that time I might’ve learned a little bit about how the game works. Optimizing my experience for when I finally made the character I was going to stick with. It is, after all, an inevitability in the early game that you delete an item which you later realise you could’ve used, or put your skill points into the wrong tree, or missed a bunch of easy money or XP.
There’s just something a little bit more real about accepting your choices and your mistakes. I think it bonds you to your character and bonds you to the game. There’s a special kind of satisfaction that comes from toughing that out. One that can make you love even a boring old Human Commando.