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Player vs. Everything: Starting over

Cameron Sorden

Most of us have spent a lot of time playing our favorite games. Chances are good that unless you're totally new to the MMOG world, you've got at least one character at some ridiculously high level, armed to the teeth, sitting on a big pile of gold amongst the trophies of your slaughtered foes. You might even be part of a guild and still play that character with your guildmates on a regular basis to go topple foes of ever-increasing power. It's good to be a dragon-slaying, world-destroying, gold-hoarding demigod of awesomeness.

That's why it's so tough to start over, sometimes. Whether it's rolling up an alt on your current game or picking up an entirely new game, it can be really frustrating to go from a bloodthirsty, battle-hardened warrior who wades into combat swinging an enormous, glowing two-handed sword to some level 1 nobody with a leather jerkin and a knife. All of your accomplishments on your old character seem pretty far away when level 3 wolves are having you for a light afternoon snack, and a brand new grind stretches out interminably before you. Is it any wonder why plenty of players don't even bother with having alts and stick to the game they like?

The prospect of starting over in a new game becomes more daunting with every moment you spend in a particular game. Since MMOGs primarily reward time invested in the game, it makes sense that you'd keep playing the game that you already have so much time invested in-I think that frequent game hopping is a minority activity. This is why a fair number of people still play EverQuest, for example (aside from the fact that it's actually a really fun game). When you switch games, you don't have access to any of the resources you've accrued while playing the first one. You can't pass yourself gold, give yourself items, or count on your high-level friends to help you out.

But those aren't the only reasons why you wouldn't want to start fresh in a new game. The biggest barrier to starting over somewhere else is usually the learning curve. No matter how similar a game might be to your old game, there are always going to be substantial differences. Often the user interface itself presents a problem as you learn how to move around and interact with the game world, but differences in combat, tradeskills, chatting, and everything else about the game can also be quite frustrating and seem outlandish until you get comfortable with them.

Honestly, the best way to mitigate that problem is to play a lot of games. The more experience you have with the different ways that designers approach various elements of the game, the less crazy and weird new systems will seem to you when you encounter them. It's like traveling: the more you do it, the more familiar elements of life you can find in any new setting. That also helps with the issue of being gearless and destitute. The more games you play, the better you'll be at making money and getting on your feet in a new game.

When you're considering starting an alt on a game you already play, it's not nearly as scary. You have access to your existing social network, your piles of gold, random items you've picked up, and the benefit of having a higher-level character to offer whatever assistance he can. Still, it's frustrating. One big reason starting over sucks is the grind. When you're used to playing at max level, you generally want to get your new character back up there, and you're often playing through content you've already seen before. You get to do any faction work your game might have over again, and you'll probably be killing a lot of monsters that aren't nearly as rewarding as the higher level ones you could be killing (giving you a reduced reward for your time).

Lots of people try to fight the mundanity of redoing the same grind over again by twinking their character to the gills-they give them lots of weapons and armor that make them ridiculously powerful for their level. While potentially unbalancing in a group setting, this is actually a ridiculously fun way to play the game. If you've done it once properly, why shouldn't you get to do it a second time on the virtual equivalent of steroids? I think games that allow this (or even encourage it) are fantastic and offer a really fresh way to liven up otherwise stale content. One of my favorite things to do in EverQuest is solo dungeons that used to require a full group while getting XP and loot for my twinked character.

Designers can also soften the blow of starting over within their game by tying more achievements to the account instead of the individual character. I firmly believe that activities which are highly repetitive or require a significant time-investment, such as faction grinds, attunement quests, and unlockable content, should all be recognized at your account level and available to all characters. Why not let bindable items be passed down to alts on the same account, too? It wouldn't wreck an economy and it would be a blast for players.

Starting over anywhere is always hard. Part of what makes MMOGs so interesting for players, as compared to other games, is the persistence of your character. A dungeon crawl can be a great time, and I love a good role-playing game, but at the end of the day I like to feel like I haven't been wasting my time after hours of leveling (even if it's just a cunning illusion). By having some permanence to my character and getting new stuff to do on a regular basis, you can take and use those levels and items for more than just one final, epic boss fight. The adventure continues long past the day when you hit the maximum level.

Still, there's definitely also something to be said for having a fresh and new adventure laid out for you and challenging your comfort zone. Trying a new game or playing a different class can be a very fun and rewarding experience, even if it's tough to do. The nice thing about trying something new is that you can always return to your old character if you don't like your new one. You never know when you might find a playstyle that's even more fun than your old one, or a new game that blows your old one out of the water. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, eh?

Though it can be hard, it never hurts to give your gaming a little reboot now and then.

Cameron Sorden Cameron Sorden is an avid gamer, blogger, and writer who has been playing a wide variety of online games since the late '90s. Several times per week in Player vs. Everything, he tackles all things MMO-related. If you'd like to reach Cameron with comments or questions, you can e-mail him at cameron.sorden AT

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