Ok, so the servers are down today and like many people that means I have to find an alternate way to amuse myself for a few hours. Often I’ll cruise various wow-related forums to check on things to come, things that have happened, and general whinings and musings from the WoW-o-sphere. One such rant springs to mind this morning.
Now, this is by no means a new or recent sentiment, but it does seem to be gaining momentum in terms of the number of times it’s being blindly repeated in the “I need more character slots” threads I’ve been reading in my insane attempt to will Blizzard into giving me more toon slots per server. The offending idea is the notion that people with a lot of alts don’t play any of them well. If you’ve ever spent any time at all reading one of those threads (like, maybe to add your input to it since you too would like more slots) you’ll have probably seen something like this spouted a hundred times: “why don’t you just learn to play the toons you have instead of rerolling more.” Now, this, of course, baffles me. Because… it’s just so wrong-headed. Clearly this person has a main and that’s it. Any alt(s), assuming there is one, is merely a part-time hobby, and not intended for anything remotely serious: a farming toon, perhaps, or maybe a bank mule. But as anyone who actually has spent some time playing around with all of the classes (albeit some more than others) can tell you, it’s that there’s a heck of a lot of overlap between classes, especially those that share roles. There’s not that much *to learn* apart from the basics of each of the 4 main roles: melee, ranged, tank, healer.
No, of course I don’t think that everybody with a barn full of alts is great at all of them. Some people have alts that they aren’t very good at. And naturally, some people have alts that they feel more comfortable with than others even if they are pretty good at all of them. And yes, naturally there are variations in details and nuance from class to class. But at the end of the day, it’s your role, not your class, that builds the framework for what you’re doing. The class merely changes what the exterior of that framework looks like. For example, all healers are basically the same, or at least, they work in basically the same way. The toolbox changes a bit from class to class (Holy Paladins have next to no AoE, Holy Priests have great AoE) but all that really does is change *how* you do what you do and not actually *what* you do. That is, there’s no secret or magical trick to healing on two healers, even polar opposites. My holy paladin has strong single target heals, so if five people take a little damage, I cast Flash of Light on each of them (or well, the 4 non-tanks while beacon copies it all to the tank). My holy priest has strong AoE heals, so if 5 people take damage I cast either Circle of Healing or Prayer of Healing (depending on the group size, location, and amount of damage) and then wait for the next bit of healing that needs done. Conversely, if a single target needs a lot of healing, on my holy paladin I cast Holy Light and that usually takes care of it. If my holy priest needs to heal a single target from a critical state, I cast PW:Shield, Renew, Prayer of Mending, and then either Flash Heal or Greater Heal depending on the target’s situation after the initial barrage. But at the end of the day, the only difference between them is the details. Both have chances to shine with a single spell that works well for that situation. Both have times when they have to cast off a flurry of spells to accomplish something that they are weaker at. Both have to do their best to avoid damage from aggro, puddles, or what have you. Both have to monitor the party’s health bars. Both are going to spend most of their time at range. Neither will spend much time or mana on offensive abilities. Are they exactly the same? No, of course not. However, there is enough overlap that the basics of healing – spatial awareness, raid/party awareness, mana management, spell selection – that part is the same.
And from my experience, that’s the role that has the *most* divergence. DPS casters or heck, ranged in general, can be broken down to a frickin’ blurb: “Debuff(s), DoT(s), Nuke, Proc(s).” Now maybe some classes have 2 DoTs while some have one and another has three, and maybe some have fewer procs, but again, it’s all just details. At the end of the day, what you’re doing is keeping up a debuff (Faerie Fire, Scorch, Curse of [Whatever], Hunter’s Mark, Misery, etc.), keeping up one or more DoT effects (Moonfire, Living Bomb, Corruption/Incinerate, Serpent’s Sting, Devouring Plague/SW:Pain/Vampiric Touch, etc.), and filling in the spaces with a nuke (Wrath, Fireball, Shadow Bolt, Steady Shot, Mind Flay, etc.) while finding the best way to take advantage of any procs you may get (Eclipse, Hot Streak, Soul Fire, Kill Shot, etc.).*** Now, obviously the spells change from class to class and spec to spec, but the same principle applies. The rotation of a ranged dps isn’t significantly different, regardless of whether you are a mage, warlock, boomkin, hunter, or shadow priest. It’s all Debuff(s), DoT(s), Nuke, and Proc(s).
Now, there’s a been a bunch of times when somebody (it’s been friends, family, even random strangers from trade) said to me, “I don’t know how you can keep track of how to play so many toons. And all I can say back to them is, “It’s really not that hard.” Not meaning that as some sort of false modesty, or anything like that, just that, well, there’s so much overlap between the classes that share a role that there’s not that much to keep track of. Think of it like baseball: yeah, maybe your all-star short stop doesn’t switch positions much, but if you moved him over to second base, how much would his performance suffer? Well, if he’s as mentally flexible as your average 10 year old, the answer is ‘not much, really.’
Now, don’t get me wrong: Blizzard really has done a great job of making each class feel unique, but if you can stand one more mixed metaphor, there’s no getting around the fact that underneath all of the paint and drywall, all of the classes on WoW share the same foundation. Sure, you can divide rooms here and there to make the floorplan look different, but all of the load-bearing walls and the plumbing and the wiring: that’s all basically the same. The rest is mostly cosmetic.
In fact, I might go so far as to argue that learning so much about the game’s mechanics, and specifically, broadening my knowledge on class mechanics, has made a lot of what I do easier. For instance, if I’m healing and the mage over there just blew his iceblock, I know that he won’t be able to save himself for another five minutes (realistically: the rest of the encounter), meaning that the heal priority/triage list in my head just changed: the “if he gets in trouble he can iceblock” option is off the table. If I’m dpsing or healing on my paladin, and the warlock just used Soulshatter to save himself from pulling aggro, I know that he has 3 minutes before he can do it again. Meaning he’s now on my short list for hand of salvation. Long story short, knowing about all of the classes makes me a more effective player, because I have a pretty god idea of who can do what and how often.
***My apologies if I missed a spell or two in my haste, and yeah, I skipped some specs, but this simplified rundown should make my point clear. Oh, and oops, I missed elemental shamans completely. Pretend that I slipped in a shock, lightning, and lava burst as appropriate.