Is Alternate Advancement Just An Illusion?
I’ve always considered the point of alternative advancement (Talents in WoW, AAs in EQ/EQ2, Feats in AoC, Masteries in WAR etc) to be to customise your avatar and let you have a more personalised roleplaying experienced. However, I’m starting to question if this sense of choice and personalisation is really just a big illusion.
Check out the forums of fan sites of any game that offers alternative advancement and you will see a slew of posts about strongly “recommended” builds. I don’t know how it happens or who does it, but at some point during a game’s release “other” people quickly find the optimum, and recommended, build for any situation and then that becomes the bible for everyone else. The result is that the entire decision process is removed from the player and we simply follow the molds laid out in front of us in order to achieve the best results.
My worst experience with this sort of thing was with my Berserker in Everquest 2. I had two completely seperate AA windows, each containing about four or five trees and a grand total of about 120 points to spend. Sounds great except for the fact that there was only one way to spec my character without utterly gimping myself. Although I tried to buck the trend – and God knows I spent hours pouring over DPS and mitigation calculations – I eventually had to follow suit and pick the same AAs as every other Berserker. To those that are familiar with EQ2, it was commonly called the Buckler Spec and to those of you who aren’t, it essentially meant I had to use 1h weapon and wield a tiny, silly little buckler shield instead of the gigantic 2h axe I so desired.
My quest to start a new character in World of Warcraft reignited these dormant thoughts within me when I was checking out the hunter forum. See, I really like the idea of playing a melee hunter but, apparently, that would make me a complete laughing stock. No, instead I have a single choice depending on my situation: Marksmanship for PvP, Beast Mastery for raiding and Survival for PvE.
I actually quite like the Talent system in WoW and it’s a better form of alternate advancement than most games, however I feel that again I’m forced to follow predefined patterns and micro-managing only a handful of “spare” points that probably have very little impact on my gameplay at all. Perhaps the classes would be better off just having easily selectable changeable modes of play (i.e. PvP/PvE/Raiding stances or similar) which immediately imbued the player with those appropriate abilities.
I guess what I’m saying is that if alternative advancement is either only offering “mandatory” selections or situational builds, then I don’t think we’re actually getting a whole lot of customisation (or purpose) out of them. If every Hunter in PvP is using a Marksmanship build, then where’s the uniqueness or variety? It makes me feel that it’s all just an illusion to keep us more engaged with number crunching or grinding.
What do you think? Has the whole meaning behind alternate advancement been lost or is it just a case of bad balance and the player’s desire to “ruleplay” instead of roleplay?