An MMORPG to change the landscape as we know it? Carbine Studios seems to think so…
“MMOs have probably failed you,” admits Jeremy Gaffney, executive producer of WildStar, to a dimly-lit conference hall packed with games journalists.
This grandiose statement isn’t something you’d expect a developer of a forthcoming MMORPG to say, especially one who has been instrumental in bringing so many games to the online-playing masses including City of Heroes, Asheron’s Call and Tabula Rasa. Hell, the veteren of MMO development even co-founded the studio behind Lord of the Rings Online, Turbine Inc., so when he states that only 25% of players group up in MMOs, only 25% take part in PvP, and the more shocking statistic that 60% players prefer to play on their own, you can’t help but listen and think, maybe the MMORPG genre is a a bit broken.
So what does this have to do with WildStar? Well, eighteen months after the game was first revealed at a packed gamescom in 2011, NCSoft is finally ready to talk about the sci-fi MMORPG seriously now that Guild Wars 2 is out of the way and the exciting thing is that this colourful sci-fi MMORPG seems to be designed to specifically to address the problems MMOs face today. Problems like the slow erosion of social play in modern MMORPGs, delivering on an end-game that actually matters, and offering a progression curve which isn’t entirely dependent on quest completion. Lofty promises to be sure, especially when you consider that WildStar is set to be released this year, but then Carbine Studios aren’t a developer which shys away from a challenge.
At its core the premise behind WildStar is fairly simple. There are two factions Dominion and Exile, and both of which are looking to reap the spoils of a recently discovered planet dubbed ‘Nexus’ for themselves. There’s definitely a recognisable Star Wars vibe from these factions, with Dominion functioning a lot like the Imperials whereas the Exiles are like a cheekier distinctly redneck versus of The Rebellion, but there isn’t any of that po-faced Light versus Dark morality which bulks down Lucas Arts’ universe. Unlike more story-driven MMORPGs, such as The Secret World and Star Wars: The Old Republic, WildStar’s fiction isn’t designed to be thrust into the player’s face at every second. Instead the gameplay is meant to be the star of the show, with Nexus providing multiple methods for players to express themselves, which is where the game’s unique ‘Path’ system comes in.
Now rather than just being told about this mechanic we were dropped into the game itself, to have a look around in an area dubbed, ‘Deradune’ aimed at level 6-12 characters. Rather than just choosing a character and a class, players also need to select a Path. Split between Scientist, Settler, Soldier, and Explorer, each path governs what sort of elements you can interact with in the environment and what sort of tertiary content and functionality is unlocked for the player. For example we rolled out as a Mechari Warrior Explorer which essentially meant our tertiary tasks revolved around climbing up giant tree tops in the world to place down beacons, carve out new shortcuts which other players could use and getting around the map faster by utlising underground caves. Gating of this ability to react with the world on a Path-specific basis seems to have two purposes; first to encourage players to group up as they can’t unlock all the secrets of the world on their own and secondly it makes exploring the world that much more enjoyable when these side-quests ping up in your HUD.