The Average Gamer

Gamescom 2011 – Welcome to WildStar

NCSoft announced their new MMO during Gamescom, Wildstar. I spoke to Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney, who is aiming to build the deepest richest MMO experience to date. He claims that Wildstar will let you play the game how YOU want to. Bold claims and not the only MMO at the show to make the same boast. Still, given that Carbine was founded by 20 ex-Blizzard employees and has worked on dozens of the most famous MMOs around, they clearly have the experience to pull it off.

Pathway Professionals

The big selling point that Carbine are pushing at Gamescom is the depth of experience. As a player you also be able to select a profession, or path, for your character to follow, on top of the traditional tech vs magic-user and race differentiations. This path will directly affect your goals and subquests. Based largely around Bartle’s four player types, you can choose from the following:

  • Explorer – You can discover pathways and find dungeons that others can’t see. A seemingly smooth rock face might have a hidden path to the top that only you can unlock.
  • Scientist – Investigate the flora and fauna for quests and items. While battling a group of cats, you might notice that some of them look slightly different. You would be able to scan them and collect new information on the world.
  • Soldier – Trigger large public quests and battles. You also have a series of battle missions, like defending objectives and surviving assault waves.
  • Settler – Create public social hubs like picnics where you offer buffs and boosts to other players. Your rewards come from interacting with lots of other people.

Granok and Human races

Based on my experience running with a hardcore guild in Aion, many MMO fans will just search the web to find the optimal path for their class to grind in order to reach endgame content as quickly as possible. Carbine’s design philosophy is a little different. By now, they reckon, everybody knows roughly how they prefer to play: explore spaces, learn stories, win battles or talk to people. This is not to say that if you choose to be a settler you ONLY get to progress by talking to people, or a scientist will ONLY research. Far from it.

When venturing with an explorer, if you’re around when s/he unlocks a new pathway, you also gain a small increase to your path XP. This, in turn, allows you to explore areas for yourself. The progression system isn’t pinned down just yet but Gaffney was quick to reinforce that everybody can do the basic elements of everything. Specialisation gives you advantages and more advanced skills in your area.

By rewarding players for carrying out their profession in the game world, the hope is that the optimal grind path for everyone won’t even exist. Undoubtedly there will be certain locations in the map that have high player traffic, making them more advantageous to settlers. Any mass of players congregating there will mean that settlers have to differentiate themselves, hopefully generating dynamic marketplaces or setting up camp in critical but less obvious areas.

The Northern Wilds

With any luck, NCSoft will share the lessons from Aion’s player vendors and push player-driven environments forward.

World Changers

World events are also triggered by players. When a player explores a certain zone, they can unlock a dungeon that all players in the world can access for a time. Soldiers can provoke large public bonuses and quests by killing NPC leaders. The world of Wildstar is mostly persistent like a traditional MMO but does have a few instances limited to 20 or 30 players. These will usually be plot-heavy places like the newbie tutorial area.

Cinematics are handled differently to most MMOs as well. Guild Wars has some beautiful cinematic experiences but in practice, it usually means that 3 of the group is standing around staring at nothing while the fourth watches the plot video for the first time. Wildstar’s cinematics are actually in-game events. During the demo we watched a cutscene of a spaceship approaching us overhead. Pressing Esc to break out of the the sequence revealed that the spaceship really was flying overhead in the game world, only to be shot down by enemy forces and crash to the ground at our feet. Changing the environment right in front of us is a very nice touch and really helps make Wildstar feel like a dynamic place.

In additional to these world events, you also have “found quests”. Every player carries a communicator, shown as a part of the panel in the HUD. From time-to-time, you will receive calls alerting you to, say, an injured scientist trapped under a rockslide, or a roaming mob that needs killing. These will give you big bonuses to your path progression, further breaking the concept of optimal grind path. Quests are shared across groups, so working together is advantageous. Conveniently, the communicator can used to hand in the quests, so you won’t need to run halfway across the world to get your XP for these.

Another nice touch in the world is the creature ecology. Most of the aggresive mobs you see will be part of a predator and prey hierarchy. If you happen to see some prey nearby, you can draw them over to their predators and run away, leaving the prey to soften up your real targets. Around combat areas you’ll likely find other NPCs also fighting the mobs. One of these types is the huntress.

If you kill a series of mobs quickly, you’ll likely trigger a time challenge – kill 10 cats in 5 minutes, for example. Impress huntresses by meeting the challenge when they’re nearby and they’ll take that story back to town, increasing your rep among the local community. Kill a boss and not only will the huntresses boost your rep, the lower classes of that type will be more wary of you. Do the challenge in isolation however, and few people will ever know.

Aurin and Granok races

Style and Class

When it comes to race and class, there are three choices available at the moment. Grancks are the large stony golems and the Granck shown in the trailer primarily uses technology to achieve his goals. Humans are in, as usual. The current guy is a “Spellslinger”, a combination of magic user and gunslinger. Finally, the large-breasted rabbit-eared woman is an Aurin and her class is Esper, primarily a magic-user. You may have noticed that the reveal trailer was… well, revealing, when it came to the Aurin. I asked Gaffney directly if female characters would have costume options that don’t have their tits on display. “Absolutely, you can,” Gaffney replied. In fact, the first item you get when you wake up is a trenchcoat.”

I did play the game a little myself on the show floor. Wildstar is every bit as beautiful as the screenshots suggest. Even though it’s a pre-Alpha build, the combat runs smoothly and the creatures in the area look juat as amazing as every other NCSoft RPG.

Wildstar will be another MMO that requires you to aim and dodge. Thankfully, it’s not as fast-paced as TERA, at least while I played as a spellslinger. When you’re in combat, there are a bunch of useful UI tricks to help you dodge. As your foe is preparing to attack, the affected area glows red so you know where to avoid. In practice, this made combat ludicrously easy but given that I was in the newbie area battling one mob at a time, I’m sure balancing the real game will be far more challenging.

No word from NCSoft on how much more development time is needed on Wildstar. As long as there’s a good 6-month gap between this and Guild Wars 2, I’ll be happy. If everything goes as promised, Wildstar will be a fantastic experience. The future for MMOs is looking great.

See more screenshots and sign up for the beta at Wildstar Online.