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WildStar Column: The Arkship’s Wicked Weekend

By Suzie Ford on February 20, 2013

One would think that spending a day and a half with Carbine developers and WildStar itself would be easy to write about, in fact, perhaps even generating several articles. But such is not the case. Writing about this past weekend’s Arkship 2013 is more difficult than it would seem on the surface as much of what we had the singular privilege to learn is still covered by NDA. That said, there’s plenty of good things to say about WildStar in more general terms.

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We Aren’t Going to Hold Your Hand

One of the more prevalent themes of the weekend was presented in such a way as to let us unequivocally understand that WildStar is not just another dull entry into an increasingly stale market. In fact, developers were also quick to point out that WildStar is something completely new in the genre, neither a theme park nor a true sandbox. While WS definitely contains elements of both, its creators refuse to solely identify with one or the other.

While at Arkship, we had plenty of opportunity to get our hands on WildStar to ferret out the truth of that contention. There is no question that WildStar is bringing something very unique to the MMO game space and we were only able to experience a small portion of the world that Carbine is creating from the ground up.

There will be no coddling, no hand holding, no ring through the nose leading of players from one zone to the next. Carbine is going out of its way to erase all such notions from its fans’ minds. We’ve often heard the statement “play the game your way” but most game makers touting such things rarely make good on the comment. Not so of Carbine. From my experience with WildStar, there is great truth to the promise the dev team has made.

Combat, for instance, has a much more visceral, meditative feel to it. Players will be required to actually think about the best attacks, to plan which way is best to move, whether it is smarter to dodge or roll and other such matters all in the blink of an eye. There will be few button mash combinations in WildStar as each enemy (and there are wide varieties in every zone, plentifully packed in) has its own unique way of attacking. Players will have to think and consider the best way to take them down and the telegraphs both they and the monsters throw are essential to that plan.

I’ll admit that when I first heard of the telegraphs, I was less-than-impressed. Having actually played WildStar, I can now see why they are there and how incredibly important they are for players, singly and in groups. Trust me on this one.

The other thing to be wary of traveling in the WildStar environment is inadvertently bringing more creatures into the fray than intended. For instance, as I was adventuring in Deradune (awesome zone, by the way), I attacked a quest wolf with an AOE maneuver. Unfortunately for me, there were several benign antelope nearby that were also hit and that then joined the fight. These are not your typical “filler creatures” that go down in a single hit either. Let’s just say that I was quickly overwhelmed. Luckily, I was close to town and fled crying for Mama until the local denizens removed the threat.

These are just small examples of what is meant by no hand-holding in WildStar. Another is the quest locator or directional guidance system. While there is a quest arrow to help players if desired, it’s pretty nebulous and won’t point the way to the exact spot but only to a more general location instead.

Additionally, while there definitely are quest hubs and the traditional exclamation points over NPCs’ heads, those quests only represent a tiny minority of what players will discover simply exploring the world. As players move about the world, they will run across hidden quests or be called by a nearby resident asking for assistance. In short, Carbine is rewarding players for staying off the beaten path. The team told us that the best quests are hidden in places that will take dedication and good luck to find.

Worried that you’ll miss the lore and story? Don’t be. As players enter the mid-range of levels, they will be given opportunities to rejoin the story, to “get back on track” lore-wise in a manner of speaking. In fact, that’s part of the overall plan: To give exploring players a way to find their way back to the story that Carbine has crafted for its unique setting.

We’ve Kept It Under Our Collective Hat But...

Carbine has been very cagey releasing information about WildStar and for good reason. One only has to look at the big releases of last year to realize that over-hyping a game can be utterly disastrous. The flip side, of course, is silence which can be equally destructive and something that Carbine is planning to avoid as well. Over the next several months, the closed beta will kick off, a European Arkship 2013 will take place and the development team will start incrementally revealing more information about WildStar, including the two as-yet unannounced character classes. With all that was discussed at Arkship 2013, fans have only been given barebones information. There is much more to come.

To my way of thinking, Carbine is doing it right. Releasing systems and features information closer to release is a smart plan and makes sense since things change during the normal development cycle. But even so, it’s also incumbent on them to start getting the good word out now and to reenergize a tired and suspicious MMO player base. Without letting players know what they can expect to find in WildStar and what makes it truly different from any other MMO on the market, more information needs to be released. Convention season is coming, which probably means that’s exactly what will happen.

The Caveat

The only caveat to all of this is that, while WildStar already looks and feels very polished and fun, Carbine needs to be given the time that it needs to make the entire world feel so. The company mantra is, of course, “we’ll release it when it’s finished” but we’ve all heard that before and have been burned in the end by games that were released too soon. Hopefully, NCSoft will give Carbine the time necessary to show WildStar to its best and fullest effect. If not, players will simply be able to move on to the next game on the list. It’s currently targeted for a broad sometime in 2013 release.

Conclusion?

I am guardedly excited about WildStar. The team has a good plan and seems to have implemented the right things. Still, words are easy and a game’s best side can be carefully shown to an already-convinced audience carefully chosen for its passion. There’s so much I wish I could tell you about the game that’s disallowed by the NDA, but the bottom line is this: Keep your eye on WildStar. If this weekend’s plans come to fruition, it could be a genre game changer.


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