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MMORPG | Genre:Sci-Fi | Status:Final  (rel 06/03/14)  | Pub:NCSoft
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WildStar Column: A Tailored Experience

By Gareth Harmer on October 10, 2013

As MMO gamers, we’re a fickle bunch. If an upcoming title doesn’t have the features we want, particularly at endgame, we’ll prophesize and pontificate about how it’s doomed to purgatory. It’s a sentiment that Carbine Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney agrees with, often saying that the easiest way to torch $100 million is to release an MMO with poor content at levelcap.

It’s one of the reasons why I’m more confident about WildStar than the average MMO. We’ll have hardcore 40-man raiding, with instances that change configuration every week and leaderboards that track the best groups. We’ll have battleground, arena and Warplot PvP, with teams of 40 waging war from their own fortress. Add to that veteran mode dungeons, instanced adventures and a continued storyline, and there’s certainly plenty to chew through. With content updates rumored to be every three weeks, Carbine is working hard to keep us interested for the long haul.

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But all of this content means very little if the general experience isn’t satisfying. Last week I talked about how Carbine updated some of the core progression systems, such as questing and leveling. In this week’s WildStar Wednesday update, the focus is on cross-realm play. We’ll be able to chat and group with friends on other realms for almost all forms of instanced content. LFG tools will also work cross-realm, although a toggle will be available if you only want to group with players from your own server.

While the thought of British Dominion players charging into battle against American Exiles sounds amusing, there’s currently no word on cross-region play. We also don’t know if Carbine plans to introduce a Battletag-style feature for finding and adding friends. Limitations are also in place to prevent cross-realm trading, indicating that each economy will be realm-specifc. I’m interested to see if that will remain the same for all items, particularly with CREDD subscription tokens being bought and sold on the Commodities Exchange.

The Combat Symphony

Besides all things social and economic, MMOs need to have satisfying combat systems with room for us to grow as players. Over the last few months, Carbine has release a series of DevSpeak videos that describe WildStar’s “combat sandwich.” These go some distance to explain how each piece fits together, with some very clear examples.

It’s also a little like hearing an orchestra prepare for a concert. We know what each instrument sounds like, but we haven’t heard the symphony. A common complaint against the telegraph system is that it looks simple at the lower levels and, after playing for myself, I’d agree that things start out gently. But I’ve also seen at Gamescom how complex the early dungeons get, after being shown some boss fights from Stormtalon’s Lair. Carbine needs to show why telegraphs don’t make an easy game, but instead give them a platform for even crazier challenges in the later levels.

The other argument against telegraphed combat is in PvP, and I’m somewhat sympathetic with this. After all, what’s the point of laying a trap if your telegraph stretches out like a red tongue from the bush you’ve hidden in? The WildStar PvP that I’ve experienced had player telegraphs disabled, but it’s likely to depend on feedback during beta. There’s also talk of a post-launch spectator mode for instanced PvP, and I can see that telegraph toggles would make combat easier and more entertaining to follow.

Raising the Skill Bar

Last week’s update also included hints on a couple of previously unknown player progression systems. One system, Milestones, has been known about for a while – get a character stat above a particular threshold and unlock a couple of bonuses. It meant that progression was entirely gear-dependent – there was little player choice involved in tailoring your character. A couple of interface screenshots talked about Ability Points and AMPs, but didn’t include further detail.

According to a recent interview, these represent two further methods of character customization. Ability Tier Points will allow us to enhance abilities we’ve already unlocked, either by making them more powerful or by granting additional functions. Advanced Modification Protocols, on the other hand, will be more talent-tree based. It added that AMPs will use a star constellation layout, with players slowly working out from the center. And yes, we’ll be able to change specializations if needed.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out. Will it be possible for theorycrafters to calculate an optimal spec for a given role, or will there be a focus on making difficult choices? Whatever form it takes, class balancing just became a whole lot more complex. More crucially, skill needs to be a strong component of the combat system. It must be possible to differentiate two characters with the same equipment and talents, purely based on how proficient the players are. That’s part of the intention behind the switch to a more active and dynamic combat approach, but I’m eager to see how it plays out.

Not Just Hardcore

While it’s great to see this effort being poured into system for high-end PvE and PvP players, it’s important to remember that these players are just a part of any MMO player base. We all need things to do at level-cap in order for us to keep logging in. Carbine has mentioned instanced Adventures as part of that, along with a storyline that doesn’t end once you’ve earned that final ding. Part of those regular updates will be keeping us fuelled with a changing world.

The team’s also working to reduce dungeon grind monotony with some interesting variants, such as changing the layout once every few hours or so. Last time I checked in, there was the possibility of dungeon ‘gold rushes’ if a particularly easy route or rare boss appeared. There’s such a wide mix of content that WildStar Fans produced a chart with all the different content types.

Whatever our preferences, Carbine’s working hard to make sure that WildStar has the breadth of content we demand as fickle MMO players, coupled with systems and mechanics that add depth to the experience. But while we can pick and choose what we like from the buffet that Carbine’s offering, that’s no guarantee we’ll stay as diners long-term. Change, in all its forms, is what will keep us coming back for more.

Gareth Harmer / Gareth Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.


Read Gareth's inaugural WildStar colum:

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