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MMORPG | Genre:Sci-Fi | Status:Final  (rel 06/03/14)  | Pub:NCSoft
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WildStar Column: Ready to Raid

By Gareth Harmer on October 24, 2013

When I first heard about WildStar’s raid plans, my opinion was divided. On the one hand, Carbine talked about all kinds of ways it was planning to evolve the PvE experience, in a way that made my eyes brim with nostalgia. But on the other hand, forty players? I remembered when organizing a raid team was nearly as hard as defeating a boss. Did I really want to go back to that?

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It’s since come to light that we’ll also have 20-player raids, although it’s not yet clear if these will reuse the instances designed for larger teams, or have tailor-made dungeons of their own. But the intent is clear – raiding in WildStar is aimed at large groups taking part in epic battles. For everyone else there’s still a large amount of content available – none of the evolving story will take part in raids.

Carbine also needs to give us fresh challenges; it’s not enough to simply dust off old raids from other games and give them a new coat of paint. To that end, the studio has a three-pronged approach: change the raids themselves on a regular basis, reward achievement and progression meaningfully, and use new combat systems to get a new feel. But, with this emphasis on longer term raiding, it might be our own social structures that need to adapt.

Building the Fortress

Rightly or wrongly, raiding has earned a bit of a bad reputation. In some corners it’s seen as an elitist activity enjoyed by a vocal and demanding minority of players. With others, its decay is seen as proof of a relentless dumbing-down by out-of-touch developers.

Depending on which side of the argument you fall on, Carbine’s plans will either make you grin with anticipation or facepalm in despair. Raiding in WildStar will be deliberately aimed at those who want brutal, unforgiving challenges. Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney is aiming to deliver a game that the best raiding guilds in the world want to play, saying that it isn’t just “raiding for the sake of it.”  

A significant chunk of Carbine’s development team is made up of ex-Blizzard vanilla World of Warcraft staff, so it’s no surprise that 20 and 40 player raids will be making a return in WildStar. But is it the right approach? Many of us can nostalgically recall the feeling of taking part in intense battles with an army of other players behind us. But there are also thousands of bitter veterans who have a different memory. Those who got burned out trying to cajole and push a reluctant group night after night. The wipe-inducing lag and disconnects. The stress. The guild drama. Oh boy, the drama.

For other developers, the solution has been to make organization easier, pruning back the number of players needed to form a raid group. Some have even implemented a Looking for Raid tool – a feature that WildStar’s developers have said they won’t add. Instead, Carbine’s approach is different, with raid dungeons changing configuration on a weekly basis in order to keep players motivated and interested. We’ve seen some of this before, such as a boss that uses two abilities picked from a larger pool, but WildStar pushes this further. Much further.

It starts with a plug and socket system that’s in use throughout WildStar’s world. One week, a boss might be standing alone in an empty room, giving players plenty of space to move him around. Another week and chasm may have torn open, filled with steam geysers that propel you into the air. The third time round and there might be a lava pit you can drag the boss into for additional damage. He might be flanked with healing minions one week, and melee damage ones the next. There may even be new optional bosses that provide additional rewards.

This variance can have mixed results. Regular changes could keep players coming back; a frustrating encounter one week might become easy and straightforward the next. But it also causes problems when handling things like server firsts, as one group could have an easier path to victory. The solution is for each server worldwide to have an identical layout, so they all remain in step even though they change each week.

A weekly raid challenge would also fit nicely with weekly rewards, which is why Carbine is introducing weekly leaderboards. It’s not clear if these will be per-server, per-region or global (or even a mixture), but the ideas is for the best groups to get additional rewards. Will that be the fastest finisher, or the least amount of damage taken? Will the criteria also change every week, forcing groups to switch between speed runs and careful clears?

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