A Nudge in the Group Direction
WildStar is unashamedly a theme park MMO – a subgenre that many gamers choose to experience single-player. While the game can be played on your own, Carbine is making significant efforts to encourage players to team up, with a mixture of rewards and subtle mechanics.
Part of this is a change to core systems that happened a while back, introducing open tagging. It meant that there was less competition when I was out questing, and more cooperation instead. I felt more comfortable when others helped me take down a large pack of creatures, and more eager to jump in and assist others. It’s not a significant change in itself, but a nudge in the right direction.
Another aspect is circles. Alongside a guild, players can join up to five circles, each operating like a mini guild by itself, and helping to help players communicate in a more flexible manner. Cross-realm friends lists are already baked in, making it possible to group up for almost any formed of instanced content. Those instances aren’t always dungeons either; off-world Shiphand missions and story-led Adventures help to mix things up. Groups also work with housing and the Path system, with players being rewarded for helping others out.
Teaming up isn’t just for loot and experience points either, as most group activities will also earn Renown. Any time I grouped up with others, I’d earn this currency as we played. It can currently be spent on a range of housing items, but I’m eager to find out what else it can be spent on. As long as there are interesting rewards, it looks certain to make grouping better than going solo.
Earning the Subscription
I once asked Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney why payment models were so controversial. His reply was surprisingly honest, stating that everybody has a model they hate. It’s likely the reason why Carbine went for a hybrid approach that’s similar to EVE’s PLEX system. Players can buy a 30-day subscription block and sell it on the market for in-game currency, enabling gamers to play for free if they can scape enough gold coins together.
There’s an important distinction that needs to be made – with EVE and other sandboxes the players are the content. With a theme-park MMO that only really exists in a limited manner, with a much heavier reliance on fresh content packs produced by the developer. If WildStar is going to be successful long-term, it needs to be delivering fresh content every month. Content Director Mike Donatelli has a plan to roll out meaningful content and an evolving storyline, and the studio has been taking tips from ArenaNet, but it’s a big unknown.
That said, there’s also been talk of holding an open beta that could even start a month before launch. With a standard $60 box price, it seems as though Gaffney is keen to pull players in based on the quality of the game rather than keeping us waiting for launch day.
For the moment though, we can only talk about what we see. WildStar is fun, with a fresh and modern feel that sets it apart from other MMOs, and it’s certainly something that has us excited. But trying to extrapolate that over the longer term is tough, as it requires a continual post-launch effort from Carbine to keep players interested. We also haven’t had a glimpse at that elusive end-game content either, which is also vital at holding our attention beyond the first month.
Likewise, Jeremy Gaffney has said they’re not trying to build an MMO for everyone. Instead, they’re focusing on those that have quit their previous game, and those that haven’t tried an MMO before. WildStar, for all the features it contains, isn’t intended as a panacea of online gaming.
In spite of it all, that unknown launch date moves ever closer as we inch through the first half of 2014. Whenever it finally hits the shelves, I can hardly wait.
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.