Before you condemn me, I will state that I absolutely have enjoyed my time in WildStar’s closed beta. It’s a rare MMO that has true personality and character, even if said flair can be over the top for some. It also has some of the most fun combat in recent memory. But there’s one thing that’s been plaguing my play as of late, and that’s a combination of the UI and the sheer amount of direction the game tries to give you. WildStar doesn’t hold your hand… it drags you by every body part in a million different directions and can leave you feeling absolutely torn on what it is you should be doing. My question for Carbine and you all is: does WildStar point the player in too many divergent directions or is more always better in an MMO trying to please so many playstyles?
The UI for WildStar is currently undergoing some serious overhauls before the game’s expected launch later this year. A look at the screens below will show you just how much of an improvement that new UI makes. The new version takes everything that was/is stacked up in the middle and spreads it all out on a thinner bar along the bottom of your screen. Same functionality, far more appealing looks. You can also switch most segments of the UI on or off at any time, so if there’s a part you don’t want/need, you can remove it. Clutter is a real problem with the game’s UI and quest tracker, so this is a really welcome change.
The Current “Old” UI
Now, the UI alone is not going to solve the issue some have been feeling with WildStar. We’re talking about a Theme Park MMORPG where there’s quite possibly too much for people to do. How can that be a bad thing, you ask? You or I might sit down to play a game and know what tasks we want to accomplish. But there is a problem in games that offer too much to at any one time, giving off a sort of signal to noise ratio that can be detrimental to a person’s enjoyment. If there’s too many indicators telling you what to do, and not enough “focused initiative” in an MMO that’s filled with guidance, it’s quite plausible that a person could get frustrated.
My solution to this? Stop automatically putting it all on the screen at once. I’m not advocating that Carbine get rid of any content. Theme Park games need as much as they can get to help stave off the locusts. Instead, I’m hoping that they can make it so players can define what their UI, quest trackers, and all of that show on screen. Give the player a tutorial to show how it all works, and then give them the option, even within the tutorial, to turn parts or all of a UI indicator off. I’d love to set it so that, I don’t know, I can only track three quests at once, and all others cycle in as I complete quests. Stop making them change order and number in my tracker based on proximity by default too. I’ll reserve judgment on how Path content is presented until I see the new tracker on the new UI in action.
The New “Less is More” UI
This is a minor thing, but in a game that puts a lot of things out there for you to do, it’s absolutely vital that they not overwhelm players. What might be more important though is that they try to let players explore more of the world on their own and rely less on giant glowing arrows and quest indicators. WildStar’s quest text is a pretty ingenious way of presenting the basics of a story, while reserving the greater content for the Lore Books and those who wish to read them.
But the problem in that? It doesn’t leave a lot in the way of “here’s what I need you to do and where you can do it.” Perhaps a problem with quest design in general, but I find little incentive to learn about the reasons why I’m doing something if the quest directives are just blotted on a mini-map and I’m given a giant arrow above my head to show me the way without even glancing at my real map if I don’t need to. You could mark it down as “convenience”, but I don’t want convenience while questing… I want adventure.
As MMO gamers, we’re prone to compare our game to others, but I’m not trying to start a war when I say that I find the storytelling and questing far more enjoyable in Zenimax’ Elder Scrolls Online as of late. It’s a combination of the theatrical voice-acted presentation (something that can’t and won’t be replicated easily with expansion for ESO) and the sheer fact that one “quest” can be broken into many segments and take several hours to complete fully… all without a “kill me 10 of these things” objective.
There are some really bright spots in WildStar’s PVE, even outside of their stunning dungeons and instanced content. But the UI, the delivery of lore and objectives, and Carbine’s insistence on making everything as easy for the player to find as possible is taking away from the brilliance of some quests because what most players see is a mess of Quest Tracker UI bullet points and giant glowing arrows over their head leading them by the nose.
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.