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Signposts on the Road

Gareth Harmer Posted:
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Carbine refers to WildStar’s upcoming transition as ‘the Road to Free-to-Play,’ but what does it actually mean? Is it some grand quest, where the studio’s finest head out from Orange County, embarking on an epic Odyssey to vanquish dull gameplay and return with the prized chalice of new experiences? Or is it a meaningful journey of self-discovery, with developers revitalising the core essence of this sci-fi MMO?

Maybe there’s an element of both. For me, though, there’s something else that hangs over it like a long shadow, and that’s the fear of change. Whatever way I look at it, the WildStar I’ve been playing for the past year and more will fade out, and something else will come in and take its place. I don’t yet know whether I’ll look back on classic-WS the way some look at vanilla WoW, but the rose-tinted spectro-goggles are definitely forming.

That said, the best ammunition against nostalgia is anticipation, and Carbine’s already started listing out everything that will be arriving with the Free-to-Play update. Like signposts on that road the studio talks about, these bullet points are beacons on the journey. But it’s not all gleaming streetlights, with several unknowns casting an unsettling shadow on the path ahead. In this week’s column, I’ll be looking at both sides, and highlighting some of the key concerns at this early point.

Brave New Old World

WildStar is changing. We don’t yet know by how much, although Carbine has given us a clear head-start. During a recent live-stream and subsequent Reddit Ask-Me-Anything, the studio shared some of its firm plans. There were also some interesting statistics – over 100,000 people signed up to the Free-to-Play beta, and there’s also been an unexpected uptick in subscribers. Nexus will also be heading West, with a Chinese launch bringing in even more new players.

It means that part of the studio’s attention is understandably on making that new player experience as smooth as possible. Having no cost of entry is a double-edged sword, as there’s no compulsion to stick with a game and ‘get your money’s worth’ from it. Instead, those first few sessions have to be as engaging and rewarding as possible, or those new players will churn out just as quickly as they arrived.

To tackle this, WildStar will have three different tutorials: a holographic training simulator for those completely new to MMOs, an Arkship experience for those who are just new to WildStar, and a straight-to-the-surface choice for those who are rolling an alt. On top of this, character creation will have a cleaner flow, making those early choices much easier to understand. But possibly the most controversial move – and one Carbine has promised to share more detail on – is revamping a character’s core stats. Defining terms like Moxie and Insight are gone, earning a mixed response from veteran players.

For the journey to level cap, Carbine’s mentioned two planned changes so far. The first is to rejig the group content to have something new open up every five levels, although it’s also dependent on actually encouraging players to queue up for the content. The second part is to introduce a new early Drusera instance, named Alpha Sanctum, which will serve as an induction to the Drusera/Entity story arc.

And for the more established player, there’s the new Cryo-plex battleground, and even murmurs about a possible new raid on the horizon. Social players get a boon in Neighbourhoods, where 5 friends can stitch their housing plots together into one uber-community. There’ll also be that Loyalty program to reward players who’ve been with WildStar the longest, although we’ve yet to see what’s on the menu.

Grey Clouds on Nexus

While there’s a lot about WildStar that’s changing, including several items I’ve not touched on, there are several key unknowns remaining. We know that mounts and pets will be available to buy from the new item shop, but we don’t know if they’ll be account bound or just character bound. We also don’t know if there are any plans to revamp chat channels and improve the discovery of guilds and circles.

The bigger question is about the ongoing Nexus story, which seems to have been on hold since the events around the Defile and Omnicore-1. There are also the missing world events, such as Shade’s Eve and Foundation Day, which I’m desperately hoping will show up as new content once the transition is complete. New content is the lifeblood of any themepark MMO, and WildStar will be needing a fresh injection in the fall to keep veteran players interested.

On the subject of new content, there’s also the wider question of how Carbine will provide players with new content in a Free-to-Play world. Will they choose the same path as stablemate Arenanet, and only charge for Expansion-sized updates? Or will they take a Secret World-style approach, and offer every episode as optional bonus content? There’s also the question of how Free-to-Play players can get their hands on NCoin, and if it’ll be possible to convert CREDD in that way.

Ultimately, those answers can’t be far off. Carbine is planning to share their Free-to-Play plans in a beta, and players will undoubtedly provide their feedback on how all the new systems work. For me though, the biggest question will be ‘does it still feel WildStar?’ As long as it does, nothing else matters.


Gareth Harmer

Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” 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.