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Preview: Starkeepers Aims To 'Push The Boundaries' Of The Traditional MMO Framework

Joseph Bradford Updated: Posted:
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Wolfpack Games aims to build an MMO that "pushes the boundaries" of the MMO genre in its upcoming title, Starkeepers

"Starkeepers is an action-packed multiplayer set in this mythological realm with space-time magic where you can mold the course of how the narrative plays out," Wolfpack CEO and co-founder Stephen Wang told MMORPG in the demo. 

This idea of doing something different, something that pushes those boundaries is something Wang and his team were pretty adamant about during our half-hour demo that showcased some of the mechanics coming to the MMO when it launches into early access next year. 

Wang says the team has taken inspiration from other game genres out there and "adapted" them all in to a more traditional MMO framework. From building bases to defend in large guild versus guild battles, to exploring dungeons with support for up to twenty players exploring together. 

In the preview build shown to MMORPG.com by the Wolfpack Games team, the team showed off some of the combat that players will be diving into when the MMO launches. Starkeepers' combat is action combat inspired that might remind players of other titles like Black Desert or New World. You've got a set of skills to activate, as well as a stamina bar to manage, all while you're trying to take out your opponents in a frenzied dance of death.

It was a very early build, but the combat itself looked alright, considering. Being able to nimbly dodge out of the way of an oncoming attack, or even air-dodge provides some extra maneuverability to each character. Additionally, each attack and skill can be blocked, though an ultimate skill can easily break through your opponents' defenses. 

Combos also play a huge role in combat, and learning how to string them together could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Starkeepers' combat doesn't just stop at player versus player, steel on steel. Base building and defense play a huge role here too, with the Wolfpack team showing off some of the building mechanics and siege warfare. Each building piece has its own separate health bar, allowing you to knock down walls, destroy buildings, or anything player built-in your path to take over a rival guild's position in a Starkeep siege. You'll use large turrets such as a gatling gun, cannon (and even a laser beam) to do the work on your way towards victory.

You'll need to gather the resources as well to build the structures to defend, adding a bit of survival and crafting elements to the MMO as well. Alliances (groups of guilds) will build fortresses, called Starkeeps, to defend against rival alliances in larger-scale PvP battles. In these battles your Starkeep and the rival alliance's will be linked, meaning how you build your keep will matter greatly in whether or not your opponent will be able to break through to win the siege.

"You are able to build this castle, this fortress, brick by brick," Wang explained. Players will decide the layout of the castle, laying down the walls, where you put your turrets and traps, gate, drawbridge, and much more. These fortresses can function as homes for your alliance, giving you places for mount sharing, a Senate Hall for Starkeepers' voting system, and more. You can even build and stack buildings on top of each other, though Wang says there will be a height limit to prevent endless towers to the heavens.

The voting system allows players to determine laws, but guilds will also to determine taxation on resources, how to construct their Starkeeps, manage a player-driven, free-market economy and more. Wolfpack Games is designing Starkeepers to be a fully social experience in more ways than just smashing two armies of players against each other.

Who exactly you'll play in Starkeepers is one of the pillars of the world Wolfpack Games is building. Taking the role of a Starkeeper, players are effectively anthropomorphic animals called Astrals. These Astrals - described by the developers as "high dimensional beiges capable of space-time magic" are tasked with defending against cosmic threats. In the build shown there were only two heroes on display, though Wang states that when the MMO hits early access there should be around 10-12 heroes to choose from.

You'll level these characters up and your actions and decisions in Starkeepers will influence how these characters are built. Traits, both positive and negative traits, will be given to your character as you progress with them, making each of your Astrals unique to you. 

Aside from PvP, Starkeepers is planning season-based PvE stories for players to discover through dungeons and more. Interestingly, Wang describes a system where player choice - both individually and collectively - will influence the quests you receive, or whether you receive them at all. Your actions in the world determine the story you play in a way that builds a unique narrative for the player it sounds like.

"The way that quests are done in this game is actually that they are pushed to you. Instead of you going up to a person and ask for a mission, [you] actually get kind of a push notification," Wang explained. "But only certain people may get it because it depends on your previous decisions and actions that are done in the season." 

Wang went on to describe that players might even receive a rare, legendary quest that is usually done with a larger group of players. He says that the team hopes the uncertainty of getting one of these quests brings back some of the excitement of questing, versus a system where everything is there for everyone, at any time.

"The fact of the uncertainty of you getting [a legendary quest] I think brings back a little bit more excitement when it comes to questing, because when it's available everyone, anytime, it kind of loses the excitement a little bit."

It's very early on, but what Wolfpack Games is trying to build sounds interesting. Whether this approach to questing will endear itself to fans will obviously remain to be seen. The team is promising both your individual and the players' collective actions will influence the narrative each season, but will the idea of not receiving quests because of your actions turn some players away? It's an approach I'm not sure has been done, or at least done well, in an MMO to date, so I'm eager to see how Starkeepers balances this when it hits early access.

Starkeepers is aiming for early access on PC in 2023, though it's not ruling out consoles or even mobile at later time. 


Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore