The Evolving Battleground
The gloves were off. Last week, Carbine Studios asked me to defect to the US, as part of a WildStar PvP lineup against my European industry colleagues. The venue: a revamped and retooled Walatiki Temple, freshly released to eager beta testers. Playing for the Dominion, we were out to win.
Heading up the US team was Kevin Lee, WildStar’s Battleground and Arena Feature Designer. After the clash of journalistic titans was over, I managed to catch up with both him and Lead PvP designer Jen Gordy to talk about how battleground combat has evolved during beta and tease out some post-launch hints. If you want to know about what WildStar’s PvP will look like on June 3 and beyond, read on.
We weren’t the only ones with a Carbine expert in our ranks: the European Exiles were boosted by Lead Combat Designer Chris Lynch. The contest would be best of three matches, with the winners claiming full bragging rights. Our chances didn’t look good though – with the Dominion one player short of a full team of ten, an Exile victory looked almost certain.
While I’ve been having a blast in Walatiki Temple, the battleground has gone through a mixture of subtle and significant changes. There were changes to spawn timers and starting each team off with a mask each, but PvP week also introduced some crucial tweaks to the map layout. According to Lee, much of this is based on beta feedback.
“As we got more people in, people expressed that they thought it was a bit too small for 10v10, and that there were too many choke points. With the revision, I really wanted to keep that in mind: expand the fighting area, and add line-of-sight blockers so that the bottom area isn’t as much a pit of death. It still is, but now you have some breaks, because now you can jump behind rocks to get a temporary reprieve.”
Some of the spawning buffs have also moved location, encouraging players to think more tactically about how they get around. A cave has also been added next to each faction’s mask room, cutting down on those choke points and making it easier for opportunists to sneakily steal a mask. “That was also a problem – you’d come out and be dogpiled. Unless you had a good support escort, the likelihood that you’d make it was pretty slim.”
Although we only experienced the more major shifts in beta, Jen Gordy explained how Carbine has heavily refined WildStar’s PvP. “We tend to take our iterations fairly seriously. For battleground and arena maps, we’re doing a number of playtests internally, driving our employees crazy because they want to actually work and not do battlegrounds sometimes. But we’re constantly looking at the feedback, making small tweaks, then pushing it out to beta, and running the same thing with beta feedback.”
“Unfortunately our players don’t get to see a whole lot of that, because they see lump change all at once - what you saw were big packages of changes. And that will continue for any post-launch revisions we do too.”
Back in-game, and we were discussing strategies before the first match. I was hooked up with a Mechari Warrior, a class I was familiar with but not an expert at. Our plan was to form a healer-DPS-heavy DPS strike team to steal masks, with minimal defense and the rest tying up the center. Unfortunately our defense was mismatched, with both specced as support hybrids. It was a mistake that the Exiles pounced upon, quickly stealing and stacking up the masks. Before we had a chance to regroup and reassess, they’d pushed us out of the pit and won the first game.
PvP For Everyone
This time, I was going to take the fight to the Exiles. Picking up a Medic and Esper, we sneaked around the edge of the pit and into the Exile cave, hoping to snatch an early mask. Unfortunately, our enemies packed a solid defense – not enough to take us out, but enough to stop us from stealing. So we stayed there, racking up the kills while they threw a steadily growing number against us. While we distracted half the opposition, the rest of the Dominion cleaned up midfield, picking up spawned masks and keeping the Exiles out. And, as they made a last-ditch attempt to switch tactics and push back, we stole. And won, drawing level.
Even though we were using voice comms and playing as a fixed team, WildStar’s battlegrounds are aimed at the more casual end of the PvP spectrum, with Gordy explaining how they’ve broken it down. “We kinda had targeted goals for each of the environments. When you’re looking at arena, we want something that’s fast, frenetic, we want something that people are really going to enjoy in a competitive sense, but we wanted to start out with a very basic map and work up from there.”
“For battlegrounds, we wanted to cater towards the casual experience, in just being able to hop in, find a match that was competitive and didn’t feel like it was completely one-sided, short – we wanted to make sure that they take, at most, 15 or 20 minutes to complete, so that you can come home, play a couple of games and feel satisfied with your night.”
“For Warplots we really wanted to take the approach of this being a raid-style thing. If it was PvE, it’d be a huge 40-man raid, and the strategies along with it. Now with PvP, let’s take two 40-man groups, put them together, and have a lot of customization, strategic and tactical play that goes on during that match. So it’s really just an awareness of what the audience is for all of those core features, building off the WildStar combat mechanics, and iterating for fun.”
On the subject of Warplots, I asked Gordy if there had been any feedback from beta testers. “Through most of it, it’s been trying to communicate both in-game and on the forums how the system actually works. We’ve only had a couple of playtests done on Nexus [the closed beta server] right now, but we have a core group of testers on another server that we’ve been running tests with fairly frequently. I’m certainly looking forward to players being able to play a little bit more, and get the feel for what the system is”
That hasn’t stopped her from trying to improve the Warplot experience further. Much of it is on the engineering side, with the feature having several optimization passes to reduce framerate issues, and graphical engineers have also got involved to try and reduce client-side lag. Beyond the technical, Warparties are being continually examined, from adjusting the number of starting warpoints so that more tools can be bought, to tweaking various node bonuses.