Pulling Back the Curtain
During PAX Prime 2012, which seems so long ago now, I had the chance to sit down and Carbine Studios’ Chad Moore (Lead Narrative Designer) and Mike Geldard (Global Brand Manager) to talk about what the team on Wildstar has been up to since unveiling the game last year. The short answer? A whole lot. The long answer I’ll try to divvy out in the next few paragraphs. One thing’s for certain though: what we know about Wildstar is about to grow exponentially as the team told me they’re planning on revealing more and more as we round out 2012 and head into 2013. The curtain has only begun to be pulled back at PAX, and already we’re drooling for more.
AN OPEN WORLD AND COMBAT
After showing me once more the recently released “Housing Trailer”, Mike and Chad explain to me just how much personality matters to the game. It’s everything. They realize that not everyone will take a shine to the “Pixar-esque” world of Nexus and its pioneering inhabitants, but they also know that a game needs its own identity and that’s certainly something Wildstar has in spades. Chad reminds me about Nexus, once inhabited by the mysterious Eldar. But they disappeared, and the planet has only recently been uncovered. Now everyone from every corner of the galaxy is racing to it to uncover its secrets and unearth its hidden powers.
Our in-game demo (I was not piloting as I had at PAX last year) begins in Algoroc, a level 6-14 zone that is right next to the Northern Wilds, a snowy site where we spent last year’s PAX Prime playing. Chad takes our Aurin Esper high above the ground with his dev powers and shows us the Northern Wilds in the distance. It’s here that I’m reminded how Nexus will be completely seamless and open. No zoning from one area to the next. There will be instancing used for some dungeons (though many encounters will take place in the wide open reaches of the world), but by and large players will be able to walk from one corner of the world to the next without seeing a loading screen.
Chad and Mike then remind me that a lot of work has gone into the combat since I last saw the game. A year ago it was standard tab-targeting with a fair amount of dodging when enemies gave off tells of their attacks. Now, the game uses something called “Free Form Targeting”. The best way for me to describe this is that it’s like SMITE. You can still target something like you normally would only now many of your skills and attacks will have areas of effect. There’s one spell for the Esper that has several magical daggers shooting out at the enemy, and it takes up a column of space so that anything in the area, not just one enemy will be hit. Other attacks might be conical; some may be able to be targeted on a specific area, and so forth. All the while you’re able to freely move while fighting, and indeed must do so to stay alive.
The enemy has just as many location based attacks as you do, and as we’re shown a low level boss of Algoroc named “Stalagmite”, I see just how challenging the action is going to be in Wildstar. There are telegraphs for just about every enemy in the game, things they do before they attack, and indicators on the ground where you shouldn’t be when the animation is over. When you’re lower level, the telegraphs and animations take longer, giving you time to react. But as you grow in power, the enemy becomes less forgiving and you’ll soon find that your reflexes are going to be your best tool of survival. It’s all very action-oriented, without becoming a button mashing effect. You’ll have to pick your best skills for each group of enemies, just as they’re programmed to pick their best, and the victor will be the one who can out maneuver the other. Oh, and you can program your dodge to be any button you want, or even my personal favorite: “the double-tap”.
THE WORLD’S A CHARACTER
Another thing that’s very important to Carbine’s vision is that the world of Nexus have as much character as the cinematic trailers have. Every single zone in Nexus will be distinct from the last. Landmarks will pepper the world and create a way for players to know where they’re at in the world. From the loftite cliffs (a floating mineral) of Algoroc you’re able to see the snowy mountain peaks of the Northern Wilds, and you can run and climb your way to them if you’re of the mind.
The Explorer Path (think of paths as a secondary class for your character) will be able to discover vistas using beacons. They’re similar to what we see in Guild Wars 2 recently, unveiling a sweeping cinematic of the surrounding area. Only on top of that, they act like breadcrumbs for the Explorer path as well as tending to point out another area for the player to discover, explore to, and receive rewards from. One example we’re shown points Chad in the direction of a well-hidden cave that would previously have been easy to miss entirely. Mike tells me that locations like this are littered throughout every zone, and that while Explorers have the tools to truly utilize them, there will be reasons for all players to explore: rewards and the like for the brave and ingenious.
But the world being a character of the game doesn’t end with just pretty landscapes. Even trade-skilling is affected by this design. While the guys weren’t ready to show off every crafting part of the game, one thing they were particularly proud of was the mining. Yes there are still nodes all over the world to collect from, but in Wildstar you never know what you’re going to get when you drive that pickaxe into the stone. Sometimes it will just yield ore while other times you’ll find that the deposit is actually a creature and will have to fight it to get the harvest. And on very rare occasions, you’ll find an Ore Worm, a giant mini-boss like creature that sprouts from the ground ripe with ore all over its hide. If you defeat it, you actually get to go into the body of the worm (a private instance) where loot, tons of resources, and more can be found. Talk about making the simple act of harvesting ore more interesting, eh?
THE WORLD STORY
Throughout the game, players will run into areas, even in lower level places, that they can’t hope to survive. We see one behind a town called “Gallow” in Algoroc at an archeological dig. There’s an absolutely giant Eldan Robot that has been reactivated by accident and is now terribly pissed. He’s trying to break free from a set of massive doors in the ground, and tons of smaller robots are stationed all over. He’s right there out in the open world, this giant, powerful, open-world endgame boss. Players will be led back into and around all areas of the game world once they’re at the cap to face these challenges as a part of the World Story. Carbine has months and months of these bosses and events planned out for players after launch. I was shown a few others as well, but to avoid spoilers let’s just say that they only get larger in scope. This is one of their many plans for “Elder Game” content, and Mike and Chad both wanted to make sure that what we take away from this is again the focus on the “open world”, as opposed to hiding it all away in instances. That’s key to the world of Nexus feeling like a world.
I did get a few more details out of the guys before our tour was over. For instance, all crafting will be interactive like mining. Not all of it will involve crafting, but the role of the crafting system is to make sure it’s all engaging and not just “collect and create”. It’s also very important to the team that the things players make will drive the economy and be useful across the board. I mention housing, and they tell me that they can’t show more than the trailer yet but that yes… housing just might be a great way to make crafting more useful.
There are also mounts out the whazoo, as evidenced by the motorcycle we saw the Human riding in the recent housing trailer (also the same one from the reveal cinematic). I asked the guys about monetization for Wildstar, and I got a very smile-ridden talk about how they’re watching the market, the way it’s evolving, the way recent subscription releases have struggled… and they’re still deciding. Mike, being the Global Brand Manager, simply smiled and said no comment when I flat out asked “So, you’ve been watching ArenaNet too then, I assume?” It’s not something Carbine said flat-out, but I would be very surprised if Wildstar didn’t launch with some sort of Free-to-Play model in place.
Overall, I was absolutely stunned by how much the game has changed since PAX 2011. It was fun in its alpha state then, and while it’s still technically in “alpha” now I couldn’t help but think I was watching a near-finished product. But that’s the thing. Even with all the guys showed me at PAX this year, the game’s still got so many more secrets to share. More races, more classes, more paths to unveil. The other player faction, crafting, housing, and so much more. It was one of the best titles on the show floor shortly after its unveiling a year ago. And that hasn’t changed in twelve months time. It’s only gotten better and better looking, and I for one am glad that Wildstar’s many layers are beginning to unfurl. Carbine is definitely onto something, and Wildstar is a game to watch.