Paths of Glory: A Wildstar Preview

By Alec Meer on February 13th, 2013 at 10:00 pm.

Recently I played several hours of NCSoft’s next big MMORPG, Wildstar. Developed by an MMO supergroup of sorts, with ex-Blizzard and Mythic folk staffing its highly experienced team, it aims to make this oddly static genre fresh again. WE SHALL SEE.

It’s an MMORPG. Other games of late have almost shied from the title, but Wildstar makes no bones about what it is, how concerted an effort it is to appeal to a particular sort of gamer. I can respect that: at least it’s not pretending to be something other than it is, unlike some of its recent peers. If you say “it’s another MMO” to it, it will look you square in the eye and say “yes, yes I am, what of it?”

In fact, it’s trying to out-MMO every other MMO. Not with big talk of moving narratives or ever-changing worlds, but by ramping up the unreal theme pack nature of its peers and predecessors. This is a game where you’re constantly presented with a legion of things to do, numbers to increase, boxes to tick, things to collect, factions to impress, points to earn, monsters air-dropped in to battle without warning and/or preferably all of the above simultaneously. It might even be too much, too overwhelming in its parade of sideshows. It’s difficult to gauge this even after a solid afternoon of playing with a recent build, partly because I was dropped straight in to level 6 and partly because my motives in playing a game at a press event are so different to my motives in my playing a finished game privately.

See everything! Run about! Try everything! Kill! Jump! Collect! This was as opposed to investment in my character’s future. Because this could only be a self-contained afternoon of play, I wasn’t selective about what I did, didn’t worry that I’d made wrong, or at least inefficient, decisions, because I knew my character would cease to exist in a matter of hours. Would you kindly keep that in mind throughout this piece?

In a big way, the build of Wildstar I played last week wasn’t enormously different from the one I did at GamesCom last summer, which I would imagine speaks to a clear, determined development plan. There was much more in there, in terms of both content and polish, but the key concept and look was the same. There are two major differences to tell about you, though. The first is these guys:

We’ve already met Wildstar’s goodies, the Exiles, and now their opposite takes centre-stage. The Dominion are Wildstar’s Horde analogue – nominally the baddies, although though don’t consider themselves so. As you can tell from the above, they are more openly boo-hiss than Warcraft’s noble savages, and hopefully that playfulness will carry into the game proper. I didn’t get too much sense of such flavour from the stuff I played, but again I was busy nosing at systems rather than trying to establish myself in its colourful world. My means of experiencing said systems was newly revealed Dominion race the Draken, and newly-revealed class the Stalker. Which is less to do with making unrequited love interests feel deeply uncomfortable and more about being a rogue/stealth sort:

A fast, responsive melee character, in other words, with specs focused on either damage or evasion. What that video doesn’t show is the second major addition since the last time I saw/played Wildstar: reactive combat. While Wildstar obviously has many, if not all, of the traditional hallmarks of a post-World of Warcraft MMO, it’s not the plodding, hotbar-centric combat you might expect. Active evasion and near-constant movement is required in fights with even the lowliest beast, with broadcasted attack patterns and damage radiuses requiring you to pay attention, react and dive out of harm’s way throughout.

Sure, it’s nothing novel within the grander sphere of videogames, but it lends the adrenaline and engagement of a third-person action game to proceedings – very different to so many of its more mechanical, staccato peers. Each type of enemy has different attacks, and with it different cones, spheres and whatnot denoting where you’re going to get clobbered from, unless you can double-tap a direction to dodge, or perform a heroic jump, that sort of thing. Here’s some footage I cackhandedly captured myself showing this in action, though I’m afraid a) something in my recording settings made it all jerky and b) I’m not playing it all well. Also – and this is important – apparently the current UI is placeholder, so please just ignore any glimpses of that.

The area I played in was packed with differing threats, from the workaday angry wildlife to angry guys to roaming (in the open world) gigantic monsters which require a concerted effort from multiple players to beasts being dropped from the sky in crates then proceeding to attack whoever they happen to land next to. There’s also the Soldier path’s ability to conjure up on-the-spot horde mode fights, culminating in a boss. Plenty to do, basically – and I think that, for all the other high-falutin’ goals Wildstar might have, its greatest success may turn out to be simply keeping players engaged by cheerfully throwing endless activities their way.

Here’s another glimpse of combat, where I pitch ineptly in with a Soldier character’s fight, wherein he can summon an on the spot horde of enemies as part of his special Path abilities. Anyone can join in, and benefit from, these, and the game generally has a focus on unspoken, everyone-wins co-operation:

Combat is only an aspect of Wildstar, though. I’ve wittered about its ‘Path’ system several times before, and honestly you’re better off reading my earlier preview than suffer me impatiently try to summarise it yet again, but sadly the collector and socialiser paths still aren’t on show. It’s the latter I’m most interested in, as it relates to player-made housing and even towns, a much called-for former MMO mainstay that’s so often been abandoned by the post-2005 crop. I’m looking forward to seeing how that works, because if Wildstar is serious about catering to its players rather than vice-vera, it needs to get that stuff right.

What I did get to experiment with is the now-expanded Explorer path. This is designed to fulfil the wandering-free needs of those of us who tire of objective arrows and stabbing things in the face. What I’ve played is only level 6-ish fare, so hopefully more elaborate exploration awaits later, but so far I wasn’t convinced by it. Exploring in this instance meant following pop-up directives and performing a series of vaguely irratating jumping puzzles to, for instance, reach the top of a tall tree or a rock spire, then plant a beacon at a pre-ordained spot. A little something like this, in fact:

I don’t mind telling you that I fell off that tree so many damned times I had to go and drink a glass of beer to calm down, for fear I might go and shout at a passing developer. It’s not what comes to mind when I think about exploring in games, but I suppose it is in keeping with Wildstar’s general ethos to be activity-packed and loaded with quickly-obtained short-term rewards. Speaking to one of the devs in an interview afterwards, I was told of two things that might take exploring closer to my personal preference.

First of those is that the objective arrows for Explorer goals can be turned off, so it becomes about what you stumble across or where you intuit might have something lurking at the top/bottom of it, as opposed to simply heading where the quest tells you to. I like that – the concept of gazing at the hills and trees in the distance and thinking ‘I reckon that’ll have something.’ On the other hand, I know what I’m like – the knowledge, and attendant temptation, that I can be told exactly where to go, and thus get my points and prizes without wasting any time, will probably get the better of me.

The other thing I was told about exploring is that later in the game it might involve a little detective work. For instance, being told that someone went missing within an approximate area, then having to scout areound there to find out what happened to them with the help of environmental clues. It Exploring can keep up variety and summon up a regular sense of discovery, I’m all for it. If it’s all just jumping puzzles it’s quite simply not going to be for me, though.

I should say something about the game’s general look. It’s attractive, with a lot more detail and flash than even more recent MMOs such as SWTOR and The Secret World, though it’s hard not to argue that it knows exactly which particular game it wants to evoke even despite a more science-fictional focus. The area I played in, Deradune, is best described as a massively amped-up version of the Barrens, but littered with sprawling caverns, looming mountains and towering alien towns in addition to deserts and streams.

It looked great, but at the same time it was a bit too overtly Here Is An MMO Zone. It’s overtly game-y, with mad things happening all over the place, and there’s no way you could ever convince yourself this place actually existed. That’s OK, of course – I just want to warn you that Wildstar is a videogame which brazenly declares itself to be a videogame, as opposed to a virtual world. It’s a circus, with both the variety and the attention-hopping distractedness that might imply.

I suppose I worry that what it’s done is to deconstruct the MMORPG formula only to essentially put it back together the same way – that in attempting to identify why players tire of such games and how to stop that, it’s rammed the essential gotta catch ‘em ethos into overdrive, not re-invented it. It’s impressively determined not to let its players get bored, though, and to give those folk who love MMOs with all their hearts exactly what they want – and I say that without having seeing a huge portion of the distractions it promises.

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41 Comments »

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  1. Syra says:

    Does it not just look like WoW to anyone else?

    • Brun says:

      Well, yeah – he even mentioned that in the article.

      • yurusei says:

        Do people even still play that game? Feels like a million years since I’ve heard anything remotely about WoW

    • frightlever says:

      Agreed, and the look is putting me right off it. Blizzard “gifted” me (and like a squillion other people) the Battle Chest version of WOW on my DIII account a few months ago so I thought I’d try out a Gnome. I played WOW for three years from around the start and came back a couple of times but I lasted about forty minutes this time around. It’s like being offered something to eat that you once gorged yourself sick on one time – there’s no way to separate what it is from what it means to you. And WOW no longer means anything good to me.

      • soco says:

        I’m exactly in the same boat.

        I’m at the point where I’ve sworn off MMOs. I just can’t take them anymore. Too much of the; go here, do this, gather 10 rat tails.

        I still keep an eye on upcoming MMOs and Wildstar was one that I was curious about whether they were going to do something a bit different, but it seems like that will not be the case.

        • Syra says:

          Yes quite, I have a love/hate relationship with WoW and I have long been n the hate side of things, even though I was lured back atleast twice since the first burn out. I think I feel sick the way I feel when I look at a McDonalds 5 minutes after stuffing my face with pizza. That feeling that my body is actually revolted by the idea of it.

    • Rollin says:

      I actually saw the screenshot and assumed this was the name of a WoW expansion.

  2. gritz says:

    This looks like hot garbage.

  3. Dominic White says:

    Love the trailers, love the saturday morning cartoon vibe, watched the gameplay and it literally looks like a WoW reskin. It moves, sounds, looks and generally feels almost identical. I have this sinking feeling that we’re looking at SW:TOR Redux.

    As much flak as it catches around here, at least GW2 shook the formula up enough to make it feel distinctive, even if it’s not a pure action combat engine.

    • aliksy says:

      I failed a google-fu check: Is this going to be free to play or subscription? If it’s a subscription it goes right in the “lol no” category. If it’s free I’ll probably check it out. It can’t possibly be any worse than SWTOR.

      This was not supposed to be a reply to Dominic. Oops.

    • Nevard says:

      I’m the same, I really love both of their faction trailers but have absolutely no interest in playing the actual game.

    • Archipelagos says:

      The mini-trailers are superb. I couldn’t care less about the game but they have some really talented animators working for them and when it comes to MMO’s that’s a rare bird indeed.

  4. Teovald says:

    Not a big fan of the whole evil empire against nice resistants thing. I might be wrong, but I think it has already be done to death. Twice.

    • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

      Empire vs rebels in space. When an American dev does something like this and then picks British accents for the bad guys, it’s a notable flag for “No new ideas, tropes ahoy!” Given the apparent nature of the gameplay, though, it’s hardly surprising that they couldn’t come up with any new ideas for the plot/setting, either.

    • gritz says:

      Yep, just twice.

  5. P4p3Rc1iP says:

    Wow, this looks exactly like another MMO!

    Not too sure about the gameplay, it looks quite similar as well…

  6. BillygotTalent says:

    When I saw it first at Gamescom 2011 I thought this was a dumbed down version of GW2 for kids. Same fighting style but more friendly graphics.

    Well now I am not quite sure what to expect from it and I think I just wait till it is out to see what it does.

  7. mynsc says:

    Some say he’s still trying to climb up that tree, falling each time from a different leaf.

    • abandonhope says:

      I wanted to kill myself 169 times while watching that. This is not the game for me.

  8. Heliocentric says:

    Is there a way to filter all posts containing the “word” MMORPG from rps? Screenshot 3 kinda looks like a bloodbowl dark elf assassin, I approve.

  9. Eddard_Stark says:

    Although I am extremely tired of WoW-esque MMORPGs with all their tropes, I’ve been following Wildstar for quite some time and still foster hopes it will at least be a fun and entertaining experience. I picked it up on my radar years ago when I found out that several noticeable developers (including one of the better composers in the industry – Jason Hayes, now at Valve) formed this new studio, Carbine. They’ve supposedly worked on the game since 2005 which seems quite a while. I guess, one or two full re-dos in early stages happened.

    Anyways, like the art style and the setting – this is the biggest hook for me so far, kinda reminds me of the Titan A.E. animation movie (which was rough about the edges but I loved the atmosphere). Looks like a light-hearted but promising blend of fantasy and sci-fi with ancient mysteries, exploration and a bit of a cartoonish Wild West/Firefly vibe. I really dig it. Boy, it’s been a while since an MMO-setting got me excited, all wanting to go explore stuff, imagining what new places and vistas await.

    I really hope though the devs have some innovative game systems to show, especially concerning endgame, with a mix of themepark MMO-style (which we see plenty so far) and some sandbox elements (which we don’t yet and it makes me worried). Combat looks pleasantly fluid albeit a bit too much familiar, but we’ll see. Paths sound cool, hope it doesn’t get to formulaic. I’m a realist, maybe even a cynic in some cases but for some reason I am holding my fingers crossed for this one.

    P.S. Also, dear devs please bear in mind that innovative systems ≠ dailies and crazy grinds.
    P.P.S. Oh, and Tim Cain worked on this game.

  10. Alphadrop says:

    Reminds me more of Freerealms by way of Stormhawks aesthetically wise, capturing the exploration features of the former with the playfulness of the latter would make for a pretty nifty game.

  11. Shooop says:

    It looks to me like it is in fact just another craptastic hotbar MMO. There was a grand total of 4 moves. Kind of like another series of classes gameplay vidoes for a MMO that was supposed to be different…

    Why can’t MMO RPGs just die out already?

  12. DK says:

    It sounds and looks like they really didn’t get what people like about reactive combat and just copied the worst possible implementation. Constantly having to move is TERRIBLE with WoW MMO controls. Even normal stand still and hotbar with bar-increases-till-spell-pops combat is better than constantly-hold-right-mouse-button “reactive combat”. There’s a reason Guild Wars 2 has a dev approved mod that fixes their terrible control scheme.

    If they wanna do reactive combat right, they need to copy Cryptics Neverwinter 1:1 – which means no moving while attacking (except for those abilities where movement is a specific special thing they do), neither for the player, nor the enemy. Real dodging, not fake you-are-invulnverable-now dodging.

    • Caerphoto says:

      “There’s a reason Guild Wars 2 has a dev approved mod that fixes their terrible control scheme.”

      Say what? Where can I find this thing?

      Mind you, I remapped the keys to something more sensible than 1–9, so I don’t have to move my left hand at all. First 5 abilities on 1, 2, 3, Q, E, second 5 on Shift+E, Shift+1, Shift+2, Shift+3 and Tab, and the four 'toolbelt' abilities on Ctrl+E, Ctrl+1, Ctrl+2, Ctrl+ 3. Much more efficient.

      • Trithne says:

        It’s called the Combat Mod, and it’s not dev-approved at all. Officially, it violates their ToS. Unofficially, no-one’s been banned for using it, but they might well do so at any time.

  13. Geewhizbatman says:

    Yikes–The comment threads here are really pretty dismal huh? I get that people are burnt out from MMO hype and the likes but, it sounds like there really is no satisfying the community at this point. Make an interesting game in the wrong artstyle? Garbage! Make a highly realistic violent simulation using standard gameplay mechanics? Too similar!

    It looks to me like this is a game that is trying to do what all commercial products should do–Trying to broaden the boundaries of the mold without making too many huge, gambling leaps. The list of features so far (houses, paths with special attention to the hints of the “make the place around you better” Settler path, reactive resource gathering, PVP zone creation) all sound wonderful to me so far. It already seems like a better bet than GW2 was, which didn’t actually say it offered much of anything new but just repackaged a few things and people all of a sudden started smelling innovation. Wildstar does seem to be at least attempting new things and trying to do that repackaging in innovative ways. The path feature in and of itself already has me pretty much sold. The idea that the developers understand that people play their game in radically different ways and are attempting to cater to that reality is wonderful to me. The impression I get is that Wildstar is attempting to be an MMO that can be played cohesively by as many different types of players as possible. It is attempting to give its players as many options as possible, rather than less. I don’t understand how that could be a bad thing. But let’s say it is–It’s still something that I appreciate the devs for trying. I would much rather they say “Hey, let’s make this more open” rather than saying, “Ugh–These people who want to play this way are doing it wrong, let’s make sure they can’t.”

    Along with that, I greatly appreciate that every interview I’ve heard regarding Wildstar has had talk of “data.” That is to say that their gameplay is being informed by what players actually DO in their game, not what they say or report that they do. It means that the idea of anyone, even the players, knowing what they want is being tampered by the hard data of what the majority of their testers are actually doing with the game and watching how changes effect those statistics rather than using the (as these thread posts show) unreliable method of going with their gut. Simply relying on their forum or reporting community to give reliable data is difficult and doesn’t ever give the same broad understanding that overall gameplay data can. I appreciate that they seem aware of this and are letting it guide their development.

    The art style and setting is ya know–kind of not for everyone, so not really sure what could be expected on that front. Just like if you don’t like super heroes maybe you shouldn’t play a superhero themed MMO. With these arguments I think of the LoL vs Dota vs HoN debate. One of the biggest criticisms of LoL when it began gaining ground was that it’s artstyle was too cutesy and so serious gamers would never play it. Regardless of what you think of the mechanics, though I would argue it is the most streamlined of its genre, you can’t really say that it isn’t popular and I don’t think it’s because of the artstyle. I think it’s because the gameplay is well designed and enjoyable.

    Wildstar looks like the same thing to me. Sure it’s cutesy, which I personally enjoy (I like the element of art and craft at play in its design–I like games that look like games…too much realism seems to miss the grand opportunities that come with the ability to create whatever you want) but I am very certain that if these elements it claims to bring to the MMO scene are functional, that people will manage to get over it to have fun.

    Which fits in with the combat. I personally love the dynamic combat they’ve set up, even if that means that they have had to drop some of the diversity. Again, let’s use LoL. Sure, you only get four abilities (madness, RIGHT?!) but by using them in combination with an ever changing scenario and with different people those four abilities combine with the world to create endless possibilities. Adding movement and targeting gameplay into it sounds great. I’d much rather only having four abilities the entire game than to really only have six but have them get a little bigger, a little shinier, and make bigger numbers when they change names like in most MMOs. I’m also filled with giggle burps at the idea of ability point creation. The idea that I could set up a skill combo and my teammates could see it in color on the battlefield, rather than have to hear/watch me garble out my plan, they could just see it and react sounds elegant to me.

    TL;DR–Art quibbles aside, I’m incredibly excited for this game. It might be a flop, of course–that happens, but the ideas that these developers are trying to implement in such a packaged, marketable way is a kind of design mentality that I will always support.

    • aliksy says:

      Guild Wars 2 did a couple very important things. If an MMO doesn’t do them or something similar to solve the same problems, it’s too archaic.

      With an MMO, you want players to play together. Guild Wars 2’s automatic level scaling works reasonably well. I could take my max level elementalist and play along side my just-starting-out friends. I’d have a slight edge (the scaling wasn’t nearly aggressive enough), but it wasn’t me roflstomping everything. This is important. Really important. I’m much, much more likely to keep playing something if I can play with my friends.

      Of course, it doesn’t just make it so I can easily play with my friends (though that really helps staying power and recruiting potential), but it also means I can play with anyone I see. If I’m running through a lowbie area and I see a big monster fighting people, I can hop right in. I don’t have to worry about being the “wrong” level. At the same time, if I’m the lowbie, I don’t need to worry about some high level person one-hitting the boss and spoiling the event.

      This is closely tied to the grouping system. Don’t require grouping for people to play together. If I’m there, and you’re there, then that’s all we need. Let’s go fight some monsters, or climb some mountains, or whatever. Don’t let kill stealing be a thing. Don’t let me watch some dude get killed, unable to help, because we’re not officially grouped. Don’t give xp penalties or any bullshit for grouping.

      I don’t know if Wildstar does any of this, or if it has the boring-and-problematic traditional approach.

      I also don’t know if it’s free to play. Subscriptions are an immediate no-sale.

      Ah well. This is kind of my drum to bang on for MMOs.

      • ScubaMonster says:

        Not sure if you’re following GW2 at the moment, but they have announced they are working on level scaling in old zones to provide an even better experience to make your maxed out characters more on par with low level characters in those zones.

      • syndicatedragon says:

        I agree; I don’t think I could play another MMO that doesn’t have implicit co-op and level scaling.

    • frightlever says:

      The people commenting are potential players. GW2 comments were not universally positive before the game came out but they were largely positive afterwards. It may be the same this time, or it could be that GW2 is an anomaly from a gifted team and every other new MMORPG isn’t doing enough to become a mega-success. Maybe they don’t need to. Maybe MMORPGs, and “fantasy” ones in particular, will join RPGs and adventures in becoming genres that go through phases but never reclaim their original popularity.

      • f1x says:

        It might be,

        but the genere is still entirely enjoyable and there are plenty of “succesful” options now, the genere is definitely closer to estabilize again (not gonna have an explosive growth anymore thats for sure)

        The real problem was like 3-4 years ago, when every company was obsessed on releasing the “WoW killer” to get “Killed by WoW” instead, but now that the monopoly of WoW is breaking (or broken) chances are the we get some decent MMOs that push forward the genere a bit and not just plain clones of WoW
        I don’t think MMOs will be dying any time soon

  14. Jenks says:

    Looks like yet another on rails themepark turd where you follow the developer’s breadcrumb trail from character creation to endgame. I sure hope I’m wrong, because that hasn’t been fun for 8 years.

  15. frightlever says:

    “Actually I platform better after a couple of beers…”

    Face it, you’ve got a problem, Meer.

  16. Arglebargle says:

    NCSoft. If it requires giving them money for WildStar, I am so not there. Still mightily peeved at the ‘game killers’.

  17. Obc says:

    here is a great video on MMO’s and why Micheal Jordan ruined MMOs for everyone xD

    • soco says:

      I really like that video, thanks for sharing. Going to need to pass that along.

      He does a really good summary of what is wrong and what went wrong with MMOs. I don’t know if I agree with all of his suggestions on how to fix things or if they are the only ones, but this is really good.

    • Strangerator says:

      He makes some good points. I think the first thing that needs to happen is a “pure sandbox” modern MMO. It could even be a fantasy game, since Eve has the space front covered. The key is that it be a “simple to learn, difficult to master” type game. I also think that sandbox games wind up needing to do an Eve style billing system. Sandbox games need to be constantly tweaked and adjusted and managed so that they are always getting better. They are also not “content bombs” like WoW or GW2 (or single player games), where there is this finite amount of game you are buying.

      Here’s how you really sell it… the focus of the game could be PvD. Wha? is that a typo?

      Player versus Developer. Admittedly this is not new, but it would be a breath of fresh air in the stale genre. From time to time, the staff who work on the game would hop online to cause a little havoc. They would each get their own powerful/malevolent avatars with accompanying mobs, and would actively attack areas where players like to hang out, such as starting towns. Obviously you’d have some kind of warning system where you could run inside a building and be safer, but there should be a real threat to make these invasions seem like “really bad things.” NPC guards would do battle, but they would lose if not helped by coordinated player efforts. To really give these events some significance you can have actual losing conditions, like for example the “bad guys” capturing certain buildings. This could then lead to occupation and oppression, lasting consequences where the players would eventually have to “take back” cities. I also like the idea that invasion forces would be mixed… The dev controlled characters would be the top tier, then you’d have a mix of tough monsters and smaller fodder that even low level characters could potentially tackle. Maybe the big tough stuff keeps to the streets but the little guys actually will invade indoor areas?

      Merits of PvD – I really enjoyed all the freedom and options I had in Eve, but I never could figure out the “why.” Eventually, if I worked really hard, I could potentially become an important cog in a big corporation’s wheel and fight other players over… what exactly? What would be the point? http://roosterteeth.com/archive/?id=88 Not that there’s anything wrong with PvP, but making that the sole type of “end-game” content has been done, and isn’t for everybody.

      So I’m not saying that PvD would fix this motivation problem magically, but it would give players a common enemy worth teaming up to defeat. What’s more, there would actually be consequences for failure and victory without the feeling of fighting over a box canyon. It sort of mixes PvE and PvP. Perhaps most importantly, these “events” would happen once each, and be unique each time. They would become part of in-game canon, as would any worthy deeds performed by players. Having these events happen inside starting towns or in random “safe” areas provides players with their “why?” That answer being, “so I can be a bigger help next time.” It also gives newb characters the chance to marvel at higher level players teaming up to take down super-powerful foes.