The Evolution of the MMO and Why It Excites Me

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So why am I excited about Wildstar?  First, any World of Warcraft player should be excited about Wildstar.  It’s being developed by a bunch of ex-WoW developers at Carbine Studios and the work they’ve published has looked really good so far.  Let’s get into what I know and hopefully I’ll be able to explain why Wildstar is an evolutionary step up from WoW.

The game has an excellent marketing team and strategy in place.  Regular updates and great info dumps really pump up excitement, and this much attention being placed into marketing bodes well for other aspects of the game.  The game is set in a sci-fi/fantasy universe on a new planet (Nexus) that needs to be colonized.  This set-up is very well thought out.  It allows the dev team to incorporate multiple MMO genres into a single environment.  In Wildstar, you get everything from fantasy, to medieval, to steam punk, to high tech, to sci-fi, all in one place.  This gives the game a much broader range of artistic styles and periods to draw from.

The art of the game itself looks great.  It’s very cartoonish, which I’m actually quite happy about.  No need to bog my machine down with gritty realism animated to show all the browns inside the other browns in the world.  I like color and wildstar is very colorful.

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Game play appears to be based around the holy trinity of tank, healer, and dps with a focus on 5 man teams.  So at first glance it feels very familiar to what WoW already does.  Movement and combat incorporate some new elements to it that are very non-traditional for an MMORPG.  And yes, Wildstar is specifically an MMORPG.  It must be stated explicitly, otherwise confusion can ensue.  Combat attacks now have a visible field of effect (think of it similar to an aoe field for single target and multi target attacks, though specifics on this are a bit fuzzy still).  The combat field of effect will now appear whenever you hold down on the button you have your attack mapped to.  When you let go, the attack fires off in the field that you see.  This makes the player actually aim the field in the direction they want the attack to go.  The Wildstar devs proclaim this as a way to help differentiate between high-skill and low-skill players.  By forcing the player to think about positioning, attack direction, range, and a host of other factors while in combat.  Movement itself has some interesting additional features beyond the good ole wasd and jump keys, including a side jump, and a dash/sprint command that allows for faster running over short distances.

combat

Now if all of this sounds a bit FPS to you, I get that as well.  While I’m a fan of tabbed targeting (mostly for the low level of skill required), I’m willing to give Wildstar’s system a try.  Especially if they can smooth the edges of it out enough so that it remains fun without turning too much into a run and gun kind of system.  It also remains to be seen if low-skill players can excel in this system or will always be at a disadvantage (this will be a problem, if only elite players can enjoy/excel at the game).  Time will tell.  But, the fact that they’re incorporating all of these various elements into their game play in an attempt to create something new, is very interesting to me.  It speaks to a desire to grow the genre in ways that we haven’t thought of yet.

But the combat system is just one of the items that the dev team has spent a significant amount of time thinking about and tinkering with.  You can tell from the level of polish and functionality built in that almost nothing goes into the game that isn’t vetted against multiple factors in deciding it’s playability.  Racial choice come to mind as I write this.  They just recently announced the last two races in the game and there are now a total of 8.  They include snooty-stuck-up humans, hillbilly hick humans, rock men/bricks, feral beast men, cat girls (actually called Auren in game and they are bunny girls not cat girls, but it’s the same thing, don’t even argue), terminator robots, undead, and furry “cute” goblins (as far as sadistic animal creatures can be cute).  None of the races are named the way I named them in that last sentence, but in that one sentence I’ve been able to create an image in your mind, instantly, of what you have available to play.  This speaks highly of the devs ability to create something unique and interesting.  I can describe all of the races with one or two words and you instantly know what they are.  Clever thinking.

Classes are in the same boat.  Four have been officially announced, with 2 more promised soon. They include, fighter, stalker, gun mage, and psychic.  Again these are not the actual names of the classes (except for stalker), but you already know what each of them are just with the descriptions I’ve provided.  Clever thinking indeed.

Other features we know about include housing.  You’ll be able to build your own base.  There’s even talks of being able to build a PvP base to fight other guilds with.  I hate PvP but even I am intrigued by the ability to create a giant fort of death and destruction and then pit teams against it.  But back to housing.  Housing is one of those MMO things that players always ask for, but devs never provide.  Not enough bang for the buck, we’re usually told.  Only a sub-set of the player base uses player housing when we put it in, so why cater to such a small genre?  Wildstar has one of the best, most interesting, and exciting housing systems I’ve seen.  Plug-in nodes for farming resources on your plot of land, quest hooks and random encounters built right in, and house customization that is as good as any system I’ve seen, including the ability to control ambient lighting.  Ambient lighting people!

It also has a feature that WoW had that I LOVED that’s got me very excited.  I wish more games allowed for this kind of alteration but alas it is not to be.

In Wow, I could take the stock user UI, which looked like this:

before

And turn it into this:

atrest

All those changes were made with small add on programs that were designed to let me play with the user interface.  This was a fascinating exercise for me as it really forced me to think about what kinds of information I wanted to display, and how I managed it on a screen.  UI design became a minor hobby of mine while I played WoW, and I was always frustrated that I couldn’t get more of my characters up to max level to play with their designs based on class.  Regardless, Wildstar will have this feature built in at the get go.  Because UI design is as awesome as ambient lighting.

The feature I’m most excited about in Wildstar though, is Paths.  Some of you (okay one or two) may remember an early blog post of mine here where I mentioned the Bartel Test of what kind of gamer you are.  Carbine has built out a system based on that, that basically sets the career “path” of your character.  Four paths are available and one of the things that most excites me about them is that they are character specific and you can only ever have one.  Aside from all the cool specific path quest content that these paths will have, this will also improve both character uniqueness and re-playability.  A game that allows for a more unique character is something I’ve talked about before, and that makes me very excited.

I’ve always felt that one of the biggest mistakes of WoW was to get rid of their class specific quests that existed in the game.  The logic behind this was again, small subsets of players do the quests.  You’re making content that not everyone in the game will see.  So instead they moved away from gated content based on player choices and instead made everything available in the open world.  While this does allow you to hit the biggest group of people and get the biggest bang for your development buck, it’s a huge knock against re-playability.  Who wants to level a second character all the way to max level again, playing through all the same content as you did the first time?  It’s become tedious, boring, and promotes a type of gamer attitude that I think has helped to give many MMO’s the bad name they’ve earned when it comes to player communities (fairly or not).

So “paths” will add a dimension of game play that helps to make characters more unique.  Provided the path quests stay fresh in a similar manner as the main core content, it should be a solid system for years to come.  Some will argue that this is just a trade skill system on steroids, but even if that’s true, it’s still light years ahead of the WoW skill system.  In the Mists of Pandaria expansion, I actually saw how the dev team had built in a system to allow you to speed level your way to max level for the cooking skill.  Think about that.  The Wow skill system is so bad that the WoW devs are actually coding in ways to bypass conventional leveling of the skill.  What does that say about that system?

Now, a lot of how well this actually works will depend on how well Carbine Studios executes on the project.  But there is also a big nasty elephant in the room,that I’ve been avoding.  Carbine Studios is owned (or at least directed by) NCSoft.  Yes, that NCSoft.  Now before you all get out your big hypocrite signs and start lighting your torches, let me remind you that while I’ve stated for a long time that NCSoft doesn’t deserve my money, I’ve also stated that when we find real innovation, and creative thinking in the genre that we need to support it.  And Wildstar is doing a lot of things correctly right now, and they’re also trying very hard to push the envelope in terms of giving players something new and different and actually worth playing.  That deserves support.  Even if they are being backed by the great Satan.  If I ever do make it to the Beta boards you can bet that I’ll be searching for signs of whether or not the Carbine team has put any thought into what happens if the NCSoft axe swings at them.  It would be nice if they had some built in protection (similar to Arenanet) from that axe, but I suspect that whatever leeway they get will depend on how successful the game actually is.

But I think it has a chance of being quite successful.  And if the dev team is able to deliver on the promises of their marketing team, then I may have just found my temporary home until my new City gets built.  We will see.

And if I do end up being an NCSOFT supporter for this, well.  All I can say is:

 

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One Response to The Evolution of the MMO and Why It Excites Me

  1. Pingback: Reports From the Field » EverQuest Next and Why I Want to Play It

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