Wildstar Hands-On - PAX 2011

By Alexander Bevier in Hands-on, PAX 2011
Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:00 pm
wildstar.jpg
Wildstar
is a game you should be aware of*. This is one of those next- generation MMOs made by a team of guys who have worked on almost every other MMO over the last decade. In other words, these guys know what people don't like in MMOs, and are working on a unique new virtual world without any of those holes. It's taken roughly ten years for the developers to get to this point, and gamers will soon start reaping the benefits.

Carbine Studios was formed around four years ago, and have been working on this game ever since. The team -- originally composed of World of Warcraft veterans -- wanted to create a title with their unique artistic vision. This goal has created a world filled with lighthearted humor and abominable snowmen with bangs covering their eyes. These four years have been mostly devoted to back-end work, and now the game is taking shape. 

Now that I'm done talking about how good the game looks, let's talk about the game's structure, which is much more important in the long run, and also incredibly well implemented. 
Now, in several of the many game design lectures I've attended over the years, some people dedicate a lot of time talking about psychographics. In a nutshell, psychographics define what players like doing in games. Some people like to optimize their characters for PVP, some like to explore every inch of the map, some people like the social mechanics, etc. It's pretty interesting stuff. Google it if you don't have a chance to see a game designer talk about it.

Anyway, a good MMO will find a way to make every one of these psychographical players happy. Wildstar does that from the get-go with the Path system. Once players choose their race/class (this wasn't in the PAX demo, but was confirmed later), they decide what they're doing on Wildstar's foreign planet. Are they explorers? How about soldiers? Settlers?

These decisions lay out what quests players will receive in the game. Explorers will spend more time looking for places to locate communication beacons. Soldiers will shoot more things. Also, each one of these paths are designed and intertwined with the other player's quests, so soldiers do need explorers to help them do certain things. That sort of thing promotes synergy.

Now that all the interesting inner stuff is discussed, let's talk about actually playing the game!

Wildstar is a sci/fi MMO. This lets players carry cell phones. Why is this important? Because you no longer have to walk to quest givers! They just call you. This is a massive innovation when you think about how much time you ran from point A to point B in Azeroth to give a guy those pig intestines.

Additionally, quests happen in this game almost spontaneously. There are abundant quests hidden around the quest area you're already in. As you're doing that initial quest, a notification will show up challenging you to kill the mobs you were already killing faster. Then, once you finish the one initial quest, the giver will call you and ask you to kill something a little bigger down the road. All of this works really well do drive players deeper into the world, while not thinking about the predictable (and often weak) aspects of MMOs.

The 40 minutes of quests I played felt perfectly fine, but it's too early to really discuss what I did with any critical detail. Most of my attacks and actions will probably change, but the game looks and plays fine. It has some really interesting mechanics built around dodging attacks that makes the game more reflexive that the usual MMO. Wildstar also has brilliant animation. It's a lot of fun to watch characters move around in the game.

No release date is announced for Wildstar, but keep an eye on it. This is definitely a title that could become a big thing.


*I'm not saying that because the game's art director worked on Jak and Daxter, therefore it's really nice and nostalgic to look at Wildstar. There's other stuff to this game, but you should be reading my post to hear about this, and not just my footnotes.
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