The latest news out of WildStar’s new previews isn’t going to quiet people who dislike the concept of the game’s path system, nor will it stanch the flow of complaints about the game’s art style. Those of us simply waiting at attention, however, found ourselves rewarded this week with a wealth of new information, not to mention the best look we’ve yet seen at how the paths will work together in action instead of concept.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg; Jeremy Gaffney has said so many things that merit unpacking that it’s almost impossible to swallow some of the implications. There is, in fact, far too much to unpack in a single week. So I’m going to look at paths and start figuring out everything else next week.
I may also gush about the Mechari at some point. It’s like GLaDOS, Hal, and Starscream had a kid.
One of the things that’s impressed me so far about how WildStar handles its paths is that they’re not “class missions,” so to speak. We’ve already seen the diversity of content available to Explorers and Soldiers, but until now we didn’t have a clear picture of how many things Scientists and Settlers would have to do. We just knew that the former scanned stuff and the latter built stuff.
The problem is that if you give a path just one thing to do, it’s going to be boring and repetitive. Explorers inherit jumping puzzles, map completion, and location-hunting mechanics, meaning that you can focus on one or all three or two of three and still have a unique set of things to do. Scanning things endlessly didn’t exactly sound engaging for the long term.
Having seen both in action at long last and been told more about the mechanics, I believe the remaining paths have now come into their own. Scientists scan things, pick up sidequests, and even solve puzzles, something that I think has long been sorely missing in MMOs as a whole. That alone merits more digression, since I’ve seen only two games that have really tried to build in puzzles at a gameplay level, The Secret World and Dungeons & Dragons Online.
Dungeons & Dragons Online, unfortunately, frequently made puzzles into a roadblock in the midst of an otherwise normal mission. The Secret World solved that problem by making its puzzles into their own form of content, but it then shot that in the foot by making those puzzles absolutely insane. It’s very clever that you built a web browser into your game, but one of the first rules of making a puzzle is making sure that people can access the answer without a bunch of outside knowledge.
In other words, both games made me want to just look up the solution so I could get on with the part I enjoyed.
By contrast, the WildStar puzzles — both jumping and science-related — are not only optional but intended to not have a fixed solution. In other words, they’re something you can do if you want to, can avoid if you don’t, and they aren’t ever tied to a mandatory part of the game that grinds overall play down to a crawl. Sure, you might have been able to open a secret door, but if the Soldier just charges ahead heedless, you aren’t going to miss out on all the awesome.
Settlers, meanwhile, get to interact with towns as actual things. It’s not just building stuff in the wilderness because you need stuff; it’s realizing that Backwoods Junction needs to be more than two shacks and a fence. Of course, it’s also building stuff because it turns out a lot of people need to be four dozen miles out from Backwoods Junction but still need access to crafting tables and campfires.
The implications of Settlers in dungeons particularly excite me. Most dungeons provide the biggest challenge to groups in the form of grinding irritation, forcing people to run back after wipes and have a difficult time recovering after the same guy makes the same mistake on the same pull over and over and over. The whole function of a Settler isn’t to make those runs easier; it’s to reduce that irritation and thereby prevent group-splitting tensions from exploding.
Seeing the various paths interact in both homogeneous and heterogeneous forms also gives a clearer picture of just how interactive these different playstyles are. Scientists have reasons to tag along with Soldiers by having more targets to scan, while Soldiers get that much tougher against their foes with a Scientist backing them up. Explorers can lead everyone into strange directions, possibly to a place for a Settler to build a new transport hub and allow Soldiers to start clearing out new and exciting wildlife.
For roleplayers, this is an entirely new level of giving your character definition. You could easily play two Warriors with the exact same set of abilities and yet wind up in completely different situations by virtue of your path. For everyone else, if you want to play just one character, it’s a chance to focus on what you like most about MMOs. If you play a bunch of alts, it’s a chance to ensure that the same area doesn’t play the same. Literally no one loses out here.
If you’re wondering which path I’m going to be playing first? All of them. I create a lot of characters.