Ive been a pretty vocal fan of the Paths system in WildStar ever since it was first announced. Not only does it represent a very logical (and long overdue) nod to Bartles Taxonomy, but it also introduces another meaningful choice at the character level beyond the industry staples of class and race. It also gives Carbine a very interesting addition to their content creation toolbox, since each overland map in the game can consist of far more than the one-size-fits-all approach to questing and storylines.
A final - and for my gaming preferences at least - more interesting aspect of the system is the impact it has on replayability of content at all level ranges. Even if youre a hardcore fan of a specific class / race pairing lets say a human spellslinger by selecting a different path on a second run through with that same core pairing, youll have a different enough experience to warrant the time investment.
At present, on any given map Paths account for roughly 18-20% of the overall content available. An interesting byproduct of the entire system is that it also adds a layer of social gameplay that might not be readily apparent on the surface. While most overland content I came across at lower levels has been easily soloed, there will be plenty of incentive to group up with players from different paths.
There are some downsides to that same aspect of the system, however, so well be taking a closer look at those below as I relay my experiences while grouped as a duo with two Settlers. I was also able to spend a solid chunk of time playing the Scientist, so will start there before moving into impressions on the Settler, social implications, and the current state of the overall system.
The Scientist Path
During a brief presentation on the Paths system prior to my hands-on time, Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney described the Scientist as a Path that would appeal to the achiever types in MMOGs. I tucked this idea in the back of my brain pocket as I set out to explore a slice of Nexus on a low level Esper. If youre not familiar with the class names in WildStar yet, the esper is mainly a caster / healer type class.
While class choice might not otherwise be worthy of note here, I found the scientist and esper to be an interesting pairing. Whether youre more of a roleplaying type or the type to make a mad dash to max level at all costs, the scientist fits the esper like a glove both conceptually and practically.
A predominant aspect of playing a scientist is a drone that can be summoned and will assist you in your scientific efforts. The drone is somewhat like a dumbfire pet that will follow you around and only really comes into play when you need to scan things like local flora or rare creature spawns. These two activities formed the core of my experiences as a scientist and while cool, didnt necessarily give me the feeling that Id accomplished anything for my efforts. For example, after scanning 10 of a marked type of plant, my character may have gained some better insights to its molecular composition, but the exercise didn't seem to have any direct impact otherwise.
On the flipside, scanning some crystal formations did actually spawn some resources that could then be collected and used by Settlers in their building efforts. In that sense, I could see the social implications of having well rounded groups form based not only on combat roles, but a good mix of paths as well.
The things I enjoyed the most about the scientist really boiled down to being a different take on the explorer part of my brain. Where the explorer path seems to be more about the landscape, the scientist seemed to focus more on the things that populate it, be it object, animal, or otherwise. It did feel a bit too flat for my tastes, but thats also part of the point of the paths system. In other words, each path will ultimately appeal most to different types of online gamers.
The Settler Path
In terms of activities to engage in and social impact, the settler path pretty much trumps the rest in a very large way. The social gameplay did get a bit funky in places, however, but Ill get into more detail about that in a moment.
If youre the type of gamer who wants to make a true impact on the world for your fellow players, or enjoy the idea of helping people in various indirect ways such as buffing total strangers, the settler will be right up your alley. As soon as I logged in I found myself in a small outpost with numerous opportunities to help build out a variety of new things that would be beneficial to all other players in the area in some way.
Some of the interactive objects were more of a static switch, such as helping light a number of torches that would improve visibility and ultimately security of the outpost. There were also a few socket points where I was given a list of options for what I wanted to build. For example, at one of these socket points I ended up building a tavern that came bundled with a new vendor selling consumables, or in another I was able to build a device that players could interact with to gain a temporary buff.
In the cases where structures were already built in one of these pre-determined locations, I had the option to extend the time those structures would exist in the world, or save my resources to build fresh elsewhere. The resources themselves would be collected pretty much everywhere I went in the zone, but had the slight catch that they function somewhat like contested harvesting nodes. In other words, you could be fighting your way to some resources only to have another player swoop in and snag them right out from under you. In fact, this happened numerous times even during my press demo which doesnt bode well for the live game.
Another social stumbling block with the settler was when I grouped up with someone from the same path. Not only were we after the same exact resources, but were essentially competing within the same two-person group for things like build sockets or even path mission objectives. In one instance we fought through a public event chain for a good half an hour only to discover that only one of us got credit towards our path, meaning wed have to do the entire thing again to both get credit.
The settler is certainly a diamond in the rough at this stage though. If some of the rougher social edges can be smoothed a bit by Carbine during the closed beta, I can see a lot of potential for the settler being one of the most popular paths available come launch day.
Final Thoughts and Social Implications
It can be hard enough to find groups in most MMOGs based on combat role alone, but a part of me is concerned that the issues of perceived viability in groups will only be compounded with the paths system. In a lot of ways, its not all that different than the old EverQuest days where your class was actively sought after by guilds, but if you didnt have the right combination of AAs unlocked the rest of your application wouldnt even be considered. Or trying to get into an early Wrath-era WoW dungeon group but being rejected if your Gearscore was considered too low.
In terms of the WildStar paths, the only one that currently fits the more the merrier bill is the soldier, since multiple soldiers in a group will simply increase the challenge of holdouts, rather than creating an artificial layer of in-group competition for resources or objectives. Otherwise, youll really only ever need one of each path type within a single group.
Mind you, all of that really only applies to open world content. Because of those exact reasons, paths wont necessarily factor directly into group-specific content such as dungeons and raids. Then again, settlers will be able to plop down campfires that other players can rest at to buff up before entering instances, so I can all but guarantee theyll be sought after in just about any group. In that scenario its also a win / win in the sense that the group benefits from the campfire, while the settler who placed it gains path XP for each player who uses it.
Hopefully this level of utility will see translations with the other paths as well. For example, you might complete a jumping puzzle and come across a flag planted by an explorer for your faction. Interacting with that flag should give the player who placed it path XP in the same way. Likewise assisting soldiers with holdouts, utilizing tunnels or caves opened by explorers, or even defeating rare creature spawns scanned by a scientist could all be ways of adding additional path XP perks.
These may seem like small gripes, but are the types of things that - if properly addressed - will help see the WildStar path system go down in MMOG history books as a truly great system, rather than simply a good one. For example, I still consider the Diplomacy system in Vanguard as a stroke of genius, yet haven't seen a single game iterate on the concept since. Hopefully, WildStar paths will avoid a similar fate.
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