Wildstar PAX Prime 2012 Preview - Potential Gone Wild
Following most event appointments, I subconsciously go through a mental list of descriptors for a given title that can help convey the core essence of what I'd just experienced. For any game worth its weight in pixels, the list tends to be pretty lengthy by the time I'm physically able to commit words to virtual paper. Sometimes, however, it's clear from the moment the appointment ends that a single word can sum up my base reactions to what I just experienced.
That was absolutely the case with my latest closed room presentation for Wildstar at PAX Prime. The magic word in question when it comes to my feelings about Wildstar at this stage in the game's development is potential. Wildstar is bursting at the seams with it, not unlike a giant robot discovered in a long abandoned facility that's itching to break free and roam the surface of an alien world.
For Wildstar, that alien world is called Nexus, a planet that reminds me of the painterly settings from the golden days of Disney, with a dash of modern day crispness and a pinch of the truly fantastical that often only emerges when creative types are allowed to let their imaginations run free. It's the kind of setting that piques the interest of my inner explorer; something that the developers have hardwired into the core game experience of Wildstar thanks to the Paths system.
While it isn't exactly breaking news at this point that Wildstar will feature its own unique take on player housing, this is another area of MMOGs that I feel was abandoned years before developers truly dug deep enough to realize its true potential. Player housing at once adds a layer of player investment in the world, while giving crafting a more tangible purpose and fulfilling our need to be able to fiddle with things beyond smacking them in the face with a sword or mace. I always thought it a shame that the concept fell by the wayside for unknown reasons (beyond technical data storage limitations) but I'm glad to see the concept being embraced so completely by the team at Carbine.
The fact that player housing plots can reside on floating islands and have massive "defensive" cannons is just icing on top of a decidedly intriguing cake.
If I were to indulge in one more point of reference that draws a connecting line between the potential I see in Wildstar and concepts that were either ahead of their time, or never allowed to properly mature, it would be a little game called Chronicles of Spellborn. Both games share more than a few things in common; active combat systems, highly stylized graphics, and a flair for the fantastical to name a few.
In the case of Spellborn, the game never really hit that sweet spot where combat encounters felt truly engaging, though a valiant attempt was certainly made. And once the freshness of its combat wore off, there was decidedly little for players to really latch onto and keep them hooked over a longer period.
From what I've seen of Wildstar to date, Carbine seems acutely aware of how important both of those things are to properly address. Thanks to an ever expanding system of telegraphs a fancy name for indicators on the ground for incoming attacks from enemy and environmental sources combat will remain an engaging experience that factors in positioning and movement to the same high degree as hit points and damage meters.
A great example would be a creature that spews out sizable globs of honey onto the ground that can snare your character, making it more difficult to avoid incoming AoE attacks once mired down in the sticky mess. Area attacks can also come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, making combat more of a cosmic dance for survival rather than the redundant game of whack-a-mole the industry has been fixated on for far too long.
Beyond the staples of combat resides some of Wildstar's greatest potential of all. Being the type of gamer who abhors games that force or expect you to rush through things or complete levels on a timer to receive optimal rewards, it's refreshing to see a game that fully embraces the concept of bringing the pace down a notch. Not to mention the idea that taking the time to explore and interact with the world in new and unusual ways should be just as rewarding of an experience as combat.
This philosophy sublimely spills over into other aspects of gameplay as well. Why should gathering always have to be a boring crafter's game of Where's Waldo? Why not add the potential for something brilliant and engaging to happen to keep even the seemingly mundane tasks of MMO land interesting?
While I wasn't able to squeeze too many details out of the Carbine team about how this philosophy carries over to the concept of player housing, it was readily apparent that they have some cards up their sleeves. In particular, when asked about any potential connections between the path you choose for your character and player housing, Lead Creative Writer Chad Moore alluded to there being some very cool things in the works, but it's still too early to pull that particular dish of beans out of the oven just yet.
Even so, I'm eagerly looking forward to the next reveals for the Wildstar, and think it will be the MMO that makes us rethink what it means to create a truly sci-fi experience for gamers to chew on. If one of the driving forces behind sci-fi is the unspoken question, "What if " then Wildstar shows great potential for allowing MMO gamers to explore the many, many possibilities.