WildStar Hands-On Preview -- Far From Your Typical Fantasy MMO Starring Magical Bunny WomenBy Sinan Kubba - Posted Aug 17, 2011
In 2007, NCsoft assembled Carbine Studios, luring key figures from the likes of World of Warcraft, Fallout, and City of Heroes to create what the publisher at the time called a "dream dev team." Four years later and the dream is now starting to become a reality; not that it was ever in doubt in the mind of the studio's passionate executive producer Jeremy Gaffney.
"We've learned enough to make the next great MMO," says Gaffney of his team's experience as he gives a pre-play presentation. "Our goal is to create deeply layered content. We want to create a MMO with the deepest, richest content." These are the ambitions that lie behind WildStar.
Yet for all those ambitions, on first glance the game comes across as yet another fantasy sci-fi MMO. The desktop background on the PC I'm playing on depicts the three characters which feature in the trailer: a narrow-eyed steampunk cowboy who could've been whisked away from Borderlands, Rage or Fallout, a voluptuous woman in revealing armor, with thick purple hair and huge bunny ears -- yes, a bunny girl -- and the last dude who is basically The Thing with a paint job.
Rift proved earlier this year that, especially in the MMO space, being derivative is not such a bad thing as long as you can innovate upon what you iterate from others. Besides, with so many games in the RPG space, it's almost impossible to not be cosmetically derivative, and by throwing so many visual themes around in its characters, it's like WildStar is embracing that. While the designs are lush and colorful, Carbine appears more concerned with making the play stand out more than the characters.
Take the doe-eyed bunny girl, for example. She's actually an Aurin, one of the races that have fled to the game's planetary setting of Nexus in the wake of her home world being attacked. I play her as an Esper, a class that is described as a healer, buffer, and DPS dealer all in one. That does sounds interesting, but what's even more interesting is getting to choose her Player Path attribute.
This is an additional selection made for each character on rolling, along with race, gender, and class, and it plays a huge part in the layered and dynamic content that Gaffney is so passionately touting. The Player Paths include Soldiers, burly types who provoke big public quests and stir things up, Scientists who are fervently trying to discover more about the world and the creatures within it, and Settlers who like to bring people together by getting involved in social quests and social spaces.
The Player Path I choose for my Aurin Esper is Explorer. This means that as the game goes along she'll find quests that let her discover things high and hidden on mountains or right at the bottom of murky valleys and dark caves. This ties in to the setting of Nexus, a planet that was once home to Eldon, the galaxy's most powerful race who at some point mysteriously disappeared. Exploring the world means finding out more about the Eldon and the truth of the planet. It may sound like a tiny but neat little feature for a character, but in practice it combines with the other layers within the game to keep the play dynamic.
That becomes apparent to me as I guide my Aurin through a newbie area, an icy plain sprinkled with the wreckage of a space ship. Immediately, I get a quest to place a beacon on top of a hill, but blocking my way to the hilltop are intermittent tides of an avalanche. But traversing the avalanche isn't just a game hindrance. If I do it quickly and skillfully enough, I can complete a Challenge. These Challenges pop up throughout the game, spawned by actions like investigating certain areas or killing creatures prolifically. They can be like the avalanche one or more combat-orientated, like having to kill a certain number of creatures in a certain amount of time or with only so much ammo. Completing the challenges brings rewards and further challenges, and even in my short play through, they prove a fun distraction away from the thrust of the main quest.
Before reaching the hilltop (and it's not a tall hill), I've completed a Challenge and another quest by helping to find a survivor on the way. When I do reach the top, I place a beacon there. Again, doing so provides me with rewards and XP, but it also serves to change the game world by clearing the sky and opening a new line of quests. Not too dramatic, but as the game goes on these Player Path quests and other quests too can have more palpable and obvious changes upon a landscape, like completely clearing an area of enemies or attracting a whole new kind of enemy to the area.
But they can go even deeper and cleverer than that, too. Gaffney describes this to us using the idea of a Scientist character studying and killing jungle cats in a grassy area, but how doing it in front of huntresses in the area impresses the ladies, so to speak. Impressing these huntresses improves the character's reputation, and as his reputation increases, so does his ability to study the enemies. Studying enemies helps the scientist to kill the jungle cats better, and as this dynamic continues and his ability to kill the cats improves, so the jungle cats become sparser in the area. It's these unusual dynamic relationships between a character's actions and the landscape of the world, and how deep and affecting those ramifications could be, that really make WildStar an interesting prospect.
Understandably, Carbine is keeping things close to its chest. We know of the four Player Paths, but in terms of races, classes, combat, weapons, etc. we've only been given a glimpse of the full roster. My playthrough felt like no more than a teasing glimpse in terms of the game's deeper design concepts, but there's been more than enough to suggest that WildStar isn't just another run-of-the-mill MMO, even if it does feature scantily-clad, buxom bunny girls.