NCSoft keeps WildStar in mind with a brief demo at E3 2013.
E3 is always a busy affair, but this year was even more insane and haphazard than usual with everyone scrambling to see the shiny new consoles. Even so, I knew WildStar was going to be at the show, and if I made time for any one MMO at the show, it was going to be this one. I wasn't disappointed.
One of the main things that stands out about WildStar is the art style. WildStar is vibrant, colorful and is doing everything it can to step away from the typical fare other MMOs are offering in terms of visuals. WildStar does this by blending a fantasy setting with futuristic, frontier, and steampunk influences to create characters and a gameworld that is really unlike anything I've seen in a long time. To me the game resonates a jazzy tone. Very slick environs, and saturated colors play at odds with the frenetic action and slick character design. To put it another way, the world of WildStar would be the perfect place for a robotic Al Capone to run his custom tailored robo haberdashery, and not feel out of place.
Another standout feature for WildStar is housing, and the ability to personalize your own space within the game. Carbine has promised that housing will play a pivotal role in your player experience in the game, and can later serve as a central hub for almost anything and everything you do in the world. Though I didn't get enough time to play with those elements I definitely got a feel for the world of WildStar.
None of that would have been possible without the aid of the best tour guide of them all, Matthew Mocarski, Art Director at Carbine Studios, one of the developers of WildStar. I talked with Matthew for a short while about the design philosophy that went into building WildStar, and how the community has reacted to some of Carbine's choices to include some common elements of MMORPG gaming. In particular we spoke about the emerging comparisons between WildStar and World of Warcraft.
Do you mind the comparisons to WoW at this point? "You know, we hear people comparing us to World of Warcraft, and to us, or to me at least, that's not immediately a bad thing," Mocarski said. "People compare us to one of the most successful video games of all time... I think that's great. I think a lot of it comes from the complaint that too much of it is familiar, or doesn't innovate."
In WildStar, the legendary planet Nexus has been found. As the opposed forces of the Exiles and Dominion rush to capture it and its secrets you must pick your side and join in the fight to unlock the planet's secrets.
How have people managed to accuse you of not innovating so early on? "A common complaint is that our characters have big yellow exclamation points over their heads, and people have said 'that's too much like WoW,'" Mocarski said after a think. "But that's how we know how to get quests in RPGs, that's the system that has worked for years and years. It's not like an FPS player picks up the controller, and complains about the lack of innovation in shooter controls. For the most part you know what experience you're getting when you pick up that controller."
I continued talking to Mocarski about the importance of the vibrant art in terms of its ability to communicate an organic sense of exploration that consistently rewarded players for venturing off the beaten path. I asked Carbine if they were planning on including anything dynamic within the world of WildStar that would keep players invested in exploring the world, but they were tight lipped for now, only promising that there would be some very cool stuff to show off soon. I was reminded that the game is still very much in beta, and the focus right now is making sure that the core mechanics are fun, and polished.
In fact Carbine seems exceptionally focused on delivering a tight experience as the combat felt particularly fluid, responsive, and agile. I asked what prompted them to use a real time combat system instead of opting for tons of queued actions.
I asked whether the combat was a conscious choice to step away from World of Warcraft. Mocarski laughed. "No, I think we all just saw that there are other MMOs with real time combat that work."
Like DCUO? "Right, DC Universe Online took combat like that and made it relevant to players. I mean there you didn't have players queuing up actions. Also we wanted combat to be fun, and we think this is more fun this way."
And it is. While I was playing as some creature with a tail slashing at things with reckless abandon, the reckless abandon slashing was completely fun and engrossing. The combat feels more like an action RPG than a modern day MMO, but I could easily see how this could translate well in the hands of more traditional MMO gamers. The other thing that stood out for me was that much like DC Universe Online, this feels like something that could easily be played with a controller, or a gamepad. I mentioned this, and was pleased to find out that playing with a gamepad is something that WildStar is keen on incorporating, and not for the traditional reasons you may imagine.
"We recognize that a lot of gamers are disabled, or need to have other means to play our games, so we're looking into that."
This also led me to asking a series of questions unsuccessfully about their next gen intent, and whether or not they were looking at console as a strategy. Certainly with the announcement that DCUO, and Planetside 2 are hitting the PlayStation 4, and with CCP's success in Dust 514, this isn't so much of an insane question anymore. However Carbine is remaining clandestine about the subject, saying next to nothing - well, unless "We can't say anything about that right now" is something. Still it stands to reason that a console translation of the game would be entirely possible given the game's relative ease to pick up and play.
There didn't seem to be much in terms of dynamic events or too much unpredictability in the build on display at E3. This was mostly because the game wasn't connected to a beta environment, and was therefore basically empty, but from my hands on time I was able to ascertain that the bulk of what works right now is the standard quest fare that you would find in an MMO. There seem to be lots and lots of fetch quests, and kill quests, but they play smoothly, and seem to offer decent rewards. Another thing worth noting is that the game definitely seems focused on housing items. Almost every kill yielded my player an item that could have been used in my house. While I didn't spend any of my extra time in the game experimenting with the housing system it was cool to see that it really is a focal point, and not just a talking point.
While I can't attest to the game's performance outside of such a controlled environment, I can say that the build on display at E3 ran smoothly, and save for a few animation, and A.I. quirks here and there, it feels already polished. The world that makes up WildStar is also fantastic; bright pastels, and neons boldly burst through the scenery at times, and give your eyes something to chew on. In fact it evokes more detail and immersion with its colorful art, and smart use of visual real estate than it does with sheer horsepower, making the game incredibly charming.
WildStar is shaping up to be a great game and that's because there's a team of bright people behind it. It's also nice to see an MMO being developed with the community, and core gameplay being put first. There may never be an MMO in the history of the world that has a perfect launch, and nothing will "kill WoW" but it's nice to see that WildStar is trying its own approach to capture its share of the MMO market.
WildStar is in closed beta now.