22 May 2013

My Kindgom for a WildStar

So I was fully intending to make my next post about the impending free-play conversion of RIFT and my perspective on the game...... and then the good folks at Carbine Studios dropped their latest "WildStar Wednesday" feature.  I'm going to include the links to all the good stuff up top here, and then I'll hit you with my perspective on them.

Official WildStar Page: Path System (Watch the two videos, awesome stuff)

Three Part Interview with Jeremy Gaffney on Massively

A Path for Every Player

Carbine has talked about the Path System before.  This is their way of addressing the Bartle archetypes commonly associated with MMO players.  There isn't a direct correspondence between the four Bartle archetypes and the four WildStar paths, but there are definite areas of overlap.  Suffice to say, Carbine is acutely aware of these different playstyles and is working to incorporate mechanics into their game to address them.  Now Carbine does a great job of explaining the basics of each path and you really should do yourself the favor of watching the trailers and reading their descriptions.  They have a flair and a humor about them that speaks volumes about the kind of people developing this game, and the kind of game they want to make.  These are people that (seem to) have a lot of fun doing what they do and creating this world for us to play in.  But in a nutshell, here's what each path is generally about:

Soldier-  Kill lots of stuff.  Defend fixed locations against waves of enemies.  Kill lots of stuff.

Explorer-  Find secret paths, out of the way things, climb mountains, race against time.

Scientist-  Lore geek.  Scan rocks, scan critters, get eaten by critter, scan inside of critter.

Settler-  Builds stuff.  Upgrade outposts, make campfires, set up travel points, make lots of friends.

But please, don't take my word for it.  Go watch those videos.  They are fantastic.  So before I get into my commentary on the Path System I want to make clear my biggest concern with WildStar as it is.  And I think it is important to do this because I am very enthusiastic and hopeful about this particular game.  So here's my problem:

WildStar sounds TOO good to be true.

I have been "burned" several times in the past couple years by games that I sunk my hope (and cash) into and came away sorely disappointed.  I bought a Collector's Edition of Star Wars: The Old Republic and cancelled my sub after a handful of months.  Yes I'm getting some of that "money" back now, but it was still a considerable waste.  Similarly, I bought a Lifetime Subscription to The Secret World and now I play the game very little.  There are other examples, but those are the two best ones.  I bought into the "hype," I spent my money, and it didn't pay off.  As a result, I am far more jaded now than I used to be.  This is why I am trying to be cautious with WildStar.  The devs are so excited about their game.  Each reveal is better than the last.  And I find myself thinking that this really could be the game I have been waiting for............

............ then I remember that I thought the same thing about RIFT, and the same thing about SW:TOR, and the same thing about TSW, and before all that Tabula Rasa (anyone else remember that complete bomb?)  So as much as I love everything I am hearing about WildStar, I am trying very hard to keep perspective.  I do not want to be "burned" again by buying into the hype around a game only to discover that it fails to meet any of those expectations.

All Roads Lead to... 

With all that being said, what does the Path System bring to the table?  Overall I think it is a great innovation.  I think one of the videos said it best when they said the Path System essentially gives a player more of the specific kind of content they want.  Picking a path does not exclude you from other forms of content.  It just provides more of what you like to do most and incentivize that content to help advance your character.  So Soldiers can still explore.  Scientists can still kill.  But you get to do more of the things that appeal to you best and are rewarded for doing so.  On top of that, it also encourages grouping.  By grouping with players of other Paths, you can also experience the content that IS reserved specifically for that Path.  And I am all for game mechanics that encourage players to group without making it feel mandatory, and this doesn't do that.

I think this system is a formal acknowledgement of something that developers have tried to address indirectly over the years with varying degrees of success.  It is no "secret" that players have different preferences.  It's not like Carbine "stumbled" on some new revelation here.  But to me the Path System seems like one of the most fully realized formal acknowledgement of that fact I've ever seen in a game.  They are saying up front, "Yes we know you are different and we want to address that."  Other games try to address it, but they aren't so upfront about it, or bury the mechanic in other systems.  WildStar is blunt and in your face with this (as it is with many other things too) and I think that is to its credit.

So where's the downside?  The problem I foresee is another "fact" about a lot of gamers.  We always want the best.  Are all four Paths going to be equally interesting?  Are all four Paths going to provide similarly valuable benefits and buffs?  Are all four Paths going to be sought after in the endgame for the specific attributes they bring to a group or raid?  If one Path is generally perceived to be "better" than the others for some reason... faster advancement, better buffs, etc. players will gravitate towards it even if it is not their preferred playstyle.  If Carbine thinks that someone will choose Explorer over Scientist ONLY because they like to explore more, even when the Scientist is "better," they are mistaken.  So it is incumbent on them to make sure they "balance" the Paths as much as possible to make sure they all remain appealing.  Otherwise the whole point is lost and the system will be sandbagged by "min-maxing."

The other potential problem is the "jack of all trades, master of none" conundrum.  What I mean by that in this context (and this is a problem for WildStar in general) is when you try and do everything, you are often good at nothing.  By trying to do what I mentioned above and make each Path interesting and useful, Carbine may inadvertently make them all lackluster and bland.  We've seen homogenization problems like this in many MMO's.  It is part of what drove me out of World of Warcraft.  In an effort to make all classes equally useful, Blizzard stripped much of the uniqueness out of ALL of them.  Shaman totems, Paladin auras, class specific buffs... all were sacrificed to try and "equalize" the usefulness of each class.  At which point, why have classes at all?  Carbine has to avoid that "trap" with the Path system as well.  It is a very difficult thing to balance, but if they can pull it off, it has the potential to be amazing.

Gotta Have Faith?

In the end, I think this system, like many things with WildStar has the potential to be amazing.  I WANT to be amazed by this game.  I WANT it to be everything it says it will be.  But at the same time... I have to temper my enthusiasm.  It is one thing to say you want to do something, it is another thing to actually DO it.  Let's see if Carbine can pull it all off.  That being said... zomg beta invite plz??!!?!??!??!!!

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