13 things you need to know
When most people think of a massively multiplayer online RPG their minds immediately warp to fantasy worlds. Swords clashing with shields and knights on horseback clashing with orcs and elves and dwarves. It makes sense--7 of our 10 best MMORPGs involve some degree of swords and sorcery--but there's more to the MMO genre than that.
Carbine Studios' upcoming Wildstar is a testament to that, with a giant sci-fi battle over the planet Nexus setting the stage for one of the most ambitious MMOs in years. We've seen it, played it, and talked to the developers about it, and have gathered a bunch of different facts about the game that should help you decide if it's a world worth losing a few hundred hours in.
It's being developed by Carbine Studios, a developer full of game design royalty
Before we get into exactly what WildStar is, it's best to know who's making it. There's a good chance you haven't heard of Carbine Studios, but we'd be willing to bet you've played a number of the games its staff members have made. Formed in 2005, the studio is comprised of some big names from the game industry, including 17 lead and senior developers that worked on World of Warcraft.
Besides working on WoW, Jeremy Gaffney worked on games like Ultima Online, City of Heroes, and Asheron's Call. Though Carbine is new to the industry, its members are anything but. This isn't some rookie project--this is a team stacked with ringers.
Combat is a giant leap forward
WildStar brings with it a few elements that should make the gameplay feel different than your average MMO. The largest change comes with the combat, which abandons the "play the interface" design of old-school MMOs in favor of more modern, action-based combat, with abilities hitting an area instead of a single target.
That puts WildStar ahead of most of its competition, but the visual indicators that show up are even more important. Not only can you see where your area-of-effect attack will land, but you can see where your allies' and enemies' will, too. Early on this teaches you to actively dodge enemy attacks and move into better positions to use yours. Late in the game? Gaffney said that, in testing, raiders used the visual indicators to see what their allies were doing, totally changing the dynamic of massive battles and allowing for new strategies to organically play out.
Paths reward you for playing the way you want
Soldiers, as you might expect, are given additional quests to slay the indigenous life of Nexus, whereas Explorers can find new routes and entrances to secret areas that the other Paths wouldn't even know existed. The Paths all work together, too, so finding an entrance to a cave with the Explorer will give the Scientist collectibles to find, the Settler people to socialize with, and the Soldier stuff to kill.
The lore is interesting
Fast-forward to the future, where The Dominion have wandered the galaxy kicking races off their worlds and claiming them for their own. These displaced people, now calling themselves The Exiles, discovered a new planet to call home: Nexus.
World design is paramount
One area was full of massive, beautiful blue crystals that shot out of the ground. That's not that unique in and of itself, but when you get near the crystals and find out they create low gravity areas, you get a memorable experience. Carbine's Jeremy Gaffney explained that this was just one example that showed how the developer is approaching world design--making something visually impressive that actually impacts the world, instead of simply settling for cool geography.
There's end-game solo content...
This will be accomplished with regular updates that will continually add new chapters in Nexus's ongoing story. The exact timing of this hasn't been decided, but Gaffney says that the plan is monthly story updates--at least--with ambitions to roll out content more frequently than that.
...and cool plans for PvP...
So far, Carbine's description of Warplots are as incredible as they are vague. What we know is that they'll allow for massive battles between 80 players, and that you're given one to customize when you reach level cap. You can add structures, walls, and even enemies to your own personal Warplot, but that's all we know. See? Incredible and vague!
...as well as big ideas for end-game raiding
Gaffney explained that the current system of end-game raiding is sort of broken. After the first guild takes down the biggest boss, they post a video of it--then everyone watches it and copies it, following a synchronized dance to defeat the foe. Thanks to WildStar's combat system, it's possible to beat bosses without watching strategies online, just by having a responsible, organized team. Carbine also plans on frequently changing up raids to allow for "server firsts" to happen more frequently, allowing hardcore, competitive guilds to continue to attempt to best their rivals.
It has a sense of humor
We smirked as NPCs ran through humorous dialogue, and laughed out loud when we picked up an oversized rocket and shot down an enemy ship flying overhead. It's not that the game features an overtly comedic tone--more that it's infrequent that we see an MMO that allows itself to relax and be a little silly. Even the game's trailers are funny, and we're looking forward to getting involved in a universe that doesn't take itself too seriously.
Its business model will be revealed soon
How will Carbine Studios make money off WildStar? Will it carry a monthly fee like World of Warcraft, have an up-front cost and then nothing else like Guild Wars 2, or be totally free to play like Neverwinter? Well, that's the question, isn't it. So far, absolutely nothing has been revealed pertaining to the game's monetization strategy, but that blank will soon be filled in.
Early in July, Jeremy Gaffney said that it had a big reveal coming before the end of August, explaining that details would be coming soon. "We're trying to find our own sweet spot in this market where people aren't feeling like they're getting screwed over," he explained, making us think that it won't be strictly free-to-play. That said, in 2013 going forward with a full-blown P2P game doesn't make sense, leading us to believe that it'll either follow Guild Wars 2's path or do something unique.