If you look at the path system in WildStar the right way, it’s a pretty limiting system. After all, if path content makes up 25% of your content in any given zone, it stands to reason that there are three paths worth of content you’ll never see on any given character. Any zone in the game is made up of 43% stuff you don’t get to explore.
For those of us who are fond of alts, this is not exactly a drawback. The idea that a zone I’ve done three times before can still hold new secrets on the fourth playthrough is endlessly appealing. But it can also feel very limiting from the right perspective simply because it does build in some hard limitations. You will never be able to completely clear an area out on one character. If you only want to play one character, you’re just out of luck.
At the same time, I think this system will grow to be one of WildStar’s strengths. So even if you want to just play one character and you wind up playing a single path, there are reasons to be happy about the way that paths work.
The beaten path and points unrelated
My hands-on time with WildStar has been limited to about an hour in total, but one of the things I discovered during that time was that the game literally did not care what I did. If I wanted to say “forget quests” and just focus on path content, I could. If I couldn’t quest enough, I could do that.
One of the problems with path content as we’ve had it explained is that it doesn’t fit into a model we’re all familiar with. I certainly had been thinking in terms of specific path quests, similar in feel if not in purpose to class quests in other games. The fact of the matter is that from what I’ve seen, not only is the flow not like that, but the general questing flow isn’t even like that.
Explorer content is all about getting a handful of beacons directing you off to certain places and just going off to find one. If you come across a location where you can do a quest you didn’t know about, you will just get a radio call directing you to do that quest. And you can do or not do that quest as you feel. There’s a sense of freedom in pursuing the sort of content you want at any given moment. The point is asking how you want a given character to play.
If you’re just going to play one character, this is actually easier. Do you like jumping puzzles and searching? Then you want to be an explorer. You aren’t missing out on some desperately fun content by doing so because the other paths are meant for people who find other activities more fun than going off to explore.
Teaming up for the other half
Another obvious difference from the class quest analogy that I mentioned above is that class quests are by their very nature gated. But we know already that at least one path will specifically not be gated, that it can’t be. The whole premise behind the Settler path is that you seek out where others are already playing and provide a service for them, something that you can’t do any other way.
We don’t yet know how much the paths will interact, but it’s safe to say that there’s always a good reason for players to be working with a Settler. Quite probably the same will hold true for Scientists, who can analyze a local environment. And Soldiers will have good reason to run with both, since buffs are useful when taking on some tougher combat missions. Not that it’s always easy to find new Soldier-specific stuff without an Explorer…
Again, we don’t know how interconnected everything is going to be, but it’s all content that’s meant to be modular. You won’t be planting beacons if you’re not an Explorer, but there are elements from which you can derive that same exploratory rush, just as a Scientist can still get benefits from taking on a holdout alongside a Soldier. The paths give you extra rewards for taking part in certain activities but don’t preclude other goals.
Paths also gives players another reason to group up. Instead of being able to do everything alone, you have a reason to ask around to see if there are any Soldiers in the area because you want to build some fortifications as a Settler and help them kill stuff. You can be an island when you want, but you’re not cut off from the mainland.
Restrictions breed something
The question that springs to mind is why this implementation is the one we’ve got. Theoretically, it would be possible for every character to have access to all four paths, allowing everyone to just follow any playstyle that fits at a given moment. It would mean that you could have all of the paths at once.
Except it wouldn’t. It would mean that you would do the easiest and most efficient content for any given path, and the rest would be ignored or forgotten because it’s less efficient.
Settlers, for example, are meant to be inefficient. They require other people around, and they encourage you to find places that are a little off the beaten path in order to really work. If everyone could make use of that, there would just be places where everyone congregates and the occasional Settler structure popping up when an old one fades away. No one would be encouraged to find new areas or unconventional spots.
Having to pick a path means that you’re locked in to a certain set of optional content. You don’t see all the content that exists in a zone, but you can see all of the path content if that’s what tickles you. Challenges that might not be efficient become viable if they’re still fun, and not everyone is going to take the same path through the game as everyone else.
All you give up is the ability to do everything at once on the same character. I think that’s a fair trade.