PAX Prime 2012 WildStar presentation and Q&A

Carbine Studios’ premiere foray into the MMO field, the deliciously sci-fi WildStar, has been high on my to-watch list since PAX Prime 2011 when I got my first look at the game (over Rubi’s shoulder, admittedly). So I was delighted to have the opportunity to sit down with a few members of WildStar’s development team for a short presentation and Q&A session at this year’s PAX Prime.

The developers, led by Lead Narrative Designer Chad Moore, set the tone of the presentation by leading off with the recently released housing preview video (which you should go watch if you haven’t already), followed by a short explanation of the game’s backstory. For the uninitiated: The game takes place on the planet Nexus. Nexus was once inhabited by a race of hyper-technological beings known as the Eldan before they mysteriously disappeared, causing the location of the planet to be lost to the annals of time. Until now, that is. Now everyone wants a piece of that sweet, technologically advanced pie, and players arrive from all over the universe to explore this mysterious planet and the secrets within.

Admit it: You wanna know what those secrets are, right?

One of the primary features the team was showing off during the presentation was the not-quite-new-but-much-improved combat system. Namely, the team has implemented what it refers to as a telegraphing system. Anyone who has ever played an action game should be familiar with the concept of enemies telegraphing attacks, and it’s no different in WildStar. As an enemy gears up for a big attack, markers will appear on the ground to indicate where those attacks will land. If you happen to be unlucky enough to be standing in one of those markers, you can say goodbye to your teeth and/or vertebrae. This telegraphing system works for player attacks, too. When a player activates an ability, but before it actually fires off, players will see an indicator that designates where the attack will hit, therefore requiring them to actually line up attacks instead of using the typical “fire-and-forget” method of combat.

PAX Prime 2012 WildStar presentation and Q&A

Another topic of note was that of “dynamic playspaces,” which aim to give players new and unique situations from those encountered in previous zones. As an example, we were shown a field full of armed mines just waiting to turn anyone unlucky enough to step on them into tiny giblets. While this makes combat in the area more difficult for the player (good luck dodging when you’re surrounded by things that go boom), the mines can also be used to the player’s advantage by luring enemies into an explosive trap. Or perhaps you’re fighting in the middle of a battlefield that’s being constantly bombarded by long-range artillery. Again, it’s hazardous for the player, but someone who’s quick on his toes can easily turn the artillery fire around on his enemies. These are only a couple of the possible examples, but Moore assures us that each of these dynamic zones will be fresh, unique, and perhaps most importantly, interactive.

WildStar will also be introducing Guild Wars 2-esque environmental puzzles, though while GW2’s puzzles are generally limited to platforming-style jumping, Carbine has something a bit different in mind. While exploring a valley racked by violent winds, the preview character was tossed into the air by a whirling tornado. Moore revealed to us that if the player is particularly observant, she’ll notice a few rock formations on top of which she could land with a little help from the cyclone. With some skill, a little luck, and probably many deaths-by-fall-damage, players capable of sticking the landing will be rewarded with some shiny loot for their efforts.

Of course, one of the most important parts of any MMO is the endgame, and Carbine is planning to take a somewhat unique approach to providing content to players at the level cap. While the game will, of course, feature traditional endgame instances and the like, the primary focus of content for level-capped players will be on the game’s story. According to Moore, Carbine plans to release what is known as the “world story” in serial installations, with each of these serials unveiling more and more of the overarching narrative surrounding the planet Nexus and its enigmatic former inhabitants. Since I’m a sucker for games that allow players to influence the game’s story, I just had to ask whether Carbine had any such plans for WildStar. While I was expecting the usual “we can’t talk about that yet,” the devs did reveal that, while nothing is set in stone, they are certainly considering the possibility of allowing players’ actions in one story serial to determine the direction of the next. Again, the developers stressed that player-influenced storylines are not a certainty, but they’re contemplating the idea, and that alone is enough to make me giddy.

PAX Prime 2012 WildStar presentation and Q&A

And while it wasn’t an actual topic of discussion, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how absolutely amazing the game looks. Even at this relatively early stage of development, WildStar’s art is phenomenal. The graphics themselves are great, but the game’s true beauty comes from its smooth, clean art style. Some of the vistas that we were given a look at would be right at home behind a fancy frame hanging above the fireplace in my totally-not-fake mansion, and the creature and character models are sharp and incredibly stylish.

My fellow journalists and I tried our damnedest to press the topics of PvP, post-level-cap progression, and (of course) beta dates, but alas, our pleas were met with the dreaded response of “We’re not ready to talk about that yet.” We were promised, however, that when the studio was finally ready to break the silence on these subjects, we’d find it well worth the wait.

And thus my all-too-brief stint with WildStar came to an end, but when I left the presentation, there was no doubt in my mind that the game’s spot on my to-watch list was well deserved. Bottom line: Anyone who craves an MMO that skirts the edges of the traditional sci-fi and fantasy MMO genres while tweaking and improving the MMO features we know and love would do well to keep a keen eye out for WildStar in the coming months.