Written By W.B. Wemyss (Tagspeech)
Demo by Brett Scheinert
WildStar is being heralded as the 'next big thing' in the world of pay-to-play, themepark MMORPGs. Its developers have been active in the PR process, and relatively open about their design decisions with their frequent, comical 'devspeak' videos that detail everything from user-interface to combat movement, to grouping and targeting. What they haven't covered in detail yet is the raid content, and as a member of the press, I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peek at the raid devspeak. What follows is my impressions of it, and what I managed to glean from the interview afterwards.
One of WildStar's claims to fame is its highly mobile, dynamic combat that challenges players to keep moving and avoid danger zones created by enemy attacks. In basic fights, this is not terribly challenging, and even the most amateur of players can manage to sidestep an enemy's attack to avoid the brunt of the damage. But as player level increases, so do the challenges, until level cap comes, and major boss fights and raids become a big part of the elder game experience. In the words of WildStar's own developers, this is intentional – while WildStar's raid mechanics are intentionally punishing, they believe they do a good job of training players to be 'raid quality' from the earliest levels.
In previous MMORPGs, the process of raiding has been gathering a huge group of cats (players) together and attempting to herd them into doing synchronized swimming activities. Moving that many people around smoothly is an immense challenge, and that challenge is further compounded by the fact that raid encounters are made to be trial and error by design. WildStar's developers say that while they want their raids to be difficult and 'hardcore', they believe that the inherent design philosophy behind the game's attack targeting (avoid the big red zone on the ground) will allow raiders to always know what killed them and why, which circumvents a great deal of frustration.
It's no secret that raiding isn't for everyone. WildStar's team hopes to bring in people who aren't necessarily into raiding by making the challenges less blindly obnoxious or frustrating, but it's questionable whether or not they'll be able to address the core problem that turns most players off from raiding; the raiders themselves. It's confirmed that WildStar is making their best possible PVE gear attainable only through the highest-level raids, which of course means that joining a raiding guild is going to be somewhat mandatory, especially with the confirmation that a 'raid finder' will not be included with the game at launch.
Raiding culture is one inherently tied to a need to feel superior to others, and by making the best PVE gear in the game attainable only through raiding, the ancient wishes of the 'hardcore raider' crowd are being granted, arguably to the detriment of the game's potential greater community. Many players are praising WildStar for trying to return to and improve upon the days of "vanilla WoW" and the similarities between the two experiences are striking. WildStar knows what it wants to be and where it's going. Raiding and serious PVP are going to be a large part of the game's experience, with immersion and thoughtful storytelling being relegated to smaller-scale encounters. The developers know that the average raider cares little for lore or story, so raids are not going to be a big part of the game's larger storytelling experience – this is what I was told. However, advertising up to this point has been the exact opposite. I am not entirely sure what to believe.
According to the WildStar devs, melee characters won't be suffering during these massive 'don't touch the lava' boss encounters, but my view of the video showed otherwise. It seems that strafing ranged DPS will be performing most efficiently during most raids, but that's pure speculation based on a heavily edited video demonstration. WildStar's ability system works around limited loadouts selected from a larger pool of skills. According to the developers, it is intended to be the case that raid leaders will micromanage the ability loadouts of their players according to the anticipated encounters. Did you want to have a loadout mainstay that you rarely deviate from? Tough break, if you're a raider. Prepare to be told what to do.
But that sort of thing has always been par for the course when it comes to raiding and raid guilds and raiders in general. It's a gameplay feature that appeals to the joys of crushing hierarchy and elitism. While WildStar's approach includes massive dungeons and impressively long slogs through bosses and minibosses with generous helpings of loot as reward, no amount of good game design (and WildStar is a beautifully designed game for its purposes) can change the inherent nastiness of the average 'hardcore raider' in the MMORPG world. Noobs, prepare to cower before the purple-wrapped demigods, who stand in your major cities like glorious statues, basking in the adoration and awe of common folk.
Tagspeech is the alias of author W.B. Wemyss, who was responsible for the bizarre cyberpunk fever dream called Children of Athena.