WildStar is my most anticipated game of 2013. Although there are a number of MMOs on my radar, WildStar is the only one that seems to possess that magic combination of innovation and rock solid production value I look for.
Still, I worry.
WildStar isn’t special. It’s not going to be ushered down from the heavens on its launch date, heralded by a cherubic chorus of angels. The game is going to have to overcome the same hurdles every MMO is faced with, and there’s a good chance it will fall flat on its face.
Today, I’d like to identity three major pitfalls WildStar will have to overcome if the game hopes to carve out a plot of land for itself in the MMO frontier.
Digital soothsayers like to point to World of Warcraft‘s upcoming ten-year birthday as the expiration date of the juggernaut. Nobody, they say, wants to play a ten-year-old MMO – you might as well be trudging through the original EverQuest or Ultima Online!
There are two frailties to this appraisal. First, due to the lethargic pace of the current console cycle, graphical leaps in video games over the past decade have been surprisingly tame. The visuals of World of Warcraft still hold up surprisingly well today.
Second, and more dominant, World of Warcraft is sitting on ten years of content. This includes four massive expansion packs with dozens of incremental updates made over the years.
Any competitor in the MMO arena has to reconcile with the fact that their game will launch with a quarter of the dungeons World of Warcraft has, half the playable races, and a world a fraction of the size. It’s an intimidating prospect, especially now that ransacking the level cap of a brand spanking new MMO over the course of a weekend is considered a mark of prestige.
While it would be impossible for WildStar to match the ocean of content World of Warcraft offers, they at least have to be competitive. It looks like that Carbine Studios is doing their damnedest to ensure that the path system adds robust replayability to their levelling game, but a scant number of details of been released about their elder game.
It’s a vital concern to address. Star Wars: The Old Republic neglected the needs of capped players and was chastised for it. Launching with one or two raid dungeons simply doesn’t cut it anymore.
What is WildStar?
No one can accuse WildStar of being a feature-poor game. A tantalizing spread has been laid out by Carbine Studios for us to salivate over: two interesting factions, fully realized player housing, player-versus-player action, paths, raids, dungeons, world bosses, interactive environments – the list goes on.
And on and on and on.
A common element among post-World of Warcraft MMOs is that they branded themselves as versions of Blizzard’s magnum opus with one additional drawing feature. Warhammer Online was World of Warcraft with intense player-versus-player action. Age of Conan was World of Warcraft with blood and boobs. Star Wars: The Old Republic was World of Warcraft with great narrative and voice acting.
Although each of these games ended up floundering for various reasons, they garnered a great deal of hype prior to launch because they possessed these easily identifiable selling points. A blogger, fan, or journalist could effortlessly sum up why they were excited about these new titles in a single sentence.
The merits of WildStar cannot be distilled in this manner; the game boasts a large number of exciting but eclectic features. While this is a healthy choice from a design perspective, it makes the game an awkward sell. So far humour has been the major recurring feature in the videos and press materials Carbine Studios has released, but that’s not enough to electrify an initiated audience.
The developers need to present a ubiquitous hook for the media to sink their teeth into.
Those of you who trudged through Azeroth in the early days of World of Warcraft will recall how difficult it was to play Horde compared to the Alliance. There was a rather obvious disparity in the population pools of the two factions, and this disparity trickled down to handicap dungeon crawling, player-versus-player, and raiding for Horde players.
Why did this happen? Despite the evolution of the Warcraft canon, the Horde was still considered the “evil” faction, a preconception reinforced by the monstrous races that filled out their roster.
There’s a natural inclination for players, especially casual ones, to pick a good-aligned avatar – one that better reflects their real world appearance and disposition. Girl gamers specifically favoured the Alliance because, lets face it, the female models for tauren and trolls were (and still are) atrocious looking.
Although the full roster of races has yet to be revealed, WildStar could face a similar disparity. The Exiles are the obviously good faction, and the Dominion barrels head-on into the realm of cartoonish villainy. Although the Dominion possesses a human-equivalent race – a smart move – it may not be enough to mitigate the monstrous natures of the Draken and Mechari.
Especially with the candy-coated Aurin sitting on the Exiles’ bench. I’m already predicting these guys to reach night elf levels of popularity. What is it with players and dainty nature lovers anyhow?