Since the initial announcement in late 2011, things have been pretty quiet for Carbine Studios and their flagship product Wildstar. Admittedly, I was skeptical when I first heard of it. The announcement trailer showed a bit of promise with a trio of colorful characters and a decent sense of humor, but I didn’t seen enough story to justify a game let alone an online one. Well, to use an archaic turn of phrase, that first trailer turned out to be the tip of a major iceberg that has been quietly taking shape over the past year and a half. And much like the one that sunk the Titanic, Wildstar is proving to be a much bigger deal then it first seemed.
Carbine’s project takes us to the planet Nexus, a vibrantly colored world consisting of diverse landscapes and a massive network of alien ruins. Originally the homeworld of a highly advanced species known as the Eldan, the planet’s former inhabitants have vanished and their automated defense systems have failed after centuries of neglect. Little has been revealed about them thus far but what has been suggests that the Eldan weren’t exactly a particularly nice group of people. And now that they’re gone and their security has largely fallen into ruin, a treasure trove of alien technology and magic awaits anyone brave enough to look for them.
And of course, we wouldn’t really have a game if there weren’t a couple of warring factions that want to claim the planet and its archaeological treasures for themselves. Wildstar gives us two, the Exiles and the Dominion. And while some have made a connection to World of Warcraft’s Alliance and Horde, sci-fi nerds like myself will probably compare the setup to another famous duo of empires; ones from a space opera that occurs a long time ago and in a far away galaxy. Anyway both sides are playable with four unique races apiece. Six of them have been already announced at the time of writing, with two more teased for future updates.
The Exiles are a loose confederation of refugees and mercenaries, the “good guys” in Wildstar’s space opera drama. Driven from their homes by the Dominion, the Exiles have been living precariously in a flotilla of battered starships; desperately searching for a safe harbor to repair and resupply. Discovering Nexus largely by accident, they’ve flocked to this world to establish a foothold from which they can strike back at the Dominion. Races living in Exile include humans, the bunny-eared Aurin, and the golem-like Granok. A fourth race with an undead theme similar to WoW’s Scourge has been teased for a later reveal.
On the other side is the Dominion, the classically oppressive interstellar empire that has been a staple of the sci-fi genre since that certain trilogy starring bathrobe-wearing wizards armed with magic glowsticks. Unlike the Exiles, the Dominion’s interests in Nexus are not purely strategic. Before they disappeared, the Eldan approached the humans of Cassus and basically laid out the foundation for the Dominion. Subsequently for this faction of moustache-twirling villains, the war for Nexus is not just about technology or resources; it’s a matter of principle and birthright. Several races staff the Dominion war machine, including the human Cassians, the warlike saurian Draken, and the scheming android Mechari. Again, a fourth race is teased but any real information on them requires readers to dig deep into this Gamespot video and this developer diary. From those it appears that the fourth playable species is some sort of race of technophiles graduating from the Mythbuster’s School of ‘Dynamic Science.’
All eight of these races can choose from the same pool of classes and paths regardless of faction. At the time of writing Carbine has publicly released information on four character classes and their official website implies that there are two more waiting for a future reveal. The four revealed are the warrior, spellslinger, stalker, and esper. The warrior is self-explanatory while the others seem to correspond with the archer/ranger, rogue, and wizard of traditional fantasy MMOGs respectively. While there remains no official word at this time, obvious support classes like medics or engineers are conspicuously absent from the current lineup…
The path system is a mechanic unique to Wildstar. While classes define a user by his preferred style of play, paths describe them by their interests and motivations as characterized by the Bartle Test. To put it as simply as possible, you select one of four paths based on what activity intrigues you the most and the game rewards you according with relevant missions and abilities. On one hand, giving tangible rewards could encourage players to try different activities. But at the same time my more cynical side has to wonder how long it would take for someone to chart out the most effective race/class/path combinations after launch. It all depends on how Carbine chooses to balance things.
Moving on, players can chose from the Soldier, Scientist, Explorer, and Settler paths focused on combat, achievement/collecting, exploring, and social interaction respectively. Paths are designed to work together, so for example an Explorer can find a hidden entrance to an abandoned mine, leading to a space where the Settler can establish an outpost, the Scientist can conduct research from the Settler’s outpost, and the Soldier can get into fights with whatever trouble the other three will invariably stir up.
In conclusion, Wildstar has come a long way since its first appearance in November 2011. Does it have what it takes to dethrone World of Warcraft? Probably not, but it does appear to be taking things in an interesting direction. We’ll see if it delivers on its promises (and survives the NCSoft chopping block, but that’s another story) when the game launches sometime in 2013. Whether the game will use a subscription-based or microtransaction-driven payment plan is unknown at the time of writing. For more information, visit the official website here.