[EDIT: Made some amendments to inaccuracies in this article. Thanks to user ruff1298!]

World of Warcraft was, and still is, huge. In the first couple of years after release, nothing came close to Blizzard’s trend-setter. The AAA polish, charming art design, and detailed locations are arguably unsurpassed almost a decade later.

Like many others, I’ve spent a solid chunk of time looking for the next ‘big thing’ in the MMO world, something that feels truly fresh and invigorating in the same way WoW used to be. Guild Wars 2 did a lot right, but, beyond streamlining, didn’t exactly reinvent the genre. EVE Online is incredible for being a truly sandbox MMO, but is notoriously difficult to get into. The MMO genre still lives in the shadow of the Warcraft behemoth, and is due for a shakeup.

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WildStar features cartoony sci-fi, with its tongue firmly in its cheek.

To be honest, when I first looked into Carbine Studios’ WildStar, I didn’t think much of it. Screenshots make the game look like yet another WoW clone, with the cartoony graphics and familiar UI. However, looking a little deeper, it’s clear that Carbine Studios want to create what no developer has since Blizzard; a popular MMO that has casual appeal, while keeping hardcore players interested. A difficult task, but I think there could be something special in the works.

WildStar is being released in a similar time period to the launches of The Elder Scrolls Online and Final Fantasy XIV: Realm Reborn. In many ways, WildStar is the underdog, with the other two titles having long, successful franchises to back them up. However, WildStar has a secret weapon. Innovation.

Don’t get me wrong, ESO and FFXIV:RR look like they’ll be great, for a while anyway. ESO looks possibly the most dodgy out of the lot, with a questionable combat system and triple-dipping payment system. I’ve played the FFXIV beta, and it’s a fine game, with incredibly beautiful graphics and a high level of polish. However, both games don’t seem to be doing much beyond adding their own flavour to the tried-and-tested theme park MMO formula.

WildStar appears to be blending the best of both the Sandbox and Theme Park MMO, as well as adding some exciting new mechanics and features. Here’s some of the more exciting stuff.

Real player housing

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Player houses have the potential to be bustling social hubs, quiet farms, or just a place to show off your best trophies

Everyone wants a good player housing system, but it’s never been done well in a modern MMO. WildStar looks to change that. Players can build their houses from scratch, adding components and rooms as they progress. It’s totally customisable, with objects and furniture able to be placed wherever you want, instead of preset arrangements. The player will also be able to build things in non-instanced areas, meaning that what you build has an impact on the world.

The player is given access to a home early in the game, and it takes the form of a fairly large floating ‘island’. Within this space, you can build your main house, spaceports, farm plots, mines and other helpful stuff. You could even try and create a home that will attract other players, by housing important vendors or portals to dungeons. Homes can be set to private, for just you and your friends, or public. Of course, having a public home could leave you open to players stealing your farm crops!

Here’s the official video that explains the basics of player housing:

Having a fully customisable home space, as well as your character, is a great way of providing incentive for progression. It’s also nice to see that there are real in-game benefits to having an upgraded home, beyond just cosmetic and show-off reasons. Guilds will also be able to construct bases, with suggestions of player-built towns and cities in the works…

Unique new combat system

WildStar has a combat system that means you must aim skills and abilities, while dodging enemy attacks. It looks a bit like a cross between the system in Guild Wars 2 and Tera. The combat makes use of a ‘telegraph system’. This means that your attacks are ‘telegraphed’ to the opponent, in the form of coloured markers on the ground, which can be dodged by a quick player.

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Aiming and dodging are both vital

In practice, this could mean that you have a Warrior, and want to use a big cleave attack. You’d aim a semi-circle in front of your, which can be seen by the enemy. Your opponent would then have a short time in which to dodge the attack.

It sounds like a pretty great system, balancing twitch skill and strategy, in a similar way to MOBA heroes with ‘skillshot’ abilities. Another really interesting feature is the crowd control abilities. CC can be a pain in the ass in many MMOs, often involving being stunned, unable to do anything for a few seconds. WildStar has gone for a far more ambitious, inventive way of dealing with crowd control though. For example, some enemies may use a ‘disarm’ ability on you. In most games, this would remove the ability to attack for a few seconds. However, in WildStar, your weapon is literally knocked out of your hands, and flies into the air before dropping on the ground away from you. From there, you then have the option to wait out the debuff automatically, or run towards your weapon in order to attack once again.

It’s an exciting prospect, and should make for a combat system for more dynamic than anything seen in most modern MMOs. Here’s the official video, explaining WildStar’s crowd control:

Play how you want

WildStar-Paths-CharactersCarbine really do seem keen to attract every type of MMO player. WildStar features something called the ‘Path System’, which will allow you to specialise in the aspect of the game you most enjoy. Four paths have been announced:

  • Explorer
  • Settler
  • Soldier
  • Scientist

These ‘paths’ are totally different to the classes. Carbine explain it best on their site:

Picking a Class is choosing the way you like to fight. Are you a gunslinger, a squishy healer, or meatshield? Picking your Path is choosing your playstyle. Do you like to explore dangerous places, kill enemies, or study things? Make a choice, and we’ll make sure you get lots of what you like.

What it seems to come down to, is allowing you to play more of the quests that you enjoy playing. For example, the Explorer is focussed on scavenging, racing, surveillance, and, of course, exploration. If you’re a fan of finding hidden treasures, trying to figure out how to get up that huge mountain, or just racing around the map, then this is probably the path best suited for you.

The Settler path is probably the most unique out of the four, and is focused on building and creating. The settler is able to create stuff like vendors, pubs, and hospitals, all of which are very helpful to both themselves and fellow players. Settlers are also able to create vehicles to speed up travel. It seems that Settlers are mainly focused on helping their fellow players, and gaining bonus experience while they’re at it.

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Exploration in general seems to be a large part of WildStar

The Soldier is possibly the most traditional out of the four, in that you’ll be mainly killing monsters. It does, however, sound like there’s a bit of a twist on the usual ‘kill x of x’ type of quest. You’ll be given experimental weaponry, assassination targets, security duties, and rescue operations. Judging from the gameplay footage, combat will be a blast, so more of it is by no means a bad thing.

Finally, the Scientist is the path for those who love the lore in MMO games. Scientists will be focussed on the whys whens and hows, exploring deep caves and high mountains in the search for answers. The Scientist will be given quests like identifying plants, searching for animals, fixing broken machines and uncovering mysteries. To be honest, it sounds less appealing to me than the other three, but I’ll hold judgement until I can get a hands on.

Here’s the official video explaining the path system:

The game will have pretty much the same payment system as WoW, in that you buy the game itself, then pay a monthly subscription. Time will tell whether or not the subscription will be worth the money. Interestingly, the game allows you to ‘play to pay’, by allowing players to purchase ‘C.R.E.D.D.’ using in-game gold. This ‘C.R.E.D.D.’ is then redeemed in exchange for subscription time. It’s a system that’s proven effective in Eve Online, although it’s yet to be seen whether it’ll be a viable method for casual players, or just one for the hardcore elite.

Of course, there’s so much more to talk about. Like 40-man raids. And a dynamically changing world, shaped by the players. Did I mention that there’s vehicular combat? Expect to hear a lot more about this game from us in the coming months.

WildStar is due for release early next year. The game is currently in closed beta, which can be applied for here, but currently appears to have a colossal waiting list. Needless to say, I’m very excited at the prospect of WildStar, and I hope that Carbine can deliver in creating the next truly great MMO world.