MMOs have lived and died as a result of their PvP systems and WildStar doesn't plan to launch without a robust selection of options for gamers who love to get their ganking on. They start with all the staple PvP systems of a theme park MMO: PvP servers with open world PvP, dueling for all servers, Arenas where pre-formed teams face each other in pure combat, and Battlegrounds where more casually formed teams fight over map-specific objectives. Then there's something new: Warplots.
Warplots are huge 40v40 PvP matches where each war party builds their own fortress of battle and fights to destroy their opponent's. Winners move up the rankings and losers move down. There's also a whole secondary system for war parties, rather like a PvP version of a guild, with internal rankings and permissions related to building the complicated fortress. Or, if "people" aren't your specialty then players can queue for Warplots as a mercenary and get paired in matches based off of a personal Warplot ranking separate from full-team Warplot rankings. Boom.
Let's break it down.
Arenas weren't show during the press event! Oh well. While I wasn't able to get to try out Arenas by themselves they were detailed and the philosophy behind them was discussed. Basically, Arenas are WildStar's way of offering an environment for pure competition between players. Pre-set teams of 2, 3 or 5 go head to head on what I believe will be two different maps, of which only the Slaughterdome Arena was shown. At level 50 each player can be a member of a single team of each size and will be ranked on their skill. Arenas will, of course, be available much earlier in the game for players wanting to fight ASAP (12 and 17 for the two maps, I believe).
Rather than simply have each team destroy each other once and requeue, Arenas will feature a "respawn count" that will deplete with each death. The winning team is the one that kills enough team members on their opponent's team to deplete that respawn count and then clean up whoever is left standing. In other words, a team is only as strong as their weakest link.
Arenas are meant to be played competitively. Carbine specifically implemented them for the competitive crowd who won't be happy with dueling, for the crowd that demands to know how they stand up against other players in skill. Carbine's just building the arenas where the fights take place. Yes, they want this to evolve into something considered an eSport.
Does "Capture the Flag" and "King of the Hill" ring a bell? Introducing WildStar's Battlegrounds, Walatiki Temple and Halls of the Bloodsworn. The first is a tiki-mask stealing map of different elevations, random mask spawns and cursed bridges. Damn those bridges! Halls of the Bloodsworn will be focused around securing a single capture point, the more team members on the point the faster it's captured, though several smaller sub-capture points can be taken to increase progress gain. Options!
WildStar considers Battlegrounds to be a less hardcore form of PvP Elder Game, which means they're meant to be casually queued for and played as much for fun than for anything else. That means that these two initial maps, which unlock sometime after 20, aren't traditional "Capture the Flag" or "King of the Hill" game-types. They have fun rules like being able to steal opponents masks or the sub-capture points. Trust me, the floor still runs red with blood, but these 10v10 maps are meant for winding down after Arenas or winding up before Warplots.
I was able to play a really great round of Walatiki Temple during the press event. The map's elevation changes, random mask spawn points around the center, and round shape accented to extremely mobile aspects of the combat system very well. There was a ton of knockbacks, slows, jumping between areas to surprise foes and everything worth expecting from these types of game modes.
My team quickly jumped to a 3-mask lead taking masks as they spawned in the center. A developer playing a Medic sitting next to me and I were able to capitalize on our opponents' disarray and lack of familiarity with the map (but seriously, most of the press at the event were super unfamiliar with MMOs in general). Then a few key figures of the other team stepped up. It must have been other developers, because they started stealing our tiki-masks from our base while a majority of our team fought an endless battle in the center of the map. Suddenly we were down 4-3 and things looked bad.
Then, much to my surprise things went both extremely lucky and extremely buggy. An opponent picked up a mask that had spawned directly in the middle of the map and, thinking victory was at hand, ran towards the wrong base. We ended up killing him just a few steps from our capture point and a number of us attempted to pick up the mask at the same time. To my surprise two of us, myself and the developer beside me, both picked up a mask. The bug powers above had divided the mask so that I might win (still in beta, folks). We cashed in and walked out the victors. Heals are overpowered.
Warplots, Part 1: The Rules
Here's the topic everyone has been waiting for, right? 40v40 organized PvP with city-building and city-destroying. It's the type of competitive, end-game, organized PvP that's been found lacking in, well, virtually every MMO I've ever been a part of. Other MMOs may have open-world organized PvP, sometimes with sieging, but while I love that too Warplots is something unique to itself. Carbine has a real opportunity to make something special here.
Let's start out like a player would. I form a war party to play in Warplots, which is rather like a guild, and promote my friends and guildmates into it for a total of around 35 people. I won't need exactly 40, because those extra slots will be filled by mercenaries when we queue up. Before we can do that though we need to make our Warplot, otherwise the enemy team will walk into our base and destroy us.
Not just anyone in the war party can build out the war plot. Only those with the right rank and permissions can perform the necessary actions to get a plot ready. Now that the permissions are straight the editor can be opened and the team can consider what plugs to put where. Plugs! Those familiar with WildStar's housing may be familiar with this term. See, a WarPlot isn't just a free-form, place structures where you please sort of environment. Only specific types of "Plugs" can be placed in very specific areas.
For example, the Warplot my team eventually played on featured the following plugs: Two hazard/NPC spawn plugs, two buff plugs, one travel plug, one ultra weapon plug, and at the center was our boss plug. Yes, a boss plug, where the Warplot can summon bosses that we've previously defeated in PvE (as long as we have their token) and send them to attack our enemies. All of these plugs can be swapped out for a number of different specific options, but they always have generally the same organization. Enemy teams have to fight through the hazards and NPC spawn plugs to get to the stronger, less immediately dangerous or passive plugs inside the base.
Once the warplot is finished the team can queue at any time, but they should be aware of one additional rule. Depending on the plugs the team has used in its warplot, a tax will be levied on the team throughout the match. See, a Warplot battle is a battle of attrition where each team tries to deplete their opponent's resource reserve. They can do this multiple ways, killing players, controlling points in the center of the map, destroying warplot structures, and so on. The bigger the warplot, the bigger tax on the teams. That means teams shouldn't equip plugs unless they're using them.
Then comes the battle. The field is set, with each team's warplot at either end of the battlefield and in the center a barren and rocky landscape with the five capture points that slow resource attrition. The winning Warplot has its ranking increase and all if the players on that team have their individual Warplot rankings bumped up as well. They're then free to spend their resources on PvP gear or Warplot plugs for the future as they see fit.
Warplots, Part 2: The Match
Yes, we got to play a Warplot match, though there were only enough players to feature a 20v20 match instead of 40v40. Before we get into the details I think it's important to say that most of the press at the event were first, not experienced with MMOs, second, completely unfamiliar with WildStar, and third, bad at PvP. I believe by the end of the match I had near double the kills of the second ranked player and I spent a lot of time exploring the map or completely lost. The match was still interesting, but it was not what it could have been. Lastly, before we start, I need to say that for some reason the opposing team's warplot didn't spawn and their base was empty the entire match. Huge bummer.
Despite all of the above, the Warplot match was ridiculously fun. I'd equip my hoverboard and charge forward until I found a fight, or spot one on my map, and I'd shoot my way through the enemies until none were left standing. WildStar's combat system is perfect for creating a frenetic, action-packed PvP system. The warplots weren't even needed. There were chases through hazardous environments, epic fights that began at one point and ended across the map with action all the way, small 1v1 skirmishes where other players cheered on both sides, and not once during the forty minute event could any of it could a single player simply stop and spam skills. Everyone was moving constantly -- it was exhilarating.
In terms of overall strategy, well, there were a few surprises mixed in with the otherwise expected results. Our opponents found that twenty players on a map built for forty resulted in their team being unprepared for the defenses our base offered. They also found that a lack of defenses resulted in them being overwhelmed early on. It was a slaughter.
Our team pushed to hold all five of the capture points in the wastelands between the two bases. To my surprise, it seemed like holding these was actually not too much of a lead for me team. Attrition, likely due to the taxes associated with our plugs, kept us relatively close to our plug-less opponents. Our team experimented with pushing into the enemy base to try and destroy their "Generators" which would immediately end the game, but either due to imbalance or our lack of numbers this proved 100% impossible. Thus, we farmed the enemy team.
While our team had the opportunity to upgrade our base's plugs, each with three tiers of upgrades, or to use a number of other benefits available to us, most of us just preferred to fight. The potential complexity of a match, upon further consideration, melts my brain a little bit. It's hard for me to imagine, what with the epic confrontations that I did experience, a more complicated match with enemy NPCs, lasers raining from the sky, or even a 40-man raid boss leading the charge against my own base. Let's just hope there's enough time between matches for big PvP guilds/war parties to keep open-world PvP running too.
What I think is important to walk away from this WildStar preview with is an understanding that Carbine is doing a great job offering opportunities to players. These are options, nothing more. Some are highly tactical and competitive, like Arenas, or strategic like Warplots, while others are more casual but still high on action, like Battlegrounds. There's lots of choices, which is great for players of a wide variety. Everyone can participate to the extent they're comfortable with... and get rewarded. I didn't get into rewards, because it shouldn't be a big deal vs. the actual experience of PvP, but trust me everyone will get plenty of loot (through rather traditional means).
It's easy for me to say that each of these Player versus Player match types will be equally successful, because I know that they all revolve around one core feature that I'm enamored with -- combat. Carbine's really created a great system here, a system focused on movement sure, but more than that skill shots. It's not about tab-targeting and mashing buttons, it's about precision, prediction and performance. It's about playing the game rather than relying on underlying systems like gear and class balance.
I played four different classes in my PvP adventures and each of them felt viable and fun in their own unique ways. Certainly Carbine has their work cut out for them in terms of ensuring nothing feels overpowered, but for an MMO they've definitely got something great on their hands. That doesn't change the fact that WildStar is still a theme park MMO 100%, but if PvP is any indication then at least Carbine is recognizing what they are and ensuring the best of that is available to players constantly.
Note: This preview is a result of my attendance at a Carbine Studios press event where room and board was provided. The hands-on experiences were had on a closed testing environment where the only other participants were other members of the press and Carbine Studios employees.