PvE and PvP, like two sides of a coin. Ha, yeah right. Everyone knows PvE is where it's at. Carbine Studios agrees, which is why they slapped me in the face with WildStar's PvE awesomeness last week during a press event showcasing many the game's previously unrevealed core features. Here be the place where we talk about the big, Elder Game focused PvE systems, by which I mean: Raids, Dungeons, and Adventures.
For those unfamiliar with the terms, that's Raids as in forty like-minded players struggling against the biggest bosses and the most complex scenarios to have graced an MMO since that one time in Molten Core when Ragnaros bugged out and killed everyone in one swing of his hammer. Dungeons, which are party-based, story-driven experiences when leveling, which at 50 gain a veteran mode that turns them into precise, challenging encounters where every role must perform exceptionally. Then there's Adventures, something new that WildStar is doing, which are unique missions that have complex and dynamic structures for parties to explore and discover.
Hopefully this preview, some of which is hands-on and some of which is hands-off, will provide a broader look at WildStar's PvE Elder Game.
Let's start off with the show stopper. WildStar will start off with two Raids, a 20-person Raid named the Genetic Archives and a 40-man Raid named the Datascape. Basically, nothing I say from this point on is going to accurately describe the intensity and complexity of the fights the press were shown from either dungeon. I figure it's best that I say that now, before I move on and don't adequately describe how insane Carbine Studios is and how impressed I am with what they're trying to achieve.
We, the press, did not play a raid. That would have been quite the joke for everyone to laugh at. My group couldn't even beat trash pulls in the first dungeon in the game. We did, however, get a live display of a developer showing us the in-game mechanics for several bosses from both Raids. We also saw beta testers who are currently attempting the earliest of encounters in Genetic Archives play through a boss fight unaware they were being recorded. Plus, there were a good number of videos just to drive points home.
Raids are, like I said earlier, extremely insane. Here's part one of that insanity. Those familiar with WildStar will understand that its combat system is based heavily on movement, skill-shots, and avoiding or reacting to "telegraphs" or more specifically big red dangers zones where damage is either happening or about to happen. A majority of the boss fights, mini-boss fights and trash pulls (they call them "base population" because calling them trash is a gross misrepresentation of how terrifying they are) feature more red on the ground than safe areas to walk. My first though was, "SHMUP," because these fights seriously seem like a bullet-hell game in 3D... but it's an MMO.
Continuing with part one, here are some examples of encounters we were shown. There's a room full of columns, that when the fight starts each column lights up with lasers sticking out of its sides and starts rotating. The boss then turns invisible and players have to hunt through this timing-based puzzle of spinning laser columns to find her. She then ports back to the middle and the raid has to make their way back to . Another fight takes place on a grid of discs. A single player flashes and he escapes to a point away from the group, where the disc he stands on turns into a bomb. As he runs the disc explodes, but another player begins to light up. This time, the red circle around him grows to half the room. When it explodes it takes half the tiles, dropping half the raid into the abyss. Then another player lights up. We saw literal spinning mazes around bosses, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Part two of the insanity, as if the telegraph hell wasn't enough, revolves around the fact that many of the bosses we saw had completely unique mechanics designed purely for their fight alone. For example, this one fight that sticks out in my mind involves a boss fight on a grid of tiles, not unsimilar to the one described earlier. However, this time time the tiles are not connected, there's a distance of open air between each one. A distance that can't be jumped. Luckily the developers were nice enough to provide players with an electric grappling hook. This allows each player to individually swing between platforms, or even to target another player and pull them towards themself. It wouldn't be a fun mechanic, of course, unless the boss made sure to knock players off the platforms constantly and then destroy the platform itself. What a jerk.
I don't know if I'll ever get to the point where I'm doing raids, but I can't help being fascinated by the idea of them. In the time that Carbine spent discussing raids with me there were several moments where I thought back to individual experience I had in MMO end game where I'd said, "This is a really cool moment, I wish the whole fight was like this. Carbine genuinely seems excited about creating raid fights like that, focusing on the cool stuff and cutting out the lame and the boring. If anything, just the effort alone is appreciated.
Oh dear, oh dear. Do I really have to talk about dungeons now? WildStar features 5-man parties, which means that a dungeon composition typically includes a Warrior tank, a Medic healer and three DPS roles to fill out the party. I could have, no, should have played one of the important roles, but when we started the level 20 (first dungeon of the game) dungeon Stormtalon's Lair it was immediately clear things had gone very wrong.
We wiped on trash, err, the base population almost immediately. Our Medic didn't know how healing worked in WildStar and our Tank, bless his heart, probably never heard of "agro" before in his life. I'm mildly ashamed to say our team had a developer grant us "God Mode" only 15-minutes into the run. From there things went great! Our party was able to play through the whole dungeon and I only died three times with invulnerablity turned on.
Dungeons are, for comparison's sake, just smaller versions of the raids that will come along down the line. They're extremely challenging, with mini-bosses and full bosses bring devious and complex. Veteran Mode dungeons add mechanics to encounters, doubling down on difficulty and ensuring that players are never allowed to simply sit on their hands and farm dungeons for free.
Considering Stormtalon's Lair is one of the first dungeons in the game, it will come as a surprise when I say that the boss fights inside of it were comparable to Star Wars: The Old Republic's Eternity Vault, that MMO's final boss at retail launch. In fact, there were several similar mechanics from Soa, the Infernal One, that I found in the first boss fight and were better implemented. Yes, I'm saying that the first Dungeon fight in WildStar recreated some of the epic moments I never experienced until the very end game of another MMO. That's how much action is involved in these fights.
Unforunately WildStar will launch with only four Dungeons total, but if all four Dungeons provide an experience like the one I had in Stormtalon's Lair then they're easily worth a handful of other easily forgettable MMO dungeons. Like I said before, the attention to detail that went into each fight's design is extremely impressive.
To flesh out party-based Elder Game content, in addition to Dungeons Carbine is also introducing Adventures. There will be six Adventures at launch, though one is faction specific to each side so most players will only ever experience five of them. These guys scale up all the way to 50, thus providing a unique type of Elder Game Content. See, Adventures aren't meant to be repeated in the same fashion as Dungeons, because every playthrough of an Adventure is meant to offer choices that make each run a completely different experience. Yes, they have Veteran versions that drop gear to prep for raiding.
The press was shown one specific Adventure in particular to showcase the ideas behind the PvE game-type. The Malgrave Trail features the party following and protecting a caravan through the desert. It's no the real zone of Malgrave, but rather a simulation that the character "Caretaker" has created as a... test environment. A map was shown showing the dozens, and I mean dozens, of alternate routes that the Adventures could split towards depending on an assortment of choices or variables. Adventures aren't meant to be played the same way twice, and reward players for trying new things.
Additionally, where "Paths" only support Dungeon and Raids in a passive capacity, they take a primary role in Adventures. For instance on Malgrave Trail, additional Soldiers make for more combat-focused paths and Explorers make for an easier time wandering the longer-distance paths. Each path contributes and the party composition will definitely lead to complicated decisions the further along the path that players get.
Unique gameplay means unique rewards, too. Adventures can provide any number of items, from housing items to crafting stuffs depending on which paths were taken. Veteran Adventures will definitely result in very high-end gear, too. That is to say, Adventures are 100% viable Elder Game option for player otherwise focused on min-maxing their characters. Or, you know, they're just a great change of pace.
Other adventures beyond the Malgrave Trail, which is meant to be an MMO/WildStar take on the Oregon Trail game, include a murder mystery Adventure, a wave-based defense Adventure and more. What I love about the idea of Adventures is they provide gameplay options to players, and this is reflected in all of WildStar's Elder Game content. Players don't have to just follow the one path to "finishing" an MMO. It's not just about getting the next piece of gear, it's about constantly having fun and keeping things interesting.
One key thought is captured, bouncing around my head as I think about the PvE Elder Game of WildStar. It's that first boss fight in Stormtalon's Dungeon, which captured a moment from a fight I'd long forgotten and turned it into a whole awesome boss fight. That's what WildStar is going for. It's like they're creating lists of awesome things they remember from other MMOs and focusing on spreading that awesome stuff everywhere they can.
They don't want 10 mediocre Dungeons with one piece of end game armor each, they want four awesome Dungeons that ar challenging and will pull players back for the fun of it alone. They want one epic 20-person Raid and one epic 40-person raid and then they will let the community decide which one was more epic and make more of that content. They want quirky, fun and complex Adventures to be available for the times when everyone's tired of playing Dungeons and Raids.
Never underestimate a community's ability to devour content and turn things that would otherwise be fun to try and experiment with into repetitive, boring trite, but WildStar's doing their best to create MMO content that doesn't just feel like the same old MMO content. At least, that's the impression I picked up from my time with the game so far.
I can't wait for everyone to see some of these WildStar Raid boss fights in motion.
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.