Wildstar and why I don’t like the Explorer path

Just when I thought I was pretty much not going to play Wildstar this year, Zenimax Online dropped the bomb and announced that The Elder Scrolls Online release date would be pushed back to spring 2014, to meet the launch date of Sony and Microsoft’s next-generation consoles. That’s one of the many things this “MMOs go console”-trend is gonna do for us in the future: delay stuff. Porting to different systems, creating individual interfaces and testing everything cross-platform takes time. Well, great. If it meant that the MMO community is growing, I could probably live with that but since servers will be split between different systems, there’s not really an upside there for PC players other than that Zenimax make more money (which will hopefully go back into designing great, future content updates).

So…Wildstar. A while ago I mentioned that no doubt this is a polished game with a good shot at the World of Warcraft demography. Since then, Carbine have been pretty open about it too – yes, we’re coming for ya, Blizzard! Only, we have the updated questing system and awesome player housing, along with all the PG-rated candyland. The latter is still one of my biggest qualms with the game: I am so over the Warcraft cartoon aesthetic. I do greatly appreciate the maturity in MMOs like Age of Conan or LOTRO, Rift and GW2 too are on my good side even if slightly more to the center of that Venn diagram. Wildstar shoots the hyper-fantasy rocket into deep space where it crashes somewhere between Outland and a Pixar movie. This is certainly no sword&sorcery MMO. But I digress.

venn

Feeling the Explorer path

Carbine’s spin on the Bartle profiles is interesting and if I was to choose a path for myself, no doubt that would be the explorer’s. Or such would’ve been my initial reaction because y’know – wandering around at random is awesome, listening to the world, discovering secrets and taking the long road whenever possible. Only, that’s not really what exploration means every time.

It struck me that while exploration has been widely praised in GW2 (and justly so), it’s also one of the most popularly gamified activities in the entire game. Players say exploration and mean “climbing all vistas”, hitting all pre-marked (!) points, “doing all jumping puzzles”, “getting the 100% achievement”. See that there? - Not me! I couldn’t care less if my world map is complete in GW2, I’ve a feeling it’s currently somewhere around 60% and that’s with me playing since launch. When I explore I don’t set out to find every last corner of a zone, let alone doing silly jumping puzzles. Oh, how I hate them. I want to smell the flowers and go wherever chance takes me. As for “mapping the world” -

“…there’s nothing worse to me than a world that’s fully discovered, fully mapped and fully understood. The moment we draw the last line in that picture is the moment we limit our world, the moment where it becomes small and finite – when hypothesis and speculation become hard fact and there is no more ‘may be’.

To a traveler and explorer “finishing a world” is the death of his playstyle. I want to stand at the shore of the southern sea and wonder forever what may lie beyond.” [source]

What am I gonna do once I’ve mapped the entire world? Let’s not map it!

Now, seems to me Wildstar’s explorer sounds an awful lot like exploration in GW2. The shiny somewhat wishy-washy job descriptions on the official page can’t conceal what gets very obvious in this explorer showcase or devspeak: climby vista-missions and timed (!) scavenger hunts, power maps (more jumping), achievements, completionism…on the clock.

To clarify: I realize that achievements can be a great motivator for some players to go and travel the world at all, although I can’t judge how much they are actually seeing and exploring it when they’re out hunting marks. In any case, that makes me wonder about two things: a) Is this path for people who are already explorers (and therefore need no achievements as ‘incentives’) or is it just another coat of paint for the achiever? And b) What’s in it for me who finds achievement spam, event markers and countdowns obtrusive to the exploratory experience rather than helpful?

Of course that begs one more question, namely what the hell I was expecting and I guess that’s fair. Exploration being such an intrinsically motivated activity for me of almost meditative quality, there’s just no active setting up or instrumentalizing this in an MMO, the way the devs would like to. Explorers like me need a living, breathing open world first and foremost, one that doesn’t flaunt its riches and doesn’t scream at you but offers reward in terms of discovering secrets and random events. Proper scale and size matter too, extensive travel and eye candy – plenty of that. It’s especially nice if you can “do” things – leave a mark, create or change something no matter how small (how would player-created geocaching do in MMOs I wonder?). What I’d like to see too is literally drawing your own maps instead of getting world map view all the time.

I’d be up for more erring in general; it’s bizarre beyond words that designers spend years creating virtual worlds and then hand you all the maps, event/location markers and even lists of “what you can do there” (aka achievements) from the get-go. And then they wonder why it all lasted a few weeks only.

Anyway, my preferred modus operandi isn’t nearly enough for a fully fledged, gamified playstyle with tangible progression and rewards, I get it. So for now the big question of which path to pick in Wildstar is back on the table. I’ll probably have to do the usual: “force” my inner explorer on any given path. It appears Settler is quite en vogue, so maybe I should just roll Kill…err Soldier out of spite and blow up all those jumping puzzles they no doubt created.

20 comments

    • João Carlos

      I ever felt WildStar will be a great game, but not the second coming of Buda. They are trying innovate, like it or not. The WoW clone model is dead and players need understand it. MMO need try new paths.

      I don’t believe that a sandbox will be a viable path, we will never return to “golden age” of UO, you can try raise Darkffall from dead all you can but it will ever fail. Maybe a sandbox with a storybrick system (that new Everquest) make the trick, but we will need wait and see.

      The “path” thing is a way for have a themepark that is diferent from the old EQ/WoW model. IMHO, both GW2 and WildStar try to have paths for all 4 archetypes (killer, socializer, explorer and achiever), but WildStar is more explicit about it. So, it is no surprise most players will try the settler path, the most common archetypes are achiever and socializer (settler appear appeal to both).

      IMHO, while MMO don’t find a new model we will see a lot of experimentation. I see that there is a strong trend for MMO use dynamic/public quests, ARR is using them and WildStar will use them too. And a lot of one player console games too will use them, form what I read about E3. So, I think we are seeing a strong trend arising.

      • Syl

        What I like about more sandboxy games is that they allow for more playstyles in general – like just being a crafter class or a farmer or whatever.

        I didn’t think the paths in WS were a bad thing – it creates replay value and a chance to do quests in different ways depending on who shares a party. but now seeing how they interpret the explorer…yeah, maybe not.

      • João Carlos

        @Syl,
        The worse problems with sandbox are 3:
        1. the freedom is illusory: players can only do what the tools devs give them permits: if there is no farming tools (like create sheeps, see Mabinog) , there are no farmers, if devs give the players only sand and buckets, players will create only sandcastles. However, IMHO storybricks will be a very interesting and versatile tool that devs can give to players, but I need see it working at Everquesnt Next.
        2. Players really have no creativity, the creative people are only 0.1% of population. Everyone can see it when players have tools like the forge (STO and Neverwinter), almost everything players create is not “creative”.
        2. for make things worse, devs normally add to sandbox the pvp. The idea is that players can destroy what the other players built, so the “crafter” players have an incentive to create more things. IMHO, it works like that guy that destroy the sandcastles other children children are making… children will just quit the idea to make more sandcastles. The problem with pvp is that there are a lot of non-pvp MMO for sheep go and that pvp games will have only wolves: the golden era of UO pvp died when Everquest was launched and never will return back from death.

        IMHO, that 3 problems don’t help sandbox to have a future. The problem #1 can be solved only if devs work a lot more for give mor etools for plaeyrs. So, it is not diferent from a themepark, where devs need work hard for give “content” for players.

        The problem #3 can be solved if devs separate pvp from pve, so players cannot destroy what other players built. But that is not diferent from any other themepark.

        And the problem #2 have no solution.

  1. Redbeard

    And don’t forget the Furry aspect of Wildstar, which will most likely appeal to some people too. Yeah, I suppose toons like Pandaren could fit that as well, but when some people say “Furry”, they’ll think the rabbit people in Wildstar before Pandaren.

    • Syl

      Y’know that ‘furry culture’ on the internet is beyond me :D (did you know there’s furry porn? *shudder*) the Aurin are sugary cute – I guess every cartoony MMO needs 1-2 cute classes at least. and big bulky guys.

    • Anonymous

      Speaking as someone with some knowledge on the subject, ahem, a given title won’t appeal to furries en-masse unless it offers a lot of customization (like Second Life). Some people are very interested in playing their particular neon-green half-tiger-half-hyena humanoid, but not so much in playing “generic rabbit person with the blue hair model”. I think Syl’s right, the market for a cute race or two in an MMO is much larger, whether or not that cute race is fuzzy or has a tail.

  2. Jeromai

    Exactly, I took one look at the Wildstar Explorer path and recoiled. It reads like a laundry list for achievers to hit. I was at about 40% world completion for GW2 when I hit 80 and it organically grew up to about 60% as I leveled alts and just wandered across new places.

    It has only hit 83% now because of a more focused effort to creep a bit closer to a Legendary (eventually) and due to guild missions, where one tends to hold up a group if waypoints are not filled in.

    One of the most rewarding notes I find GW2 hit for those who like to wander and explore are the semi-secret locations – tunnels, strange out of the way caves and other sights, sometimes with a chest at the end to say, “Hey, look, thanks for coming all the way over here!”

    I’ve never gone to specifically search out a jumping puzzle location via third party means, been hoarding them like candy for a burst of new and novelty when I finally do stumble into one in a zone.

    If anything, the Scientist/Lore path in Wildstar sounds more “explorer”-y, except I guess the moment you quantify anything into directed goals and missions, it hits achiever buttons.

    Then again, since most of us who play games have at least a secondary or tertiary achiever (if not primary), who’s to say it doesn’t make sense to cater to it? Even GW2 found that a majority of players tended to become at a loss without clear, directed signposts and goalposts.

    • Syl

      People may feel lost at first but if devs had the courage to let them experience that, they would also realize that it creates longevity and greater satisfaction along the way. I guess I really don’t understand this culture of immediate and constant reward. that’s why we have so many ’3-monthers’.

      I should look into the Scientist a bit more then. now that TESO is off, I am most likely going to check it out at some point….although I don’t really want to (lol). -.-

      Tunnels all the way in GW2! did you find some of the underwater ones? :D

      • Jeromai

        I’m afraid it may only create longevity and greater satisfaction in the minority who chose to stay. A good number may just throw up their hands in frustration and quit before giving it a chance.

        I think you may underestimate the amount of people who are simply at a loss without clear direction and a precise goal to follow – once I tried to get a group of forty or so very brainy teenagers (at an age where I thought creativity hadn’t been totally stifled out of them yet) to try an exploratory game and only about three got into it with minimal prompting, the rest flailed around helplessly and I had to clarify the objective of the game and start spelling out instructions every few minutes to lead them into it. That little informal survey made me rapidly revise my estimate of how many jump-into-it ‘explorers’ are out there. Adults, I suspect, would need even more guidance.

        As for underwater tunnels in GW2, let’s see. The tunnel leading into the Loreclaw jumping puzzle was my first exposure and still one of my favorites. I had to follow someone to find it, after what seemed like a good hour of wall hugging and climbing trying to figure out where the /say voices were coming from. The seaweed obscuring the entrance blew my mind – “you mean we’re supposed to pass -through- it?” – and changed my perspective of what GW2 was by quite a few degrees.

        Since then I’ve learned, if any POIs are mysteriously inaccessible, dive around into water nearby and check if there’s underwater entrances. Finding the quaggan hatchery in Bloodtide Coast was a highlight – CooOoo! So many baby quaggans!

        And there was that ginormous underwater cave system in one of the Ascalonian zones – Blazeridge Steppes, I think – that was very strange, nothing in them but tunnels and openings going here and there. Haven’t entirely figured that one out yet.

    • Syl

      I remember the first underwater tunnel I found was just in Borealis Forest which is the Norn starting area…I thought “this is gonna be very, very interesting”. :) stuff like that <3

      I see your point but then, even if it was just a minority staying for that, the others don’t stay either way; they stay for 3 months and then they’re “done”. why cater to them? how are they gonna keep paying anything longterm? seems to me your best shot is still the slower pace. there’s the chance that you can convert some people to that playstyle if only it seems worthwhile enough?

      • Jeromai

        That is true. I suppose it depends on the business/payment model.

        I’ve always thought it made sense for subscription games (and F2P games that are basically a trial in disguise for people to subscribe AND buy stuff from the cash shop) to cater to their subscribers and big spenders. At the same time, because they cater to them, it turns me personally off from the game as a player unwilling to spend that amount per month and I wander off to another game that suits me.

        I guess my particular bias is that I was looking on it from a more microtransaction or GW2 angle, where one basically wants to have a larger number of people interested in sticking with the game, many of whom will spend a bit and some of whom will spend a lot, so it makes sense to not have too high barriers to entry/retention.

        If the game can be a commercial/financial success catering to the group that pays the devs’ salaries, then it doesn’t have to appeal to everybody’s tastes.

        Question is, is the group that can cope without achiever signposts big enough, or is it about the same size as the FFA PvP sandbox niche, which tends to death spiral in on itself?

  3. Tesh

    I “Explore” because that’s who I am, not because game designers have told me to do it. I think that’s a a critical point; I don’t need my exploration to be incentivized, I just need places to go and things to see, with as few arbitrary borders as possible. Give me a screenshot function and a free cam (flying character, first person view works in a pinch) and I’m good to go.

    • Syl

      Exactly. from that PoV the path in WS is rather misleading. it doesn’t feel like a path for explorers but a path for achievers to explore.

  4. John

    I totally agree with you :) When I was “exploring” in gw2 I found myself 80% of the time play on the map(the one you open by pressing “M” :) ) and being a moving arrow towards some orange boxes rather than playing on real map and being an adventurer that actually explores…

    Last time I had a good time exploring was at Age of Wushu. I have puted my skill on que for the next rank and you know..no rush..I could take my time and do whatever Iwant and I would still progress in x time…no rushing from quest to quest to maximize my xp, just explore, moving around, see the world, take screenshots while waiting the skill rank to “ding” and que the next :)

    This is vital for me…in order to enjoy exploring and in order to really explore the world, I need to play an MMO that doesn’t create a feeling of rushing for me..rushing to catch up with friends, rushing to the next level, e.t.c. So far only 2 managed to let me enjoy exploring..Lotro and Age of Wushu

    • Syl

      Rush is the worst. I also appreciate it if the world isn’t progressed, ideally there are no level restrictions and flat leveling curves. no levels at all would be even better – let me go wherever I like and make it skillbased progression.

      I haven’t played AoW but I watched some reviews. It does look very exotic and interesting.

  5. Brak

    The explorer path looks a lot like it was made for achievers. I’ll probably choose the scientist. That looks like it might offer a good chance to interact and explore the world, which you know I’m going to do anyway.

    Achievers = Explorer path
    Explorers = Scientist path
    Socializers = Settlers
    Killers = Killers?

    Seems to me that developers have a really hard time with explorers. I think they’re afraid that nobody is going to find the cool places they create. Or if someone does, it’ll just be one person and that person won’t share how cool it is and somehow that means the development effort is wasted. It’s a leap of faith to build a world and trust that explorer players will actually do what they’re inclined to do in an open world. So the designers end up hedging their bets by providing external motivations to find the vistas or caves or whatever’s off the beaten track. And that turns it into a completionist’s game of filling the map. Ding! ugh.

    • Syl

      That’s true – and yet, time and again have we experienced what happens if you don’t make everything so accessible and when you hide things: people talk – people make news – people take screenshots and videos. today more than ever, it takes a few minutes until hot stuff is posted on twitter and goes to community websites from there. but then, I cannot guess the number of casual players who never open a website. maybe there are that many, I don’t know. maybe they would do it more if the game gave them more reasons to.

      I definitely need to look into the Scientist. it seems to be my closest shot. in the end it doesn’t matter so much does it, it’s not the class – it’s just a preconceived notion of how people play. which is kinda weird because that’s what we’ll do anyway.

      • Dersen Lowery

        I’d say that’s the problem. Game releases “huge, immersive world” -> Players eventually document the world to the point of exhaustion in walkthroughs -> Developer figures that it’s better to just build the map into the game than have people play with the game on one side of the screen and a web browser on the other.

        There are a great number of game design options that the rest of the internet makes pointless, or at least redundant. The explorer’s path is one of them. As long as worlds are actually quite small for design, size and performance reasons, there will always be a timer on the exploration career, regardless of what the game developer does.

  6. Imakulata

    Personally, I think there is enough grimdark hyperrealistic MMOs and I would like to see more nice ones – or even cute and cartoonish but it seems Western developers do not think it’d be a good way to make money. (Considering how much people complain about every single one, it may be true.) Luckily, W* and WoW with MoP went for the nicer graphics, although I wish I could get more excited about them than I am.

    As for the paths, I don’t really feel any connection to Bartle’s stereotypes at all. Sure, socializers get their own path but you already mentioned explorers and killers appear to be even worse off than explorers who at least get an attempt on their path. The only path that involves other players is settler but it’s about interacting with them rather than acting on them. The other paths seem to be varied content for achievers, or A>>E at best.

    On the other hand, I feel GW2′s Vistas are on the same boat – but GW2 appears to have a lot of content that seem to be catered to explorers as well. (At least it seemed that way to me – maybe I just haven’t played GW2 long enough to get out of the initial stage as far as my impressions go.) However, it seems to be quite hard to advertise such content. As an example, addon creation, despite having quite a high barrier of entry, seem to be quite interesting content for explorers to me. Two-faction system is a feature for killers and killers only. Leveling has been a feature for achievers for a long time, I feel that as a player whose achiever score is low I need to look to other features to satisfy.

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