Off The Beaten Trail

I don’t know if I like the title of this post. It’s the first thing that popped into my head when I looked at this picture I took from my time in Wildstar last night.

The hookah-smoking splorg

I found this guy (and another “Alice in Wonderland” reference in the next room) because as an Explorer, I was on top of a waterfall looking for the last element of a scavenger hunt. In that process, I noticed some mushrooms outside of a tiny cave, and when I activated the mushroom, I was shrunk to a size that allowed me to scoot into the cavern, where this guy apparently still thought it was 4/20.

This is where MMOs tend to really shine, with the inclusion of these “off the beaten trail” perks that you find only when you’re not so head-down and rushing to the end game. While relatively inconsequential to progress (I scored an achievement, and some housing items in the cave), someone on the design team thought that this would be a cool thing to include in the game…but only if someone happened to be at the right place to find it. Why would someone be at the right place, especially if they hadn’t started on the scavenger hunt? Normally I can’t see any other reason except for someone seeing the waterfall and it’s levels of plateaus and wondering if there was anything worthwhile up there. Which there was.

In Support Of Blasting Through Content

This isn’t actually something I normally support, but I got to thinking about my current Wildstar experience, and some of the bon mots that typically surround the MMO genre, and in doing the math, I think I understand why I’m enjoying the game up to this point.

The one statement that has always made my cringe is “the game doesn’t start until the level cap”. The explanation, of course, is that the real challenging content is in the end game: raiding, mostly, but by virtue of great ideas, hilariously encompasses repetitive dailies and mindlessly grinding for gear. Wiseassery aside, the game itself has all lead up to the point where you’ve gotten enough practice in to really put your skills to the test, which is the desire of every MMO player, right? Right? Sure, why not.

Except that journey is really fucking long. Like, really long if you’re soloing or have no power-leveling group which buys into the idea that the decades of levels, zones, content, dialog, gear, NPCs, enemies, dungeons, and anything else I might have missed are nothing but time-wasters holding them back from what they really should be doing. If this idea of starting the game at the cap were true…why don’t we start the game at a the cap? Why hire designers and artists and developers to create 50-100 levels worth of throw-away content that passes by like scenery outside our bullet-train window on our way to our destination? Why not just make level 1 super powerful, and the game nothing but one big Raid-Go-Round?

I only every got to about level 68 in World of Warcraft before I couldn’t stomach any more. And that was about two or three years ago. There was a lot to do, with several expansions, that I had about three quarters as much ahead of me as I had already put behind me, and as someone who doesn’t raid, I couldn’t endure the slog any longer. Some people say that WoW is too easy to level, and I’m sure it is if you’re on your second account because you’ve filled your first with the as many alts as the game let you create.

Wildstar was created by many ex-WoW minions who have claimed that they wanted to “fix what was wrong with WoW“, and they have, in a manner of speaking, in regards to their level curve.

Normally, I’m extremely sensitive to this curve. I have made it to the cap in only two games — one because I had people to play with, which kept my interest and momentum, and the other because of an automatic supplement to active XP gets. Normally I burn out between levels 15 and 30, which when you consider that a lot of games have caps between 60 and 100 equates to the young adult demographic if we’re talking age.

So far with Wildstar, I haven’t even had that inkling. I’ve consciously thought to myself, “do I want to keep going with this”, and the answer has always been a mental backhand. Normally when I find that question being asked, it’s not so much a question as an ultimatum, and I know the end is near. This time, the leveling in Wildstar is happening so smoothly that my need to see progression is assuaged without my even knowing it. In most games my trigger fires when I can’t progress, quest wise, but Wildstar hasn’t been shy about piling on the work. I’ve even got back-up work like tradeskills and work orders, housing planning, and Path missions. And although I’m not usually an alt-lover I haven’t ever gotten very far on the Exile side, so I have that entire half of the game to tackle.

Now, it could be that I’m still in the “honeymoon zone”, and I may find that the higher the level, the more of a slog it becomes, but I don’t know that it’ll bother me. I’ve not been measuring my progress by level so much as I have been by sub-zone and zone, with the Most Metal Level Up Noise Ever being the icing on the cake. And of course there’s Path stuff, and finding the hidden crap that’s out there…knowing it’s out there, but not knowing where…

Wildstar is the first game that I think has purposefully put it’s money where it’s mouth is in regard to the game starting at the cap, because they’ve done a good job at making the journey worthwhile, and not something you simply blast through. I know old habits die hard for some (as there were level 50s very shortly after the game launched), but the game really seems to want people to hurry up and get to the cap already…but not at the expense of the hard work that the devs and artists and musicians put into the journey.