When the path system was first revealed close to WildStar’s initial announcement, it was presented as a major tentpole of the game to set it apart from the rest of the MMO pack. Somewhat loosely based on Bartle’s gaming types, paths were to add a customized dimension to a person’s play experience.
Originally, you weren’t going to be just a class but a class and a path said in the same breathless sentence. “I am a Warrior-Explorer” and the like. It was an intriguing hook that showed that the developers wanted the game to mold itself somewhat to the player instead of strictly vice-versa.
Yet something went wrong with paths along the way, even before WildStar released. Today it’s quite rare to hear players discussing paths or getting excited about them. Even Carbine mentions them only reluctantly as part of a feature list on occasion before putting them back in the corner with Baby.
But now that the Reloaded patch is out, I think it’s time that we look to fixing this system and raising it up to its true potential. Who’s with me?
Problem #1: Studio apathy
Granted, Carbine’s had a lot bigger issues on its hands than shoring up the path system this year. The studio chose to focus on getting the new business model and myriad other improvements out of the door, and I don’t begrudge any of those for taking priority. However, Carbine’s apathy toward the path system predates the game’s release, so I’m not totally letting it off the hook here.
If you go way back to the original game announcement and then follow the path to launch, you’d see that while Carbine was initially gonzo over paths (“one of our biggest features,” the studio said in May 2013), gradually the focus shifted away from such sandboxy features and more toward other, more traditional and hardcore areas. Maybe Carbine wasn’t seeing as strong of a response from its growing community over paths, so it decided to downplay them, but in any case, paths got shoved aside and have remained out of the limelight ever since.
Other than bug fixes here and there to the system, we’ve heard very little about the future of the path system or any improvements that might be in store for it. I’m not saying that there aren’t plans in the works, just that if there are, I’m not aware of them.
The fix for this problem is quite simple: Carbine needs to start giving some public attention and discussion to pumping up paths while carving out space in an upcoming content patch to overhauling them. Overhauling? Oh yes. It’s needed.
Problem #2: Path activities are mostly “more of the same”
Paths were promised as giving players tailored content to their playstyle, as if my experience going through the game as a Settler would be markedly different from my journey as a Scientist. You know what? Both runs would be pretty much the same with just a slightly different checklist of things to do along the way.
The path system is a good idea, I will grant you that, but its implementation was too timid and too on-the-rails to create a varied experience for the player. I got all excited that the Scientist path would be doling out secret bits of lore, but in actuality I got to be frustrated by finding datacrons (that anyone could listen to) and trying to find the next thing to scan. The Settler path looked awesome, at least until I found out that I could build only pre-designed structures as if a parent were hovering over my shoulder while I was at play. And the Soldier path… was anyone really worried that he or she wouldn’t get enough fighting in this game?
That’s why I strongly feel that Carbine needs to go back to the drawing board with paths and take the approach that players should have much more agency in pursuing them. You know what would make the Explorer path exciting? If players got to hide beacons for other players to find in a sort of Nexus-wide geocache hunt. Or if as a Soldier I could orchestrate and execute a battle in an area of a zone set aside for it, giving me ways to rally NPCs behind the cause and assigning roles to fellow players. Or if as a Settler, I had the freedom to build in the world itself (with accepted limitations such as decay and off-limits areas). Or if as a Scientist… I could actually do some science?
In short, Carbine needs to stop being the hovering parent with paths and take the same approach that it did with housing: give players a subset of tools and tell them to go and be creative.
Problem #3: Rewards are lackluster
Leveling up my class gives me so many new abilities and options while opening up the world to me. Leveling up my path gives me… titles? One costume set? A couple of pieces of decor and four skills, three of which for any given path are mostly worthless?
Let’s face it, path rewards are laughably poor. In fact, I simply stopped caring about leveling up my Scientist around 27 or so because of this, and I doubt that I’m the only one who lost interest in paths because there was so little to get out of them.
WildStar is awesome about giving great rewards for different activities, and almost across the board we’ve seen Carbine beef up what you can gain from contracts, dungeons, expeditions, challenges — heck, even logging in every day gives you a really cool reward. So let’s bring some of that love to paths, why not?
First of all, path skills should be rethought. Some paths have much better and more useful skills than others (Scientists’ group summons, anyone?), while Soldiers are left sobbing in the dark. Just about all of these skills feel half-baked anyway, so I would not object to the lot of them being yanked and re-examined. Give us abilities that make us genuinely thrilled about being part of that path, abilities that perhaps help us in our future progress down that path.
And don’t be stingy with the other payouts, either. I worked hard to find all of those $#@! datacubes before the map even showed where they are; you should reward that with something more than an 8-slot bag. Maybe even give me a choice of rewards? I hear WildStar is doing that now.
Problem #4: Path interaction should be strengthened or abandoned
One of the interesting — and usually neglected — aspects of paths is that there are occasional clickies in the world that require the efforts of two paths working together to solve (Settler to fix a robot and Scientist to activate it, for example). It’s actually a cool idea since it promotes player cooperation and path identity… but it’s also very, very half-heartedly implemented, and virtually no one does these activities.
So this is a “go big or go home” type deal. Don’t leave this idea lying out there like a dying fish. Either really put the effort in to make it work (and I think it has potential) or put it out of its misery.
Problem #5: There are no ways to change paths
Our guild was talking the other night about how we would adore the ability to change up or add on a different path if given the opportunity, even going so far as to pay for that option in the store. Sometimes you roll a character and get attached to him or her long before you figure out that the path is not for you, and short of restarting, there’s no way out of it. So make that happen, Carbine!