Design Mockument: Let’s bring back WildStar, only good this time

There was so much potential.

The other night, a couple of us were talking in work chat about missing WildStar. I also miss WildStar… or more accurately, I miss some of WildStar. I miss a version of WildStar where running a dungeon was not the most miserable experience I’ve had running any dungeon ever, which is more adjacent to WildStar than anything. But if you can have a game that makes one of my most beloved forms of content become miserable and I still kind of miss you, well, there was something there that mattered to me after all!

So as I glance up at my Rowsdower plush, I want to take on a different sort of challenge for this column from prior iterations because I am just bound and determined to be difficult. (This would perhaps be more explicable if I weren’t the one who came up with this column series.) Let’s say that I have the ear of “Mr. NCsoft” and I convince him to resurrect WildStar after giving me a development budget. Let’s also say that he gives me one year and a rough target for profits and playerbase to hit in order to keep the game running after that. What would I do to make the game actually attract and keep players this time around?

Now, as I’ve never done one of these before, I feel it’s important for me to lay down some ground rules. What I am doing here is not something that is going to have the budget, scope, or manpower of everyone’s favorite reboot success story. Sure, it would be nice to have that, but the reality is that WildStar is not a part of a long-running, well-loved franchise. While I have a team for development, I do not have the option to add significantly new zones or dungeons or anything. What I have to do is use… well, minimal resources to improve the game.

So let’s start by playing with the structure of the game. Specifically, I’m going to start with Paths, and my first step is going to be throwing out an aspect of them that totally doesn’t work in the way the game is structured. Specifically, the part where you choose between them.

One of the major problems with Paths was that as a choice, they’re kind of a bad choice. If you like two or more options among Paths, you have to choose between them, and none of them is actually your primary way of interacting with the world. Your primary interaction is always going to be through pretty much standard questing. So instead of making you choose to pursue one, I say you get all three. They form a different form of levels, and each of them still unlock various advantages in combat with an out-of-combat ability and an in-combat ability. You can only equip one of each, and all four have a number of both; you have to pick the one that’s best for you, and even the in-combat ability is a bonus.

But if paths are a side activity… well, wait. Let’s actually kind of embrace that idea. Let’s make everything a side activity to a certain degree. Let’s steal some style from another NCsoft title, only more so. In WildStar, your combat level is just another level, and early on, you get a full hotbar for your chosen class. And if you barely want to fight again, that’s fine.


Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that you can totally avoid it. In fact, I think every zone needs a decent throughline to establish where you are and what you’re doing there, moving on to the next. But let’s make that a level, too. You have a story level, earned through completing story arcs. You also have a combat level, earned through killing enemies, doing combat-related quests and challenges, dungeons, and so forth. But the story level and the combat level are not linked. You could eschew most of the combat quests, challenges, and dungeons, and still make it through the story as the game’s enemies sync to your combat level.

Of course, as you progress in your combat level, you get new abilities to swap into your hotbar. You still have a reason to level up. But instead of forcing you into a single narrow pathway, let’s embrace the idea that WildStar is a game of multiple paths.

Add housing and crafting to that level, too. If you want to do story quests, craft, and play at your house? Hey, great, you can advance those levels. If you make everything feed into overall character power to an extent, those can feel just as viable. Housing gives passive buffs, for example, while crafting lets you make better stuff that you can subsequently wear. Keep everything balanced around the idea that you don’t need to grind for levels except in, you know, the fields that matter to you.

Having a throughline you’re following would be a bit tricky, but I think it’s doable. There is a story arc that comes together toward the end of WildStar, but it’s not very well explained. I think it’s something that could be refined with the game’s assets. Focus the game’s story on the enemies you actually will end the game fighting, with a lot of the bigger mysteries left as later things that will potentially be explored.


Dungeons and raids, meanwhile… well, raids are basically useless and the game’s dungeons are nearly useless. So let’s tweak some elements here. Interrupt armor is a good idea for a mechanic, but it doesn’t actually work out too well. Instead, let’s replace it with something called Cast Stagger. A single interrupt can stop interruptible abilities you need to interrupt, or you can pour on the damage to overcome a stagger bar and stop a vital cast. That makes interrupts valuable but doesn’t necessitate stacking them.

In general, dungeons need to be easier and assembled through a simple queue. Raids should also be queued and probably just sport a 10-person body count while being made a lot simpler. Don’t throw out the design for the harder versions; keep those around for a future hard mode queue if you want, but at the relaunch the game needs to push back hard against any and all impressions of “hardcore.”

I’d also want to tighten up the abilities and specialization systems; those were a little more elaborate than they needed to be. Try to streamline them into a comprehensible format. Worry about things like prime levels much later; stick with the basics here.

Would this take off? Eh… I mean, it’s a crapshoot. I’ve argued before that the obvious example of a game that refined itself and relaunched successfully is kind of a difficult circumstance to replicate. Far more often the relaunch fixes some problems, creates others, and is overall not actually more than a lateral move. It’s wholly possible that this would be, too.

But hey, it’d have a shot. And while I don’t think that any such revival will happen, it’s like to at least dream. Isn’t that the whole point of this column? I say yes, and since I’m the one writing these, my vote wins.

Designing an MMO is hard. But writing about some top level ideas for designing one? That’s… also remarkably hard. But sometimes it’s fun to do just the same. Join Eliot Lefebvre in Design Mockumentas he brainstorms elevator pitches for MMO sequels, spinoffs, and the like for games that haven’t yet happened and most likely never will!
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