Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wonder Lost:Why Wildstar may be a much needed breath of fresh air.

I remember the first time I picked up World of Warcraft. I rolled my first character, stepped into the world and was blown away. It was HUGE. There were so many places to see and explore. I wandered aimlessly for hours just taking it all in.

I knew nothing at the time about mmorpgs. I understood Diablo or Oblivion, but this was a step above. I was fascinated by the idea that actions took /time/, not just the few second to swing a sword or fire a gun, but these strange things known as cooldowns that could take minutes to hours before I could use them again. I slowly learned about gathering nodes and the concept of loot drops, happily slaughtering random creatures just to collect a useless gray drop because it looked interesting. I was bombarded by new jargon and concepts, like a whole new world of gaming unfolding before my eyes.

Slowly, bit by bit, I learned about the world around me, adapting to the concepts and community that make up the base of mmorpgs. I learned what instances meant, the concept of group dungeons, captial cities, questing hubs and so many other basic concepts I now take for granted. Then I evolved further. I learned about raiding, theorycrafting, group synergy, powerleveling and min-maxing.

It was here that the wonderment died.

Now don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed the game, in fact I felt quite proud and clever for learning how to be not only competent, but talented at tanking and melee dps classes. I raid led a huge raiding syndicate for roughly a year and led many other teams for the years following, using my extensive knowledge of the environment and concepts to even increase the enjoyment and rewards for others.

However, when you are a level capped character with excellent gear where your only source of improvement is to repeatedly raid with large groups with tough challenges or wait for the next expansion, you lose the ability to enjoy the small things. Leveling is no longer a wondrous adventure, exploring new and exciting places. You are familiar with all the zones and you've seen them all before. You no longer take the time to visit every mountaintop or see what might be just around that riverbend. In fact you try to find the absolute shortest and most efficient route to rush through the quests you've memorized to get your character to level cap as fast as possible. You never bother to search for anything interesting or rare in the zones around you, you've instead learned how to find the websites where other people have already documented this better then you could do anyway.
I've talked to quite a few people who have seen this similar development in their online gaming routines. When you are introduced to concepts such as “dailies” or other rewards that take a lot of time to reach, your time in-game suddenly becomes a valuable commodity with limited supply. When you only have a few hours you choose the actions that would most benefit you. You could perhaps raid and get a chance at some gear to make your character more powerful. You could “farm” or spend time actively collecting in-game materials that can be sold, combined or used in some fashion that could perhaps make you more gear or new tools for you to use. These things take time. So when rewards from many of these may take hours, days or even weeks to obtain, why would you waste such valuable time just wandering?

One of my favorite examples is when my friend and I were playing World of Warcraft during the Burning Crusade expansion. We took our characters to a swampy zone known as Dustwallow marsh and bravely attempted to fight our way through monsters bigger then our character level. It was during this that we accidentally stumbled across a cave that housed creatures known as Dragonkin. These enemies were tightly packed and hard to kill, leaving us proud as we slowly left a pile of scaly corpses in our wake. It was during this that my friend used their skinning ability to harvest materials from the corpses used in a crafting profession within the game and we discovered something that excited us. They dropped dragon scales! Up to this point, all “skinned” monsters were dropping leathers or leather scraps with to occasional turtle scale. But now this? Dragons were cool and powerful, obviously dragon scales must be really important crafting materials for cool and powerful armor right? And so we spent the majority of our evening simply racing around the dragonkin caves, felling them one at a time as we eagerly harvested their gleaming scales.
In the end we sold piles of the scales on the in-game auction house, netting a tidy profit as the remainder went to make some cool armor, just like we had thought. We felt so very accomplished and had a complete blast in the process.

Yet for some reason our other online friends could not understand why we had done this. There were no quests to lead us there, so we had no reason to blunder along the caves. In addition, with no quest, we also were not netting any additional experience or loot incentives to continue our slaughter. The dragon scales, once sold gave us a decent profit, but no where near the kind of gold we could have made had we raced to level cap and worked on end-game materials which were in much higher demand on the auction house. In the eyes of our friends there was absolutely no reason why we should have /wasted/ our time doing such random actions.

And one day we got to the point where we could no longer bring ourselves to do such acts of exploration. When we had reached these “higher” concepts we had essentially lost our innocence with the game. Playing was only about challenges and obstacles. This idea followed us into many other games as well. In Star Wars: The Old Republic we almost regained the wonder of exploring new zones alongside the phenomenal storylines, but it only lasted so long. As soon as we had learned the ins and outs of the new system we once again adopted the mindset of racing to the top so we could spend endless hours doing the same things over and over. It didn't matter where we turned into from there, we always carried with us this broken innocence.

Wildstar has become an opportunity for myself to regain this innocence, this sense of wonderment.

Here we have a new rich world to explore and no reason to rush. I want to learn all about the races and factions, all about the Nexus and what happened to the Elden. And the best part? Carbine studios has created ways to /reward/ us for this! For example, with the path system, Explorers are perfect for people who want to see every inch of the map. In fact, you might uncover secret tunnels or exciting new places you would not have seen before, encouraging you to search every nook and cranny. You can share these experiences with your allies as well! This encourages people to join together and explore, sharing their benefits as they go rather then race to find some sort of common ground at the end. And they took this a step further even! In WildStar we are expected to hit our level cap and open up raiding and other opportunities /before we have finished the content./ This is an amazing idea! When I get done with the game...I'm not done with the game? It seems so odd. Rather then bringing the world and the immersion storyline to a grinding halt, we are given even more opportunities and adventure once we hit the level cap. No longer do I have to sigh as I table my favorite character who can do no more then senselessly repeat the same monotonous tasks day after day or raid maybe once or twice a week. No longer do I feel like I need to rush another character though the content, just to open more variety for myself. Now I get to keep going, keep exploring and learning.

I will never quite regain the sense of pure wonderment when I first entered the world of mmorpgs and in some ways I don't wish to. I'm rather proud of how far I've come. However WildStar may be a breath of fresh air in this stale loop I've been locked within, putting excitement and reward back into the epic adventures that draw me in again and again.

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