Having your game compared to World of Warcraft (WoW) isn't the worst fate imaginable. In fact, it's a blessing in disguise, since it's widely regarded as one of the biggest video game success stories.
That isn't stopping Carbine Studios president Jeremy Gaffney and his team from making the next big online game. WildStar is the latest high-profile video game in the crowded MMO (massively multiplayer online) genre. For those not familiar with this genre, MMOs are typically open-ended online worlds that have players cooperate and compete with each other while exploring, fighting, and peddling wares. Basically, they're video game versions of real life—just with more dragons, lasers, and anthropomorphic creatures.
At PAX East 2014, I got a chance to talk to Gaffney, who was quick to point out WildStar intends to attract newcomers to the genre, not take players away from WoW. "People always talk about a WoW killer. There won't ever be a WoW killer," he told me at PAX. There can, however, be a more polished and refined World of Warcraft, which is what Carbine Studios hopes they've created.
WildStar drew me in with its art style, which is clearly reminiscent of WoW: It's cartoony and vibrant, with an emphasis on unrealistic environments and humorous characters. Gaffney described two of the playable races in the game as "space hamsters" and "space zombies"—those looking for super-serious sci-fi drama like Mass Effect won't find it here.
Instead, WildStar has a heavy emphasis on fun. Gameplay is focused around four different paths, or play styles: exploration, story, combat, and social. When creating a character, players must choose between these four different styles, which will affect about 25% of the game. This means players choosing the "soldier" path will engage in more combat, while those who pick "explorer" will more likely traverse the landscape of Nexus—the alien planet that serves as WildStar's backdrop.
No matter what path players choose, though, combat is inevitable. This was also where WildStar impressed me the most, and set itself apart from other MMOs. While most games in this genre have an "auto attack" feature, where players engage an enemy and the game takes care of the rest, WildStar offers a more involved experience. You'll constantly be clicking and triggering each attack, while dodging enemy fire.
I played a character that was already deep into the game, and since I had no idea what any of my skills did, I ended up dying—a lot. Within 10 minutes of playing, however, I learned the basics and could hold my own. And best of all: I was having fun.
I've heard WildStar referred to as WoW in space, and Carbine Studio's president isn't offended at all by comparisons to the MMO giant. He actually heaped plenty of praise onto World of Warcraft developer Blizzard, and also pointed out that Carbine was started by nearly 20 ex-Blizzard employees who wanted to make a better WoW. This is the result of nearly six years of development, according to Gaffney.
WildStar releases on June 3, and will require a monthly subscription of $15, although a "free-to-play" option does exist. For more info, check out WildStar's website.