An Epic Drop™ of information has just been launched in to space by Carbine Studios. They cover Paths for WildStar with a humorous “in-game” video, a DevSpeak, and a comprehensive web page on the subject.
Paths, simply put, are a sub-class to the character. The class, such as Warrior or Spellslinger, defines internal playstyle. A Warrior uses greatswords and is very melee based. A Spellslinger uses pistols and warps around the battlefield. Paths define external playstyle by offering specific content to a player with a defined Path. In another sense, WildStar is codifying achievements in to splats. Bartlett Explorers can now enter a niche to ensure that they’ll be doing explorer-type things.
For an example of Path content a Soldier can initiate a Holdout – Conquer event to defend a patch of land against waves of hostile enemies. Anybody can join in the slaughter, regardless of Path, and I recall the event scaling being part of things too. But, it is the Soldier that will get Path XP to advance along that sub-class. Scientists are the lore-hunters. Explorers are the map-seekers, and Settlers are the community building wildcards.
Why is Path a risky undertaking? It is a permanent character creation choice. That means that characters will be unable to experience some portion of the content alone. In many MMOs, this has been the case based on racial or class selection anyway. Elves get some elf quests. Priests get some priest quests. Often times these exclusive bits of content are tied straight in to advancement. So, on one hand content exclusivity based on permanent selections have been around. On the other hand, they weren’t main features to the MMO. Choose an elf to get awesome elf content is not a tagline of any MMO I am aware of (at least the ones with banners I would click).
Most of the content in WildStar is not Path content, but the amount of Path content is significant enough that going through the game as a Soldier Warrior should have a different feel than going through the game as a Scientist Warrior. I recall head-honcho Gaffney talking about how this was a strong theme throughout the game. However, I feel that if the permanent Path selection was done to inflate alt-ability, I would guess most people would re-roll class and Path anyway.
The wildcard of the bunch has got to be the Settler because unlike the other three Paths, the Settler seems to be creating the content. Soldier, Explorer, and Scientist all seem to be about finding the content. So, while I am not wholly convinced that Path content between those three needs to be exclusive based on permanent choices, I do feel differently about Settler. How will various Settlers interact? What if X is already built? If every player could initiate Settler content anyway (regardless of Path choice) then it doesn’t make much sense to even have it. It wouldn’t be special.
And perhaps that’s it. The Path content is going to be special. I should seek this out because it is mine. Warrior Soldier #543,177 is not going to be able to do my Scientist content (at least without a Scientist present). I know I felt this way when doing some crafting quests in Lord of the Rings Online and class quests in World of Warcraft. I had the feeling that “these were for me”. As much as some fans say they want no exclusive content that their character can’t play, I believe the feeling of having special, exclusive content is not considered until they actually play the game.
The other great benefit of the Path system is that it focuses content designers and players in smaller areas. These smaller areas can become more developed than say some content designer wanting to include a random jumping puzzle to get the quest item. Some players want more jumping puzzles, and the Path system ensures more of that type of content.
I think it is a risk for Carbine Studios, but I think could pay off. The biggest pitfall is going to be Path balance. If everybody can be satisfied with their special content, I think the system could be great. If the grass is too green o’er there… well the permanent choice might not be such a good idea. Hopefully the Path system is nice and polished by the time WildStar launches.