Executive producer Jeremy Gaffney helps explain the M31 Patch Notes, otherwise known as Closed Beta Test 2.
How do you beat the beta leakers and NDA breakers at their own game? According to the folks at Carbine it’s simple – release the patch notes before they do. Timed to coincide with the start of WildStar's Closed Beta Test 2, the team is being incredibly open about what the new wave of testers can look forward to.
In a mammoth WildStar Wednesday update fans can now dig into a stack of tradeskill information, theorycraft over the latest class changes and delve into new dungeon and battleground information. Milestone 31 contains over nineteen pages of patch notes (you can read them in full on the official site) covering every aspect of the game, from the new Mentoring and Rallying systems to the many UI enhancements.
How big is WildStar’s beta at the moment? According to executive producer Jeremy Gaffney, about 2000 players took part in CBT1 with the intent of testing out the baseline systems. That’s set to double at the start of CBT2, but then explode to 15,000 during a weekend stress test when Gaffney and his team will “watch the servers go kaboom.”
Gaffney also promises that those stress testers will get rewarded. “In payment for you coming in and crashing the server, we’ll let you into full beta as soon as we’re able to handle it.” He added that it should be fairly rapid, but it depends on how much work the team needs to put in tuning things.
European would-be beta testers also have reason to cheer – there’s a chance that you’ll be getting an invite as well. “We've run latency testing with a handful of people in Europe and can happily report that they were able to access the world without issue. We will be adding a significant number of our friends from across the globe throughout CBT2.”
Carbine isn’t just sending out testers and harvesting reports; various development teams dive into the game and actively collect feedback. “We have our Economy Team come online, hang out near the crafting stations in an area, call people over and do a big Q and A on what is going on with crafting and tradeskills.” There’s also a chance that you’ll enter the PvP arena to find yourself up against the combat team, or any number of other possible events. I’m told that Carbine really wants to maintain this level of intimate interaction as beta grows.
Delving into Dungeons
While CBT1 focused exclusively on early Exile content, CBT2 explores the domain of the Dominion. Testers will be able to explore the latest iterations of Deradune and the Crimson Isle, together with a few mysterious new zones.
We’ve heard a little about Whitevale, a snow-covered landscape that will include leveling content from 22 to 30. It’s also the first open-world PvP zone, although rampaging marauders may have to wait a little longer to draw first blood; with CBT2 being Dominion-only, it’s likely to be CBT3 when we see rolling fights across the snowdrifts.
The other new zone of Auroria brings with it the Ruins of Kel Voreth, a level 20 dungeon situated in a massive Eldan-built scientific facility. Giant techno-barbarians named Osun have moved in more recently, with a clumsy grasp of technology that means they’re as likely to use a circuit board as a shield as plug it in properly. I’m told that the ancient lab is in a huge city-castle, complete with large scale fights and random dynamic content.
Stormtalon’s Lair also makes a return for the second closed beta test. Although I’ve had the pleasure of trying this dungeon out for myself at Arkship EU, some changes and new features have been added. The main one: new random elements for all dungeons to mix things up a little every time you run through one. Those random elements are currently locked server-wide for up to an hour at a time, for a couple of reasons.
“We really love randomness because it adds variance, and players in general like variance. But the hardcore hate randomness in general because randomness favors the newbie. If you play dice with the best dice player on the planet, you’re going to win some percentage of the time. If you play chess against the grandmasters on the planet, you’re never going to win.”
It means that there might be a particularly good combo – one example was a rare boss that spawns next to a fire-pit to make the fight easy – that players excitedly scramble to get in on. On the flipside, one boss might randomly have three healing adds, leaving you with the tough choice of dealing with it, waiting an hour for a different random combo that might be better or worse, or heading to a different dungeon.
After reading postulations from potential players that telegraphs would trivialize dungeons, I asked Gaffney what the feedback from CBT1 had been like. He responded in his classic open-book style, delving into the closed beta forums and reading off some of the comments. One commenter suggested that the red telegraphs were blending in with the dirt floor, while another appreciated having a vendor and resurrection point at the entrance. A third said that it “brings up what little remains of any good PvE experience I had in the past.”
Gaffney went on to focus on one fight in particular, involving Aethros and his tornadoes. To start with, mobs can be kicked into the tornadoes. But, as the boss fight develops, those tornadoes start moving around. There are boss telegraphs, the tornado telegraphs, your own telegraphs, and more. It turns the fight into “formation combat”, because the group starts using telegraphs to communicate healing areas and so on. It also creates interesting choices when telegraphs overlap – do I stay and grab the heal, or move to avoid the attack?
Gaffney admitted that “it is too tricky for some people to learn at level 17, and we’re not scared of that. We’ll try and teach you all the information you need to do it. But instead of telegraphs being easy mode for these things, it actually means we can do a lot more complex mechanics.”
“The whole reason we do telegraphs – it’s fun at low levels and all that – but really the reason that we’ve done it is so that the raid level and the dungeon level have strategy. You paint down on the battleground what the heck you’re doing, and then your friends respond to it and your enemies react to it. And so, as we do more and more in PVP, as we do more and more in dungeons, it goes from being a cool addon at the low levels to a really cool gameplay effect.”
From my own experience, being able to communicate in a group is traditionally tough even with voice chat, and almost impossible when you’re limited to text only. After playing it for myself, being able to drop down pools of goodness or pits of lava that are clear and easy to follow makes group communication much smoother.
The Ups and Downs of Mentoring and Rallying
In order to get the most out of dungeons you need to be an appropriate level – both Stormtalon’s Lair and the Ruins of Kel Voreth are intended for level 20. Likewise in PvP, you’ll be bumped up to the top of the level bracket when stepping foot in a battleground. WildStar uses two systems to achieve this – Mentoring and Rallying.
As Gaffney explained, “If you want to be the high level guy in the dungeon and just trivialize it for everybody by being a badass and burning your way through, you can. That’s actually a reasonable way to get item drops and things like that. But if you want to get full quest credit, or if you want to get the experience points for having done so, what you can do is mentor a group or rally down to the level of the dungeon.”
If you choose to face the dungeon on its own terms then you’ll also pick up appropriate rewards for doing so, including all those pesky achievements. That said, there will be some speedrun achievements up for grabs for those who like blitzing through at level cap. Super Mario music is optional.
Making a debut in CBT2, Smash and Grab is WildStar’s first battleground. Based around a variant of Capture the Flag, two teams of ten players will fight it out to capture – and then defend – three flags as they gradually spawn. There’s likely to be some interesting dynamics at play between capturing a freshly spawned flag and defending the ones you’ve captured.
It will be possible to dive into Smash and Grab from level three and earn XP, with the Rally system bumping you up to the bracket cap of 30 automatically. “We’re using it to make sure that you have a broad swath of players that can play together in these areas, and so as a test run we’re doing 3 through 30 all in one band for the battleground. If that works well we’ll keep it this way, and if not we’ll break it down into smaller bands.”
The Frontier Brawl PvP arena has also had a couple of tweaks, most notably a very WildStar one toward those sneaky Stalkers. “We found that Stalkers could hide in arenas after the rest of the group is dead and just while out the timers and all that. And so the fans in the stands throw beer cans at you to force you out of stealth now. That’s approximately how we like dealing with people who abuse the systems is throw beer cans at them.”