NCSoft's new MMO, announced this Gamescom, takes the things that work well about current MMOs and adds a selection of interesting new mechanics atop them.
WildStar is the newest MMO from NCSoft, developed by Carbine Studios. It's a sci-fi MMO with a distinctive World of Warcraft-esque aesthetic and combat system, but some interesting new features atop these tried and tested formulae that set it apart somewhat from typical examples of the genre.
This is perhaps best exemplified during the character creation part of the Gamescom demo, where choosing a race determined the player's "class" and combat style, whereas choosing their "role" -- either Explorer or Soldier at the moment -- determined what sort of gameplay and missions they'd encounter.
I took on the role of an Explorer. Explorers' primary responsibility is the location of places to put down beacons. Early in the game, these positions are introduced through questlines, but later in the game you'll have to carefully explore the zones and make use of the interface to locate them yourselves. They're often in seemingly inaccessible areas, which brings another of the Explorer's key abilities into play -- the ability to discern and use hidden paths. Spotting one marked with an icon and interacting with it causes new platforms to appear, allowing the explorer to reach otherwise unreachable positions.
The Explorer also has an eye for the unusual. Occasionally simply while wandering around, you'll get a "sub-mission" quest pop up prompting you to investigate something nearby. In the case of the demo, investigating some wreckage revealed a subspace anomaly which the player had to chase, making use of the residual gravity-defying anomalies it left behind to make some physically-impossible huge jumps and gathering data using the scanner.
A fun element which comes into play with all the roles is the Challenge system. Killing an enemy sometimes pops up a prompt saying something along the lines of "You're good at killing yetis! Think you can kill 5 more in 5 minutes?" Accepting and completing the challenges (which weren't very difficult in the demo) provides additional rewards.
WildStar's world feels a lot more alive than many MMOs. The use of "phasing" to change the conditions in the world for players who have fulfilled specific quests is not new -- World of Warcraft has been doing it for a while now -- but here it's been implemented from the outset, rather than being added later. The example given in the demo came where completing one of the quests caused the visibility-hampering snowstorm that had been blighting the area since the start of the game to dissipate, making it much easier to get around. This feature, coupled with the dynamic challenges and sub-missions that pop up along the way, make the player feel much more like what they're doing in WildStar "matters" -- despite the fact that other players will have done it before them, and others will follow them.
In short, it's looking good, and the public responded well to it, too, with lines for the playable booths on the show floor almost as big as those for the neighboring Guild Wars 2. Watch out for more on WildStar in the coming months, and sign up for the beta here.