The latest WildStar weekend beta event is currently underway and these are some impressions of the tutorial and user interface. These are two aspects of a game that can be very difficult to get right. They may appear to be very simple on the surface, but they also must be very adaptable and useful to a wide audience. Some players who will jump into WildStar will be long-time veterans of massively multiplayer online (MMO) games and will need minimal “hand holding.” They can be served by a simple tutorial that essentially covers the elements of WildStar that differ from other similar games. At the same time, these veteran players will likely demand a high degree of customization from the user interface (UI,) as they already have a sense of what information they want displayed and where they want it located.
At the other end of the spectrum, players new to MMO’s will need a more robust tutorial. They will need basic concepts explained and key elements highlighted. They also will likely want a more simplistic UI that does not overload them with too much information at once and is easy to understand. Both of these audiences must be served, as well as all the different kinds of players in between. This is how something as “simple” as a tutorial can become a large challenge for a developer. So how does WildStar perform on these two counts?
The tutorial experience is mostly pleasant. It does a good job of introducing basic key commands and game concepts. There are additional “pop-up” windows that give more information at almost every stage of the tutorial experience. Veteran players will have the options of disabling these additional pop-ups if they feel comfortable with the information they are given, or if they have already played through the tutorial previously and are already familiar with it. Players are not bombarded with too many objectives or concepts at once. Each tutorial quest typically focuses on one idea such as collecting items from the ground, or basic combat, or gathering information. The player is allowed to familiarize themselves with each concept before moving on to another. This is one of the strengths of the tutorial and user interface based on impressions from this current beta test.
One area where the tutorial falls short is explaining the different character statistics and how they affect performance. It is not obvious what each stat improves and which is best for a given character class or specialization. WildStar uses different terminology to refer to many common RPG concepts and statistics, so even MMO veterans may not understand what “Moxie” is or how that benefits your character. This information is available in the game, but it is not obvious how to access it and the tutorial does not directly point this out. It is easy therefore to make some simple mistakes in terms of early selection of equipment and character talents. These mistakes are easy to undo, but it would be better if the tutorial explained them better in the first place.
The WildStar UI succeeds in being both simple and useful. It is still being evaluated throughout the beta, so the version that appears in the final game may or may not be reflected in this current version. That said, the current iteration feels clean and useful. Since the combat in WildStar focuses on mobility and being able to see and react to the game world, it is essential that the UI be as unobtrusive as possible. It does a good job of this. The action bars are relegated to a “pyramid” of sorts at the bottom of the screen. The chat window is at the bottom left by default, although this too can be moved if desired.
The WildStar UI also provides a good degree of customization. Key bindings and other features can be changed to individual player preference, and WildStar already supports user created modifications. Even at this beta stage there is already a growing community developing add-ons for the game’s UI. Some studios use this as an excuse to get “lazy” and neglect core components of the UI, but Carbine has given every indication that they want the basic UI to be fully functional and adaptable without players feeling “forced” to use additional modifications. A few “basic” things are missing from the default UI, such as an in-game clock and connection speed information, but these are relatively minor absences.
The next article in this series will address the combat in WildStar at the introductory levels. WildStar may not break new ground in terms of combat, but it does bring a few unique concepts to the table. These impressions of the tutorial and user interface were based on this weekend’s beta event.
Commentary Review by Christopher V. Spencer