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MMOs, by their very definition, are social games. When you get Massive amounts of players together, they are going to want to communicate with each other, and there are always systems in place to make that happen. In WildStar, there are several Social Systems available, but not all of them work the way you would expect them to, and at least one of them has fallen victim to counter intuitive game design decisions. But let's take this one step at a time, so that you understand where I am coming from with both my praises and my gripes.

The social systems you have access to when you first start the game are fairly basic. After a fresh character is created, you find yourself in the tutorial starship belonging to your appropriate faction, and your channels for interacting with others are the standard MMO methods: /s (Say) will talk to whoever is standing nearby, /w (Whisper) and /aw (Account Whisper) will message someone privately, /y (Yell) will shout loud enough to reach more people, and you have access to the a zone-wide chat channel /z (Zone) that will make sure everyone in your current map will know your opinion on your topic de jour. No real surprises so far.

Then you have the extended chat channels, /t (Trade), /v (PvP), /i (Instance) and /a (Advice). Each one is meant for discussing particular topics and can be hidden from your chat box at your convenience. Want to sell a cool blaster you just found? Need to ask how why a certain quest giver isn't responding to you? There's a channel for that. While having a separate Advice channel is pretty novel, these are still pretty much what you would expect from a modern MMO.

Where things start to get interesting is the inclusion of user created Chat Circles. At least, I thought that was where they started to get interesting - after some rudimentary exploration, it turns out that they are just a fancy way of referring to a custom chat channel, akin to the Linkshells in Final Fantasy XI or XIV, or custom numbered channels in World of Warcraft. They do allow you to set moderator-like ranks, though, and have an easy-to-use graphical interface, so that's a plus.

There are also the standard Social Lists that we have come to know as essential tools for managing all those people you meet out in the digital wonder: a Friends List and an Ignore List. There is even a third list, Rivals, which I can only assume is for keeping track of greaser that stole your girlfriend and is going to challenge you to a race around Dead Man's Bluff on the night of the prom. If only I had a Credd for every time *that* happened to me.

Jumping ahead a little (don't worry, I will backtrack) you will find yourself able to establish a Guild at level 12. For the mere cost of 10 gold coins, you can create your own custom decal design (from a combination of background icon, foreground icon and optional "scan lines") and gather up a group of adventurers that will all work towards a common cause, which in this case is building up a currency called Influence and unlocking a tiered selection of Guild wide perks. It definitely gives some added incentive to get a Guild going beyond just gaining access to a /g (Guild) channel.

Now enough about what works, what I really want to talk about (read: complain about) is what doesn't. If you currently feel that Carbine can do no wrong, or that WildStar is the next "WoW Killer", you may want to stop reading here. I won't hold it against you. For the rest of us realists, its time to press on.

Coming back around (I told you I would backtrack), there is one social channel that you have access to from the very beginning of the game that is horribly broken, and that is the /p (Party) chat. Not that I am saying that /p doesn't work, because you can still effectively communicate through it. But I assert that forming Parties with your friend (and with strangers, for that matter) has some serious issues in the low levels, and its not directly from any fault of the Party system itself. The issues stem from the fact that the developers seem to have forgotten that people in Parties *like* to play together.

After the end of the faction-specific starship tutorial area (around lvl 4-5), players are finally allowed to set foot on the world of Nexus. The problem stems from the fact that, based on what race you have chosen, your characters arrive in different starting zones, and sometimes even different locations within those starting zones. While having different starting zones based on race is nothing new - it's been pretty much a standard MMO trope since the days of EverQuest - in almost all other games you can run (or corpse run, depending on how unlucky you are) to meet up in a common location. I can't begin to count how many times I've made the lvl 2 Night Elf dash through Wetlands in order to avoiding the mind numbing starting quests of Teldrassil in WoW. But lets say, for sake of argument, you want to dash your Aurin through Everstar Grove > Celstion >Thayd > Agoroc and finally meet up with your friend playing in Northern Wilds? No go, pal. At the end of Everstar Grove is a portal that you *must* be on the appropriate quest to pass through, effectively locking you in the zone for 3-5 hours of questing and leveling without your friend. This is why when we attempted to play our first GameGeex live Twitch stream of WildStar, you only got the "Party A" experience while "Party B" adventured off on it's own.

If that isn't aggravating enough, check out this scenario: Mandifesto and I made two Warriors, a Human and a Granok, as a test. We both selected to go to Northern Wilds to start off, and we were placed in different parts of the zone. I took my Human Warrior and ran over to where her Granok Warrior was standing, and I wasn't able to take any of her quests. Same class, different race, no quest available. I had to return to where I had started and we each quested individually until we met up together as our quest chains merged, roughly 45 minutes or so later.

I know this may sound like a lot of whining, but this is an honest and serious complaint - When I play MMOs, I almost always do so to play with my friends, and it strikes me as frustrating when there are game mechanics in place to actively prevent that from happening. When it comes to game play time, I seem to have less and less as the years go on, and an even smaller percentage of that coincides with times that my wife can also play. So on the rare occasions that the stars align and we can both play something, I would rather that we play a game together than to have both of us separately playing the same MMO a mere 4 feet from each other because the designers decided we can't play together. That, in my opinion, constitutes a failure in the party system, one that puts a tarnish on the otherwise brilliant gem that Carbine has crafted.

6 Comments for this post.
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I have a feeling we were the only outlet that asked to play as a group, and had we not asked we probably never would have known exactly how broken the social aspect of the game is.

I really honestly think that Carbine simply forgot about grouping mechanics.  They spent so much time building shiny new Paths for people to play, or Housing that they can pour time and effort into, that they forgot about the MMO fundamentals of make a game people can play together.  All the shiny on top of that just gets sad when you can't group with your friends.  At one point we had our Scientist teleport a player to our group (but that didn't because the mechanic is bugged).  If this is the only way to get a group together, then why not give this option to the party leader?  They already have a way to make sure all your party members are playing on the same shard of the server, why not make it so that the entire group can play the same quests as the same time?

It was even more frustrating when Art attempted to pick up the Granok quests because they were IDENTICAL to the human ones.  They didn't even bother to create unique quests for the races that they forced to play separately.  Quest design fail, grouping systems double fail.  This all makes me very hesitant to say I will pay the subscription for the game when it comes out.  I play MMOs with my husband; If I can't play this MMO with him, then it's just Sci-Fi Skyrim, and why bother?

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I concur on the reaction to what happen when it went planet side. Just made absolutely no sense that after being all together everyone gets split up depending on race. Did we forget we started on a ship in space? Suddenly the races need to separate to work out how to colonize the planet? This isn't even like a standard Fantasy MMO where we all come from different parts of a huge world. Do you need to split up people because it's too much to have them all in the same starting zone? Then why was it okay to have them all on the same starting ship?

I can forgive the Scientist Path ability bug since it's beta, it was just one more frustration trying to get everyone together to share content.

[CRB_Gaffer] @ 9:19:41 PM Feb 26, 2014
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Hey, guys - good feedback (both pro and con).  Couple thoughts:

We've made it so you can choose whatever starting zone you want regardless of race (this is the optional objectives on the last quest in the Arkships - our thought was that would largely avoid the EQ-style-massive-run-to-meet-your-buddies issue.  

However, in practice, if your buddies aren't synced up before you all choose a starting zone (which is probably common) it can be frustrating - I'd agree with that after seeing the beta feedback we've been getting.

Part of the reason we gave out all those friend keys was to get more people in early groups; one of the downsides of a "normal" CBT is that you see so few real-life friends playing together (because keys are so hard to get) that it can actually be a bit tricky to catch situations with friends playing together that are quite obvious in the Real World post launch; a lot of small-group feedback started coming in after we made that shift to the CBT key process.  (Not defending anything we goofed up on of course).

If you're both in the Northern Wilds, we do start you a few hundred meters apart, but the quests are supposed to be doable together heading down the hill and up to the tower - I'll double check that is the case; we did just find a bug that was making certain quests not group-shareable that affected quietly a few hundred quests.  Why'd we split the areas?  Really to give you a little bit of the flavor of your race, because the downside of the arkship is that it's a shared experience.  Why'd we make 'em so close?  So you could still group with your human buddy easily.   YMMV if that works for you or not, just mentioning the thinking process.

A couple of the streaming folks have been playing as groups as well, but it's pretty rare - and most of those I've seen just kinda skipped up to dungeons/adventures/etc.  So small group feedback is really appreciated (pro and con) - and thanks; we do appreciate it.  

It's one of those RL common playstyles that is surprisingly hard to emulate in a beta with any large mass of users.  I don't guarantee we'll get it perfect, but we do listen.

Anyhoo cool review, and glad you're poking at what you don't like.

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"After the end of the faction-specific starship tutorial area (around lvl 4-5), players are finally allowed to set foot on the world of Nexus. The problem stems from the fact that, based on what race you have chosen, your characters arrive in different starting zones, and sometimes even different locations within those starting zones."

That's not true. Each race gets a breadcrumb quest to go to a particular starting zone. BUT, you can still choose to go to the other starting zone if you prefer.

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@Sakkura In the case of our GGX group, during the chaos of playing together and even though we were communicating over Hangouts, we still ended up with players going to different starting areas. Unfortunately, once that decision is made, its not possible to return to the starship or reset your choice if one or two players went to a different zone - you either push forward and meet up again several hours later, or reroll the stray characters while the others wait. What would alleviate this problem, in my opinion, would be a prompt that pops up for all party members once the first player in the group decides on a zone. "Arturis has chosen to head to Northern Wilds. Join Him?" or something along those lines.

@CRB_Gaffer I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my criticism. I absolutely understand what you mean about there being well he just sayid they scenarios such as players grouping from the get-go that are difficult to test in a beta. I actually haven't seen any other sites covering the game from the view of a pre-made group - most tend to focus on solo leveling or random grouping with those nearby. But playing as a prearranged duo, trio or group is how we normally play most MMOs, and each have had their different set of obstacles that we've had to work around to make them enjoyable. (Such as leveling teams of Worgen/Goblins/Panderan just to get through the gated starting zones together)

While I understand the point of having a different flavor experience based on race, in the scenario with the Human and Granok Warriors I didn't see that much of a different between their initial quests to make them completely undoable from each other. I would have to go back and replay as each, considering at the time I was focusing more on pushing ahead on my chain then following what Mandie's chain was doing, but I couldn't think of a reason why both chains shouldn't be sharable.

There is actually a third example of splitting up parties that I didn't include in the original post, and that is partly because in the end, I am torn on whether I find it cool or not. What I am referring to is the random Worm Tunnels you find while mining. I love the concept, and think of it as kind of a Super Mario Bonus Stage for Miners. While this feels completely awesome once I knew what was up, it was very disorienting the first time - suddenly I am separated from my group and theres a timer counting down. I don't even remember there being a dialog to let me know what I was supposed to be doing in there, though I may have dismissed it without noticing. If there isn't, I think a "You have found a worm tunnel! Gather as much minerals as you can before it collapses. What are you doing reading this, the clock is ticking!" message would be useful. But at any rate, the downside is that the non-miner members of your group end up killing time waiting for you to come back, which can break up the flow of a questing area in an awkward way.

Okay, at this point my two cents has turned to at least a buck fifty, so I will stop here.

[Mandifesto] @ 6:38:47 PM Feb 26, 2014
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@Sakkura: This issue actually happened  to me and is why Arturis mentioned it in his article.  We started as a five-man group on the tutorial ship, Exiles side, and while everyone else got the option to go to Everstar Grove, I was not.  I had to quest alone for quite a while until Arturis switched to a different character so that at least there wouldn't be a Party and one lone player off sniffling by herself in the frozen wilds.  

@CRB_Gaffer: We always appreciate developer response to our coverage, so thanks!  I didn't really see any difference in the Granok and Human Northern Wilds content -- in fact it seemed identical when I played through both areas.  I understand the different flavors concept though, and saw plenty of that in my time on the Dominion side.  There seemed to be a lot more variety of quest structure in that faction in general.  Granted, I didn't get a chance to play in Everstar Grove (see above), and when we tried to corpse run it we found our way impeded by a portal you can only access through a quest.  

I think this might perhaps be a situation where the Granok starting area needs more culture.  I did not get a sense that I was playing a distinct race here, but rather playing the human storyline in a segregated area.  I was getting a distinctly "separate but equal" feeling as I played the same quests as Arturis but separated from Arturis for almost an hour.

I'm certainly glad I insisted our team play as a group from the start, and I understand how difficult it might be to get organic testing on grouping mechanics in a CBT environment, but this system sticks out like a sore thumb in contrast to the other innovations in your game -- and that's what felt so disappointing.  At the outset we ran into the problem where none of our quest efforts synergized (the bug you mentioned in your comment) and that on top of the segregated questing zones was particularly distressing. Later on this was fixed, and I was glad of it.

I kept saying to myself, "But this is the team that designed the Path system!  Why didn't they think about creating group synergy beyond the Paths, create novel mechanics that gave bonuses to groups (combat bonuses for groups containing all 4 paths anyone?), chained abilities off each other a la Dragon Age Origins? Why is the core unit of an MMO so missing innovation or even basic solid structure? So much shines so brightly in other aspects of the game, I keep hoping that the same attention to detail is turned on the social grouping.  

Just knowing that you're actually listening to the community feedback gives me high hopes that these problems will get smoothed out in further patches.  If you need a group of intrepid and incredibly honest players to test any group mechanics content in the future, you know where to reach us.  The GameGeex are listening.

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