Online games are a tough business, especially when everyone wants to compare you to the current big thing (never mind that the thing in question has been slowly reaching critical mass for the past five years or so,) so game developers are constantly pushed to develop new ways to make their game stand out. Sometimes they even come up with new mechanics that manage to sound innovative enough that one can only hope they establish a new trend in the industry. Such is the case of Wildstar and its path system.
In addition to standard species and character class choices, developer Carbine Studios asks players to make an additional decision when designing their characters, how do they want to play the game? The path system consists of four divergent directions players can go based off of the archetypes used by the Bartle Test. The Bartle Test is a personality test designed to help psychologists study gamer psychology. Players are ranked in four areas of interest and asked a series of questions about common online activities, listing what they find the most and least entertaining. At present, Wildstar remains the only game to my knowledge that makes extensive use of this system.
Wildstar’s four paths, the Explorer, Soldier, Settler, and Scientist, are four specially-crafted experiences that correspond to the four archetypical gamer personalities defined by Richard Bartle. While all four of these paths have been named and defined in a vague sense, Carbine has finally described each path in depth with the quests and content players can expect from them. And after a long drought of information about them, the Settler and Scientist paths have been finally given more definition.
The Scientist path is for players who love puzzles and read every last page of lore regarding the setting. While all players will pick up some of the game’s lore during the course of play, the Scientist will discover more. Puzzles seem to factor into another aspect of the Scientist, rewarding them with secret rooms and hidden treasures for successfully figuring out the mysteries of the Eldan. Path specific quests seem to revolve around exploring Eldan ruins and poking various objects with the Scientist’s scanbot.
The Settler on the other hand is intended for social players though it also might have a certain appeal for people who play Minecraft or are dedicated crafters. Basically, the path turns characters into virtual contractors. Path content primarily revolves around renovating existing town structures, building new ones, or establishing supply caches and other sundries (can you say “Need a dispenser here?”) out in the field. That being said, two mission types, Public Service and Civil Defense, imply that there will be plenty to do for players who combine the Settler path with a combat class like the Warrior.
Carbine has also formally and concretely answered questions that the community has been debating about the Path system. Yes your path choice is permanent, however you can still sample content from the other three paths on your own. Also, there is of course nothing preventing players from creating alternative characters on a different path or tagging along with other players and helping them with their path content. Yes your path choice is independent of your class selection; paths define what you want to do while classes define how you do it.
Wildstar is currently in beta and scheduled for launch sometime time in the second half of 2013. For further information, turn your browser to the official Wildstar website.