Where Winds Meet was my favorite announcement from this year's Gamescom. It looks like a wuxia-style Assassin's Creed—especially the bit in the trailer where the protagonist is wandering through a crowded street—but what really interests me is the promise of open-ended roleplaying where I can spend my time working as a doctor, a bodyguard, or a professional orator who makes a living shouting at people (or at least, talking persuasively).
Where Winds Meet is being developed by a Chinese studio called Everstone. Recently, three of the developers—lead producer Amber, product manager Beralt Lyu, and lead designer Chris Lyu—collaborated on answers to some of the questions I had after the reveal trailer (which is embedded below). Although combat is a big part of Where Winds Meet and I'm curious about its use of tai chi principles, I didn't ask any questions about combat. I just had to know more about my non-warrior career options.
According to the developers, players can wander away from the main quest to make a living healing, trading goods, constructing buildings, and doing a number of other jobs for NPCs. Other players might want your services, too. While the "plot and exploratory content" will take place in singleplayer mode, Everstone says that players will be able to opt into multiplayer for "specific experiences" like PvP and world events.
"In the trailer, a meteorite can be seen falling from the sky, causing a violent impact and damage to the ground," the studio writes. "These situations will be played in multiplayer mode, where random environmental changes and destruction will have real effects on players and NPCs in the game. For example, houses may collapse, fires may break out, and players or NPCs may be injured. Based on changes in the natural environment, the gameplay that players can participate in will also change. After a meteorite disaster, players who are playing different roles will need to work together to solve problems. For example, doctors will need to treat the injured, firefighters will need to fight fires, architects will need to rebuild homes, etc."
Small incidents involving individual players will call for specialists like doctors, too. For example, players can catch colds "after exposure to alternating periods of cold and hot temperatures" or injure themselves in falls, according to the studio.
"If treatment is not timely, wounds or illnesses can get even worse," the developers say.
VIDEO: The extended Where Winds Meet reveal trailer, also on YouTube.
You don't have to visit a player's clinic every time your character gets sick or fractures their tibia. There's a public hospital in Where Winds Meet, and you can also request a home visit: Players can "post a bounty on the bounty bulletin board to invite doctors to visit and treat them." (I wish I could put bounties on my colds in real life.)
Even more interesting than roleplaying a doctor, to me, is playing less typical videogame jobs like orator or ferryman, which are roles Everstone has mentioned. I'm reminded of the noble and goofy professions players sometimes make up for themselves in MMOs. There's Chribba, EVE Online's most trusted trade broker, for example, and Sleeps-On-Bridges, the player who slept on bridges in Elder Scrolls Online (which isn't exactly a profession, but is technically an occupation).
"There is a lot of free exploration, interaction and play content, which are all derived from life, but combined with unique martial arts characteristics," says Everstone. "For example, [players] can become an orator who uses the power of words to convince NPCs to follow their advice; they can become an architect who builds all kinds of imaginative buildings; or they can become a bodyguard who protects players or NPCs from assassins."
There's a lot to take on faith here. When it comes to architecture, we're promised a building system with "over 600 authentic components," which sounds like a huge feature in an already saturated game. And exactly what kind of advice will I be orating, and how will it help me? I suppose I can't expect the studio to send over its entire design document to satisfy my curiosity, so we'll have to use our imaginations a little before we have a build to play.
One specific thing I like is that for just about every activity described, Where Winds Meet's developers mentioned that players and NPCs can both be involved, and it seems important to the studio that NPCs aren't cardboard cutouts. They'll get into fights and get hurt, too.
"We have introduced an NPC behavior control system based on interest and objective decision-making," the studio says. "When receiving a large number of events, NPCs can judge the importance of the event and perform appropriate feedback behavior. During environmental events, such as rainfall, NPCs will hide from the rain. NPCs will also watch and help when there are disputes and fights nearby. Personal events such as player collisions, swinging weapons near NPCs, etc, will make NPCs respond accordingly, and NPCs with different identities and personalities will also trigger different subsequent emotional reactions and may even cause small disturbances."
That everyday life stuff is what really excites me, although I expect fighting fantasy creatures and exploring the wilderness to be the central activities of Where Winds Meet. Everstone stresses that the RPG is still in development, but as of now it includes "a large city, Bianjing City, a large wild area, and small towns" for a total map size of 20 square kilometers. That's smaller than any recent Assassin's Creed, and a bit smaller than Skyrim, although Everstone adds that "there is an underground space and altitude."
Acreage is useful as a way to get a sense of what kind of game we're talking about, but it says nothing about the density of interesting things within that space, so I never put too much weight on it. Judging by some of the trailer scenes, there's a lot going on in Where Winds Meet: high drama, horseback riding, mountain climbing, ship boarding, incursions into deathful dreamscapes.
Where Winds Meet has been in development for about three years, the devs say, and will release only on PC at first, with a console version to come later. It will include an English localization at launch. There's no release date yet, but when I corresponded with the developers in September, they said they wanted to "test the game in some regions" this year and start making changes based on the feedback they received. A 2023 release date doesn't feel out of the question, but that's just a guess for now.