Wildstar interview: Stephan Frost on fixing the MMO endgame

PC Gamer: Is it designed for guilds, then? Can you get Warplot pick-up groups?

Stephan Frost: Kind of. You have to have at least ten people in your war party. The rest can be mercenaries. So if I wanted to play and I don't care about starting a Warplot, I just want to kill things—I don't care about strategy, I'm just all about running in and kicking ass—you can sign up as a mercenary. Whenever somebody else is starting a match and X amount of spaces open, you can fill one of those spaces.

PC Gamer: Thanks to the telegraph system, raid boss attacks almost resemble bullet hell shmups. Is there a danger that people are just learning the patterns, and not actually reacting to the attacks?

Stephan Frost: Well the great thing about our game is that these are like puzzles more than they are patterns. The puzzle is what types of telegraphs does this boss use, and how do I need to react to them? The great thing is that we don't say, hey, two minutes in we're going to put a telegraph here and here, so all you have to do is stand over there. What we do instead is we place telegraphs based off of locations of people. Let's say I'm standing in the corner and I've been there too long, eventually over time there's probably going to be a telegraph that gets placed right under or next to that player, so they have to get out of the way. We have patterns where we go, okay, at this point the boss is gonna zig-zag across the whole room. How he zig-zags is probably going to change based off of all these player locations. It's something that we're trying to combat so it's just, "I know what happens three minutes in". We'll do it with a little bit of randomness, so it's something you can still recognise, react and move out of the way of.

PC Gamer: Raids are traditionally the most hardcore content found within an MMO. Are you doing anything to avoid min-maxing, or is that something you encourage from your players?

Stephan Frost: We have a highly customisable combat system, and the thing I like about it is that I don't know—I'm sure somebody will argue with me on this, and will find some sort of way to prove me wrong on the internet—but so far, it's been kind of difficult to say, "this is the best build for this rank or class". I like tanking with more CCs, because you have to do group interrupts on bosses and dungeons, so I like to depend on myself to do a lot of those CCs, and then only need a couple from my friends. And that way, it allows me as a tank to interrupt and do the things I need to do. Somebody else may say, "well no, the threat generating one is the best, with a little bit of DPS". It all kind of ranges. I'm sure there are some people who can say this is the best possible way to do it, but I love the fact that our abilities are so skill based, because it allows you to customise how you want to do something, as opposed to this is the best way to do it.

PC Gamer: So the need for targeting and specific placement kind of supersedes that sense of, "you need to be have full armour with these stats, running in this specific way"?

Stephan Frost: Yeah, we're trying to avoid that stuff, just because it's not as much fun when it's just, well, this is the only way I can be effective. Gear still plays an important part in our game and progressing through stuff, because it's all about survivability and killing things faster, but how you kill things is a big part of what makes it fun. Figuring out, well this is most effective for me because, as a Stalker, I'm highly slippery and mobile and I move around all the time—backstabs and going in and out of stealth. As opposed to a tank Stalker, which is just I'm gonna stand here and take all the damage. It really just depends on how you want to frame it. So far, I think there have been a lot of people who are trying to identify the best way to do it, and I don't think I've heard of anything that's definitive on that yet.

PC Gamer: Thanks for your time.

Phil Savage

Phil has been writing for PC Gamer for nearly a decade, starting out as a freelance writer covering everything from free games to MMOs. He eventually joined full-time as a news writer, before moving to the magazine to review immersive sims, RPGs and Hitman games. Now he leads PC Gamer's UK team, but still sometimes finds the time to write about his ongoing obsessions with Destiny 2, GTA Online and Apex Legends. When he's not levelling up battle passes, he's checking out the latest tactics game or dipping back into Guild Wars 2. He's largely responsible for the whole Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.