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WildStar looks to reinvent the role of MMO crowd control

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Carbine Studios hopes to fix a lot of things it sees in the MMORPG genre as being broken with its upcoming title WildStar; its latest target, crowd control, was explored in-depth during a demonstration at Gamescom 2013.

Crowd control refers to any mechanic that immobilizes or hinders enemies, allowing a player group to focus their effort on smaller, more manageable pockets of enemies. It's an essential, rewarding part of player vs. environment play in MMOs, but in Player vs. Player combat, it comes with some inherent issues. Namely: It's not very fun standing still while you wait for the debuff to wear off.

The trick, lead combat designer Chris Lynch explained to us, is to take "waiting" out of the equation altogether. All of the myriad of crowd control effects players can get hit with are able to be mitigated in some way with an actual interactive response.

It's a tricky concept, best explained by the Disarm ability — the first crowd control power Carbine implemented in the game. When a player is disarmed, they're unable to use their weapons, or any abilities that require the use of those weapons. However, instead of just waiting for the debuff to wear off, players actually have to run and pick up a visual representation of their weapon that's thrown nearby when the Disarm hits. The effect will wear off regardless, but the chase gives them agency, and an option to reduce the effect's duration.

There's tons of these kinds of clever effects, all either allowing the player to keep some level of agency when hit with crowd control. When blinded, you can still use powers, but you can only see a little bit of the screen at a time, making targeting a bit more difficult. When you're disoriented, your movement controls are temporarily reversed. When you're stunned, you have to mash the F key until you break the effect. All these escapes give you something positive to focus on instead of making you wait out an arbitrary timer.

Another problem MMOs seem to have with crowd control is that traditionally, those abilities don't work on bosses — tough encounters would be made much easier if you could keep the final boss stunned, silenced or otherwise handicapped the whole time. In WildStar, you can use crowd control on bosses, but it takes a bit of teamwork: Bosses have interrupt armor, a quickly-recharging meter that can be depleted by sequential crowd control attacks. Once players fully deplete that meter, the boss can be crowd controlled for a brief period of time.

We didn't get a chance to see these features in action in PvP, though Lynch explained that players will be able to buff themselves with the same interrupt armor used by bosses. The implications for all of WildStar's combat is exciting, though. The genre's developers are desperate to find ways to make players more mobile in combat, keeping them from being stationary button-mashing machines. Making those same players chase their weapons around is certainly one way to achieve that goal.

Check out the developer diary below to see some of these crowd control effects in action.