Some Assembly Required: The sweet sorrow of choosing a new sandbox

Jef Reahard
J. Reahard|02.15.13

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Some Assembly Required: The sweet sorrow of choosing a new sandbox
Some Assembly Required The sweet sorrow of choosing a new sandbox
Late last year I penned a piece that looked ahead to 2013's most promising sandbox titles. Recent developments have necessitated that I add to that list, which is simultaneously staggering and somewhat stressful. My new MMO home is lurking in one of these games, but I must choose, and choose wisely! Help me out after the cut.

WildStar Exile girl
Despite Massively's unabashed love for WildStar, I've been personally apathetic about the title up until very recently. To be frank, I scratched my head in disbelief as I watched it win our annual staff-powered "Most Anticipated MMO" award two years in a row. Don't get me wrong; as of yet there's nothing to dislike about WildStar, but prior to last week's press reveal, we knew next to nothing about it other than it looked like a sci-fi World of Warcraft and it had player housing.

That's a stark contrast to ArcheAge, which not only lays its seemingly endless sandpark feature set out there for all to see but also has been playable in one form or another for over two years. Maybe my colleagues are seeing something in WildStar that I'm not, but until NCsoft deigns to release some extensive system descriptions and gameplay footage, I'll remain a tad aloof.

All that said, thanks to our fearless leader's enthusiasm following the press event and her willingness to affix the sandbox label, WildStar is now firmly on my radar.

I still have doubts, though, chief among them the game's economy and whether or not loot drops will render crafters unnecessary. I'm also on the fence as to whom, exactly, the devs are targeting with this game. Attempting to blend sandbox and themepark mechanics is admirable to an extent, but it's my opinion that smart developers and studios are finally starting to realize that actual MMOs are in fact a niche market. WildStar is aiming (and talking) big, but is there such a thing as a casual sandbox audience?

I know what you're thinking. Neverwinter? It's not even a bloody sandbox! Here's the rub, though. The game's Foundry emergent content tools are the class of the genre. Yes, they were implemented in Cryptic's previous MMO effort, and plenty of Star Trek Online players dutifully put the toolset to great use in spite of a considerable learning curve.

With Neverwinter, though, the player-generated content gloves have come off. The interface has received a major streamlining pass without losing any of its functionality. Cryptic showed it off in detail at PAX 2012, and the demo video is worth a look to see how accessible and intuitive the toolset has become.

The Foundry missions sync seamlessly with developer-generated content, so you won't be able to tell the difference between a mission description, a waypoint, or a quest journal entry made by your best mate and one made by Cryptic. Even better is the fact that mission doors, which are basically zone-in points that take players to custom-created instances, may be placed in the live game world or assigned to NPCs. In short, expect to see roleplayers and creative types recreating all sorts of old-school Forgotten Realms modules and new story arcs while bringing the Sword Coast to life.

So, yes, technically Neverwinter is not a sandbox. In fact it's largely a bone-stock themepark with a fresh coat of Forgotten Realms paint and an obvious similarity to the heavily instanced stylings of Dungeons and Dragons Online, but the Foundry and the creative freedom that it's giving to players is unequivocally one of the most exciting stories that sandbox fans will see this year.

Camelot Unchained
Camelot Unchained
Finally, we come to Camelot Unchained, which is the unofficial title for what could also be called Mark Jacobs' Ass-Kicking RvR Sandbox. Granted, this is all theoretical for now, as Jacobs and his City State bandmates haven't quite gotten the title's crowd-funding initiative off the ground just yet.

The guy sure talks a good game, though, as evidenced by three highly trafficked dev diaries released over the past week that focused on systems and content design as well as the overall goals for the project. Jacobs envisions a modest playerbase enjoying a game that revolves around three-faction PvP combat. It's not your typical FFA PvP gankfest, though, as crafters will play an integral role as will territory control, housing, and team tactics.

While Jacobs has thus far been careful to skirt the legal implications of labeling the new game a successor to Dark Age of Camelot, the parallels are undeniable, and given the goodwill still present in the MMO community for the 2001 title, it's not hard to imagine Camelot Unchained being another feather in the sandbox genre's cap over the next few years.

So, yeah. It looks like I've got three more titles to add to my list of potential new MMO homes. When you also consider EverQuest Next, ArcheAge, The Repopulation, and several others I've mentioned before, it's clear that the genre has turned a corner and is finally acknowledging its virtual world roots if not returning to them outright.

The only problem is finding the time to play all of these gems, and boy howdy is that a sweet problem to have.

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!
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