How zones will actually work
Despite my speculation to the contrary, the game's zones will in fact work in more or less the same way you would expect by default. There are three continents in the game, as well as a few off-planet regions with multiple zones, and moving around on a given continent will be seamless. That means everything you'd expect in a post-World of Warcraft world, with loading screens popping up only when you take the time to travel between continents. The off-planet areas aren't technically considered continents, but they work along the same lines. (But since they're not on a planet, they can't be continents, per se.)
Starting zones are instanced, as we knew, but they're not currently available for players to revisit in any capacity. Once you leave the starter area, you've left there for good. As a result, they don't tie into the continent structure normally. Similarly, player housing is instanced, so you won't see a cavalcade of houses floating overhead when you're leveling out in the field.
I also took the opportunity to ask about a couple of other relevant points, starting with one that's of great importance to me: climates. Ever since Final Fantasy VI, I've been bothered when games don't have any continuity between regional climates. (For those of you who have not played that game, you start in a snow-covered town and then immediately move south to a desert kingdom. It's like half a mile away.) I was told that the team definitely does want to make the transitions as smooth as possible and that it won't be as jarring as moving from snow-covered mountains to the tropics within a few feet.
The other question that immediately jumped out in my mind was choice of areas. I don't think most folks like being forced into a straight sequence of zones every time they level characters. Luckily, I was told that everyone should have a choice between places to go throughout leveling, which is good to hear. How many choices remains to be seen, but two options is better than one, no matter what.
Flying through the air with something approaching ease
It's almost a footnote in our preview of the second beta test for WildStar that permanent flight is being considered for the game. The world is built to support it, which is great. And there's definitely a dialogue to be had about whether or not flight is something worth supporting in the long-term; in many ways, it's the ultimate expression of character power. Gravity no longer restrains you and you can go where you will.
Having watched another game follow precisely that path, I'm going to cast my vote against it -- or at least in favor of strictly limiting its use.
Flight is fun; I'm not going to lie. My Paladin in World of Warcraft had an entire stable of flying mounts to use based upon her mood and usually arrived to meetings by dropping straight out of the sky and slamming into the ground as an invincible meteor. The problem is that this meant I was now playing a game in which my primary mode of transport was "drop from the sky as an invincible meteor." Considering what I was facing and moving slowly had faded from my mind.
By the time that I could fly everywhere, I did, and the world lost all relevance for me. There were no longer regions that were tough to access because I bypassed anything that would obstruct me. It didn't take much to find people sweeping past content in droves and just dropping in at the best possible landing spot, rendering every bit of land-based content essentially filler. We see air superiority as the ultimate expression in power and forget that with that much power you no longer have a reason to use anything less.
Of course, in the real world people don't fly everywhere because you can't just land anywhere or take flight on a dime. If we as players have access to flight in WildStar, it should have the same restrictions. Your flying shuttle needs space to land and time to lift off, and it shouldn't be immune to wear or damage. In hilly territory, you might be better off taking a ground mount because there's nowhere to land that hovering beast outside of a handful of ports. It should provide recon opportunities, definitely, and some speed increases, but flight should never be trivial and easy.
Unless you're playing a superhero game, of course. But that's a different column I write.
Feedback is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, as with previous weeks. You're used to the routine by now. Next week, I want to talk about addons, utility, and how WildStar could obviate some failures while mirroring the success of the past.
Here's how it is: The world of Nexus can be a dangerous place for a tourist or a resident. If you're going to venture into WildStar, you want to be prepared. That's why Eliot Lefebvre brings you a shiny new installment of The Nexus Telegraph every week, giving you a good idea of what to expect from both the people and the environment. Keep your eyes peeled, and we'll get you where you need to go.