What is a video game? How do we define it? Do we expect certain gameplay mechanics to be included, without which may potentially lesson the experience? Wander, the in-development project by Wander MMO, is well, just that. An MMO. But unlike other MMOs, Wander describes itself as a “collaborative, non-combat, non-competitive exploration MMO.” When I first told my cousin about the game – he came to PAX with me – he didn’t really see the appeal. “So, what do you do?” he asked. “It’s an exploration game. You walk around and explore the world,” I replied. “And then what?” he wondered.
For most gamers, combat and A-to-B objectives are necessary in order to feel a sense of progression. Without them, most may explore for a little while, aimlessly, before feeling purposeless and moving on to another game. This is the danger Wander faces as a non-combat, non-competitive MMO. In order to draw in players and have any legitimate sustainability, the game will need to feature an incredibly gripping narrative, awe-inspiring visuals that beg to be seen, and incredibly diverse vistas on the horizon players will feel compelled to reach. If Melbourne-based developer and all around Wander-er Loki Davison has his way, gamers will be introduced to a brand new niche genre of gaming when it comes to online exploration.
In a recent PS Blog post introducing Wander, Davison explains his motivations behind bringing the concept to life. “I was somewhat of a nomad for a long time. I wandered around Central Asia, Siberia, the Arctic and Himalayas. Growing up I played a lot of MUDs (text based MMO games) and wanted to make a game that was atmospheric, relaxing and multiplayer. Wander draws on a lot of that experience. I wanted to collaboratively explore in a game.” Davison noted that there was a distinct lack of games that focused on exploration, and far too many games that forced combat and competitiveness. Wander is an attempt to offer gamers a reprieve from all the violence, substituting blood and gore with enchanting landscapes and serene multiplayer interactions.
The demo at PAX begins with players assuming the role of an
Ent Oren, a sentient tree-like creature, granted life by a powerful storm that transforms you. Following the sound of opera singers, the player is led across the jungle landscape in search of collectible bits of lore, which begin to reveal the mystery of what’s happened. It is soon discovered that the tree, along with many others on the island, is actually a shapeshifter, capable of assuming a variety of forms. The next one the demo showcases is a griffin, able to take to the skies and fly. Flight is great, but every form is a different size, and certain portions of the island will only be accessible to certain forms. The other forms were not playable at the show, but they have been revealed already; joining the Oren and Griffin will be the Azertash, a humanoid fish that can swim fast and breathe underwater, and the Hira, an agile creature capable of reaching smaller enclosures on the island, including tree forts.
Beyond the initial four forms, each type has a number of variants. These variants are not just aesthetically different, they can also interact with the other tribes and creatures on the island in unique ways. Each variant is said to have its own culture and backstory, further discovered via lorestones and written records. Beyond that, discovering lorestones and gathering information from the various island inhabitants can unlock further secrets known only to a few. As the team says, “eventually, if you’re lucky, you might even learn the ultimate secrets of this mysterious and beautiful world.”
The island holds many secrets, though players can work together and share information if they so choose. For those who want to explore on their own, there are a number of different locations to discover. The island is massive in scope, with tons of terrain to cover. From the coast, to the dense inland jungle, to the forest treetops, there’s plenty to see and learn. Once the Azertash is unlocked, players can even dive into the water off the beach and discover an entire underwater city, waiting to be explored.
Wander seems like a tough sell to me, especially as an MMO. I’m not convinced it’s sustainable, or that it will hold player interest beyond a few weeks at most. That said, I know little about the world itself, and just how layered the exploration component truly is. On the surface, it’s a simply gorgeous game that boasts AAA quality next-gen visuals and a variety of playable characters, each with unique modes of transportation and areas of the island in which they excel. It’s certainly a game I’m intrigued to try, I’m just not sure it’s a game with much of a shelf life. Wander is currently in Alpha, and available for purchase here on Windows and Linux. It will also be available in April on Steam and PS4. For more information, be sure to visit the official website. Wander can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.