Michel Ancel has some interesting ambitions for Wild on PS4. He want to create an open world game without anything as mundane as ‘an end goal’, ditching even obvious touch points like mission markers and maps. Instead he want to create a place for players to explore and find their own way, via the routes they choose.
“One thing I hate in games is when you have these missions things and you know exactly what you have to achieve,” he explains at Paris Games Week during a demo of the game. Instead of maps and markers then, you simply have a lush and beautiful natural word to explore as a mystical, animal-controlling shaman. You choose what you want to do by picking out distant landmarks, or obvious points of interest.
Essential information is communicated visually as you assess the risks of what you can see. Big circle of angry tribesman dancing furiously around a fire? Or a pack or wild boar milling around a tree? “Players can evaluate themselves if they want to big challenge or a small challenge,” says Ancel.
But what’s the point? Again, this is where things get interesting: there isn’t one to some degree. “We don’t want to give a final point,” says Ancel. Instead, this is about the player’s journey and the choices they make within the world. There are missions in the traditional sense – the demo included a quest to find and summon a snake divinity to cure a dying girl – but progress and choices are completely up to you.
In the case of the snake god, I saw several approaches involving possessing a hare to sneak past worshipful tribesman, or riding a bear to smash your way through. Then there’s the matter of the snake sacrifice needed to summon the divinity. In our demo a friendly eagle was used to capture it and hand it over but any approach or animal that gets you the same result would be equally valid.
These nature gods define the game but in a way that isn’t so cut and dried as ‘good’ or ‘evil’. “They’re not just positive or negative, they’re just unpredictable,” says Ancel. “For example, if you summon the snake divinity she might ask you to sacrifice a member of your team [of animals], or she could ask you to live as a snake for two or three days. Meaning that you could be vulnerable to attack from the eagle [or] have to find your own food.” They’re gods after all, so you’ll have to do what they want, no matter how crazy.
An important part of the experience is how much potential the player has to shape their journey. For example, every animal has its own divinity that can be worshipped, opening up its own unique path. As well as snakes, bears and eagles there are sheep, boar, rabbits, fish, frogs and countless more a fully populated ecology acting as character development tree.
“It’s like an RPG,” explains Ancel. “If you want to go more with the bear branch of the game, or more the wolf, or combine two animals, you can spend more time trying to get more knowledge of those animals.” According to Ancel, “You’re creating your own environment, you’re are summoning the divinity and the change is going to be in this branch of gameplay. If you prefer fishes or birds you can summon more divinities in this. So each time you have a sacrifice like that, you decide in which direction you want to evolve. “
It’s a journey that begins young, too: “When you start the game you play as a child. You have to learn about the world around you and you can domesticate other small animals or be helped by bigger animals,” Ancel tells us. These creatures are key, essentially forming your team and giving you access to their abilities. The eagle’s perfect for scouting, the bear is great for brute force (smashing through enemies with broad, damaging swipes) and a surprisingly fast mount to get about on too.
Every animal can be possessed, and you can move directly from one to the other with swipes of the touchpad. You can even control packs of animals if you find the alpha. Apparently even sheep can be dangerous if you command a herd.
The only catch is that while you’re borrowing a body, yours is left vulnerable to attack or robbery from other players. You can opt out of the online options entirely if you want, but it sounds like you’d be missing out on the big part of the game. There’s no clear MMO, PvP or co-op thrust here. Mirroring Ancel’s open ideas in the rest of the game, players simply inhabit each other’s worlds. What you do with that, and the rest of the tools here, is for you guys to work out. Play nicely now.