When we first saw it at Gamescom last year, nobody really had any idea what Wild actually was. It had a caveman survival-game vibe, and a giant lady who lived in a tree. Shown again during Sony's European press conference last night, Wild has taken shape: it's still got that caveman survival-game vibe, but now it's clear that you play a shaman who can inhabit and control different animals.
Later, after Sony's Paris Games Week presentation, designer Michel Ancel ran me through the demo again, expanding on what this game is and how it will work. I've rarely seen a designer look so excited about his work. Wild is a really interesting concept, and there's a lot more to it than yesterday's 5-minute presentation was able to show. Here's what I learned.
- Wild will have Dark Souls-like multiplayer. Other players can arrive in your game at any time. "Controlling animals is very interesting when you play online - you could have another player attacking you with rabbits, or other crazy situations," says Ancel. "You know in games like Bloodborne? The multiplayer system there is very interesting and exciting. People can help you, or they can hurt you. And other players will try to mimic the AI, to appear undetected. In this game, any animal could be dangerous, because it could be another player in there. Someone could approach you as a frog, then jump into a more dangerous animal."
- There will be the option to play offline and close your game off, though, if you'd rather keep all of Wild to yourself. You can also jump into friends' games, or have them join you in yours.
- You start out the game as a child, and must learn about the world around you.
- You can inhabit pretty much any animal – including baby boars. You can't really do much as a baby boar except for gambol around with other little baby boars. It's adorable.
- Animals react to each other: if you're a tiny baby boar, you'll attract predators. Run around as a bear, most other animals will peg it away from you. Inhabit the leader of a pack of animals, and the other members of the group will follow your lead.
- Currently there is no limit on how many animals you can have in your gang. Presumably there will, eventually, be a limit, otherwise multiplayer would be insane.
- Your shaman is vulnerable when you're inhabiting the body of an animal: it makes sense to find somewhere safe before you roam far as another creature.
- There is absolutely no screen clutter, which is part of Wild's philisophy: it's an open game that expects you to find your own purpose. "Something I hate in games is when you have these mission things telling you exactly what you have to achieve in the game, showing you exactly what the goal is," says Michel. "What we wanted to do in Wild is create, from scratch, code that lets us create a world that is gigantic and where you can go anywhere."
- The world is currently absolutely massive; actually, it's infinite right now, though it's unlikely to be infinite when it's finished. There's an 8km field of view, and every player will start the game somewhere different.
- There are "shelters" placed around the world, which act as checkpoints – you can travel between them at any time, once you've found one on your explorations.
- Sacred places are landmarks that you can use to navigate your way around, in the absence of a map. (Early humans did not have maps.) You can see them from miles away.
- At these sacred places, you can summon animal divinities, which will then give you the ability to inhabit and control different animals. This is a very cool system. Divinities – ie, animal gods – will set challenges in exchange for the knowledge they represent. The snake god might ask you to sacrifice one of your own animals, or ask you to live as a snake for 2-3 days of game time, making you vulnerable and necessitating that you find your own food. After that you've earned the right to inhabit that animal. Presumably, they might also send a powerful animal for you to defeat.
- There's not just one way to interact with any given animal. You can ride the bear, or you can BE the bear.
- Because every player starts out somewhere different, and there are no specific objectives, Ancel wants people to share their experiences to piece together knowledge of the game. "After 1 hour of Wild, we want every player to tell a different story," he says. "There is never just one goal, there are several goals you could pursue depending on the level of risk. I like that players can decide for themselves, take their time on it. I believe that modern games should allow different people to play the game with their rhythm."
It's a philosophy I can get behind. Wild looks like a late-2016 game at the earliest, to me. I would expect we'll be hearing more about it mid-next-year.