There is something exciting about taking your first steps into the mysteries of a new planet. I was anxious to mingle with the locals, analyze artifacts, and even pick a few plants — that is, until I saw a flower burst from the ground as a giant vine-like beast. As it chewed up the slinky Aurin next to me, I decided to leave the flowers for the next Scientist.
So began my hands-on experience with WildStar, the exciting and often comical new MMO from NCsoft and Carbine Studios. The half-day event gave me time to play the Esper class, build some structures on the Settler path, and hurtle myself through the air in the name of science. There is so much to talk about!
Except plants. ‘Cause allergies. *ahem*
Let me start by first noting that the UI in these screenshots is completely and totally in beta. It’s one of our first looks at the UI’s direction, but Carbine Studios insisted that design could and probably will change in areas. Now, the good stuff.
Esper mind tricks
I figured if I’m going to discover the secrets of the planet Nexus, I’m going to need the smartest character ever. I settled on the psychic powers of the Esper to start. The class is themed around abilities that use the power of the mind to summon temporary illusions to a variety of effects. The Esper isn’t a pet class; the longest illusion “‘pet” lasts only about 10 seconds.
In fact, playing the Esper felt like playing a magical rogue. I built up charges using Telekinetic Strike, an ability that summons ethereal blades that pierce all enemies in a line. Mind Burst consumes the charges while manifesting a large hawk creature that swoops at the target, heavily damaging enemies in a cone before you.
Building points was much more interesting than just spamming one skill. Telekinetic Strike hit multiple enemies but forced me to stand still for a cast time. Concentrated Blades, however, allowed me to summon magical disks on the fly. They don’t hit immediately; instead, they grow in size before striking at the target. I also had the option to summon up to three phantoms for charges, each of which attacked for 10 seconds before evaporating. If the battle turned dicey sketchy (and it frequently did!), I could use my Crush skill to stun the enemy with a large ghost-like fist that punched him into the ground.
By level 14, I had acquired only a handful of skills, but the class felt much more mobile than a traditional caster class. The Esper also had an interesting metagame to it with the management of combo points and a mana pool. Unfortunately, I wasn’t high enough in level to see how it performed in groups with healing and support skills added to the mix. The powers I did use felt interesting and involved; if I mindlessly pushed buttons, I felt weak, which encouraged me to work combos to devastating effect.
Science: A lore hound’s dream
The Scientist path is one of the four paths players can choose from at the beginning of their Nexus adventure. Each path helps define what kind of side content you’ll experience throughout the game. For example, the Soldier path emphasizes beating the small and large inhabitants of Nexus into a fine, manageable paste.
The Scientist is much more refined, choosing to scan creatures and objects, solve various puzzles, and catalogue data in order to piece together the lore-ridden puzzle of the planet Nexus. Each of the scans gave me more info about the objects of the world. Some scans unlocked audio clips that took me deeper into a side-quest, while others unlocked new advantages for me after numerous scans of the same creature.
With each scan, my collection of Nexus history and game plot-lines thickened. Using the Galactic Archive, the in-game compendium, I could review what I’d learned about a plant, a race, or the zone I had been exploring. I couldn’t help but scan everything as though each unlock was an achievement for the taking. Bonus: Scans also increased the level of my Scientist path, rewarding me with new Scanbot powers, titles, and even housing equipment in the form of what the game calls “FABkits.” I became addicted to knowledge!
But the Scientist isn’t just about collecting lore. Carbine Studios has made sure that members of each path help members of the others to find new areas to explore. In Algoroc, a mountainous area covered in grassy hills and crystal-encrusted hillsides, I unlocked the power of Loftite using a few science scans. Thanks to my achievement, nearby players were suddenly given the ability to jump incredibly high in areas with a large concentration of the crystals. We bounded up and down the cliff until we reached a peak where we found the boss that had been throwing giant snowballs at us during our ascent. This area had a few objectives for other paths, but they needed my brain power to get there.
I also found a small puzzle that reminded me of RIFT’s zone puzzles. Solving it opened a door that led to more areas to explore and a pathway for the Explorer path. The great thing was the puzzle’s randomization. Jeremy Gaffney, WildStar’s executive producer, told me that each of the puzzles is randomized so that the experience can be different for each player. “We don’t like the optional way of puzzle solutions — i.e., looking up the one solution online,” he explained.
What strikes a chord with me is how WildStar has managed to create specific paths for individual playstyles without alienating players. If my friends like to rampage via the Soldier path, they provide me as a Scientist with more opportunities to learn about an enemy’s history. To top things off, the team even hinted that each path will be a boon when players begin to run dungeons together.
WildStar is, simply put, the small plant I mentioned at the start. On the surface, it’s humorous and beautiful in its allure, but buried deep beneath the surface is a complex and exciting monster ready to devour all your free time.