WildStar Gameplay Preview – Uncontrollable Balls of Helium

WildStar Gameplay Preview - Uncontrollable Balls of Helium

One of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever embarked upon was my seemingly never-ending quest to find an MMO that catered to every single one of my needs as a gamer. There’s so many MMOs out there to try and since those are all trying to cater to as many people as possible, it’s hard to find one that has everything that you might personally want. My stints with World of Warcraft, Rift, Aion, Allods Online and so many others were all very enjoyable, but all of them were missing something or other.

When a friend linked me to a trailer for Carbine Studios’s WildStar, I think I instantly fell in love. The art style was appealing, the humour was genuinely funny, the animations were brilliant. The only thing that the trailer I watched was missing was actual gameplay. I’m going to admit, I didn’t have high hopes for the gameplay as I’d been spurned by so many games before that had drawn me in with fantastic ancillary details, but have failed to deliver in the key element of gameplay. Y’know what, though? I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong.

When I got to play the public demo available at this year’s Rezzed in Birmingham, I didn’t really know what to expect. I jumped straight into the game with a pre-built human/cassian Spellslinger, utilising the Explorer path. Now, the Spellslinger uses a pair of pistols as their main weapon, so I was expecting to play something similar to other ranged classes in games like World of Warcraft. What I got instead was something completely different.

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Most of the attacks available to me as a Spellslinger involved shooting things in front of me, and a couple of others involved a quick forward dash that would stun my enemies. In any other game, I’d just have to chain together my attacks correctly and hope that their dodge rating isn’t so high that every other attack misses. In WildStar, you actually have to aim. Every one of my attacks worked in an AoE fashion. If I wanted to shoot my pistols for a normal attack or for some daring rapid fire storm of bullets, I would be presented with a blue area of effect on the ground by my character’s feet. Anything in that area would be hit, so long as I didn’t somehow screw up the attack. The same rules applied for my melee attacks. It didn’t take me long to figure out that this was a game about tactful dodging and careful positioning rather than just crunching numbers to figure out damage.

Dodging is definitely as important an aspect of combat as actual attack is. A quick double tap of any of the WASD keys will send your character off in a dodge roll of your chosen direction. A lifetime of carefully practicing doge rolls on Kingdom Hearts prepared me for this game, and it certainly paid off. Much like my own attacks, I could see my opponent’s area of effect when they were preparing a large attack, so knowing when to dodge was easy to figure out, but difficult all the same. Throw in the sprint function on top of regular movement and dodge rolling, and you can really take control of combat situations. Doubly so with ranged characters!

Whilst this kind of combat wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, it was a nice change of pace from what I’m used to in MMOs. It’s different, and that’s a good thing. This is a case of a game doing something to attract a stable playerbase without them having to innovate or throw some crazy ideas at the wall and hope they stick.

Everything else that I got to experience felt like the solid part of an MMO experience. Quests were easy to pick up from NPCs, and they featured the usual bread and butter of MMO missions. Killing local enemies, heading to specific NPCs in other towns, teaming up with other players to take on bigger challenges etc and so forth. Questlines could be managed by a single NPC through use of communication devices, eliminating any need to run back and forth between the wild planes and the NPC inhabited towns just to complete a single set of quests.

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What was most interesting was how the Path system worked. There are four paths available, and each one works as a sub-class for your character. You can be a Soldier, Settler, Scientist or Explorer, and each of these paths offers additional gameplay to you based on your preferences. Depending on the path you choose depends on some of the content that you’ll see as you play. Since each path does something unique, you might want to play multiple characters to see everything that WildStar has to offer. Playing one path doesn’t cut you off from the benefits of the other paths, though, it merely makes their kind of content more readily available to you.

Explorers are all about finding secrets, and general exploring. You’ll find secret tunnels and far-reaching corners of the map, and the more you find, the better things are for your faction. Functionally, you’re a scout. You get to know the layout of the land better than the other paths and you’re better at outflanking enemies.

Soldiers do exactly what they say on the tin. Combat is their strong point, and they’ll make up the bulk of your faction’s forces. They’re at their best in combat and will spend more time fighting than running around the world looking for secret places and strange things.

Settlers are tasked with world building. Fortifications, defences, home and housing. That’s their job, and it’s what they’re best at. Securing your homeland and repelling enemy invaders might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but somebody has to do it. You’ll spend more time at home with your faction than you will looking around the outreaching places, but you’ve got one of the most important jobs in the game.

Finally we’ve got scientists. Research is your forte, and learning about how everything works is what you’re most interested in. Like settlers, you’ll be spending quite a bit of time back at homebase, cooking up some plans and cackling like the most evil of scientists (Y’know. If that’s your thing), and the rest of the time you’ll be looking for new stuff to research.

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I was talking with a developer whilst I queued up to play the game, and he did reveal a sneaky little thing about some of the PvP options that will be in the final game. I was most interested in the faction vs faction (or possibly guild vs guild) battle system that would pit teams of 40 players against each other. I initially thought that it would just be large scale PvP battles, but like with the actual gameplay of WildStar itself, I was pleasantly surprised by what Carbine have in store. The 40-a-side battles will be a sort of Keep Defence, which have roles for all of the paths and classes in-game.

You’ll be defending your fort and simultaneously be attempting to attack the enemy fort. Settlers will be best on the back lines, preparing defences, whilst Soldiers will make up the brunt of your friendly forces. Explorers will scout the area and act as your intel, and Scientists will be back at base co-ordinating everything and preparing a plan.

It’s a nice spin on traditional PvP, and it shows that by taking old gameplay features, brushing them off, adding something that players genuinely want, can work to make your game the cream of the crop.

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WildStar is definitely the game for someone who wants a change of pace. It’s the same formula as many other MMOs, but it does just enough things differently that it feels like a completely different experience. It feels like they’ve shaken up the traditional concepts and thrown in a few extra perks, but the result has come out more glorious than ever before.

Carbine Studios have definitely got some amazing ideas cooking up, and that’s not surprising considering that they were formed by ex-Blizzard employees. Some of the engineering minds that made World of Warcraft the juggernaut it has become have come together to build this MMO, and they’ve seriously done a good job.

WildStar might not be the MMO for everybody, but it is certainly trying it’s hardest to please the MMO crowd. No matter what kind of playstyle you prefer, this game has something for you. PvP is shaping up to be awesome, and the way combat works means that raids and dungeons will always be the more intensive kind of gameplay that you’re looking for.

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