PC wildstar-hands-on

Published on July 10th, 2013 | by Swaine Dillinger

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Wildstar Hands-On

Carbine Studio’s debut creation is unashamedly unhinged and unpredictable with an emphasis on fun and frivolity, which is a far cry from what you’d expect from the MMORPG genre’s usual super serious vibes of say Guild Wars 2 or Star Wars: The Old Republic. Both visually and tonally Wildstar is really more a kin to World of Warcraft, but that comparison isn’t fair to the litany of daring, new gameplay systems associated with this release.

During a recent hands-on op Carbine plonked us down at a PC to sample two new paths: the Settler and the Scientist. Functioning in addition to class, faction and race choices – paths determine the world interactions players have available to them, and rather than go for the R&D focused Scientist with his handy-dandy scanning bot and Galactic Codex which needs filling out, we went with the social creature known as the Settler. Even during recent hands-on sessions when we took the Explorer and Soldier paths for a spin, we always wondered how the Settler, the only path with the ability to build persistent structures in the online world, would work and after two hours in a level 14-20 zone dubbed Algoroc, we finally got to find out.

In typical MMO fashion, how players interact with the environment in Wildstar is governed by HUD markers, each of which designates something the player can interact with. For other classes this isn’t an immersion-breaking issue, as you rarely come across the telltale square brackets during general questing, but with the Settler that isn’t the case. We spawned inside a Fae-town under constant attack from Dominion forces and we soon found our screen bombarded with dozens of different interactive objects from scattered rubble lying on the ground to dozens of lanterns that needed to be activated, and as first impressions go it wasn’t quite the empowering experience we expected.

Rather than a noble prospector bringing technology and wisdom to a backwards town, we felt more like a janitor or a parent cleaning up the landscape allowing the more destructively minded paths to have more fun. Thankfully this feeling subsided as we progressed further into the town and spotted some rubble languishing by a glowing totem. Upon clicking this item we were offered a litany of build options including a resistance enhancer (makes any player who strays into this object’s effect field more resistant to enemy attacks, Tech Totem Vendor (more gear to buy) and other potential buffs/vendors.

The potential of this path may sound minor, especially when you consider that each build order only lasts a maximum of five minutes, but these orders are stackable and the cost for each is, in the grand scheme, tiny. All we needed was a dozen or so ‘Pulsating Power Crystals’ and ‘Structural Carbon Rods’ to create the most basic of structures, and we came across dozens of each simply by exploring the world and fighting monsters.

Getting an impression of how significant a Settler’s actions will be on busy servers – ours was only inhabited by only a dozen players – is rather difficult, but by only using resources found during the demo we were able to make sure a health-buffing outpost stayed functional for hours simply by reapplying our order multiple times, guaranteeing that our personal impact on the always-on, persistent world would be felt long after we logged off.

Obviously there are limits to what a Settler can build in any chosen area and it’s impossible to just plot down critical outposts like a resurrection spot wherever a player deems. That said, we can imagine Carbine running wild with the Settler concept, for instance offering the option to build a big shield emitter next to a boss or allowing a network of Settlers to create elaborate speeder transport grids allowing easy traversal for all other paths.

Like with our last hands-on, we didn’t really get a sense of the wider Dominion versus Exile narrative while playing, instead this MMORPG gave off more of a sandbox vibe with pop-ups constantly alerting players to new activities, be it the potential to earn an achievement by killing a number of enemies before a timer runs out, scoreboard events and other motivators to keep you involved in what would otherwise be a somewhat traditional ‘free helpless villagers from cages’ quest structure.

Story implementation is supported by minimal text during quests, but the nuance associated with combat makes up for that. Our spellslinger Settler was a specialist in DPS with multiple ranged skills, some of which required charging, while others could be fired off repeatedly with little wait in-between. Each class in Wildstar will have access to 80 skills once they reach the level cap of 50, but for the sake of simplicity the skill bar will only ever accommodate eight different abilities. Carbine want players to be chopping and changing their abilities in accordance with the challenge in front of them.

The Path system has undoubtedly been designed to encourage social play, and if a Settler character is teamed with a group consisting of all the other paths (Soldier, Scientist and Explorer) not only will they accrue general and path XP at a faster rate, but they’ll also be able to take part in more combat missions, and explore otherwise inaccessible areas – effectively having the complete Wildstar experience while still only playing as one path.

With other MMORPGs going further and further down the story-centric single-player RPG route, Wildstar’s approach makes the most of the infinite potential and appeal of teaming up with others, and that restoration of traditional online values is immensely exciting.

Even if the thought of questing with others brings you out in a cold sweat, Carbine’s debut boasts at least a dozen or so features we wish other games would adopt. Like their social-minded Circle system which, in addition to allowing players to join a single guild, also offers the opportunity for players to group together based on more broad criteria like time-zone, location, interests or playstyle, and the loot doubler which randomly offers players the chance to double their loot if a player-selected ticker lands in the right spot. All these tiny touches combine to produce an experience which feels dense with content, yet light and fluffy in tone, which for an MMORPG is especially novel.

NCSOFT will soon announce that Wildstar utilises one of three revenue models: free-to-play, subscription-only, or one-time fee like Guild Wars 2. We’re happy to report that Wildstar has more than enough character to succeed, regardless of which option NCSOFT goes for. We have no idea how our Settler playthrough will play out when servers are full and how much of an impact our actions will have on others, but it’s going to prove fascinating to find out.

Roll on the public testing, we shouldn’t have long to wait.

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