A diary of sorts, wherein I moonlight as a games writer. Under haphazard construction.
A Wild and Starry Weekend, Second Part: Wildstar Itself
May 2, 2014Posted by on
There’s a base and probably rather reptilian part of my brain which is telling me that I need to preorder Wildstar. Soon, so I can get into the “headstart” early-access period. It’s the part that covets shiny things. Switches off when there’s too much talking. Wants to see arbitrary numbers on the screen get bigger. Doesn’t mind grinding fetch or kill-5 quests. Part of me enjoys, or at least derives satisfaction, from even the worst and most played-out tropes of massively-multiplayer online games, and it can be rather hard to ignore. Am I really enjoying the game, or am I just feeding a habit?
As I kinda rambled about in the last post, Wildstar is built on a foundation which more or less conforms to familiar MMO conventions, and it carries all the baggage that comes with it.
This time I’m gonna talk about all the rest, though. And there is quite a lot.
I don’t think I need really say much about Wildstar’s appearance. Just go look at some screenshots. It’s cartoony, though that’s not a word I generally like. There’s something about Wildstar’s art that demands better description than simply “exaggerated”, “bright and colourful” or “stylised”, though, and I think calling it something like cartoonish is pretty fair. I saw someone in the chat compare it to Ratchet and Clank, and starting among the fuzzy Aerin race, I totally got where they were coming from with that. Even among the tougher, darker and more savage races there’s a Saturday-morning cartoon cuteness or coolness which goes beyond the “W” acronym. Even when killing an enemy explodes them into meaty chunks, their remains look like the sort of comedy steaks and bones that Warner Bro’s would cook up and feed to a starving Coyote. The exaggerated, oftentimes goofy, animations also make me want to use the “W” word, particularly when observing creatures and characters going about their idle business in the world, but I’ll refrain. Except I sorta just didn’t, did I?
None of it is bad at all, really, but I don’t know whether it’s really for me anymore. The, um, stylised proportions of both the male and female characters add to the pile of videogame tropes burying the game’s more interesting sides, and I got sick of the flouncy, frolicking way my female Aurin ran around pretty quickly.
It’s definitely beautiful, in that simple, colourful kind of way that good cartoons are, but I didn’t feel inspired to awe by anything as such. The landscapes are absolutely painterly, and some of the unsaved screenshots that I took whilst wandering around the hills and forests looked almost like the backgrounds of the new Rayman games, but they were missing.. something. Something to make them really stand out like so many of Rayman’s did. Some of this is perhaps because it’s an MMO, where the wide-open environments have to be accessible and easy to criss-cross around, and more is likely because I didn’t get far beyond the fairly generic magic forests of the Aurin starting areas, but even the more dramatic blighted and slashed-and-burned areas didn’t really strike me. There was plenty of variety- some parts of the forest are bright, verdant and lofty, other parts visibly magical, dark and close, but they were all variations along very familiar lines. I won’t discount the possibility that I’m becoming a little jaded towards fantasy, though, or that I’m somewhat bored of your typical videogamey gatherings of arcane trees. That said, I loved the biomechanical elements in some early places, and was disappointed that they didn’t feature more heavily deeper in. Maybe they do beyond what I saw, I mean, lategame environments do tend to be much more interesting than the ones at a game’s start.
Of Wildstar’s major talking points, the two which I got to see the most of were unsurprisingly the combat and the “Path” system which runs parallel to the class you pick.
Combat is interesting because there is no autoattack and all player attacks cover an area indicated by a blue telegraph zone. Enemies do have some auto-attacks, which as far as I could tell were unavoidable, but also have a telegraphed attack zone for their specials. Early combat up to level 10-12 or so felt kinda boring because most of the enemies relied on their simple auto-attacks, and seldom had more than one telegraphed special for me to feel awesome about dodging. Getting hit didn’t mean much to begin with either (obviously), so it didn’t feel like there was much weight behind any of the stuff meant to differentiate Wildstar from the pack besides the need to click repeatedly to deal damage. Once I’d died a few times to stronger mobs and found some which kept me constantly on the move to dodge their attacks, things got way more interesting. Some attacks take time to execute, forcing you to stand still, so you don’t want to be using them when you’re being pinged by repeated autoattacks. Similarly you don’t want to start winding one up when the enemy’s doing the same, and you’re in their path. Quick, mobile attacks, then, for most of the fight, only switching to heavier slower ones after circling out of their threat range. I felt like I’d just started to get a taste of the good stuff and can only see it getting better. This is pretty much why I might be tempted to buy. Also, PVP. If lag’s not to much of a thing, then that’s gonna be fun.
Paths weren’t as big a deal as perhaps I was expecting. Essentially, they’re sets of thematic quests based on different approaches to MMOs. There’s environmental exploration, supporting other players by building settlements, examining things and reading lore and killing even more stuff than usual. Finishing them gives you Path XP and Path levels, which have their own special perks and bonuses tied to them, including Path-specific gear and loot. As an Explorer one of my quests in each area was to claim territory by planting a flag (as is the done thing in all countries on all planets). I could click on the quest to get an arrow leading me to the nearest place where I could do this, and occasionally I’d find a small bank of flags planted by other players already waiting for me. Generally, though, it did feel like I was exploring, if only for myself. Filling in every single hex of the map in every area I visited felt a bit like hard work at times, as did running around geocaching in remote places. Not sure if I’d go that way for reals.
Crafting seemed kinda cool, but a little too randomised for my liking. Essentially, after picking which stats you want to use for your kit you choose how big you want the bonuses to be. The more points you put in, the higher the chance there is of failing the craft and losing all your materials. Better crafting materials have better baseline bonuses before you start risking things, and higher craft skills reduce your chances of failure. If there’s any more to it than that, I didn’t encounter it during the tiny bit of crafting I did during and after the tutorial.
If there’s anything else particularly outstanding then it hasn’t really stuck with me a week on. I’m not gonna just rattle off stuff that’s in the game that I didn’t see, but if I do play any more I’m sure I’ll want to write more words on other stuff.
Character Class Stuff
For my beta weekend I thought I was gonna be playing a character that interested me, but I’d unlikely to play in the event that I actually bought the game. Stealthy, high-damage Rogues and their equivalents are my bag, so instead of jumping straight in as the game’s Stalker class I thought that I’d try out something different. Instead of going for close-range damage and stealth, I’d go for long-ranged damage, debuffs, buffs and healing. Should have known that I’d end up enjoying it enough not to want to really play anything else.
The powers of all of Wildstar’s classes are split into Assault, Support and Utility categories, which provide a wider range of individual capabilities than MMOs generally give to their classes, but the Esper class is the one most specialised in flexible battlefield control.
In the fourteen levels I played, I had access to three different types of healing, an armour buff, an AoE knockdown, an AoE root, a pet summon, a continuous AoE spell, a damage burst, and both long and short-ranged basic attacks, both of which would generate the “Psi Points” that dictated the strength of the other attacks. These are the Esper’s staple attacks (no autoattacking, remember!), and like the poison stacks of World of Warcraft’s Rogue (the only class I have any experience playing there, happily), the Psi Points make combat a game of timing. At any point you can expend your energy reserve to unleash a burst of damage or healing using another skill, and in prolonged fights you’re trying to do this with as little downtime or delay as possible. Often you’ll have to decide whether to burst some damage at 3 Psi points or wait to land two more attacks until you’re maxed at 5. I wanted to do more healing, given that some of my heal spells generated and were powered by Psi points too, but there was little need at the levels I was playing at, particularly given how health regenerates automatically when out of combat. I could see it being really fun though- generating Psi points through damage dealing abilities, then expending them to flash-heal your allies or CC enemies, before realising it’s not quite enough and that you need to pull out the stops, swapping to use a healing spell to generate the Psi points instead. This is really making me want to preorder. Once the combat started warming up I was really enjoying all the Esper’s toys. One of the early skills is a high-powered, long-range blade throw, which takes a whole four seconds to come online. I couldn’t see the point of it to begin with until I realised that you could summon two of them before having to wait for a cooldown, and unlike your other attacks which force you to stand still, after summoning one or two of the blades you’re free to move whilst they hover in the air charging up. The cooldown’s long enough that you can’t quite use it to effectively hit and run, but it gives you a nice degree of mobility, generates Psi points (potentially in bursts of two), and looks freaking awesome. Speaking of which, even at level 14, when I pulled out all the stops to deal damage I produced a veritable cloud of badass hovering psychic ghost weapons.
Take a look at the Dev Speak video, it’s only like, a minute and a half long:
Espers are just awesome.
There was quite a lot of plot delivered by NPCs, but I found myself almost incapable of caring about it. So we, the Exiles, are making a dash for this unclaimed frontier planet in an attempt to make it our new home safe from the evil Empire which is gobbling up the rest of the galaxy. I, a fuzzy psychic pink woodland creature girl thing whose planet was destroyed, will follow in the footsteps of great explorers to fight the Empire and join the colonisation effort. That’s more or less enough for me. Individual quests didn’t mean much really, they didn’t seem to stray far from establish archetypes in any memorable ways.
That said.. there were some colonial bits and pieces which made me quite uncomfortable. Fighting primitive feather-and-bone-encrusted, “voodoo”-practicing pygmy aliens? Experimenting on them to test their tolerance to fire, cold, electric and chainsaw damage? Yeahhh.. Sure, it was a quest for the creepy disease-ridden undead race’s scientists, and was supposed to be dark and morally questionable, but still.. this planet you’re busy claiming and warring over isn’t unpopulated. Even when you’re playing the good guys, and some of the sapient natives are greeting you with open arms as you save them from wild animals or the evil Empire, it feels uncomfortably patronising. If it’s supposed to be, then somehow it doesn’t quite feel like they’ve done due diligence to make that apparent. Not in the bits I played at least.
I realise I’m particularly sensitive to this kinda stuff because I’m rather sensitive to Britain’s horrific past and because some of my Uni studies were on racism and the indigenous people in Japan, but yeah.. some themes are rather uncomfortable. Maybe it won’t dwell on them, maybe it’ll raise the meaningful questions about colonialism later.. I don’t know.
So yeah, that’s my brainpan more or less emptied of thoughts on Wildstar. If I end up preordering the game, which is not impossible, I expect it will fill up again with more.