Battle Ready: WildStar takes aim

There's an almost Wild West feel to the mysterious ancient alien planet Nexus, an engaging set-up that entices with possibilities.

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As a member of a settling faction players compete for land and bragging rights. Whether on the side of the outlaw and mercenary populated ‘Exiles', or glory and honour seeking ‘Dominion' there's plenty to see and to do.

As well as choosing a faction, WildStar players can also customise their experience by selecting races, classes and the paths. The system is deep and detailed but also very accessible, with the options being presented in a clear and easy to use manner. Unique content is available depending on what options are chosen, content that suits how players want to play. Wanting to get up close and personal, I choose to be Mechari, a sentient killing machine. I was a warrior, and being an inquisitive type, I choose the explorer path.


One of the first things I did was run around looking for NPCs to chat to. It wasn't long before I had been asked to sacrifice a space cow to summon some monstrous spirits to battle with.

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Combat is fast and fluid compared to most MMO games, there's no auto-aim, so players need to focus on accurate aiming and dodging. A telegraph system indicates enemy attack patterns, granting players the opportunity to avoid damage. I had a lot of fun striking at enemies then double-jumping or dodging out of their attack range. Its trickier than it seems and can be massively challenging when faced with multiple enemies at once.

I overcame the evil spirits on my second attempt, having accidentally leapt out of the area the first time, and got some nice rewards. Feeling confident in my abilities it seemed like a natural next step to go charging off into the wilderness. This, it turns out, wasn't the wisest move. I was set upon by a pack of roaming beasts, and quickly realised that I wasn't going to win.

Sprinting back to the relative safety of where I had just come from I ran past a couple of other players. Unfortunately none decided to pitch in and lend me a hand; they were probably too busy laughing at the death-dealing tin-man Mechari running from a pack of wild animals.

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After having been caught up to and mauled to death I decided a safer path might be via sea. Turns out not. Almost as soon as I hit the water marine monsters were coming for me. I fared better. They tended to come one at a time so I could focus my attacks more easily, but they certainly didn't go down quickly.

After a few more minutes of playing with the mechanics it was time for me to leave. I had hoped to uncover a secret to brag about, but found picking on the native Nexus wildlife far too appealing to get any real exploring done. First foray into Wildstar finished, I spoke to combat effects developer Max Matzenbacher about the project.


The art design is very distinctive. Was that something that was intended from the start of development?

From a very early point in development we wanted to have something distinct. The art style wasn't necessarily there from day one. It was something that took time. We wanted it to be extremely high personality, very colourful. The goal for our artists was to have something that looked illustrated and very unique. When I joined the studio my reaction was 'this looks like Pixar made a video game'.
The more people see it the more they understand the vibe of the game, the characters, the story and the world. The game has a very pulp-comic feel to it. It's approachable to a wide audience but more experienced players will pick up on every little detail, the subtleties, and the jokes and that's encouraged us to do more and more of it.

A lot of fans have been praising the features in WildStar, how did you decide what to include?

We knew we wanted to make a big MMO, so there's a certain level of polish and feature set you have to have otherwise we'll be thought of as a smaller, more niche MMO. We wanted a huge range of features and systems with a lot of depth so a lot of different kinds of players can get into it. If you like crafting, we have a ridiculous crafting system with a ton of interesting crafting mechanics. If you like social systems, we've got things like our housing system, which we feel is the best in the market right now. For players who enjoy PvE, we're going to have small scale PvE and more difficult PvE. I think we're going to have every expected system and I think we're going to have done every one of those systems in a way that's very unique.

Players have more ways to move in WildStar than in many other MMORPGs. How do features such as double jumping impact gameplay?

Double jump was not always in the game. We wanted fluid jumping and something that felt really good to use. We put it in and people were instantly like 'holy crap, this is fantastic!' The next step of that was adding sprint so players could run and jump really far. It was almost perfect timing with the path system coming along so we really wanted to have something for players who like to explore. The explorer path has this platforming aspect to it where if you get to the top of something you can plant your flag and get a reward that shows you did something awesome. We want people to set themselves challenges of getting to hard to reach places, because it's fun.


Combat is very fluid and action oriented. Can you tell me more about it?

I'm very proud of it. When it comes to creating a style of combat we want something people will instantly associate with WildStar. It's mobile combat, very action based, very skill oriented and it's going to test skills that aren't always present in other MMOs. Ocarina of Time is a perfect example of this type of free-form combat. You don't have to target to use an ability - you can just use the ability. If I want to swing my sword, I can swing my sword and I'll hit whatever is in front of me.

That basic idea created challenges with everything we added to WildStar, things we had to fix and solve and adjust. It was baby steps. We would head off into directions that would be dramatic and force major changes and methodically work through that. We decided on a fluid combat system because we wanted players and creatures to use attacks it was possible to avoid. This isn't an avoid ability - its more that players have to physically get out of the way of where an attack will hit. With free-form targeting, players have to aim and successfully in order to do damage. Hitting a target is always satisfying, and there's the agony of just missing.

We wanted to avoid players walking up to creatures and comparing stats to see who will win. We want players to take on creatures that are difficult and even if they have higher stats, if players can avoid successfully and land their attacks they still can win. I think its much more approachable for players who like a bit more action. People who love to maximise stats still have all this level of customisation as well as adding in some skill.

Regarding attacking as a team, how do the classes interact and chain moves?

We have a system called Limited Action Sets, where players have abilities unique to their class and role they want to play. Different classes will find ways to chain together combinations of moves that they like. There's a ton of opportunity for players to experiment with how they combine movesets. Also, because there's the possibility of missing, landing a great chain attack is that much more satisfying.


How does the path differ from classes and how does it impact the game?

Classes are more your fighting style, whereas paths are more what you like to do in games. The path system will change the missions you get, things you can do in the environment, experiences you'll have, the discoveries you can make. You'll reliably get content that is tailored to your play style.

Players can create homes for their character in ‘sky plots'. How will these function and how will they impact player experiences?

I think that ownership is something that's really standard in the game. The idea is that this world has been discovered, there's a gold rush of sorts, all these people are going in and trying to stake their claim. Get land, get resources, compete and get this prize of territory. What housing allows is a further level of customisation and immersion. Something that's important for the success of an MMO is living through your character a little bit.

Housing allows a huge amount of opportunity for us to provide that to players. Players will buy a floating piece of land and have the opportunity to create a house. They'll start with a low level house and we want this house to grow and level with the player just like the gear and loot. We want it to reflect player style and for players to benefit from them so they'll be buffs, rewards and gameplay associated with them. If you like to craft you can build your entire house around crafting, if you like to hang out with guild members you can go from house to house to house and try out all the mini-games.

Has anything come up in the beta that surprised you?

Even in focus testing we were constantly surprised by things players do or don't do. There's been ridiculous amounts of feedback and things we want to iterate on. It's something we're doing very methodically, once we have the foundations established we can start changing them. People have come in and finished arguments in the studio. Players will say 'things should work like this', so we'll change that. We're always trying to listen to what people are saying and using the ideas we're being given, sometimes even little things.


The MMORPG market can be quite turbulent, is this something that concerns you?

As a player there's always expectation. Players want something that's significant, that's meaningful. There's a challenge of getting something out that meets expectations. It's something we're always thinking about it. We don't let it affect us too much in terms of the direction we're heading in. It may affect small details and aspects but won't drive us dramatically in one direction or another. We're all players and we want to make something we're proud of. That's what's dictating the direction. We feel that as long we're going in a direction that's going to be a better game, we're going to have success.

When can players get their hands on WildStar?

We haven't announced our release date. People can sign up for the beta, some have been even been trying to bribe me to get beta access. We're trying to hit late 2013, but you only really get one shot with an MMO. We don't want to release a game people aren't satisfied with. It would be a huge mistake to throw it out before it was done. If we don't deliver they're not going to forgive us so we have to make sure its ready.

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REVIEW. Written by Josten Holmgren

"With a rock solid group portion of the game, even though that lacks innovation, Wildstar manages to establish its niche in the MMO space."

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