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WildStar Previews: PAX 2011 - Stepping into a Pixar Movie

By Carolyn Koh on September 01, 2011

Carolyn Koh:

Playing Wildstar is like stepping straight into a Pixar movie. The art style, the animation, and the purple haired bunny girl (an Aurin) all helped that immersion as I entered the world. Unfortunately, the decibel level of the noise in the exhibition hall was high enough that I could not tell you what the sound was like, much less the voice acting.  But the gameplay was sublime.

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For this demo, we had a choice of three characters. A Granok (a large hulking humanoid) Warrior, a Human Spellslinger complete with guns to help sling those spells, and the aforesaid purple-haired bunny girl which was an Aurin Esper: a character that uses mind magic or telekinesis (read: crowd control). After we picked the character, we had a choice of four character paths: Explorer, Scientist, Soldier and Settler. The titles describe themselves pretty well and the character path chosen will determine the character's quest lines and role in society on the alien planet.

The Scientist is about experimentation and discovery (lore), the Soldier is all about combat, the Explorer values travel and exploration of the wild, and the Settler focuses on building and farming. Carbine was careful to let us know that Wildstar will have crafting, and that tradeskills and the like are not tied to the character paths.

Only the Explorer and the Soldier were available for the demo so I picked the Aurin Esper, selected the Explorer path and found myself sent out to find the best place to place a beacon, rescue a few fellow explorers from the nasty Yeti beasts that overran the area, and the quest giver told me that killing a few of them along the way won't hurt.  This is very early on in the game, around level 2 or 3 content, and serves basically as a tutorial to the game’s “paths”, combat and questing.

There weren't any surprises in how the game plays. WASD and mouse camera or pressing both buttons to move and direction control with the mouse, tab targeting, M to access the map where quest destinations were marked. F keys for skills and a buildup of action points for some skills. For a pre-alpha state, gameplay was smooth, animation looked really great, and the stylized art style just rocked. There was also a dodge that we received a tool-tip for when the Mob started winding up for their power attack.  A quick double tap of the S key to backpedal quickly, or the W and D keys to jump left or right. I quickly discovered that the Aurin tucked and somersaulted in her double jump and I was using it to navigate rocks and cliffs in no time.  Every game should have a double-jump: enough said.

I'm also great at breaking games during press demos if they are open play, and I managed to crash the game so hard the Alienware PC re-booted. What WAS impressive was that the Devs knew exactly what I had been doing and where to do that. I was double-jumping my way through an avalanche to avoid the rolling rocks. I don’t know if they would have actually hit me, but the animation was cool enough that I wanted to do it darn it!

The crash was a great excuse to try out the Human Spellslinger and I did so, choosing the soldier path. This required me rescue a few explorers and to defend a control point from four waves of critters and a Boss.  Like an open event or public quest, players can help each other complete the defense. XP was shared but quest credit went to the person who triggered it.  There was even loot for everyone who partook in the defense.  I can see the Soldier path being popular, if merely because people will love to trigger these big events.

I then turned over the station to Bill Murphy who tried the Granok Warrior - which started out in a different area of the same map and used a mucking great sword to dispatch all his enemies.

Bill Murphy

As Carolyn mentioned, I picked up the game as the Granok Warrior, and I chose the Soldier path as well, since I’d seen the quests for the Explorer during Jeremy Gaffney’s presentation earlier in the day.  The combat is a nice blend of the familiar and the “active”.  It’s all about momentum, and there’s a natural progression to combat where if you manage to dodge your opponent’s attacks and thereby keep yourself from being knocked down you’ll actually get bonuses to your XP and damage output.

The warrior’s spam-attack (no auto-attack) changes as you use it, in a sort of combo.  The second swing is different from the first, and third from the second.  Each successful swing does more damage, and builds points for you to use with other skills… including an incredibly awesome explosive AOE which decimated everything around me.  The warrior is going to be an interesting class, even as a “tank”, and that’s not easy to do in this day in age.  Basically the longer you can fight without error, the more you can dodge the enemy’s big attacks, the better you will fight and the more you’ll be rewarded for it.

The game also uses a “challenge” system, which will basically track how well you’re doing something.  Say you’re out fighting a few beasties, and you’re dispatching them really well.  The game notices this and might suggest a challenge such as “Kill 6 of those in 3 minutes”.  You can ignore these challenges, but if you complete them you get a load of bonus XP and other rewards on top of it.  They’re almost like bonus quests, and have nothing to do with the main story, but the achiever in anyone will have a hard time saying no to them.

The biggest reason to be excited about WildStar is by far the path system.  There’s a lot more to learn about it, but essentially it’s very possibly going to be the type of feature that every game will pick up down the road.  It essentially adds a whole new layer to the game, by taking the long-established notion of player “types” and tying them directly to progression and gameplay.  It’s creating a sort of hybrid between theme park and sandbox, and we really can’t wait to see what the Scientist and Settler paths are all about.

If it works out, WildStar will be the kind of game where an actual society of players is formed, and not just a group of heroes roving about killing things.  Some people will be the army, some will be the builders, some will uncover new lands, and others still will teach us about the ancient lore of the planet.  Everyone will have a part in the shaping of the world.  That is, if Jeremy Gaffney and the rest of the fine folks at Carbine have their way.

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