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WildStar Column: Magic and Mayhem

By Gareth Harmer on November 14, 2013

What a WildStar week it’s been! In the last seven days, we’ve seen a ton of news from Carbine about its upcoming MMO. There’s been the Warrior DevSpeak video, Livestream and Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’ that I’ll dig into shortly. Yesterday brought a second look at the Esper, a psionics-powered mage that’s described as a cross between Professor X and the Green lantern.

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And then there were hoverboards. Since the end of Closed Beta 3 in August, Carbine has been working on a slew of updates and changes based on player feedback. Although we’ve been hands-on with the Warrior and Stalker at NYCC in October, last week was the first time we’d seen a new build that incorporated Carbine’s latest changes.

As a result, we’ve been discovering plenty of new information about WildStar in general, as part of the deep class reveals currently underway. Even if the Esper or Warrior Classes don’t appeal to you, there’s still much more to find out.

Custom Characters

According to Carbine, a major part of beta feedback focused on character customization. In short, players didn’t feel like they had enough ways to focus on how they wanted to play, and the choices they did have were heavily focused on gear. The studio rose to the challenge, responding with two interlocking mechanisms – Ability Tiers and Advanced Modification Protocols (AMPs).

Instead of having masses of seldom-used abilities that demand multiple hotkey bars, WildStar uses a Limited Action Set of ten abilities. It’s possible to play around with the loadout at any time you’re out of combat, using a mix of 8 Class abilities, one Gadget ability and a single Path ability. You might build a loadout for simple questing and another for dungeon running, depending on how you want your character to work.

Ability tiers stack on top of this. As you build your loadout, points can be spent on beefing up those abilities. While Minor tiers offer incremental boosts to each ability, the Major tiers at 4 and 8 also tweak it by adding new features. By making our favorite moves more powerful, I’m hoping that combat will be even more satisfying.

While I excpect that we’ll change Ability loadouts and tiers on a regular basis as the situation demands it, AMPs appear to be focused more around long-term progression. Presented as either a spider’s web or star constellations depending on who you ask, the AMP system is built around six different player roles. PvP Offense and Defense are two obvious choices, with Class Utility making up a third. Assault, focused on damage dealing, is a fourth, and Support, based around tanking or healing, is a fifth. Interestingly, the Hybrid section is intended for offtanks, possibly backup healers, and those who want a little more versatility.

At this early stage, AMPs also seem to modify abilities in a similar way to Ability Tiers. During the livestream however, we learned they can also grant new abilities, meaning that the most dedicated tanks can pick up some signature moves. And although some AMP slots can be unlocked through spending points or picking up prerequisites, others will require specific items to activate the first time. This might be a rare world drop, a crafted item, or something else entirely.

Maintaining Momentum

Aside from the refinements to character customization, a couple of other facets emerged about WildStar’s approach to combat. The most surprising was the consideration of momentum – encouraging movement from combat encounter to encounter with only the briefest of pauses. While playing badly is greeted with death, skillful play is rewarded in a number of subtle ways.

When I first played WildStar, I discovered that taking on two or more monsters at a time would reward me with additional XP. That additional challenge, dodging out of telegraphs, and other skillful plays also award short-duration buffs to damage and movement speed. As mentioned on the Livestream, it creates a question: do I dive back into combat and keep the buffs running, or take a breather and recover some health?

Part of that question is answered with WildStar’s use of shields. Sitting alongside the health bar, the shield is gradually eroded by incoming damage, before your precious health pool is even touched. Crucially though, it also regenerates in combat, once you stop taking damage for a short while. Smack your opponent with a stun and watch that blue bar start to tick up. It’s another aspect of layered skill – play well and you’ll continually keep in the blue. Not so good, and you’ll be chomping into the green regularly. And yes, tanks will have abilities that play nice with shields.

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