Dark or Light

The Great Stat Reboot

Gareth Harmer Posted:
Columns 0

WildStar’s upcoming free-to-play transition is bringing a whole host of changes. Possibly the most controversial, however, is news that all of a characters base stats are to be swept away. Bid farewell to Moxie, Finesse, Insight, and others, as a new foundation is being brought in to replace them. In order to understand why these changes are so crucial, we caught up with Steven Engle, Lead Designer at Carbine Studios, to learn more.

You can read Engle’s own thoughts on the subject in a blogpost over on WildStar’s official site, but the key message is this – the stat refactoring isn’t some kind of dumbing down. Instead, it’s designed to make gear choices and stat priority easier to understand, regardless of the class you choose to play. Rather than chasing Finesse as a Spellslinger or Moxie as an Esper, it’ll be Assault Power that we’re going after.

Those base stats aren’t the only thing that’s being revamped. Secondary stats are getting a sweep as well, with several being updated and new ones being added. And as for the rune system? The key takeaway is that we won’t be able to push Assault or Support Power through it. The power curve across gear iLevels is also being rebalanced, although those with Datascape-grade gear will probably notice little difference.

Changing the Core

But why now, a year after launch? “It was player feedback, focus testing the early game, and developer feedback that led to the decision. We were receiving feedback across all of these channels that informed us; the old way we had our stats set up was confusing. For example, not only is Moxie a stat that you haven’t seen in any other game besides WildStar, it means something to one class but something entirely different to another. Even for a veteran player, that is hard to wrap your head around.”

This means that, when free-to-play launches some time this fall, characters will have six base stats:

  • Assault/Support Power: Depending on whether your bringing the deeps or throwing the heals, one of these will be the stat that you’re hoarding the most.
  • Armor: The more you have of it, the more incoming damage is reduced.
  • Health: Makes that green bar bigger. Great for those who are tanking, or who fail at moving out of the bad stuff.
  • Shield Max: The bonus crispy coating that wraps around your health bar. The bigger this is, the more damage it can absorb
  • PvP Power: Similar to today, this will be vital if you enjoy racking up the kills in arenas, battlegrounds and warplots. All PvP damage will be scaled off this stat.
  • PvP Defense: Also similar to now, this is the stat for those who enjoy being a moving roadblock. Just as with PvP Power, all PvP Defense will be scaled off this stat

Importantly, Assault/Support Power, PvP Power and PvP Defense are dished out in Ratings, which are then converted to a flat Power/Defense value. This helps to avoid situations where stat values start inflating significantly, and also allows for fine-tuning of how rating is converted into base stats during the free-to-play beta.

Having a common set of stat names across all classes has a couple of additional benefits. Firstly, it makes discussing stat priority much easier in a guild or group, and makes dividing up the sweet loot that much easier. Everyone ends up speaking the same stat language, instead of talking cross purposes about what stat does what.

For newcomers, the benefits are even more obvious. Only one tutorial on stats needs to be built, instead of subtle variations for each of the classes. It makes it easier to keep those vital new players, instead of bamboozling them with unfamiliar and inconsistent terms. And it makes it easier to work out what gear is an upgrade, and what gear should be salvaged or sold.

That said, I would like the old stat names to live on, even if it’s purely in WildStar’s lore and NPC dialogue. I can just imagine a Granok shouting out “That Esper, she’s got some moxie to her!” It’s a nod to the veteran fans and adds colour to the world, without causing gameplay-damaging confusion.

Supplementing with Secondaries

Aside from the six core stats, WildStar’s secondary stat system is also undergoing a change. Firstly, they’re being split away from core stats, meaning that a Spellslinger after critical strike rating will have no choice but to hunt gear with that stat, or add runes to get it. And since we won’t be able to stack Assault or Support power through runes, most of a character’s additional boosts will come through these secondary stats.

We won’t be short of choice either. The total number of secondary stats is being boosted from 20 to 24, with ten old classics (such as Critical Hit Chance) being largely unchanged. Lifesteal and CC Reduction can now be picked up as rating, and 12 stats have either changed how they work or are completely new. Again, Engle’s blogpost has the detail on all those changes but, to whet your appetite, here are a few examples:

  • Multi-Hit Chance: Like having an auto-replay, every time you attack an enemy or heal a friend, you get a chance to do it again. The potency of this new event is governed by the Multi-Hit Severity (another new stat).
  • Vigor: Good at keeping the health bar full? This stat acts as a percentage bonus on damage output, depending on your current health percentage. Great for those who know how to dodge, not so good for keyboard turners.

With this growth in directly accessible secondary stats, Engle also explained how the studio would provide clarity around them - who would want which stat and why. “[It’s] going to be on us to make paths for different classes to enjoy different stats in a meaningful way. The new secondary stats are going to be ways to customize how your player performs in a very easy-to-understand way. You’ll immediately “get” what each stat does by its description in the menus and how it works as you play.”

If the number of stats seems overwhelming, don’t worry, as it’s likely that only a subset will appeal to each class. In addition, you might not find some stats on your gear at all, as Engle explained. “We’re putting all of these stats into the game once the update hits, but they’ll be rolled out through progression. Players may see a particular stat on the character panel, but that stat may not be on gear until later game or even end game.”

The Balancing Act

One of the big fears I get around any stat refactoring is that it makes it much harder to work out the best possible combination of attributes to maximise a character’s combat effectiveness. A class’s spells and abilities respond to secondary stats in different ways, making optimisation a non-trivial problem. When a similar problem hit World of Warcraft, Ask Mr Robot sprang up as a tool to help guide players. In the same way, I’m concerned that the growth in secondary stats will cause a similar problem for WildStar, but without the fan-made tools to support it.

According to Engle, however, it’s more about providing players with options on how we want to equip our characters, rather than following a simple and narrow path. “We’re hoping it is more engaging than the current system of hitting the damage diminishing return point for player skills, then stacking critical hit. Gear is going to be affecting all of these new secondary stats, so it will give players the ability to enhance the stats they want or fill in any gaps they may feel are in their builds. The goal is that players will feel free by a wealth of options to play the way they want to play.”

The proof is in the pudding, which is why it’s vital that veteran players check out the free-to-play beta once it goes live, try out the new stat changes, and provide thoughtful, reasoned feedback on it. Carbine may be creating a colourful stats palette with which to gear our characters, or it may be creating confusion through obfuscation; it’s only through diligent testing that we’ll get the right result.

Ultimately, the change leaves me cautiously optimistic. From a logical perspective, much of the stats revamp makes sense, even if I’ll get a bit teary and nostalgic about Moxie and Finesse. The difficulty will be in balancing it all to provide players with meaningful choice, rather than the illusion of one. By decoupling core stats and secondaries the way they have done, Carbine just might make it possible.


Gareth Harmer

Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.