In Part 1 of our WildStar preview, we offered a general overview of the upcoming MMORPG as related to us by Carbine Studios and NCSoft, as well as a preview of the newly revealed region of Deradune. This week, we're blowing the lid off of the Dominion faction and races, a new class, and my hands-on gameplay impressions. Read on for Part 2!
The Dominion Faction
Although the Dominion are not quite an evil counterpart to the happy-go-lucky, lovably swashbuckling Exiles, they're nonetheless a creepy and domineering faction. The Dominion are a powerful interstellar empire who have their own designs on Nexus and have some history with the planet's former inhabitants, the Eldan. They're thus in constant conflict with the Exile faction, with whom they already have plenty of experience, having originally kicked the Exiles out of their homes.
The Dominion faction is comprised of Humans, Draken, Mechari, and presumably some other unannounced race(s). Dominion Humans, also known as Cassians, were chosen by the Eldan long ago to found an empire, and see Nexus as their right and legacy. The dragon-like Draken, who are the most ferocious warriors in the galaxy, think of the planet as a playground upon which to test their battle prowess. Adding some tech flavor to this group are the Mechari robot people, who were engineered by the Eldan and have become the architects and masterminds of the Dominion.
There's certainly no love lost between the Dominion and the previously revealed Exile races. The Exile humans were originally part of the Dominion, while the Granok are one of the few races who have been able to repel the empire. Similarly, the Aurin are out to fight the Dominion because of the latter's continued attempt to industrialize the former's planet.
The war between the Exiles and the Dominion is set to take center stage in WildStar's story and content, and we can only hope that conflict will extend into some kind of faction-vs-faction PvP, but nothing specific has been announced along those lines just yet. I'll tell you what has been revealed, though: the newest member to grace WildStar's choice of classes, the Stalker.
Hands-On Stalker Impressions in Deradune
At our preview event last month, we were allowed to choose between several pre-made characters and take the level 6-12 region of Deradune for a spin. Deradune, you may remember, is a hunting ground for the now-revealed Draken race, and features solo, group, and public quests, Path-related content, dynamic events, and a bunch of other activities. Naturally, I chose to play a Draken Stalker/Explorer to check out the new class' abilities.
The Stalker that I played had seven skills assigned to its hotbar, beginning with a basic Quick Strike that would do more damage from behind an attacker, a Staggering Strike that could stun opponents as well as deal damage, and a Tactical Strike that would also be stronger based on your positioning. The class could use Camouflage to initiate a partial stealth in combat that wouldn't be affected by taking damage, and would unlock a massive DPS attack called Concealed Slash. The Stalker could also hit full Stealth, which would consume an energy reservoir called "Suit Power," or utilize Raging Slash, stacking Dex and Tech buffs with each attack or applying all stacks of this particular buff if used from behind an attacker.
Playing the game, it became eminently clear that most attack skills will require some situational awareness, beyond being simply in front of or behind an opponent, to be applied most effectively. Staggering Strike, Concealed Slash, and Raging Slash, for example, are semicircle AoE attacks in front of your character, while Tactical Strike is a cone ability. These areas of effect are displayed on the ground around your character in what Carbine calls "combat telegraphs," and while I was initially apprehensive that these telegraphs would make the screen too busy, in practice I found that they were generally unobtrusive and very helpful for combat positioning (I'd still like to see them in a raid scenario).
In our preview, I had an absolute blast with the Stalker in combat, finding the positioning of my own attacks vis-a-vis the combat telegraphs of mobs to require just the right amount of skill and attention to be exciting and still accessible. My premade character was equipped with long claw spikes and was constantly in the middle of the melee action, which helped keep the combat engaging. I also enjoyed using the game's dodge mechanic, which is regulated by a cooldown, to move out of the way of incoming AoE attacks. We've seen similar features in recent MMOs, most notably in The Secret World and Guild Wars 2, but WildStar's combat feels distinctive and dynamic in its own right.
One thing that definitely stands out about WildStar is the game's palpable sense of personality. When you first look at the game, you might be tempted by the stylized art design to think of World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic, but my impression from our short preview is that Carbine is doing a lot to distinguish their MMORPG from other entries in the genre. The Deradune zone sports charming and sometimes cute graphics, with a lot of colors and detail, and some nice voice acting. Particularly memorable are the Draken and Mechari NPC questgivers, who exhibit their own unique personalities.
It helps that WildStar has a clean, appealing user interface that fits right in with the game's art direction and magic-tech theme. The in-game map is made up of fog-of-war hexagons that are revealed as you adventure, and this design choice lends to WildStar's scifi premise as well. The game also has well-designed character and monster models, with smooth character and combat animations, and ran very well on the build I was playing.
I'm not sure how much the different elements of WildStar's UI will change before launch, but the game's Codex as it is already puts together your quests, missions, challenges, achievements, collections, and tradeskills in an easily accessible fashion. There's also a Galactic Archive that features entries about creatures, NPCs, technology, locations, species, factions, and more that unlock as you play, with multiple entries per subject waiting to be discovered, which is certainly good news for completionists.
Some other gameplay points of interest that I noted in my hands-on preview included sprinting, which can get you out of a tight situation but drains your stamina bar, and the ability to double jump. Double jump! Also, you can click on a quest in your tracker to activate a temporary arrow on your character that shows you the general direction in which you're supposed to be headed, and you can hit the "V" key to "vacuum" (AoE) loot around you.
During my romp in Deradune, I happened across and unlocked one of the entryways leading to the networks pervading the zone's underground, and hence decided that Explorers rule. I also joined in on the public quest to bring monster skulls back to town, and was rewarded with a fun cinematic when we fulfilled the quest's quota and received a Strength of the Bloodfeast buff that added +25 to all basic stats.
Keeping in mind that the scope of what I played in our gameplay preview was very small, I nonetheless came away very impressed with what Carbine Studios is doing with WildStar. The game's combat is fun, its art style distinctive, and the overall experience is familiar enough to be inviting but with a sufficient amount of new ideas and gameplay implementations to make me interested in what the team has in store. WildStar has fast become one of my most-anticipated titles set to come out this year, and I'm curious to see how Carbine treats the game's monetization, PvP, and player housing. Keep this one on your radar!
You can follow Som on Twitter and ask him why he always seems to play stealth classes in previews @sominator.