The Stalker - The Silent Assassin
Melee classes are always a hard sell for me. Getting up close and personal just isn’t my style, with ranged attacks being my method of choice. Give me a pair of pistols like the Spellslinger, or a beefy launcher like the Engineer, and I’m a happy gamer.
Which makes WildStar’s Stalker class even more interesting. Equipped with a pair of claws that puts Wolverine to shame and nano-skin powered cloaking technology, it’s perfect for delivering hideous amounts of damage before fading into the shadows. Putting my own preferences to one side, I suited up and headed to Stabsville.
Being a Brit, I have a penchant for all things Dominion. This time round I decided to check out the other side, rolling a green-furred Aurin. I just hoped he’d be packing something a little sharper than carrots, or this was going to be one long journey through the levels. As it was, the choice quickly felt comfortable, largely due to those fluid animations that Carbine explained were the reason behind having a single weapon per class. Whatever you might think about ol’ Longears, he behaves as though he was born with razor blades on his fists.
The early experience aboard the Arkship is enough to teach the Stalker basics: move in, hit buttons, watch things die. Like all innate abilities, the Stalker’s Stealth is available right from the start, with a quick tap triggering that nano-suit. As I discovered later, the suit comes in three modes – Lethal Mode which boosts Assault Power at the expense of Mitigation, and Evasive Mode which adds Deflection and Threat Generation while dealing less damage. There’s also a Neutral mode with none of the bonuses or downsides, should you need something in the middle.
Even with the nano-suit, I wouldn’t be an Invisible Aurin; it relies on warping light around the wearer, with the illusion starting to crackle and break up the closer it gets to someone else. In other words, don’t go hugging people thinking they can’t see you. Used carefully, you can sneak around with no problem, as long as you plan your route carefully. If you come from the Leeroy Jenkins school of subtlety, the Warrior might be a better choice.
Most of the Stalker’s abilities rely on Suit Power – a rapidly recharging resource that fuels most of the snazzy moves. It puts a cap on being able to spam abilities, instead encouraging you to develop a form of rotation. To be fair though, rotations or ability priority ranks don’t come into play as much as cooldown management, with some of the sweeter skills having a longer wait time.
It’s not until I was down on the surface of Nexus that the Stalker started to open up. Staggering Strike was the first stun on my toolbar, being a fabulous interrupt that would affect up to five enemies. Another addition was Analyze Weakness – a straight-line ability that I could use to tag up to five mobs with a marker. When I’d then attack them, that marker would deal a delicious amount of additional damage. It meant that I’d plan a pull, tagging up my targets before stealthing up and stabbing away.
Because the Stalker spends most of its time in melee, it comes tooled up with medium armor. This helps to an extent, especially when it’s tuned to boost Brutality (which translates to Assault Power) and Grit (which increases your health pool). By far the best way to stay standing though is to avoid damage altogether, which is why learning to dodge is incredibly important. If you can’t get out of the bad stuff, you’re going to struggle.
Luckily, most of the earlier foes are fairly simple. Everstar Grove, a level 3-6 zone that’s favored by the Aurin but open to all Exiles, mainly consists of various forest creatures that need to be dispatched. The Stalker’s wide arc telegraphs for most abilities made them easy pickings, allowing me to quickly cleave a path through the area. The region is also very group-friendly – team up with another DPS character and watch mobs explode in a shower of giblets.
When I finally headed off for Celestion at level 6, I was finally getting a grip on the class. I could stealth up, tag with Analyze Weakness, deal a devastating blow with Tactical Strike and clean up with a Quick Slash. If anything was standing long enough to telegraph, a Staggering Strike was usually enough to send them spinning and down to the deck. Little did I know, but Nexus was about to become a whole lot more challenging.
It’s here that the Dominion make their presence felt, with Draken and Chua teaming up to put everything to fire and the sword. Dodging and dancing became more important, especially if I was
stupid brave enough to take on several mobs at once. That’s all part of the Stalker’s bread and butter though – wide arcs mean that you can strike up to five at once, including those stuns. But there were a couple of times when even dodging didn’t save my Aurin’s furry tail. For those, some new skills were needed.
The Later Climb
During the later half of the climb to 15, more pieces of the Stalker puzzle started to fall into place. With the mobs becoming increasingly tougher, I needed a way of getting out of the way quickly, and False Retreat is it. On the first tap, you drop a marker on the ground and leap back 15 meters. Tap it again and you’re back in the action, but also knocking back anything around you. Pounce is another interesting range closer, although this one places a snare instead of a stun at your target.
With 15 levels down, does the WildStar Stalker feel different to stealth classes in other MMOs? Although it’s early to call, it’s a mixed bag. The mix and behavior of abilities will certainly feel familiar to anyone who’s played this kind of role before, although there’s the added potential of evasion tanking at later levels. But it’s how they’re presented, with the active combat system, telegraphs, and limited action set, that makes the Stalker much more dynamic and interesting than just a simple sneak-and-stab.
There’s also a potential challenge around keeping the Warrior and Stalker unique at later levels, especially in the middle of Elder Game or levelcap content. Making sure that the Warrior doesn’t feel like an unstealthed stalker (or vice versa) will be tricky, especially considering the two classes share both tank and DPS roles. It’s something that I’ll be keen to look at, once we’re given access to the post-15 level content.
For now though, the Stalker is fun. The class has an entertaining and useful blend of abilities, delivering that fast-paced and burst-heavy combat that we’ve come to expect. Whether that holds up in dungeon and other instanced content remains to be seen, particularly with tanking. As it stands now though, the Stalker is definitely worth giving a spin.
Gareth Harmer / Gareth 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.