I can't say I was particularly knowledgeable about WildStar until this past weekend. Carbine Studios first revealed the game back at Gamescom 2011, but things have been fairly quiet since. There have been the odd screenshot or press release about some of the game's finer elements, but until this past Friday I had no idea what gameplay even looked like. Thankfully NCsoft and Carbine Studios hit the ground running at PAX East 2013, with a fully playable build, massive exhibit on the expo floor (it might have been the largest), a panel, and an hour-long press demonstration. With the massively multiplayer title now slated for release in 2013, its clear that it’s promotional campaign has shifted gears. I may not have known much going in, but WildStar is now my most anticipated MMORPG of the year.
WildStar features two factions, the Dominion and the Exiles, each with four races (although, only six races have yet been revealed). Interestingly enough, while there's a definite "Empire versus Rebellion" feel to their stances, neither faction can be labelled as being "good" or "evil;" they're just groups comprised of various races who want different things and sometimes clash with each other. With that in mind, the framing feels more like a science fiction western than it does a traditional orcs and elves fantasy MMORPG. Because we're dealing with some heavy themes (planet destruction, race subjugation, human hunting, etc.) the game has been animated to look a little like World of Warcraft and written with all of the humour and quirkiness of the Borderlands series. It's a setting that definitely draws you in, and I immediately felt enamoured by WildStar's aesthetics.
The press demonstration that Q&A columnist Michael Apps and I were privy to was mostly focused on the title's character development, PvE, and housing systems. Starting with character creation, once you select your allegiance (Dominion or Exile) and class (Warrior, Spellslinger, Stalker, or Esper), you are given the option to chose a path. These "paths" are WildStar's attempt at further tailoring the game to fit your individual play style. Players can choose from four possible styles: the geography combing Explorers, the chemistry-inclined Scientists, the combat-oriented Soldiers, or the civilization building Settlers. The awesome thing about this mechanic is that you really don't have to grind to progress or focus purely on combat if you don't want to. The path system is also flexible enough to allow path-changes after initial character creation.
PvE takes typical MMORPG combat and makes it more action-oriented and strategic at the same time. Movement, attacks, and ability use occur in real-time, while a coloured environmental overlay, or "telegraph," indicates the direction and size of yours and the enemy’s attacks. For example, some attacks will have a semicircle range around your character's front. A semicircle telegraph will appear before use and if your enemy is outside of that area, the attack will miss. It works in reverse as well, and you'll likely see telegraphed circles randomly appear on the terrain whenever something bad (a space rock, crashing spaceship, cola machine, etc.) falls from the sky. Every attack skill must be measured and used to its full potential, or "primed," before use in order to garner the most damage. This makes you constantly have to keep an eye on cool-downs. A similar concept is implemented in League of Legends, but its use here will be more straightforward to MMO newbies. Overall, combat is fun, fast, and requires quick thinking — three things that most MMORPGs today unfortunately lack.
Outside of PvE, the dynamic housing system is where WildStar really shines. Each player in WildStar can claim land to build their home. Naturally, the space you pick will be overrun by untamed wilderness (weeds, trees, animals, etc.). Providing you roll up your sleeves and throw money at it, your piece of land will soon become a luxurious mansion of your own design — both inside and out. Wildstar has a lot of ways to make your abode fully your own. You can place items you've looted or made wherever you want in your home. Decide your ceiling needs a bear rug? Done. Want twelve chandeliers placed on your wall, above your bed? Not a problem. Every object has its own physics and can be oriented wherever and however you like. That said, your houses serve as much more than just a place to chillax with your friends (or random strangers, if you so choose); you receive Rest Experience for logging off in your home — experience that is augmented by the items you've placed in your home. The more junk you hoard, the more able you are to hit the ground running (and levelling) once you log back in.
The last gameplay element I'd like to touch on is the "momentum" system. As previously mentioned, WildStar aims to let you play however you see fit. Momentum Mechanics allow you to find your own level within the game by layering content based on activities. There appears to be two notable instances of this mechanic: Combat Momentum and Quest Momentum. Combat Momentum is most visible in the heat of battle. Providing the player reacts to telegraphed enemy attacks by either dodging away, interrupting the attack, or killing the creature before they act, they will get an additional reward for doing so — a brief period of bonus damage against enemies, as well as an XP bonus for evasion. Quest Momentum is more dependent on your character's development. In the same vein as Combat Momentum, the more you can accomplish within a short period of time the greater the rewards. Advanced players will be able to do some or all quest objectives simultaneously, and be reward for doing so. Newbie players? Not so much. Ultimately, momentum is a more subtle element of gameplay, but it does add an appreciated layer of engagement.
In spite of only getting a vertical slice of gameplay, I really enjoyed getting to know WildStar. It takes some familiar elements we've grown accustomed to and does its own thing with them. I only hope we'll get more details on this MMORPG soon. WildStar Online releases sometime in 2013, but you can visit the WildStar site for more information and a chance to enter the upcoming beta.