Developer: Carbine Studios
If you have been paying attention to my ramblings on the site for the last few years, you’ll already know that I have been keeping a excited eye on WildStar, the upcoming MMORPG from Carbine Studios and NCSOFT. Their Sci-fi-western setting really impressed me back at its unveiling during Gamescom 2011, and while they didn’t plan on “reinventing the wheel” in terms of gameplay mechanics, they were aiming to make it a fun experience, pure and simple.
Now, it’s been quite some time since I last saw the game in person, and we’ve learned a lot more about what will be included in the online experience (such as player housing, warplots, and the introduction of the Dominion faction) but last week I was invited to a press event to finally get some hands-on time with the game. Additionally, I got to chat to game design producer Stephan Frost, but before any of that I sat through a presentation of the two videos that were unleashed online this morning which highlight the player paths system, before being given more information on how the Settler and Scientist paths would impact gameplay.
I also got to build a house with ALL of the pillows, but more on that later.
Once the Paths trailer and the latest DevSpeak had finished we were shown an in-game demonstration of Exile area of Galeras by Stephan Frost (the voice of the studio’s DevSpeak series) and European community manager Loic ‘Atreid’ Claveau. Here, we were told of the zone’s backstory where the Dominion are using the area to attack the Exile capital of Thayd, so players will see huge cannons and missiles firing across the zone as they venture forth. This goes beyond seeing bright lights in the virtual sky though, as the artillery fire will fall throughout Galeras, creating a dynamic feel as players will need to avoid the falling ordinance (or, with a bit of guile, use them against potential enemies.) After a sweeping look at the war-torn, we got our first look at the Scientist path in action.
Every Scientist comes equipped with a ScanBot with which to (not surprisingly) scan items of interest in the world, such as plants, devices and enemies to learn more about the world around them. Just like in the debut cinematic trailer (which, if you haven’t seen, go watch it) the Scientist can scan innocent looking plants and cause the monsters hiding underneath to jump out of the ground, creating mini-boss fights that the Scientist can attempt to solo or bring a group to share the slaughter. Once the Scientist had dispatched the foe in front of them, we got to see the loot vacuum in action (from what Frost referred to as the “loot piñata”) where by holding down V draws in any dropped items in the vicinity – no need to walk up to the nearest fallen corpse, which is rather refreshing.
Before we got the chance to look at the sort of missions Scientists could unlock we were shown the Codex, which acts as the main hub of information for players - hosting the Quest Log, Mission Log, Challenges, Achievements, Collections ,and Tradeskills tabs. The Mission Log appeared to directly relate to a player’s path, allowing the user to see how many undiscovered or completed path missions are in any given zone, as well as any special unique tasks they have left to complete specific to their chosen playstyle (such as scanning in a certain area or procuring a particular datacube.) It was here that Frost explained how players would earn normal XP and path XP as they played WildStar, highlighting the section above the current missions that displays the player’s path rank level. From here, players can also investigate any rewards they will gain upon hitting future ranks (be it the next rank or what they will get in five promotions) which range from path abilities and bags, to housing items and costumes.
At the bottom of this tab, Scientists can rename their ScanBot to anything they wish. It was in this moment that BroBot was born, and all was right with the world.
The presentation moved on to show us one of the Scientist missions where the player was charged with scanning Eldan constructs, gaining Path XP from doing so. Once the scan is complete the area will change into a dynamic puzzle where the player had to activate the constructs in the correct order, the reward being that a door up ahead would open up. With the puzzle being dynamic it means that it will change every time it is attempted (no walkthroughs to save you, this time) but once solved it opens up access to content that only the scientist can unlock, which include additional scanable items and a mini-boss that dropped a quest item upon its death. Scientists can then activate an Eldan AI caretaker that reveals details of the lab the player is currently standing in, providing even more lore for players to get their teeth into. This info is also added to the Galactic Archive – WildStar’s version of a Codex – and while all players will be able to bring up the archive and contribute to it as they play, only the Scientist will be able to unlock every single entry.
Through the magic of technology (ie. “cheating”) we switched the in-game character to the Explorer path and immediately charged forward to the edge of a nearby cliff. As we approached it the Explorer UI indicated that the player was getting nearer to a Vista point where Explorers can call down a satellite dish for some Path XP, but Frost explained that had a Scientist been in a group with the Explorer they would have received a small amount of Path XP as well just for being nearby as it happened. It’s a feature that Frost feels will encourage groups to explore different paths to maximise the content they can discover.
From here we moved from on from Galeras to the zone of Algaroc, with Frost keen to point out the seamless transition from zone to zone and declaring that loading screens would only appear if the player was “go into space or another continent.” It was in this new area that we once again switched paths to the Settler, which Frost described as being social and building orientated. We were shown that, as a Settler, players can interact with infrastructure in towns such as banners, satellites and lampposts to “feel like they are contributing to making the town appear lively,” something Frost feels roleplayers will definitely get a kick out of. That said, the items that Settlers can builds will decay over time and will need to be reactivated again. Beyond these cosmetic items though, Settlers will be able to construct buildings that will help all players in the area.
By going up to these pre-determined plots, Settlers can begin construction of a building that require the collection and delivery of supplies that can be found dotted around the landscape or by looting vanquished foes. Frost described it as a “public event” in how many Settlers can pitch in to construct a building, which in the case of the demonstration was a Loftite Exchange (loftite being a blue crystal that causes a disregard for gravity.) Its completion meant that a quest giver had now spawned asking players to test out a new weapon that uses loftite bullets, but upon moving upstairs we also saw that a rare vendor had also spawned offering players a new shield that turned out to be the best for character of the appropriate level. This impressed me more than the cosmetic additions, as it truly highlights how important Settlers will be to everybody playing, not just themselves. We were told that such large buildings like the Loftite Exchange could have additional resources added to keep it in the world for longer, allowing Settlers to work together further beyond the initial construction.
Switching back to the Scientist path, we went over to the loftite cliffs to scan the minerals there, which in turn not only gave the Scientist additional lore to put in their Galactic Archive, but also granted a buff to jump much higher into the air. Upon doing so for the first time, a optional mission appeared on screen – “Scale the Loftite Cliffs” – with a timer informing us of how long we had left to complete it, along with an additional challenge to collect X amount of crystals in the same duration. Frost explained that this was an example of the layered content that WildStar announced all the way back at its unveiling in 2011, and effectively had to player “doing one thing, but getting credit for three.” Any player with the Scientist would also get access to these challenges, and the presentation even showed the Scientist interact with “exquisite loftite” which granted even higher jumping, allowing access to a new area with unique lore items and enemies to fight. As we saw the Scientist taking on the boss at the top of this new area, Frost explained that enemies found later in the content will have bigger and quicker attacks compared to their lower level counterparts, and thus more difficult to defeat.
With that, we returned to the Settler path to see a demonstration of Depots – interactive spots where Settlers can construct useful services in towns to improve the quality of life for nearby players, providing they have enough resources. These range from bank access points to mailboxes, with taxi vendors also being a Settler perk. Going further away from the town we saw a depot where the Settler could construct barricades (which are useful for the line-of-sight nature of the combat) and, perhaps more interestingly, a guard post. This allows players to pull enemy mobs over to the guard post for some support from the newly spawned allies, allowing for what Frost described as “unscripted” combat for players to set up, and a feature that is unique to the Settler path.
For our final example of how the Settler can interact with the world, we were shown that Settlers can build Prisons, but to unlock this structure we first had to prove that there was criminal activity nearby by locating items in the local area and handing them in. Upon doing this and, of course, contributing resources, the prison can be constructed and a warden who sits in a lookout tower can grant the player a buff called “Fury Of the Lawman” (it wasn’t confirmed if there was to be “no touching” in the prison, though.)
With the presentation done, I was finally allowed to jump onto the nearby PC and see how the Settler played for myself, but this hands-on experience was also the first time since Gamescom 2011 that I have actually played WildStar, so let’s cover how it actually felt. As explained in the recent movement DevSpeak video, being mobile is an important part of the game and I found it extremely easy to jump into the action. In fact, I would go as far as saying what Carbine have developed for movement has a much more natural and dynamic feel compared to even Guild Wars 2 (which I praised for its attempts to make combat more mobile.) Telegraphs emerged on the ground to informed me of incoming attacks, and while this allowed me to successfully fend off a solo combatant, having three or four enemies attacking me made it a much more difficult fight even with the indicators on the ground. This was perhaps one of my bigger concerns eased somewhat, as I felt telegraphs could potentially trivialise the difficulty.
Of course, that didn’t stop me from being slain during my hands-on preview, and doing so brought up the option of either resurrecting at a holocrypt (a set spawn point) or, for a small fee, I could resurrect right where I had fallen. I later found out that doing this increases the damage to equipped items, but it’s a welcome move to allow players to have a second chance at finishing off an area instead of fighting through the area. It was a good job that at this point another journalist appeared beside me, and together we fought our way through to a boss at the top of the hill. With our telegraphs showing where we were attacking we were actively able to assist each other by targeting the same mob, something that in other MMOs has required macros and extra keybinds. If there was one worry from my time hands-on, it would be regarding the way objectives are handled, as I found in one mission, where I was freeing some prisoners, I was competing with someone in my own group. It could be that I was missing something (or that I was preoccupied with swarming marauders) but it worries me that solo players might have a hard time fulfilling objectives if others are around.
Before I bid farewell to the virtual world of Nexus, I was allowed to jump into one of the more exciting features that WildStar has announced in recent months – player housing. Upon acquiring a plot of land from a housing NPC (and being gifted a vast fortune by Frost… a vast, VAST fortune… vast) I emerged on my own floating island that was filled with trees to clear. Upon being granted a bag of explosives, I set about clearing the area to make room for my new home, but doing so randomly spawned in some angry eagles who took offence at my extreme landscaping. Once this was taken care of, I found that there was more than trees to take care of… there was an ancient burial on my plot of land, and upon activating it I had waves of undead creatures attack me, each increasing in difficulty and culminating in a rather large skeleton creature appearing as a mini-boss. It was only after I had survived the onslaught that I was granted a basic tent as a residence, but players can spend their hard earned gold (or more likely platinum) to buy the abode of their dreams. I was advised that larger houses take longer to construct, so I built a small Aurin building to test out the features.
As well as decorating the inside of your house, players can edit the outside as well by placing lampposts, adding in windows or making existing ones larger or smaller, adding in flower beds, amongst other things. Had I more time I would have explored the possibilities further, but it was the interior customisation that I was really interested in. Inside, players can decide on the wall and floor designs for each room, allowing you to have a house of many themes if you so wished (and have the money to back it up.) The user interface for player housing is incredibly intuitive, with everything laid out very clearly for the player in the appropriate menus. In terms of placing items, gone are nightmares of Star Wars Galaxies which had me typing in commands, with two methods of input provided for the player. They can either interact with items directly in the house to decide their angle, elevation and pitch, or they can use a UI menu that appears to the side.
As such, I was able to create a lounge with a large bar, covered in bananas, which had a massive Draken throne right next to it, all with offensive stripy walls… and for when I was tired, I could retreat to my bedroom and my flowery Aurin bed, which I had places a huge amount of additional cushions on, at various angles, just because I could. I like to be comfy, you see.
There are a large number of things we still need to know about WildStar, such as if players can build towns together, how PvP Warplots will work, how leaderboards for raids will fit into the Elder Game, and how players might be able to affect the overall story, but there is still plenty of time to find it all out, and what I saw in my hands-on preview left me a bit more interested and excited in Carbine Studios’ work than I was before.
Plus, right, space cowboys. I couldn't ignore it even if I wanted to.
Be sure to come back at 4pm today to see our video interview with Game Designer Producer Stephan Frost, where we discuss various aspects of WildStar, get our community questions answered, and continue the world domination of Dealspwn's very own mascot, Toby The Dealspwny.