If you haven't already, check out Part One of our WildStar Preview at the link here!
Before we got to see an in-game demonstration in action, the conversation moved on to the topic of combat mechanics. Lead Content Designer Michael Donatelli talked about how in MMOs the combat usually boils down to you and an enemy hitting each other until one of you is dead, with abilities thrown in to make the entire affair a bit more interesting and “fun enough.” Carbine decided to try and make things more entertaining for the player by adding in extra functionality, rewarding the player for smart thinking during combat. A basic example of the system we were given was how a player could double tap S (used to walk backwards) to make the on-screen character dash out of the way of an attack, and if done successfully the player is rewarded with a double damage bonus.
At this point the preview build of the game came on the screen in front of us, and we were greeted by three pre-built character choices that were highlighted in the trailer; the large Grunak Warrior, the bunny-esque Aurin Esper (essentially a telekinetic spell-weaver), and the Mal Reynolds look-a-like Human Spellslinger. We were given a brief backstory on the three races mentioned who are part of a faction called the Exiles; a group of alien races brought together for different reasons to take on the Dominion. Humanity, who were formally a part of the Dominion, broke away and joined together with the animalistic Aurin whose home planet had been destroyed by the Dominion, and have been on the fringes of space ever since. The Grunak, on the other hand, only joined the Exiles because they wanted a good fight to satisfy their hunger for battle. Donatelli was quick to point out that the three pre-built choices were done to avoid people spending 20 or more minutes in the character creation (which, if I’m honest, I probably would have done) and insisted that there would be many other races to pick from at release, as well as other classes.
For the demonstration we were about to watch, the Human Spellslinger with the Explorer player path was chosen. A fully-voiced cutscene was shown of a crashed Ark ship that was on its way to the Eldan homeworld, with the player character being revived by an NPC in a snow-filled area called the Northern Wilds. Donatelli explained that the general overview of the area was the rescue the survivors, find what brought down the Ark ship to disable it, and ultimately escape. Once on his feet, the Spellslinger was moved to a couple of quest givers, one of which offered the general ‘story quest’ for the area, and another which was specifically for Explorers. The second quest was ignored and we went on our way, but soon after we had moved on a communication popped up from the quest giver that had been ignored, asking if we wanted to accept their quest. It was a nice touch which ensures that regardless of whether you miss quest givers or not, the player is given the opportunity to experience everything the game has to offer.
From here we got to see the action first hand, with a quest to find survivors and kill the yetis that were roaming around. To begin with Associate Content Designer Paul Mattson, who was controlling the demo, killed a yeti in a simple manner by standing still and hitting the attack buttons. Donatelli explained that casual players could do this and complete quests with no problems. However, for the second yeti encounter Mattson dodged one of the attacks, gaining an evasion bonus which increased damage. We were told that interrupts also gave a bonus, and all of these could stack to on top of each other to create further rewards for skilled players, highlighting the earlier discussion about how those looking for an extra challenge could be rewarded without punishing those that did not.
From the brief hands-on time that I had the following day (I wasn’t able to experience the full 40 minute demo due to the insane amount of people around the NCsoft section of the show floor at the time) I have to say that the controls felt incredibly slick, even with an MMO setup, and the action on screen with the abilities looked engaging (Tom, who was looking over my shoulder, commented that he was impressed by the visuals during the fights.) This was especially the case with one ability in particular; the teleport. Placing the Gunslinger a few metres ahead and disorientating any enemies nearby, it looked awesome as I warped the character around and dispatched my foes.
As the demo went on, we got to point where the story quest was directing us down a mountain, but the Explorer path was indicating to try and get to the top of said mountain through an environmental challenge. This involved attempting to climb to the summit whilst evading continual avalanches, which if the player is caught in pushed them back down again. Using the Explorer’s compass, a unique ability to the player path, an optimal route up the mountain was indicated that would not have been available to a Soldier or a Scientist. Of course, this trek was only possible thanks to the ability to double jump and sprint. Yes, you read that right; you can double jump and sprint in WildStar. This gives the game the feeling a platform title as you play, and during my hands-on time I had one quest where I was finding myself jumping around the environment to recover items that were at varying heights all around me. What seemed impressive was that the controls didn’t feel out of place compared to the standard MMO controls, seeming the gel together with no problems.
Back in the demo, the climb continued until the Explorer came across an NPC buried in the snow. Upon freeing him a quest was offered to the player that was a one-time deal; this meant that once it had been picked up it was gone, and no other player could attain it from that NPC. This was an example of the dynamic content that spawns throughout the game, giving off the illusion of an organic world for players to experience. At this point Mattson cheated and changed to the Soldier path (still as a Spellslinger class) to demonstrate one of its special features to create a public quest. As a Soldier, the player will have the ability to call down a rocket which acts like a beacon, drawing in waves of enemies to defeat (in this case, lots of yetis) which also count towards other quest totals. These waves continued until a larger boss appeared, the defeat of which would bring rewards for not only the Soldier, but any player around him at the time. Unfortunately, due to a lack of time, the demo was then jumped towards the end of the zone so we could see what happened further on down the line.
The zone had changed significantly in look, with it no longer snowing and NPCs not freezing to death any more, achieved with a use of phasing to help further the story and visually reward the player. Donatelli pointed out that this phasing would never separate players from one another, or block one player from seeing a monster attack another player; phasing would be purely cosmetic and not affect content. After seeing further demonstrations of the momentum combat mechanics in action (where the Gunslinger took on five enemies continuously to build up bonuses) we watched as a rescue ship came down to pick up the survivors, not in a cut scene but as the game continued to play. Unfortunately for them, they were shot down pretty much as soon as they attempted to fly off, so after a rather well timed emote from Mattson that looked like a parody of Sgt. Elias in Apocalypse Now, we jumped to a different pre-made character to finish off the area; the Aurin Esper.
A cross between a mage and a priest, the Esper uses magic to tackle foes but is able to heal and provide buffs for other players. Donatelli pointed out that Carbine had made these abilities very visual so that players could identify what they had as soon as they received it. We were told that this section involved a scripted battle where friendly NPCs would push up the hill as the player progressed, but in the interest of time the action was once again jumped to the very end of the section, where our bunny-earred Esper came face-to-face with the final boss; a giant robotic contraption. After one last incredibly visual battle that had the Esper dodging varying attacks being aimed at different locations to keep the player on their toes, the foe was defeated and we were rewarded with a cutscene of the player and the NPCs escaping to freedom, ending the demo.
In the last few minutes of the presentation, Donatelli spoke of spawn overflow areas, meaning that if an area was getting hit very hard my players doing a particular quest, the server would recognise this and include bring in additional mobs to accommodate the population. He also admitted that he had no idea what sort of pricing model WildStar would use or any sort of release date, with that information being “way above [his] paygrade” (Mattson jokingly shrugged and said “We just make the content!”) Additionally, while he was unable to go into any further detail, Donatelli said there would be many different alien races in this “sci-fi western world”, creating a non-xenophobic society where you could buy weapons off an intimidating looking alien that would actually turn out to be a very pleasant person (there was also references to Firefly and Deadwood as inspiration for the characters in WildStar, which I whole-heartedly approve of.) There was one last key bit of information before we left; what we had seen was only an Alpha build, so there was plenty of work left to do and get things absolutely spot on.
It’s hard not to be impressed with what Carbine are trying to achieve with WildStar, and more importantly they were able to show it first hand in addition to talking about their grand designs. Sure, there are plenty more topics that will need to be covered as time goes on (such as the other classes, PvP, and whether or not we can get that sweet looking hoverbike as a mount) but I walked away from the press session feeling incredibly optimistic about the title. It looks like it could be a perfect blend between sandbox and ‘theme park’ MMO styles, and I plan on keeping an extremely close eye on this one.
Be sure to check out for our interview with Michael Donatelli and Paul Mattson later on today!