Hands-on with WildStar’s Scientist path and Esper class

Handson with Wildstar's Scientist Path, Esper class, and more

There is something exciting about taking your first steps into the mysteries of a new planet. I was anxious to mingle with the locals, analyze artifacts, and even pick a few plants — that is, until I saw a flower burst from the ground as a giant vine-like beast. As it chewed up the slinky Aurin next to me, I decided to leave the flowers for the next Scientist.

So began my hands-on experience with WildStar, the exciting and often comical new MMO from NCsoft and Carbine Studios. The half-day event gave me time to play the Esper class, build some structures on the Settler path, and hurtle myself through the air in the name of science. There is so much to talk about!

Except plants. ‘Cause allergies. *ahem*

Let me start by first noting that the UI in these screenshots is completely and totally in beta. It’s one of our first looks at the UI’s direction, but Carbine Studios insisted that design could and probably will change in areas. Now, the good stuff.

Handson with Wildstar's Scientist Path, Esper class, and more

Esper mind tricks

I figured if I’m going to discover the secrets of the planet Nexus, I’m going to need the smartest character ever. I settled on the psychic powers of the Esper to start. The class is themed around abilities that use the power of the mind to summon temporary illusions to a variety of effects. The Esper isn’t a pet class; the longest illusion “‘pet” lasts only about 10 seconds.

In fact, playing the Esper felt like playing a magical rogue. I built up charges using Telekinetic Strike, an ability that summons ethereal blades that pierce all enemies in a line. Mind Burst consumes the charges while manifesting a large hawk creature that swoops at the target, heavily damaging enemies in a cone before you.

Building points was much more interesting than just spamming one skill. Telekinetic Strike hit multiple enemies but forced me to stand still for a cast time. Concentrated Blades, however, allowed me to summon magical disks on the fly. They don’t hit immediately; instead, they grow in size before striking at the target. I also had the option to summon up to three phantoms for charges, each of which attacked for 10 seconds before evaporating. If the battle turned dicey sketchy (and it frequently did!), I could use my Crush skill to stun the enemy with a large ghost-like fist that punched him into the ground.

Handson with Wildstar's Scientist Path, Esper class, and more

By level 14, I had acquired only a handful of skills, but the class felt much more mobile than a traditional caster class. The Esper also had an interesting metagame to it with the management of combo points and a mana pool. Unfortunately, I wasn’t high enough in level to see how it performed in groups with healing and support skills added to the mix. The powers I did use felt interesting and involved; if I mindlessly pushed buttons, I felt weak, which encouraged me to work combos to devastating effect.

Science: A lore hound’s dream

The Scientist path is one of the four paths players can choose from at the beginning of their Nexus adventure. Each path helps define what kind of side content you’ll experience throughout the game. For example, the Soldier path emphasizes beating the small and large inhabitants of Nexus into a fine, manageable paste.

The Scientist is much more refined, choosing to scan creatures and objects, solve various puzzles, and catalogue data in order to piece together the lore-ridden puzzle of the planet Nexus. Each of the scans gave me more info about the objects of the world. Some scans unlocked audio clips that took me deeper into a side-quest, while others unlocked new advantages for me after numerous scans of the same creature.

Handson with Wildstar's Scientist Path, Esper class, and more

With each scan, my collection of Nexus history and game plot-lines thickened. Using the Galactic Archive, the in-game compendium, I could review what I’d learned about a plant, a race, or the zone I had been exploring. I couldn’t help but scan everything as though each unlock was an achievement for the taking. Bonus: Scans also increased the level of my Scientist path, rewarding me with new Scanbot powers, titles, and even housing equipment in the form of what the game calls “FABkits.” I became addicted to knowledge!

But the Scientist isn’t just about collecting lore. Carbine Studios has made sure that members of each path help members of the others to find new areas to explore. In Algoroc, a mountainous area covered in grassy hills and crystal-encrusted hillsides, I unlocked the power of Loftite using a few science scans. Thanks to my achievement, nearby players were suddenly given the ability to jump incredibly high in areas with a large concentration of the crystals. We bounded up and down the cliff until we reached a peak where we found the boss that had been throwing giant snowballs at us during our ascent. This area had a few objectives for other paths, but they needed my brain power to get there.

I also found a small puzzle that reminded me of RIFT’s zone puzzles. Solving it opened a door that led to more areas to explore and a pathway for the Explorer path. The great thing was the puzzle’s randomization. Jeremy Gaffney, WildStar’s executive producer, told me that each of the puzzles is randomized so that the experience can be different for each player. “We don’t like the optional way of puzzle solutions — i.e., looking up the one solution online,” he explained.

Handson with Wildstar's Scientist Path, Esper class, and more

What strikes a chord with me is how WildStar has managed to create specific paths for individual playstyles without alienating players. If my friends like to rampage via the Soldier path, they provide me as a Scientist with more opportunities to learn about an enemy’s history. To top things off, the team even hinted that each path will be a boon when players begin to run dungeons together.

WildStar is, simply put, the small plant I mentioned at the start. On the surface, it’s humorous and beautiful in its allure, but buried deep beneath the surface is a complex and exciting monster ready to devour all your free time.

 

 

WildStar forges a path

Field science is a risky proposition at the best of times.  This is not the best of times.

The latest news out of WildStar’s new previews isn’t going to quiet people who dislike the concept of the game’s path system, nor will it stanch the flow of complaints about the game’s art style. Those of us simply waiting at attention, however, found ourselves rewarded this week with a wealth of new information, not to mention the best look we’ve yet seen at how the paths will work together in action instead of concept.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg; Jeremy Gaffney has said so many things that merit unpacking that it’s almost impossible to swallow some of the implications. There is, in fact, far too much to unpack in a single week. So I’m going to look at paths and start figuring out everything else next week.

I may also gush about the Mechari at some point. It’s like GLaDOS, Hal, and Starscream had a kid.
I've been researching new kinds of pain.  Found a lot of them.One of the things that’s impressed me so far about how WildStar handles its paths is that they’re not “class missions,” so to speak. We’ve already seen the diversity of content available to Explorers and Soldiers, but until now we didn’t have a clear picture of how many things Scientists and Settlers would have to do. We just knew that the former scanned stuff and the latter built stuff.

The problem is that if you give a path just one thing to do, it’s going to be boring and repetitive. Explorers inherit jumping puzzles, map completion, and location-hunting mechanics, meaning that you can focus on one or all three or two of three and still have a unique set of things to do. Scanning things endlessly didn’t exactly sound engaging for the long term.

Having seen both in action at long last and been told more about the mechanics, I believe the remaining paths have now come into their own. Scientists scan things, pick up sidequests, and even solve puzzles, something that I think has long been sorely missing in MMOs as a whole. That alone merits more digression, since I’ve seen only two games that have really tried to build in puzzles at a gameplay level, The Secret World and Dungeons & Dragons Online.

Dungeons & Dragons Online, unfortunately, frequently made puzzles into a roadblock in the midst of an otherwise normal mission. The Secret World solved that problem by making its puzzles into their own form of content, but it then shot that in the foot by making those puzzles absolutely insane. It’s very clever that you built a web browser into your game, but one of the first rules of making a puzzle is making sure that people can access the answer without a bunch of outside knowledge.

Solve all your problems with a gun, never have the same problem twice.

In other words, both games made me want to just look up the solution so I could get on with the part I enjoyed.

By contrast, the WildStar puzzles — both jumping and science-related — are not only optional but intended to not have a fixed solution. In other words, they’re something you can do if you want to, can avoid if you don’t, and they aren’t ever tied to a mandatory part of the game that grinds overall play down to a crawl. Sure, you might have been able to open a secret door, but if the Soldier just charges ahead heedless, you aren’t going to miss out on all the awesome.

Settlers, meanwhile, get to interact with towns as actual things. It’s not just building stuff in the wilderness because you need stuff; it’s realizing that Backwoods Junction needs to be more than two shacks and a fence. Of course, it’s also building stuff because it turns out a lot of people need to be four dozen miles out from Backwoods Junction but still need access to crafting tables and campfires.

From the same people who convinced you that a glittering neon hub in the middle of the desert is the place to be for fun.The implications of Settlers in dungeons particularly excite me. Most dungeons provide the biggest challenge to groups in the form of grinding irritation, forcing people to run back after wipes and have a difficult time recovering after the same guy makes the same mistake on the same pull over and over and over. The whole function of a Settler isn’t to make those runs easier; it’s to reduce that irritation and thereby prevent group-splitting tensions from exploding.

Seeing the various paths interact in both homogeneous and heterogeneous forms also gives a clearer picture of just how interactive these different playstyles are. Scientists have reasons to tag along with Soldiers by having more targets to scan, while Soldiers get that much tougher against their foes with a Scientist backing them up. Explorers can lead everyone into strange directions, possibly to a place for a Settler to build a new transport hub and allow Soldiers to start clearing out new and exciting wildlife.

Lines are for people who need trips to be reliable.For roleplayers, this is an entirely new level of giving your character definition. You could easily play two Warriors with the exact same set of abilities and yet wind up in completely different situations by virtue of your path. For everyone else, if you want to play just one character, it’s a chance to focus on what you like most about MMOs. If you play a bunch of alts, it’s a chance to ensure that the same area doesn’t play the same. Literally no one loses out here.

If you’re wondering which path I’m going to be playing first? All of them. I create a lot of characters.

 

 

 

 

WildStar’sCaste, ritual and the ascension of an emperor god

Wildstar Wednesday

WildStar is set in a dangerous and unpredictable universe where anything goes, but that doesn’t mean some of the game’s inhabitants aren’t just dripping with class and old-money tradition. This week’s WildStar Wednesday outlines the history of the Luminai, an Eldan-human hybrid race that currently walks the halls of power in the Dominion — and has its eyes set on the conquest of Nexus.

The story of the Luminai is deep and intriguing and hinges on some familiar themes. There’s a lauded leader who reigned over 300 years of peace, an elite tier of people who named themselves as gods, a caste system forged by an emperor’s decree, and an ongoing tussle for power between competing houses that often results in bloodshed and betrayal. Heck, there’s even a forced coup and a “dark reign.”

Click the jump to get a closer look at Myrcalus the Vindicator, the current emperor of the Dominion and the man-Eldan who swears to bring Nexus under its rule. And keep a lookout for the Luminai while you’re in WildStar. They are, after all, your gods.

Wildstar: Myrcalus the Vindicator

 

 

WildStar economy post talks item decay, Raph Koster, and more

WildStar economy post talks item decay, Raph Koster, and more

What do hyperinflation and Raph Koster’s A Theory of Fun for Game Design have to do with WildStar? Well, they’re both mentioned in the game’s latest dev blog. As you may have guessed, it’s all about the title’s economy, and Senior Systems Designer Charles “Bull” Durham expends quite a bit of virtual ink talking about things like resource sinks, resource fonts, and Carbine’s interpretation of “fun” as it relates to resource reallocation.

Durham also mentions item decay in passing, though it’s not clear whether or not the game will make use of the mechanic in some form or fashion. “We also want to make sure that when you have to make a choice, it is based on what you, the player, feels is most important. Therefore, the choices cannot be too obvious or too enmeshed in critical needs,” he writes. “Item repair, for example, doesn’t offer much in the way of choice, so it shouldn’t be an impactful, painful thing. We will get into this particular money sink later, but it is a very handy and fair money sink to have.”

 

Playing a WildStar mind game

Look those trailing titles are hard sometimes.

We still don’t know exactly what the last two WildStar classes will look like, unless my speculation turns out to be true (and you’d better believe that I believe it). But as it happens, we don’t know quite as much about one of the four we are aware of. Espers are a known quantity, but they’ve been… not hidden, precisely. But they’re also not as visible as Spellslingers, Warriors, and Stalkers. Ironic, since they were one of the first classes we knew about.

Last week I was focused on unpacking paths from the recent preview event. This time, I want to talk about Espers. I also want to talk about leveling your character and dissecting some of the other information we’ve been getting about the title, while leaving out one crucial bit of WildStar discussion in anticipation of next week. Yes, I have plans. You’ll figure it out or see it in the “next week” blurb. Either way.

Stab you to death with my mind

Expect a lot of this.Let’s face it, if any class in WildStar was going to put the lie to the game’s engine, it would be the Esper.

You can laugh, but the fact of the matter is that it would not be the first game to have action combat and casters. TERA has several very active classes, and then it has casters and Lancers that… pretty much do the same thing as traditional MMO classes. There’s not much moving, just standing around and slinging spells. The class certainly doesn’t wind up being organic and mobile.

Spellslingers didn’t feel that way. And from the hands-on previews of the Espers, this is a regular feature even of ranged classes. You may not be constantly ducking and rolling in your opponent’s face, but you will be getting up and moving no matter what.

Admittedly it’s difficult to form a comprehensive picture of a class from a single preview, but there’s enough information about Espers to form at least a skeleton. It may very well wind up being the slowest class to play in some ways, largely because it’s meant to have some delays here and there. You summon things that deal damage over time or after a delay, you stand and channel an ability, and so forth.

But you’re still moving, building up power over time and using it to greater overall effect. Rather than feeling slow, it sounds like something where your goal is “get the process moving and stay alive until I win.” This might sound a little sedate, but it still involves plenty of moving — even if you’ve loaded your target with damage-over-time abilities and have all of your psychic weapons on a collision course, you’ve got to get out of the fire so that they actually land. Which leads to a different cadence than Spellslinger, or the (possible) other ranged class.

There’s always the temptation to make a class that just stands in place no matter how much the rest of the game makes you dance. I’m glad to see that Carbine is resisting that temptation and giving us a class that feels uniquely caster-like without just being a ranged damage cannon.

At least it doesn’t look like that from the top. Things may prove very different once I’m playing the game. We’ll see!

Specialization is not just for insects

This guy specializes in eating.  And, you know, the crushing.

One of the tricky parts of any MMO is developing your character specializations. You have to give players a range of viable specs, you have to make different routes viable, and you have to also make sure that people pick out the vital abilities without being confused. Which is why World of Warcraft decided to just throw the whole system to the wind and replace it with a series of theoretically personal choices, wherein any one talent was no more useful than any other.

What we know about WildStar’s current system is that you pick up perks as you raise attributes, and you can use these to specialize your character. Presumably you have a limited number of these at any time, although whether it’s limited to a small number of active slots a la The Secret World or you can only buy some perks a la Final Fantasy XI’s Merit Points remains to be seen. (I’m hoping for the former.) The core is that these perks are supposed to be fun, something that has an immediate impact instead of just upping a secondary stat.

I’ve gone on record as saying that I like talent trees. When they’re designed well, they offer a lot of options for customization while still giving players a sense of guidance. If WildStar had simply given everyone a talent tree and been done with it, I would have been a touch upset that it wasn’t more visionary, but it would be excusable based on the amount of new things the game as a whole is trying.

But that’s not the case. We’re getting something much more open and organic, taking the “needless stat improvements” out of the abstract. So what we’re left with is stuff that you actually want and seems neat.

I’m hoping that there are still some more subtle synergies among build options, but I don’t doubt that will be the case. What we’re looking at here is a set of perks that are at least partly based off of what you’re already leveling. If you want to be a crit-heavy bursting damage dealer, your specialization will be stuff that triggers off those attributes.

What’s going to ultimately make or break the system is how much specialization you actually get. If everyone with a high Stamina has the same basic pool of abilities, it’s going to get sort of boring. If every healer has the same pool of abilities, it’s going to make being a healer a bit boring. If the balance is just right, though, we could all be very happy.

The ideas are certainly making me happy. Sometimes it doesn’t take much.

 

WildStar gets the band together for a game jam

A game jelly, meanwhile, is crushed and candied game discs.  It's kind of horrible.

You don’t get into a video game career to make huge stacks of money, you do it because you love games. That means that the idea of Game Jams can actually make sense. What’s a Game Jam? Well, it’s the event on display in the latest WildStar Wednesday, and it’s also a way for the Carbine Studios team to relax from the stress of a work week by coming in and working for another eight hours on something crazy.

No, that’s really the idea. As explained in the article, Game Jams consist of people coming into the office, deciding on a task, and splitting off into small teams to make a playable build of something within eight hours. It’s a chance for designers, programmers, and artists to all stretch their legs a bit more, possibly exploring aspects of the game that they’re not normally involved in on a day-to-day basis. And a chance for people to relax from work by doing more work, that’s also a thing.

It’s all right if people don’t like WildStar

My girl wants to party all the time.  I favor a more nuanced partying portfolio.

I like WildStar a lot. You knew from an early time that I liked the game’s aesthetic and sense of humor, and as time went on it became clear that I also liked the mechanics and the approaches it has toward an endgame.When I finally got my first hands-on playtime with the game, I liked that, too. What I’m getting at here is that WildStar is currently fighting with Final Fantasy XIV for the title of my absolute favorite MMO, and they both coexist in a space of I want to play you both all the time.

But some people aren’t in that boat. Some people aren’t that wild about the game, even some people whom I work alongside. And that is totally fine.

Last week’s events made me decide to do one of my periodic column-topic-switches to discuss the fact that there is going to be bad press about WildStar out there, sometimes even bad press that complains about things that you don’t think are relevant. And the best thing you can do is be cool.

It may, in fact, be your job to defend this guy.  But that's only if you ask for it.Why? Well, let’s start with the basics: It’s not your job to defend the game.

I don’t mean that in the sense that you aren’t employed by Carbine Studios. (Disregard that if you are, in fact, employed by Carbine Studios. Hey, guys. My ankle’s all better.) I mean that in the sense that the real defense of the game should come from the game itself. If you’re trying to mount a long-winded defense about how a game’s problems aren’t really problems, you are essentially playing the Xbox One game, in which you tell a room full of unhappy people that they’re not really unhappy.

“But that’s not relevant,” you say to your monitor, fully cognizant that I should not be able to hear you. “This is criticism or whatever about something that’s inaccurate, so surely the person leveling criticism just didn’t do the research!”

Sometimes that’s an excuse, but sometimes it’s accurate. But if that’s the case, you really don’t need to jump in with a pedantic explanation of why someone doesn’t know something. If someone is complaining that the game makes it too difficult to dye your gear when there’s an NPC five inches from your starting position labeled “Gear Colorist,” a correction is pointless. And if it’s not obvious, even if it’s a silly criticism, it’s one that should be leveled.

Beyond all of that, though, is the simple fact that some people are just not going to like the game. Some people are, in fact, going to give silly reasons for not liking the game that are just there because there has to be a reason, and it’s sometimes difficult to articulate what you dislike about a title.

And that’s fine. Even if the game is the best it can be, some people will dislike it.

The thing is, good design is also partly about knowing that some people are going to dislike your design. When I write an article that I’m really happy with, I know the sort of person who’s going to like it, and I know that some people who regularly read my writing will really dislike it. But if I only wrote columns that everyone liked, I couldn’t ever do a column that some people will love and some people will hate.

This dude thinks everyone has to like the same things as he does!  Also he kills lots of people and is generally bad.  Don't be like this dude!

Games are the same way. The notes that WildStar hits are aiming at a really strong emotional connection, and for some people it’s not going to be there. I look at the game and I see a meeting of Firefly and Pixar wrapped up in an active engine with a really dynamic class setup. Those are all things that sound cool to me. Some people look at that and feel like it’s the exact opposite of what they want, and they move on to play something different.

Could the game aim for the middle of the road? Of course. But then it would deplete my positive reaction just as surely as it would ameliorate the negativity.

I can’t find the quote, unfortunately, but there was an interview in which the Mystery Science Theater 3000 writing staff was asked how they approached putting in obscure references. The response was that the team didn’t ever worry that not everyone will get the joke; the right people would get it, and they’d be thrilled to get an obscure reference. If you try to make something that appeals equally to everyone, you end up with something that truly appeals to no one.

Some people aren’t going to like WildStar. And if we, as a community, turn on them with the fury of a thousand suns, it doesn’t make the game look better. It makes us look like a bunch of screaming idiots who can’t handle the slightest bit of criticism, which is far worse for the game.

Why? Well, to start with, no one who is on the fence about trying a game wants to look into the heart of the community and see a bunch of screaming idiots. More to the point, if you see a lot of people getting really sensitive over criticism, your first instinct is that someone must have hit a nerve. Overreacting to negativity actually makes it look more accurate, not less.

Instead? Just shrug. Everyone’s entitled to different opinions, even if you’re of the mind that those opinions are kind of dumb. Not everyone has to like WildStar, and it’ll say more if we as an aggregate can just smile and move on if someone complains. Good feedback makes the game better, even if that feedback is mostly negative.

 

Raiding in WildStar is its own creature

Raid as a double entendre.

When WildStar comes out, it is going to have raiding. It’s going to have the sort of raiding and group content that is meant to be challenging. No facerolls intended here; you’d better bring your A-game on raid night, or you will be facedown in the dirt so often that people will think you’re doing a performance piece on the Kennedy family tree.

I am not a lover of raiding. This is not difficult to find evidence of on this site because I’ve talked about the issues with group-only endgame antics on more than one occasion. Heck, I wrote about how raiding turns you into a horrible person. So you would think I’d look at what we know about WildStar’s endgame and start facepalming, possibly whilst shaking my head and muttering obscenities.

But I’m not. I’m totally cool with what we’ve been told so far about the endgame because there’s much more than just the raiding aspect in the game, and I’m intrigued by how it’s working out.
Me, I just like smashing stuff.Here’s the core of the issue: It’s not that raiding is inherently an evil activity. In the piece I linked above I pointed out that this starts off as being something fun, and it’s the cycle of repeated content and personal obligation that really kills that joy. But for some people these things are still fun, and the content should exist for those people.

Over the past several years we’ve seen the idea introduced that everyone should get to raid, especially in World of Warcraft. It’s a well-meaning sentiment that also completely misses the point. By making the whole endgame raid content more approachable, you make everyone less happy.

People who genuinely enjoy raiding are less happy because content gets easier and easier. The challenge of it is part of what you enjoyed. You wanted having a boss on farm status to really be an accomplishment, something you worked hard to achieve; now it’s just a rote thing. You didn’t mind complicated processes to get into raids, requirements for certain players and classes, all of the parts that non-raiders found tedious. That was stuff you enjoyed.

Meanwhile, people who don’t naturally like raiding are less happy because you’re being told to like something. The inaccessibility and all that was just a part of the puzzle; at the end of the day, you just aren’t fond of that particular style of play. Except now you’re more and more expected to raid, and not doing so means you’re stuck in the cold with nothing more to do. This is the endgame, and it’s so easy, why aren’t you doing it?

Is this functional? At times. A lot of people wind up being not entirely unhappy. But it also isn’t a good idea because it’s based on several archaic notions all rolled into one.

First of all, not wanting to take part in big group endgame content does not mean you aren’t social or engaged with other players. I joked for a long while that I’ve been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic since launch and hadn’t clocked in a single Operation achievement. This didn’t mean I wasn’t social or invested with other players; anyone who has seen me roleplay knows how much I juggle varied character relationships and find time to quest with friends or otherwise hang out. Disliking the raiding formula does not mean I’m not invested in a community.

I'll destroy all of you by moving in a slow, predictable pattern with managed special attacks!Games also don’t need to stymie your progress to encourage you to keep playing. There’s a delicate balance, always, between making sure you can’t see all of the game in a single day and ensuring that you’re not bored, and part of that comes through slowing down progress. But slow it down enough and the game starts becoming an exercise in boring repetition. If you find fighting bosses over and over to optimize strategy fun, that’s great. If you don’t, however, the need to do so should not be the only thing keeping you in the game because otherwise you are going to leave at the first opportunity.

Perhaps most importantly, there are other ways to make an endgame. There are ways to make solo content interesting, to provide nifty new challenges to PvP and PvE players without trivializing what raiding players are doing for fun. (In fairness to Star Wars: The Old Republic, the game does a better job than many titles of giving me something to do without big group content.) If you remove the carrot of “all the stuff worth doing is locked behind a raid wall,” some people will still raid, but you can give that carrot to people who like doing other things just as easily.

These lessons are things that WildStar seems to have taken to heart. I say “seems” only because the game is still in testing, and it remains to be seen how all of the promises we’ve been given will play out in the long run. But we know what the design goals are. We know that the developers want us playing the game however we find fun, and we’ve been told that there will be an endgame there no matter what we think is fun.

Like PvP? There’s stuff in place for epic PvP of several varieties. Like to solo? There’s an ongoing story, there are path activities, and there will be new things to explore. Like to craft? I can only assume we’ll have some crafting carrots. Like raiding? Then you will be greeted by raids that are hard, and intense, and built for people who want to be there, not the people who have nothing else to do.

Now, if we can just avoid the trap of having all the gear worth having locked behind the raid wall, we’ll be golden.

WildStar’s devs break all the things in the latest stress test

WildStar

If you participated in WildStar’s first stress test, aka The Stressening, or hope to jump in with its sequel, The Stress Continues, then this week’s WildStar Wednesday is for you. Carbine Studios community director Troy Hewitt, live producer Craig Turner, and senior community manager David Bass penned the latest blog entry to discuss how the stress tests are going and what, exactly, the team managed to break this go-round, starting with instances capping improperly and names being distorted. (This last bit is probably a blessing for those testers running around named Legolas and Tyrion Lannister. You know I’m right.)

Bass specifically addresses the challenges of herding gamers who are “used to the usual ‘STRESS TEST WEEKEND WOOOOOO!’ hype,” which is, you know, pretty much all of us. “The problem,” he wrote, “was that we needed to do an actual stress test… one where we kept adding more and more players until something broke so that we could see where our weaknesses were.” Like Bass, we’re sure the “promise of a future beta invite” soothed any grumpiness.

 

Points of interest in WildStar’s latest beta patch

Ship sliding away, ship sliding away... you know the nearer your beta access, the more you're ship sliding away...

I’m beginning to think that people not in the WildStar beta are spending more time reading the patch notes than the people actually playing. Sure, they need to skim and find out what’s changed, but the rest of us have an entire week of analyzing and dissecting to do. Or I do, anyway. Maybe everyone else just glances over them and moves on.

I’m kind of hoping that it’s not just me, but it wouldn’t be the first time.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in the new patch notes, and some of it makes sense only if you’re playing the game. Still, there’s plenty to dissect from the outside looking in, and that’s where I’m coming from. So I’m going to be taking it one step at a time to pick out points of interest from within the deep confines of the patch notes, and of course, speculating wildly because that is also what I do here.

We've been overdue for a rowsdower image, really.

First of all, I’d like to note the sheer brilliance of having a “recommended friends” list, something that most non-MMOs have adopted but MMOs have been slow to pick up on. If my PS3 can suggest people I’ve played with recently, I’m willing to bet that other games can, and yet so often I can’t remember the healer’s name or the competent DPS in the group and so it goes. Having that in place will be a boon to those of us with longer memories than attention spans.

I’m also interested in Rival functionality, and quite frankly, I’d like it expanded. Make it akin to a Friend list — force players to approve Rival status, see when they’re online, even let them send tells back and forth. This means that friends playing on opposite-faction alts can still talk, and it also lets you create real rivalries, with both sides talking and aware of one another even as they’re not exactly friends.

Remember, good conflict comes from a situation in which both sides know one another.

Still on the social train is the Neighbor functionality for housing, which is… well, not ideal, but it’s about where you could go while fulfilling a lot of other housing needs. The net result is that you don’t feel locked out from a larger sense of community, but neither do you have random people wandering in your front yard at all times. It also means that you can actually go up and knock on the door of a friend’s house. That’s worthy execution, in my mind.

While I’m reluctant to say that tradeskill talents are an entirely good thing, since even in the beta they’re not fully in place, the idea certainly appeals. It’s the chance to not just specialize but really fine-tune your crafting experience, something that long-time readers know I am heavily in favor of. I’m hopeful for more in-depth crafting mechanics in the game, as I’ve speculated in the past. That being said, this sort of system could even make a more rote “click and wait” approach at least slightly more interesting.

As for all the class changes… on the one hand, there’s no way to place all of these in a comprehensive context. We know that players are up to eight abilities at once, which seems like a good spread in an active game, although it brings to mind some of the weaker parts of The Secret World. (That mess is a different discussion, though.) On the other hand, some of the things we can suss out are interesting enough to speculate on for days.

For example, Espers get Dislodge Essence, which is a healing spell. Except it’s more active than that. You hit the closest enemy with a damage-over-time ability that heals people as it does damage. Instead of standing in the back waving your hands, you’re helping the overall tide of the battle through damage and healing. Warriors get a tanking ability that buffs defenses but fails if the Warrior isn’t paying enough attention to the battlefield layout. Stalkers get to flip out and throw weapons everywhere.

The point I’m making here is that all of these classes are coming into focus as being related to familiar tropes without being beholden to them, which is pretty darn cool.

I only hope we can call this robot Skullmachine.Rated arenas. Here ends the gushing, partly because this isn’t something I find fun and partly because this is one of those fields where a few slight tweaks can absolutely destroy any sort of meaning for casual PvP. Rated arenas also frequently have the problem of rewarding the best players with better gear, thereby creating the exact opposite of every sport ever. I’m not saying this is bad, but I am saying it doesn’t light me on fire at all.

Of course, immediately after that you can read about the changes to a dungeon called Skullcano, which is so ridiculously over the top that I can’t help but fall in love all over again. It’s either a volcano of skulls or a volcano shaped like a skull, or quite possibly both, and I can’t pretend not to adore the idea of something called Skullcano. Well played, Carbine Studios, well played.

Ultimately, I’m interested that revealing major patch notes has now become a thing for the beta test. It’s certainly unique, and it prevents unwanted leaks and gives onlookers a chance to dissect what’s changing. At the same time, in some places I’m feeling a bit of speculation fatigue from guessing at what one change or another might mean in the long-term. We don’t have a clearer context, and those of us not in the beta are building a speculative house out of nothing.

Feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to [email protected] Next week, I want to chat about telegraphs, based on my own limited experience and on what we’ve seen them used for thus far.