Everyone at the completely fictional Massively office seems to have some kind of schoolgirl crush on Carbine Studios’ quirky upcoming sci-fi title WildStar, and I can understand why. The setting is fresh, melding some aspects of our favorite sci-fi properties (cough Firefly cough) with a a healthy dose of fantasy and a not insignificant amount of witty comedy, and the list of features the game boasts is rather extensive. I mean, did you even see that housing trailer? Holy wow, guys.
In spite of all of that, though, I was still a little cautious about giving in to the hype. After all, I’m sure there’s not an MMO fan in existence who hasn’t gotten super excited about a game and become a devoted fanboy only to have his hopes and expectations shattered when the game didn’t live up to the hype. So I let myself be excited, but reservedly so, until I could get my hands on the game for myself to complement Eliot’s earlier PAX hands-on with the game. As it so happens, on the last day of PAX East, I got to do just that. Though it was only a short 25-minute demo (thank goodness — otherwise the lines would have circled the convention center), I think I was able to get a pretty solid idea of what we can expect from WildStar, and let me tell you right now, we can expect some great things.
For my time with WildStar, I took control of a Draken Stalker because if there’s one thing I love it’s a good-ol’-fashioned assassin. The Draken begin their journey in the savage savannahs of Deradune, where the tribe is in the midst of a ritual known as the Great Hunt. This, of course, is the perfect excuse to have the players kill just about anything that moves. It’s a good thing that killing things is a hell of a lot of fun in WildStar.
It seems that the folks at Carbine have lifted a page straight out of the MOBA playbook when it comes to combat because there were no auto-targeted attacks to be found. Upon activation, each ability laid out a template on the ground in front of my character to depict where my attack would land, and any enemies within that template when the skill was executed would suffer the effects. In turn, my enemies’ abilities operated in the same manner, turning combat into a frenzied dance of evasion, lining up attacks, and striking at the most opportune moment. In other words, all of my abilities were skillshots, in MOBA terms. To say this is a refreshing change would be quite an understatement. In truth, WildStar’s combat system is about as close to true skill-based combat as an MMO can get without going full-on Mount and Blade, and I couldn’t be more pleased.
Of course, anyone who has read my past pieces on games such as Neverwinter or The Elder Scrolls Online would note that I’ve said similar things about the combat systems in those games as well, but WildStar’s combat is truly in a league of its own. Those games, and others (Champions Online, for instance) have attempted to incorporate more action-based combat styles with varying degrees of success, but even in those titles the combat eventually begins to feel somewhat formulaic: block power attacks, unleash your own, rinse and repeat until one of you is dancing on the other’s corpse. Not so in WildStar, where every fight felt fresh and exciting. I never felt a sense of complacency, never felt as if I knew exactly what was coming, and never felt as if I was simply going through the motions. WildStar’s combat honestly kept me on my toes in a way that no game before it had ever done.
I also found myself quite taken by the game’s questing structure, or more appropriately, the lack thereof. Sure, WildStar does incorporate the usual style of themepark questing, but that’s only a small part of what players will find when they venture forth into the wilds. Every new area I wandered into and every new mob I killed seemed to introduce yet another objective that I could choose to undertake alongside the standard questline. At times I was asked to eliminate a certain number of roving packs of mobs, and at others I was instructed to kill certain mobs within sight of Draken huntress NPCs in order to garner their favor.
My personal favorite, though, was a quest that I didn’t even know existed until I stumbled upon it by pure chance: Throughout my quests I had picked up a number of skulls from my vanquished foes, though I had no idea what to do with them until a Carbine team member spectating my play pointed out an altar piled high with enemy remains. Turns out I was able to add my accumulated skulls to this shrine, which, once enough skulls had been placed, granted a zone-wide buff to me and my fellow Draken (complete with a pretty badass cutscene that was not an ordinary cutscene viewable by only the player but one that actually took place in real-time within the game world so that everyone in the area could see it happen). In short, it was clear to me that even the first 10 minutes of the starting zone, from which I had expected nothing more than a basic introductory quest chain, was simply brimming with content waiting to be discovered.
Unfortunately, as I said, my demo was just a paltry 25 minutes long, so I didn’t get to see the vast majority of the content (including the showdown with fan-created monster Metal Maw, whom I saw briefly off in the distance). What I did see, however, was more than enough to make me crave more. It’s obvious that the folks behind WildStar are not making the same mistake so many have before. That is, they’re not attempting to replicate the success of World of Warcraft by imitating its gameplay. While it’s clear that Carbine isn’t afraid to take ideas from other games and retool them for its own purposes, the important thing is that WildStar feels like nothing I’ve played before.
It’s unmistakably familiar, but it’s familiar in the same way that you might smell something that triggers a memory you can’t quite place, and all you know is you want more where that came from. And when I take into consideration the sheer amount of content that I know is there (or will be there) that I simply didn’t get to experience (I’m looking at you, amazing player housing system), I feel I can confidently say that WildStar has positioned itself firmly at the top of my list of most-anticipated MMOs, and I think I can say with equal confidence that the Carbine team can deliver what it has promised. In short: Keep an eye on this one, folks; it’s gonna be big.