It’s no mystery that WildStar is going to feature combat. This column derives its name from one of the combat features we already know about, so you know it’s not going to be a game where all conflicts are resolved with hugs and ice cream. People come at you with weapons, and as another person with weapons, you will have a duty to ensure that they do not draw another breath. Possibly it will even be your pleasure to do so.
Scratch that — hopefully it will be your pleasure to do so. The last thing anyone wants is a game with combat that bores you to tears, since you’re going to be tasked with slaughtering all manner of critters and ne’er-do-wells as you play. What we know about WildStar’s combat at the moment can fit comfortably into a manila folder, but I’d like to talk a little bit about some of the potential mechanics and what we might derive from the very limited previews.
It’s an area problem
There was something alluded to in the most recent WildStar Wednesday that I found instantly fascinating, something that caused my eyes to light up with joy. The tester mentioned that there are telegraphs from party members in combat, as you would expect… but he also mentioned that some of the telegraphed effects are beneficial and you want to be caught in the path.
Not all of them.
Games have always had issues with area-of-effect abilities. AoEs can’t be strictly better than single-target abilities or you wind up with a game wherein everyone just runs around spamming area abilities and chain-hitting everything, which was fun in Wrath of the Lich King but ultimately got to be just a little silly. The flip side is that any character specializing in AoE abilities should still be useful, but then you run into the problem where the AoE character is just as good against single targets (thus being strictly better than people without an AoE specialization) or is much weaker against single targets (thus being strictly worse on 80% of the combat bits that are actually difficult).
Most games do not dare venture into the wilds of friendly fire, however, because most games don’t have a whole system in place to warn you about where effects will take place and what you should get away from. WildStar has precisely that, and it might be exactly the right place to put this mechanic.
Think about it. Even with the same enemies, a fight could change depending on whether you’re in a tight corridor or an open field. Timing your AoE suddenly becomes very important because you don’t just need the ability to hit a large group — you need to make sure it’s not going to catch party members in the blast. Characters with a specialty in AoE abilities become like demolitionists: highly powerful but also dangerous to teammates without a great deal of care.
We know that enemies can be lured into the path of other enemies. I think it’s only fair if you can accidentally hit your own teammates with an attack, even if that’s sometimes only an accident in the broadest sense.
Role with it
According to Jeremy Gaffney, the holy trinity is going to be in the game. At least, that was the case when I interviewed him, but it seems a bit late in the game to completely rewrite that, especially after a video that specifically states the trinity is in place. Odds are pretty much absolute that there will be three roles and you will not strain yourself to figure out what they are.
We also know now that characters can swap abilities on the fly so long as they aren’t engaged in active combat. And in my head, there’s a interesting collision between those two ideas, something that’s probably wildly off-base but could be fascinating in play.
Bear with me a moment — what if your role and class were two completely different things?
The game is already built to allow a choice of path independent from your class. You could be a Warrior who follows the path of a Scientist, for example. What if the core abilities for a group role task come not from your class but from a set of abilities designed for a specific role, with a handful of class abilities designed to support your play in that given role?
It sounds like a stretch, but most games give you a handful of abilities to perform your primary role with a smattering of other skills for utility. If we’re generous and assume 10 abilities for tanking, healing, and strict DPS, you could easily have a half-dozen abilities available to all classes for each role and then three or four class-specific ones to back up the execution. (Tanking/healing/damaging stance or aura or whatever, a unique skill for just that one role to make the class look a bit different, a utility only useful in certain circumstances…)
This would also have the advantage of negating some common irritations. First of all, there is always a time as a tank when you need an ability that literally every other tanking class other than your own has access to, or a moment as a healer when you need the one thing your class doesn’t get. This is eliminated instantly if you’re drawing from a shared ability pool. You could also drop into healer/tank/DPS mode pretty quickly — swap in the relevant skills, season the other skills to taste, and you’re good to go. If you want to be really novel, you could even have specializations that activate specifically when you swap to another role…
I know, I’m dreaming. But it would be cool.