Rezzed 2013: Wildstar Hands On
I wrote a preview for Wildstar not too long ago, I made no claim to being without concerns, there were things in its midst that tickled my sceptical nature, but it looked promising, more so than any other MMO in recent times.
It’s hard to pin point what exactly about the genre resonates with me so much, if forced to choose, I would guess that it’s the living, persistent world that you can be a part of, an ever evolving narrative that is shaped, in some ways, by the players. I believe this is why fans of these games can be more passionate than any other. In my time playing MMO’s, I’ve seen funerals held for players that have died, even relationships from RPers turn in to an actual marriage.
This is where the strength of an MMO lays; it allows more creativity and interaction than any other genre I know of. So when a new contender appears on the horizon, it’s not just the hope for another great game, it’s the potential for an entirely new world that we can call our own.
However, this also brings with it, some of the biggest demands for a developer. Not just content wise, but the disagreeable task of trying to live up to these experiences, trying to mould a living realm in possibly the most unforgiving genre of all.
So naturally, I travelled to Rezzed in Birmingham, hopeful, but with a veiled sense of foreboding. But I can comfortably say, after spending quite some time with the game, that all my previously mentioned concerns for Wildstar, have all but vanished.
The demo on site is a build you may have seen quite a bit of over the past few months. The classes available were Warrior, Spellslinger and the Stalker. All of which had one race locked to it. I went with the warrior and chose the soldier path.
After a short intro, my Mechari warrior landed on Nexus, specifically in the Deradune zone. It’s a desert like area with a striking safari theme to it. It runs along at a very smooth frame rate, and the graphic design is striking to say the least, the videos that you can find on YouTube, as well as screenshots, don’t do it justice at all.
Before I go any further, any tech junkies out there might be interested to know that the game was running on a GTX670 with about 16GB RAM, I didn’t catch the CPU model, but the devs present at the event assured me it can run on very modest machines. They also mentioned that they will be talking to Nvidia and AMD about SLI/Crossfire set-ups. I know that 16GB is a lot of RAM, but most gamers will know that anywhere around 8GB is more than enough. I was also told that the engine will be very GPU bound, which, to anyone who had trouble with GW2, will be a wonderful thing to hear.
I won’t drone on about technical doodads; I just wanted to give you an idea of hardware usage.
Anyway, the warrior class. You start off with 5 skills and one innate ability (which I didn’t actually use). The first one is just to get your class to swing his pig sticker about, and it also builds up the secondary resource, in this case, kinetic cells. You can have a maximum of three and they are used to activate other abilities. The ones available were a leaping stun, which has to be used at a distance, a kick which is used as an interrupt (it is also a knockback), a blade saw which seems to do damage to things in a cone in front of you, and finally a whirlwind, which requires you to hold the button for the duration.
The limited amount of skills (Limited Action Sets) is something that worried me in a huge way; I didn’t enjoy it in GW2. You could argue it was done in a different way, being that some skills were bound to weapons, others you just had to choose between, however you view it, it just didn’t work well for me.
What I can tell you from the time spent with the game, is that I’m not worried anymore. I think it may have something to do with the absence of auto attack, I felt that way too much damage came out of that in GW2, and I am pretty happy to see the back of it. But more than that, the focus on combat telegraphs and more action oriented skirmishing in general, makes such a massive difference. Again, you could argue GW2 did this also, or at least directed it in that way, but I don’t feel it quite got to where Wildstar has.
The controls were a little bit off for the demo, A and D were set as turn instead of strafe, the DPI on the mouse was way too low, and I have a hard time playing MMOs without my mouse. Nevertheless, these are things that are easily changeable.
I went in hating the idea of the LAS, but I am mature enough (just barely) to admit when I’m wrong. The combat feels fresh and completely unrestrained from the almost archaic MMO system. I was also informed by devs that it gets much harder as you progress, meaning, you get far less time to react to telegraphs and more mobs to deal with.
Obviously there is still a huge amount to uncover about the combat, and indeed the game, what I am trying to convey to you, if anything, is hope. Hope that this could be something you can lose as much time as you did with Azeroth (you know, before it became cool to hate it).
The other main concern I had has also been quashed. Instant teleporting is something that can irreparably spoil open world games; I’ve never liked it, as it rips away any immersion the game may have built up. I was reliably informed by devs that Carbine feel “flightpaths” is the better way. After all, why would you craft a beautiful world for people to explore, and then fragment it by allowing you to teleport at any given moment?
As far as questing goes, well, imagine a place in between WoW’s system, and GW2’s model. That’s pretty much what you have here. Deradune, as I mentioned earlier, has a great safari vibe to it. The first quest hub has a few people with the obligatory yellow punctuated head disease, but the quest log is very neatly placed to the side, and most quests are delivered with some voice work.
The GW2 model comes by way of some public quests that you can join, and also some quests that you happen across as you travel about, added to that the pathway quests, and you have a huge amount to be getting on with. The actual quests themselves are, so far, a relatively standard MMO affair; you know the drill, go here, kill stuff, and make your way back. There was a couple of nice touches presentation wise and the zones theme seemed well tied in with the quests. The tongue-in-cheek nature is still present during the game, albeit slightly toned down.
The main thing for me however, was stepping out in to Nexus, it felt like the start of something epic, that’s a feeling I have been missing ever since I quit WoW. I didn’t feel that instant grind that I have done in other MMOs, and the nature of the combat is making me consider joining a PvP server on release.
I played for around half an hour which came to an end way too quickly. I would have liked to have played longer, but there was some other eager gamers looking ready to eat my soul if I didn’t move.
Before I moved onward for more gaming treasures, I talked briefly with the devs about the zones we would see after my game time, something that perked my ears up was the mention of “sub-zones”. This on its own isn’t anything particularly new, but it’s a great thing. The name is literal, so you basically get zones within zones. The example I was given was an “alien tech excavation”. It would mean completely different mobs than the rest of the main zone and could also include weather and lighting changes. This kind of thing is great for a slight pace and surroundings change.
Rather than try and explain any further about that concept, take a look at the video below, courtesy of Eurogamer. It showcases it nicely and you can get a good feel of how the world is shaping up.
I also bent the nice people of Carbine Studios ears about crafting. They were still very cagey on it, as he told me several times, they were still tweaking a lot of things in beta, so he didn’t want to go in to too much detail. He did however, mention the possibility that moulding items in to their most powerful form, could possibly entail fulfilling quests. If this does turn out to be a thing, I think it could be great. It reminds me of the Dreadsteed quest in vanilla WoW (still one of my favourite quests ever) and anything close to that would be superb. Anything is preferable to just grinding materials for hours to make the same thing ten times.
It’s little touches like this that made me come away feeling confident in Carbine Studios. Confident that their team being made up of people from many different successful MMOs, has given them an especially good focus on what constitutes an enjoyable game. Release seems to be a ways off still, I wasn’t able to get a release date unfortunately, I think the best we can do is cross our fingers and hope it will be this year.
As soon as the press beta begins, I will be diving head first in to Wildstar and bring you a much more thorough analysis, NDA permitting of course. I wish I had more detailed info for you, it was as frustrating for me as it is for you, but the eagerness from them to talk about it was palpable. Seeing that kind of passion in a game developer very much changes the visage of the evil money making corporations, in to a bunch of gamers wanting to make the best game possible for their fellow geeks.
One thing I came away certain of; this is not a clone, it’s a focused attempt to bring together everything that is great in so many other games in this genre, and structure their own visage of a world worth abandoning our own for.