WildStar uses a traditional action bar setup for combat, with a number of significant tweaks. Careful positioning is essential as almost all attacks have an area of effect, painted on the ground as sweeping red semicircles or long cones. As a consequence, it's quite difficult to play on autopilot.
"Every time you dodge a would-be crippling blow, it feels like you're beating the game on your own terms. This is a strong basis for combat in an MMO."
My sword attacks range from direct strikes to cleaves and whirling blows that damage every enemy around me. It doesn't take long to settle into a rhythm, initiating with area damage before following up with a precision coup de grâce. Maximising the effectiveness of your own attacks while avoiding damage is basically satisfying in the manner of a brawler – every time you dodge a would-be crippling blow, it feels like you're beating the game on your own terms. This is a strong basis for combat in an MMO.
“If we do our jobs right, you feel clever when you find the combination that works for you – and you feel super clever when you find a more efficient combination,” Gaffney explain. “The same thing applies to areas. Maybe I got used to fighting this monster, but now I'm doing it in a minefield – the best way used to be to dodge backwards, now it's 'kick his arse into a mine and watch him explode'!”
I use a combination of grenades and regular sword attacks to wipe out a few monkey camps and yet another mission type pops up – in this case, a challenge. Designed to keep players on their feet, challenges suddenly up the stakes, asking you to wipe out a set number of enemy camps within a time limit in return for a randomised reward. While working on one of these challenges I realise that there are multiple types of exclusive quests available to my chosen path – as a soldier, I'm also capable of tracking down assassination targets or triggering pointdefence sequences out in the wilderness. Honestly, even with my determination to play as free-spiritedly as possible, this sudden onrush of options is paralysing.
I asked Gaffney if he anticipated this. “We fractured it out intentionally,” he explains. “What we do is fracture it until it seems like too much, and then condense it. You have to do that because otherwise you'll never know when you should have added one more layer. It's better to go too far and ratchet it back a notch than never take a step forward.” By splitting the life of a single character into distinct channels with different play styles and rewards, the team at Carbine hope to make the experience of playing an MMORPG more generous and consistently engaging than it has traditionally been. This basic level of mechanical complexity underscores the whole game. As a soldier, I've opted for an experience that focuses on combat. Were I a scientist or a settler, however, I may have other objectives to consider, or other reasons to be hunting specific species in Deradune's wilds.
"WildStar furnishes the player with a vast amount of options, but attempting to do all of them at once isn't the way to play. You have to choose."
“We let the players do as much as they can simultaneously,” Gaffney explains, describing the ideal behaviour of a lategame WildStar player as a layer cake of complementary mechanics. “I'm in the middle of kicking dudes into mines while at the same time I'm scanning them and studying them, and I'm unlocking and questing and doing a timed challenge – and I'm doing all of this stuff at once because I'm awesome. That's very powerful, and if there's a principle that impacts all of our designs, it's that one.”
“It lets you choose what your critical path is,” he continues. “What do you want to do in this game session? Do you want to work on your path stuff, or do you want to try to get through the main story arc? That dilettante style is something that I personally find fun.”
Here, then is my mistake: WildStar furnishes the player with a vast amount of options, but attempting to do all of them at once isn't the way to play. You have to choose. With this in mind I make a beeline for another of my path missions, involving setting up and defending a piece of tech from onrushing hordes of space panthers. As I fend them off I'm joined by another player, a Draken stalker who uses stealth to set up high-damage burst attacks.