Wildstar Open Beta Hands-On

With the release date fast approaching, NCSOFT has thrown open the gates to its long awaited MMORPG, Wildstar. I dove into the newly open beta to see if it delivered on the hype.

The session got off on the right foot, thanks to a fun and flexible character creator. There are two playable factions to choose from: the refugee/freedom fighting Exiles and the imperialistic, tyrannical Dominion. At first glance it seems like a simple choice between good and evil. However, the races affiliated with each faction are extremely varied.

From mad scientist rodents to giant rock people, there is a broad range of appeal. The character creator does an excellent job showing off the game’s cartoony, impressively detailed graphics. It’s clear that a great deal of effort went into giving each race a distinct personality, while still allowing enough freedom for the player to have their own unique style. Once you’ve decided on what your character looks like, it’s time to choose its classes.

Each character has two classes, a main class, that determines how you fight and what equipment you can use, and a Path. The class selection is a mix of new spins on familiar archetypes and classes freshly minted for the game’s bizarre universe. For example, The Warrior is somewhere between a high tech mercenary and a pro wrestler, and the Spellslinger is a highly mobile cowboy/wizard.

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There are four paths, each one representing a way to enjoy MMORPGs. For those who love unearthing lore and solving puzzles, there is the Scientist path. For players who like fighting, killing, and waves of enemies to lay waste to, there is the Soldier path. The Paths provide side-missions, each with their own set of bonuses. Once my magic, cowboy, space-zombie was complete it was time to enter the world of Nexus.

The tutorial zones for each faction share their overall structure but have dramatically different tones. The Dominion tutorial follows a soldier assisting in propaganda events, unethical experiments, and proving that they are combat ready before being sent down to join the fight against the Exiles. The Exile tutorial takes place during a Dominion boarding action. Everything is on fire/exploding and you are fighting to save as many lives as possible before escaping the ship. In both cases the tutorial is well crafted and engaging. It is also short enough that it doesn’t dissuade the player from trying different characters.

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It’s quickly apparent that the gameplay involves more action and mobility than most MMORPGs. Most abilities have a template that represents its effective area. Enemies’ more damaging attacks have templates of their own. To succeed in combat a player must keep moving to avoid damage and maximize the effectiveness of their own attacks. This focus on skill shots and positioning makes combat an active experience. The combat is representative of a fast-paced, dynamic approach to gameplay. This was became apparent when I stumbled upon Challenges.

Challenges are timed missions that begin when you enter the area of the Challenge. They can be as simple as killing enemies in the Challenge area. Success is based on whether or not you meet the goal and the type of reward is based on how quickly you complete the mission. This encourages players to be less cautious, frantically running from enemy to enemy, knowing that each passing second brings them closer to failure.

The timer also adds another level of decisions in group play. Spreading out can be more efficient but it can also lead to lost credit if you stray too far from your teammates or a sudden and violent end if you come across a boss and no one is around to help you. This aspect of Challenges is particularly fun when you are actively communicating with your group.
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The developers have gone to great lengths to make everything about playing the game fun. A giant, beautiful world with a variety of environments, each full of hidden places to explore and vistas to climb, active combat so engaging and stylish that experimenting with combos feels like a great way to spend an afternoon and a story full of twisted humor and genuinely cool quests. Wildstar’s open beta has ended but the game launches on June 3rd (May 31st if you pre-order, which I recommend).