This next article in a series of WildStar beta impressions deals with the combat system at the introductory levels. Combat remains the primary activity in massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, for better or for worse. Outside of a few niche exceptions, like the short-lived Glitch or A Tale in the Desert, the vast majority of what a player does in an MMO revolves around combat. It is vitally important therefore that the combat in an MMO be fun, engaging, and rewarding. This can make or break an otherwise promising title, as was seen with games like The Secret World. The Secret World had some of the best storytelling and atmosphere of any MMO released recently, but the combat was so dull and tedious that it made trying to experience that story so difficult. So does WildStar avoid this trap and present an entertaining combat system? As a brief disclaimer, bear in mind that this commentary is based on the low level experience in the game.
WildStar builds on many recent trends in MMO combat, most significantly in terms of what is often called more “active” combat. In many past and current MMO’s, spells and abilities are automatically targeted at a particular enemy or ally. The player clicks on the target, they click a button, and the ability “fires.” There is no need to direct or “aim” the ability. The game engine then makes a series of “dice rolls” to determine if the ability strikes the target, and if so, what the result will be. WildStar eschews this concept almost entirely in favor of more “freeform” targeting. This is not a new concept in itself as other recent MMO’s such as TERA and Guild Wars 2 have used variations of this concept in their combat systems as well.
Where WildStar seeks to differentiate itself in this area is with what Carbine Studios calls “telegraphs.” Almost every ability in the game has an area of effect. This area of effect is shown by colored fields that show up in the game world. These fields are color coordinated to differentiate friendly abilities from enemy abilities, as well as damaging abilities from healing and other beneficial abilities. In this way the battlefield in WildStar becomes almost a “kaleidoscope” of colored fields indicating where the various players and enemies are deploying their abilities. This is one impression of the combat from this weekend’s ongoing WildStar beta test.
Players are introduced to telegraphs in a fairly gentle manner. The enemies in the introductory areas do deploy telegraphs for their attacks, but the time players are given to react to them is very generous. They will have three or more seconds in most cases in order to move their character out of the area of effect and avoid the damage. This may not seem like a lot of time, but in the context of the flow of combat in an MMO, it is practically an eternity. This will change at higher levels, making combat a more frantic and reactive experience, but at lower levels, WildStar does a good job of easing players into this concept and not making them dodge around the screen frantically from the very first level.
The overall result is a more interactive combat system than many other MMO’s offer. It is certainly a change of pace from the conventional targeting used by similar titles like World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic. Many observers have commented on the similarities between WildStar and World of Warcraft, but combat is one area that definitely sets the two games apart. If WildStar is looking to attract current or former World of Warcraft players, it remains to be seen whether this system will be a positive or negative aspect. It may be too different to entice them, or it may be a breath of fresh air that draws them in. If the goal is simply to be fun and engaging however, the WildStar combat system succeeds.
The final article in this weekend series will summarize the impressions of the game to this point, and offer a recommendation as to whether WildStar is worth a purchase at this point. This was a summary of impressions of the WildStar combat system based on the current beta test.
Commentary Review by Christopher V. Spencer