Beta Impressions: Wildstar, Part 1

So I have been “in” the Wildstar beta for a while now. My motivation to play it has been pretty low though, for a few reasons. First, the strong NDA meant that really even hinting that I was playing it could revoke not only my own beta pass, but also that of the person who gifted a pass to me. Second, I find myself growing increasingly stubborn when it comes to overcoming (or even learning) game mechanics/designs that I find annoying.

Almost like Wind Waker...

Almost like Wind Waker…

Before I get into that though, let me frame my experiences. On the whole, I fully expect Wildstar to be a great themepark MMO. The art style is bold and gamey, but also fun in a well-made way. Wildstar sort of doubled-down on the whole “floor AoE effects,” but it works on an intuitive level pretty quickly. Games like The Secret World and Guild Wars 2 had the same floor effects thing, but the relative rarity meant it always felt gimmicky rather than integrated. When you’re applying Expose Weakness from Stealth to every enemy in a long column and your other three attacks all have cone targeting however, you get into the positional mindset pretty quickly.

Speaking of stealth, I picked the Stalker, aka Rogue, as my first class because stealth mechanics are one of those things that can inadvertently break games or otherwise indicate how serious the designers take mechanics. I can’t say much about long-term viability since I never got past level 10, but I can tell you that Stealth lasts indefinitely and has no cooldown outside of combat. Compare that to the Thief in GW2 and draw your own conclusions.

Overall, combat is fun and visceral in that ineffable WoW-like way. Attacks have punch. The world is pretty populated with things to click on and interact with. I chose the Scientist “path,” which means I need to have a camera bot go scan stuff in the environment occasionally. Worlds look like worlds, with hills, mountains, and secret paths. The general game attitude is WoW meets Borderlands, especially when it comes to the Level Up prompt. You can double-jump. And so on.

Good job on further minimizing quest text, Carbine UI Dept.

Good job on further minimizing quest text, Carbine UI Dept.

It’s the little things though, you know? It’s one thing to have a Twitter-length quest text, but it’s another to have that and make it hard to read the dialog boxes. Who the shit thought it’d be a good idea to put most of them at the top of the screen? Then, you’ll get ambushed with Challenges out questing, which have universally been “kill X mobs in Y amount of time.” Every time it has happened, I stopped looking around at anything else and tunneled my way to the finish line, only to forget what I was doing afterwards. Which isn’t a big loss given the lack of quest text, I suppose, but I sorta felt like the content was on a conveyer belt and I had to act on consuming it immediately. The fact that you can click on your quest list and get a directional arrow plus rangefinder means you don’t really need to even understand where you are or what you’re doing anyway.

Then I leveled up, unlocked a slew of new Skills, and have since leveled up twice more without having encountered a Skill Trainer to actually unlock said Skills. “Ah. This is still a thing, then?” Hell, I don’t even know how I would go about looking for a Skill Trainer. My Stalker is currently logged off in what I assume to be a quest-hub city, and my cursory tour of the place has not revealed a Skill Trainer. Do I spend 30% of my meager wealth taking a taxi to the capital (last known location of a trainer)? Or do I continue leveling and hope that I’ll eventually run across a trainer in the next half-dozen levels? And who the hell thought this arbitrary bullshit was worth fishing out of the garbage can of bad MMO design?

Seriously, if your Trainers are glorified Skill vendors, it’s not worth implementing them. Maybe if each Skill required you to practice on a training dummy or otherwise integrated into your game’s fiction somehow, then it would be worth it.

I understand such complaints might seem pretty weak and hyper-specific, but that’s where my head is when it comes to MMOs these days. I have abandoned all pretenses that any specific MMO is ever going to be the MMO, or that I even want one to be, so it’s getting difficult to muster up enough cares to dance around their various idiosyncrasies. Given how the beta is getting turned off this week though, I’ll put some more time into it and see what develops.

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Posted on March 17, 2014, in Impressions, Wildstar and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. I haven’t played Wildstar but you’re the second person I’ve seen complain about the fact that you need to train skills, and I don’t understand what’s so terrible about it (other than trainers not being available in enough locations, which sounds like something that might need to be fixed). I loathe WoW’s current model of “skills simply appear on your bar as you level” (or not, if there’s no space on your main bar) because with how fast and frequently you level, it’s way too easy to miss things. I was still “discovering” new abilities that I never knew I had in my spell book several weeks after hitting max level because it was impossible to keep track of the damn things always popping up in the middle of dungeon runs while I levelled.

    • Because it engenders the opposite problem: the designers thought level X was an appropriate time for ability Y, but you can’t actually use it for another half dozen levels without making a trip halfway around the game world.

      Inventory management? Interesting decision. Maybe I’ll go back to town to empty my bags, or maybe I’ll just forgo the copper by deleting junk. Level up granting new skills? Hmm, maybe I’ll… just not have fun using them for another few hours. All for what? To click on a vendor? What kind of gameplay is that? It’s an archaic piece of game “design” that persists out of habit.

      • Hey, I did say that you shouldn’t have to travel halfway around the world for everything. But the basic idea of having trainers isn’t “archaic”, it offers a different kind of convenience: that of getting a chance to learn and familiarise yourself with your skills when you feel like it, as opposed to the game throwing them at you while you’re in the middle of focusing on something else.

      • […] it offers a different kind of convenience: that of getting a chance to learn and familiarise yourself with your skills when you feel like it, as opposed to the game throwing them at you while you’re in the middle of focusing on something else.

        You can still choose to not use the skills until you set aside some time later. It’s not at all a convenience to me to not be able to use the new skills until I feel like quitting the game (usually by hearthing somewhere there is a skill vendor); I’ve likely been looking forward to and ready to use the new skills long before I even leveled up.

      • Missing new skills because they were just plopped into my spell book and not even finding them until a month later isn’t exactly a choice. And going through my entire spellbook to see whether there’s something new every couple of levels isn’t exactly “fun gameplay” either.

      • So you’ll miss skills for a month (including the pop-up toast and/or simply looking at your character sheet to see upcoming skill unlocks), but will remember to make it to a skill vendor sooner than that same month? And this happens often? I mean… I’ve never had that problem, but okay. Don’t think that’s a particularly compelling feature of skill vendors though, since it doesn’t really solve the underlying issue(s), e.g. too many skills to keep track of, leveling too fast, etc.

  2. I’m very firmly in the “you should have to go to a place and do a thing to get a skill” camp. The first MMO I encountered that used the “level up, spell goes in book” method was DAOC all the way back in 2001 and I loathed it. It’s not exaggerating much to say having those skills plonked in my book without having to do anything was a significant factor in me quitting DAOC to go back to EQ.

    Over the years I’ve had little choice but to learn to put up with getting my skills and spells automagically but for me it removes a very significant aspect of enjoyable gameplay, one which makes a noticeable difference to my desire to keep playing an MMO long-term. WildStar requiring you to visit a trainer to train up after leveling is just about the first thing I’ve herd about the game in a year that makes me think “hmmm…maybe there might be something there after all…”

    • I should know you well enough not to ask if you’re serious, but… seriously? What does the one-time purchase of skills from a trainer add to the experience? I mean, I might be able to understand an Elder Scrolls-esque system of the trainers being hidden in obscure locations having dinner immersion value, but utterly generic skill vendors do what, exactly?

  3. long time lurker speaking up here ;). I’ve also been in the WildStar beta for some time, and I come down firmly on the side of convenience and lack of frustration in the case of the skills thing. Which means that since the skill trainer *does* only seem to be available in the capital/the first really big city you encounter (take this with a grain of salt, since I haven’t played much at all recently), I’d rather skills just plopped themselves into my character’s head. If there were conveniently placed skill trainers out in the wild (I.e. Where you’re most likely to need them), I wouldn’t mind the whole thing of having to buy skills.

    As it is, the fact that you have to hearth back and pick them up was really annoying to me, especially since I was playing a class that felt weak enough that I REALLY wanted to try out the new skills to see if they made it feel better. I understand that it feels a bit much when skills appear in a cascade in your spell book while leveling in a game like WoW, where each level whooshes by, but I honestly think any game that gives you lots of skills to choose from is going to leave you overwhelmed even if you have to buy them individually at your own pace. Buying skills has also always made me feel like I might have a choice in what I should be picking up, even though that is almost never true, so there’s that additional cognitive load to face.

    In the end, the skill thing was more just a minor irritation to me. I liked playing the game initially, but there’s a reason I never quite progressed past level 11. All the changes/differences the game kind of added up into making levelling feel like a chore to me, especially on the relatively weak engineer class.

    Finally, a tip: from the picture you posted, Azuriel, it looks like you’re Dominion, which means the skill trainer is stuck in a corner inside the church in that big city you left behind. I had a whale of a time finding it too, especially with how crowded the minimap is with confusing icons all in similar colors.

    • Yeah, I picked Dominion and did find the skill vendor you talked about around 2-3 hours later when a quest took me nearby. I also agree that the Engineer seems pretty weak based on my early play. I haven’t tried the Esper or Medic yet, but I get the feeling that ranged classes are going to get the short end of the stick, at least in terms of leveling (if not PvP, I imagine).

      • I’ve heard mixed things about the ranged vs. melee situation in PVP, but since that’s never been the attraction for me, all I do is listen vaguely to stuff like that in the hope that I’ll be able to see the resulting PVE-related changes when they come down the pipe. That said, one thing I do know is that they’ve had problems sorting out the Esper’s viability in PVP due to the fact that it’s got to stand still to cast.

  4. The Guilty Party

    Funny how everyone’s (ok, all 3 of you) focused on skill training purchasing. The worthless, meaningless quests were a way, way bigger problem for me.

    I mean, I understand that in almost all games, it boils down to ‘go here, click these 4 things or kill those 5 things’. I get it.

    But the level of disguise and effort the designers put in to disguising that and making it feel like I’m Doing Something rather than Clicking Shinies matters, to me at least. (in my opinion, a few games that do this well are swtor and the secret world. lotro is so-so, and ddo is a a special beast because it’s all instanced dungeons).

    As someone who plays these games for a sense of World (and to level up my little dude), Wildstar screwed up big time. Literally from step one of ‘follow me! now shoot these dummies!’ I felt bored. It felt about as absorbing as the story in a half-assed action rpg. I felt absolutely no sense of ‘why I should be levelling this little dude as opposed to other little dudes in games that actually make me say ‘wow, cool!’ or want to listen to the quest giver’.

    • I do have a problem with the lack of care when it comes to quest text and general motivation. I remember an article from a while ago when the devs were talking about Twitter-length quest text “because no one reads it anyway.” I read it every time. And Wildstar makes it an especially large pain in the ass to try and keep track of what’s going on when they have what little dialog they have in inconvenient places on the screen.

      I feel like many will give it a pass though, simply because the combat system feels good. At least, assuming you aren’t an Engineer.

      • “I feel like many will give it a pass though, simply because the combat system feels good. At least, assuming you aren’t an Engineer.”

        See, this is my issue. I’ll preface this by saying I barely played in the beta weekends because the enormous numbers plastered over the screen are too much for me (I really have no idea why it bothered me so much, but it did).

        The combat all felt shit to me. Granted I didn’t play either an Epser or a Stalker because those classes aren’t up my alley, but the combat did not seem to have any weight at all. The second Warrior skill, for instance, was to swing 4 times in quick succession with exactly the same animation. I honestly thought the skill was bugged or that I was lagging until I actually read it and realised the skill was meant to behave in such a way that made my character look like it was stuck in WoW’s Human male 1h attack animation. Combined with the god awful sounds I really felt like nothing was happening.

        Same with the Spellslinger, I mean my pistols didn’t even shoot anything, just a spurt of muzzle flash and then damage appeared on the screen. It says a lot when I was wishing the game was as visceral as SWTOR. The Medic just felt like a daft class in general (alas no Paladin archetype class appeared) and, in fact, the Engineer seemed to have the best feel. At least the shotgun visibly fired shells and there was some recoil in the animation, rather than the floatiness of the other three classes.

        Idk, perhaps my client was bugged, but as much as I think GW2 is poorly designed I can’t deny that the combat, especially the basic attacks, had vastly more punch than Wildstar’s seemed to.

  5. I agree with you Azuriel!

    Skill trainers are just annoying and add nothing. If I’m not ready to try out a new skill, I just won’t use it. I don’t need skill trainers to make me stop what I’m doing, trek back to town and pay some money just so that I don’t feel overwhelmed by having another icon to click!

    I can’t really see a valid reason for having them in the game at all…

  6. I actually quite liked the idea that I had to go somewhere to train. I can see why they did it. Trainers are VENDORS, not trainers. You have to purchase the skills. This means you have to make decisions about what you can afford and what you really want to use at that time.

    There are plenty more skill vendors now than there used to be. In this last beta weekend, I found them in many quest hubs, so it did not seem so inconvenient to train up.

    I imagine they might make some kind of item available to access skill vendors remotely, like they typically do with bankers and other vendor types.

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