Posted Fri, Dec 13, 2013 by Sardu
The room buzzes with the chatter of a dozen games writers. For this particular event, we’re gathered into a comfortably-sized meeting room at the Nikko hotel in downtown San Francisco. This will be my third press event for WildStar this year, so I have some idea of what to expect. What I wasn't expecting, however, was that I'd walk away as a true believer that healing in an MMO could actually be fun.
As conversations around the room swirl between various fringe topics, I find myself contemplating one of WildStar’s biggest challenges currently: selling people on the fact that the game is both hyper-accessible yet should still have massive appeal for the bleeding-edge hardcore at the same time. I won’t lie; it’s a tricky as hell thing to pull off, and very few developers have managed to do so in the post-WoW era.
Skin crawls in anticipation, and my fingers itch to begin plunking away at one of the demo stations. One of the many signs of a solid game is the ability to sit down within a foreign environment and feel perfectly at home; as though the controls and input device are a natural fit. This has largely been the case with WildStar for me all along. While the combat system feels vital and fresh, at the same time it fits like a glove and it takes less than a minute to jump in and feel at home.
Glancing around I check to see which characters my peers are choosing to play. An assortment of race / class / path combos have already been set up on each machine, though it seems most have opted to start their own characters from scratch. The character creation system has seen a hefty refinement since I first experienced it last winter, with the final pieces of the option puzzle haven fallen into place.
And though there aren’t an insane amount of options, those present each have solid meaning. As usual, my only real gripe with character creation is that you’re making a series of ill-informed decisions that you’ll be stuck with for however long you choose to continue playing the character you’ve created. While not an issue specific to WildStar by any means, it is definitely a game that would benefit greatly from some form of Try Before You Buy option given the fact you’re choosing both a class and path combo that will stick with you for as long as you play that character.
To WildStar’s credit, you can largely take the above bit with a moderate-sized grain of salt. I’ve played each of the available classes, races, and paths at varying lengths, and found each one to be equally fun. The real question you’ll want to ask yourself isn’t so much what class do you want to play, but rather what role do you enjoy most, and what’s you’re preferred way of filling it?
The stars of this particular event are the recently introduced Engineer and Medic. I split my time neatly between the two, collectively gaining roughly 15 levels between them throughout the course of the day.
If there is one MMO class role or archetype I typically avoid like the plague, it’s the healer. While I can appreciate that people enjoy the process of perfecting such a pivotal role, I consider it one of the most masochistic things you can do in an online game.
Like many other things in WildStar, the medic takes most of the horrid bits and throws them out the window in favor of fluid, fun gameplay. In many ways the medic feels like the high-tech cousin of the spellslinger, trading in longer range combat for skills that can either damage or heal depending on what type of pixel piles (friend versus foe) are plopped down within their telegraphs.
In fact, both the medic and engineer help remind you that you are indeed scampering around within a sci-fi setting, just in case the space ships, killer robot Mechari, or the so furry it hurts Aurin didn’t make it obvious enough for you. The resonators that serve as your weapons as a medic sit on your back like mechanical wings of doom and salvation, and dish out massive blasts like defibrillators from hell.
Medic is also another class in WildStar that factors in the concept of builders and spenders, made popular by MMO classes like WoW’s warrior and rogue. I still have mixed feelings about adding arbitrary resources to skills that already factor in both time and energy, but then again I don’t have to deal with balancing the results. And to be honest, the builder / spender thing is only a minor part of your life as a medic rather than a common thread running across all your skills.
This really couldn’t be done any other way, however, at least if Carbine wants players to have meaningful choices for their loadouts. Still, a current misstep that will need to be addressed is that the builders / spenders allowed me to do one of the Ten Things You Never Want Players to Do: create a completely useless build. What happens when you load up your bar with spenders but no way to build the resource back up? You can enter combat, but can never finish unless you run for the hills, or take a dirt nap.
My only deaths during my hands-on time with the medic were the result of slotting a purposefully bad build. Hopefully the clever folks at Carbine are already working on a solution for this without reverting back to A-B-C stock build options.
Movement is critical to successfully playing pretty much all of WildStar’s classes, but this is absolutely underscored when it comes to playing the medic. Most of your skills tend to be short- to mid-ranged, so you’ll need to be highly mobile while in a healing role rather than the usual chillaxing in the corner to play whack-a-mole with health bars that you usually see in MMOs.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the class so far is that I don’t have to make major sacrifices within my build to focus on DPS or healing. Many of your skills allow you to do both in one fell swoop, so you have the freedom to maximize your action set to suit your personal playstyle preferences. The medic does tend to play similar to the Spellslinger at times, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The spellslinger typically rotates between snares to pull off charged blasts, with fire-on-the-move skills sprinkled in to help keep you mobile when needed. The medic shares some of the same pacing, so the real difference for me did boil down to range.
Spellslingers benefit from longer range to the point where dodging backwards will often cause you to agro piles of adds during combat. Given the much shorter range of the medic, I did feel as though I was able to move a bit more freely, dodging in any direction as needed and still keeping combat contained to a more manageable dance with my intended targets.
While it will take some more exposure to the medic for me to be able to say for certain, at present I do feel that Carbine is on the right track in terms of making the medic feel far more interesting and fun to play than the industry norm for healers. That’s kind of a big deal for someone like me who would usually have more fun pulling my eyeballs out with a grapefruit spoon than healing in an MMO. So hats off to Carbine for making an actual fun healing class with the medic; something that I considered to be a thing of pure myth up to this point.
We have a lot more coverage from the WildStar preview event headed your way, but in the meantime be sure to check out Lewis B’s first installment of his ongoing beta journal series: WildStar Burst - Beta Preview