WildStar Burst: A Limited Action Set Discussion
For anyone unfamiliar with a Limited Action Set system (or LAS as it’s commonly known) it’s a relatively new approach from developers in delivering skills to players. Although its been common in MOBA’s for some time, its only recently become popular with the likes of Guild Wars 1. Unlike World of Warcraft that provided you with dozens upon dozens of skills and with enough skill bars to equip them all, the likes of WildStar and Guild Wars 2 have, to some degree, placed constraints on this. As such, in Guild Wars 2 you only have control of 10 skills with 5 of those pre-determined by the weapon you wield. This leaves you with 5 that you can select freely. The entire concept behind Limited Action Sets is to present the player with a choice as to how they want to play and with what skills they want to do that with. I’ve seen many players who are used to the likes of World of Warcraft resistant to Limited Action Sets and yet when they begin to play within the confines of 10 skills (or 5 in the case of Guild Wars 2) they realise the logic behind the approach and the nuances and difficulties in deciding just what skills you should take.
Where WildStar is concerned, players are not restricted to a certain number of skills based on the weapons they wield (WildStar classes only have one choice of weapon) but instead are free to choose 8 skills as they see fit, dependent entirely on their play style, with 1 slot available for path based skills (Soldier, Explorer, Settler or Scientist). Each class has a total of 30 skills spread across three unique trees. The Medic’s for example comprises of Assault (that’s the damage tree), Support (that’s the healing tree) and Utility (that’s the skills that dispel, snare, stun or everything in between). As you can imagine and on paper, being faced with 30 skills and only having the opportunity to use 8 at any one time is a headache and fundamentally the entire purpose of the system: it is to present you with choices as to what you really want to play like and to some degree, ensuring that the choice is difficult.
Which role you pick will obviously determine which trees you draw skills from and thankfully does make life somewhat easier. Staying with the Medic as an example, there would be little value in utilizing skills from the Assault tree if you want to do nothing but heal others. You would instead choose from the 20 skills available in Support and Utility. For Limited Action Sets to work however and this is where WildStar faces difficulties, is by ensuring that each individual skill not only has a definite purpose but is highly valued and/or highly sought after in equal measure. Without equality in skill potential or usability the whole system collapses, as players align themselves to only a limited set of viable builds. The difficulty Carbine face is to not only ensure each skill is desirable but that players have to make hard choices in what skills they equip.
Throughout an MMOG’s lifespan skills will undergo a permanent state of revisions. Whether it’s adjusting the cooldown, damage, charges or number of players a skill effects, there is no guaranteed solution for ensuring every skill is amazing and yet it’s never more important in a Limited Action Set product to strive for this to be the case. Carbine have done a good job, for the most part, of posing questions to players as to how they want to play and what skills they should pick. An Esper for example has Telekentic Strike or Illusionary Blades as ranged builders, with the difference being that the former is stationary and the latter although mobile, requires 3 charges to earn a Psi Point. The Medic has Gamma Rays or Quantum Cascade to spend its Actuators, with Gamma Rays dealing damage to foes within its 3-bar rectangular field or Quantum Cascade dealing damage to all enemies in a diamond around the player. The Spellslinger can deal damage in a cone while on the move using Wild Barrage or, should they choose, they’re able to select Rapid Fire as a similar but turret based alternative. Although these examples are limited, there are unfortunately cracks appearing in the system, with several cookie-cutter builds already incredibly prominent.
A Medic would never knowingly use Gamma Rays over Quantum Cascade due to the lower damage and radius while a Spellslinger would never use Rapid Fire over Wild Barrage (though one may use both). Sadly for those of us playing, there are skills you would simply never use or which are downright awful because their output numbers are off or their fundamental utility is just not worth taking. I must stress however, despite this, that WildStar is still very much in Beta and class skill changes are coming thick and fast upon every patch. My biggest concern however is how much importance Carbine will place on improving skills and classes post launch as opposed to now. To balance 30 skills for each class is without doubt a big ask and considering ArenaNet have ignored many class skills since closed Beta I’m pessimistic when it comes to Carbines ability to buck the genre trend.
Without question WildStar’s Limited Action Set when combined with AMP’s and Tiers is the best I’ve encountered in the genre and its potential is vast, but rectifying unused skills and bringing them all up to standard has to be a priority over adding new content when the game releases. Overall though, I’m happy with how the current Limited Action Set has turned out.