My instinct was to assume that the Dominion faction was meant to be a parallel to Firefly's Alliance -- space cowboys versus authoritarian aristocrats. But having explored them in more detail, I saw a lot more of Star Wars and Allods Online than I expected, and that's brilliant. Allods also has two factions, the "evil" one of which is a unique blend of Imperial Russian industrial dieselpunk and high-society technocracy. Blend that with Human High Culture propaganda from the Star Wars Extended Universe and maybe a dash of Brazil's dystopian humor and you've got WildStar's Dominion.
But don't take just my word for it. Let's have a look at the videos!
So here's a nice departure from the World of Warcraft norm: Both of WildStar's factions sport Human races. Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney explained that the Carbine team learned from Blizzard that 60% of MMO players pick Humans on day one because it's the safe choice. Obviously, that causes balance issues, so WildStar offers humans on both sides. Will that be enough? Gaffney says that faction balance varies per territory. "In the US," he told me, "a massive number of [testers] preferred the Granok. In Korea, 70% of people prefer the Aurin." He's fine with that because he "doesn't need everyone to love every race or every class" -- he just wants everyone to have at least one that he or she truly connects with.
The Dominion's Humans are known as Cassian Humans because they're from the planet... Cassus. They're ruled by elite Human hybrids created by the Eldan themselves (you know, the mysterious master species who disappeared from the galaxy, leaving intrigue -- and MMO plot points -- in their wake). The Cassians are driven by a Manifest Destiny-like goal to expand their empire at all costs, and I do mean all costs. But the use of extreme force to forge the perfect galaxy-spanning regime and fulfill their destiny is all for the greater good. Right? Guys?
The Allods vibe is strong in the Mechari. I think of them as an analogue for Allods' Arisen, undead who have replaced their body parts with tech. The Mechari aren't undead, however; they are the Eldan's humorless constructs, a race of sentient killing machines who functioned as the Eldan's servants, spies, and ambassadors. Having established the Imperial Corps of Intelligence, the Mechari are key to the rise of the Cassian Humans and the expansion of the Dominion even though they are bereft of their long-lost masters. Also, playable robots. Playable robots, people. If Star Wars: The Old Republic had let me play a T7 unit and not just drag one around with me, I'd probably still be subbing.
The Draken represent the wild and brutal wing of the Dominion -- loyal thugs who do the empire's dirty work. "Eviscerations, disembowelments, and decapitations will definitely be involved," say the promotional docs. The species was willingly assimilated into the empire after its High Clanlord met and lost a duel challenge issued by the Dominion's Emperor.
I played a male Draken during my whirlwind tour of the game a few weeks ago, and yeah, I know what you're thinking because I was thinking it too: space goats. Honestly, though, they look more like space satyrs than like WoW's Draenei -- compare them to Mythos' Satyr race to see what I mean. While I wasn't able to see character creation, I did get a feel for how the Draken moves and was pleasantly surprised. It's probably the race/gender combo I'm least likely to play at launch, but I still thought he animated nicely, especially when running. My Draken had a nice bounce when moving, akin to the running animation of WoW's Worgen. Something about it made the gravity on Nexus feel realistic without being mundane. And when my Draken was swimming, I actually grinned at how he wiggled side to side more like a fish (or a Naga) than a Human.
Here's another thing that will make fans of villains in MMOs happy: While the Draken's lowbie zone, Deradune, was beautiful in that colorful, half-cel-shaded Pixar way, some of the quests were relatively dark in tone. At one point, I was asked to "interrogate" a tortured NPC Aurin in a prison cell and then "neutralize" an Exile mechanic to stop him from escaping. The doublespeak in the quest text just fit the Dominion so perfectly. Even fluff chit-chat from Dominion NPCs created a lovely mood of suspicion and distrust among the ranks, as though anyone might turn me in to our superiors at any moment. "Everyone's a potential traitor," one of them informed me casually. "Even you."
The Stalker is WildStar's latest class offering. It joins the Esper (psychic caster), Spellslinger (magic pistoleer), and Warrior. Don't conflate paths and classes; your path determines what additional gameplay elements are open to you, while your class determines how you'll go about beating NPCs in the face.
I got a brief hands-on with the Stalker during my tour and found him to be, frankly, nowhere near as creative as the Spellslinger and Esper seem. It's a rogue class. It plays like a rogue -- a rogue "infused with powerful nanotechnology." My hotbar was filled with buttons that did melee damage, moreso when landed on my enemy's backside. Also available to me were several versions of stealth for different situations, plus a Charge skill if I was in a lazy mood and didn't feel like creeping up on my target, which was all the time. The combat animations were satisfying and reminded me of playing a City of Heroes Claws Scrapper only with modern polish and timing. Those of you with the patience to play a melee stealther are going to love this class -- there's nothing wrong with it except that it's not particularly unique in MMOs. Shing-shing, I say. Here's a video of the Draken Stalker in action!
Did you miss any of our WildStar coverage from the January 2013 press event?
|The 'biggest game on the planet': WildStar's boundless ambition|
|You can't take the sky from me: WildStar's Exiles|
|WildStar reveals 2013 launch window, ambitious plans to make MMOs fun again|