PAX Prime 2013: A first-timer's impressions of WildStar

PAX Prime 2013 A firsttimer's handson with WildStar
Sometimes you just know that an upcoming game is going to be perfect for you. You know this because the art style sends shivers of delight down your spine, the video previews send you salivating for more, and the news that it's adopting a sub-only model doesn't quite faze you as much as you would've expected. Still, even though you know it'll be right for you, you don't really know until you get your hands on it for the first time. And even then, you don't really know until you've played it for a good, long while to see whether it sticks or not.

While my total playtime with WildStar is a few sessions spread over two days at PAX Prime, I have seen nothing that makes me regret being interested in this title as both a super-professional video game press dude and as a humble player. I can recall letting out my breath in relief in the first zone once I saw and felt how it handled. WildStar may not be for everyone -- and that's fine -- but it left me happy, satisfied, and smiling.

That's what the Chua said.

PAX Prime 2013 A firsttimer's handson with WildStar
First steps on an alien world

Whether trying out a new MMO at home or standing in the middle of a flashy, noisy convention, I found my first instinct is to ignore the prompts of the quest givers and spend some time getting acquainted with the UI. Like many modern MMOs, WildStar isn't exactly brimming over with hotbars (at least in the beginning). I had four skills and a few meters surrounding them representing health, endurance (for sprinting), mana (for my Esper), experience, and shields. Hey, I have shields! That's so nifty.

Most of the UI stays pretty unobtrusive with your typical menu bar in the upper left, map in the upper right, and chat window where all chat windows should be, lower left. What excited me the most was to dive into the menu options and pull up pages for the path system.

I'm quite jazzed for the paths of this game. I wouldn't say that it's really the one major feature that WildStar is using to distinguish itself in the industry, but it's definitely one of the big guns of its arsenal. I first tried a Chua Spellslinger on the explorer path and then a Cassian Esper who had fun as a soldier.

PAX Prime 2013 A firsttimer's handson with WildStar
In both cases, the beginning zone eventually granted three path missions for each character: The explorer had to jump down and explore a cave for his first path quest, while the soldier had to defend a beacon. Funnily enough, some of these missions scale up if there are other players chipping in, so another character caused the soldier holdout mission to suddenly become a lot more difficult. I got killed in quick order, and we failed the mission. No worries, though; there's always next time.

So getting back to the UI and menus -- yes, I was going somewhere with this -- the path system menu shows you all of the rewards that you get as you level up through it. I don't know why, but that really made me happy, especially when my explorer got a cool speed boost skill for hitting level 2.

PAX Prime 2013 A firsttimer's handson with WildStar
The funky feel of furball aggression

Feel is really important to me as a player. A game can boast all of the features in the world and look like a million bucks, but if it handles poorly and sends a sour note to my subconscious, then I'll find myself avoiding it with all the power of my being. That's why I am always eager just to get a few minutes with a title; I need to see how responsive it is, how movement handles, and how the camera controls.

What struck me about WildStar is that first and foremost it's a game that wants to keep you on the move. Combat is definitely not a "stand in one spot, trigger auto-attack, and trade hit point blows" affair. I really liked the telegraph system for not just the enemy but my character as well. I had a good time strafing around enemies to stay out of their big attack while keeping it within the range of my boom-booms. The Esper's attacks are eye-poppingly cool, with spinning blue blades and swooping magic eagles conjured out of the blue to strike at my foes.

I was a little nonplussed about the fact that beating up the initial enemies took a long time. I noted this to a dev, and he said that the team had received a lot of feedback regarding this and will be making some changes to the time-to-kill.

Speaking of movement, I think the Chua might win folks over from the animations alone. I loved doing any sort of jump-fall because he would do a tuck-and-roll that looked a lot like Samus from Metroid curling up into a ball. Only with a tail. And swimming via dog paddling might not be dignified, but it is darn entertaining.

I was equally amused when an early quest to disarm mines ended with my accidentally triggering the first mine I found -- and it sent me soaring 50 feet into the air. Once I saw that and internally said "Whee!" I had to set all of the mines off on purpose just to get some sweet air time.

PAX Prime 2013 A firsttimer's handson with WildStar
The secrets of the Eldar

To be honest, I wasn't that interested in spoiling myself with the quests or pushing myself to level up hard. Instead, I just poked around for a good part of the session, attempting to see how far I could get into the beginner zone with a level 2 character.

Probably one of the coolest things I discovered (with the prompting of a nearby Carbine team member) was a large green transporter that teleported me to an Eldan sanctuary. The foyer had a weird medieval-meets-sci-fi vibe to it; a dev told me that some sort of creature had moved in there since the Eldan had abandoned it. I didn't see any creature, but I did find a voice log that gave me some neat voice-over lore and a code for a nearby door. As I poked around in the structure, I realized that this method of making me work and explore for the backstory of this planet and its former inhabitants made me a lot more interested in lore than I normally am in these games.

The Eldan aren't the only ones with secrets, however. I was really curious about some of the design choices that the team has made, specifically the class/race restrictions. So I asked a dev and got a frank response: While the team has created some sort of in-game reason why all of the classes aren't available to all of the races, the real reason has to do with time. Since Carbine is creating custom animations for each of the class/race combos, it's taken a lot of time to do that, so the devs have had to focus on fewer combos for now. The upside is that this might open the door to further combos in the future, although probably not for launch.

There's definitely a lot more that I want to see and do, preferably in a quieter environment where a demo timer isn't counting down, but after seeing the crowds that patiently mobbed the WildStar booth waiting for a turn to see if this game would meet their expectations, I considered myself fortunate to have had that question settled for me.

PAX Prime 2013 A firsttimer's handson with WildStar

Massively's on the ground in Seattle during the weekend of August 30th to September 2nd, bringing you all the best news from PAX Prime 2013. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, The Elder Scrolls Online, EverQuest Next, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!
This article was originally published on Massively.