Postcards from WildStar: character creation checklist

Welcome to Postcards from WildStar, a look at Carbine's new MMO. Stay tuned for more entries in the coming weeks.

Like my fellow postcard-sender and Joystiq contributor Sinan Kubba, I've been an MMO player for many moons. I lost myself to Star Wars Galaxies in high school, and to this day, I consider it – well, the state it existed in before the Combat Upgrade and New Game Enhancement patches drastically altered it – my favorite game of all time. It did things differently, and I'm a fan of different.

Thus, it was with keen interest that I watched the development of WildStar, an MMO from Carbine Studios and NCsoft that professed it wouldn't be the same old, same old. The game has been out since June 3, and I've been tinkering around inside this colorful blend of sci-fi and fantasy since. Now that E3 is over and I've had more time to play, it's time I share some impressions.
Gallery | 74 Photos

WildStar (PAX East 2013)

It's impossible to talk about WildStar without acknowledging its visual branding; this is a bright, colorful, exaggerated world, inhabited by characters that look, sound and move like they're ripped out of a Pixar film. If that wasn't evident enough by the various screenshots and trailers, it certainly was the moment I began character creation.

Hairstyles ranged from "Jessica Rabbit curls" to "Super Saiyan spikes" and everything in between. And that's for humans, AKA the boring race in every MMO. If you're looking for something more exotic, you can be a voodoo space zombie (Mordesh), a gremlin-like fuzzball (Chua), a demonic beast (Draken), a rock-person (Grannok), a robot (Mechari), or a bunny/cat/fox/bat animal ... person ... thing (Aurin).

Each race can only take on certain classes, and are also restricted to their respective faction. You won't see any of the nature-loving Aurin siding with the Dominion, who tend to pave paradise instead of protect it. In the end, I went with a purple-haired, green-eyed Aurin. I love the movie FernGully (hush, you) and felt drawn to these adorable animal-people. Give me a choice between cute and ferocious, I'll take cute every time.

WildStar's classes simultaneously feel like a mix of new and old ideas; Warriors use heavy armor and a sword – pretty standard stuff, save for the Arm Cannon they use to launch projectiles and grapple enemies. It's not a huge change, but it's enough flavor in the mixture to make the class feel different from the Warriors you've met in other MMOs.

The class I went with, Esper, is functionally similar to a mage class, but these ranged damage-dealers use psychic powers to create physical manifestations of things like giant fists, blades and animals instead of magic spells. Again, this may not be a major difference in terms of gameplay, but I enjoyed the visual flair that comes with summoning ghostly swords and then sending them flying at my enemies.

There are four other classes to choose from: Stalker, Spellslinger, Medic and Engineer. Stalkers are WildStar's rogue class, dealing short-range damage with Wolverine-like claw weapons; Spellslingers are space cowboys who fire magic from dual-wielded pistols; Medics use high-tech gadgets to keep everyone in fighting shape; Engineers can wade through battle in sturdy power armor, or use robot companions to draw enemy fire.

Once you've got your race and class picked, there's still one more choice to make before you pack up your bags and head for planet Nexus: your Path. Paths in WildStar are sort of like a secondary class, or a profession. You may be a stab-happy Stalker by day, but what do you do in your off hours? The answer to that is your Path, and there are four to choose from: Explorer, Soldier, Scientist and Settler.

Explorers seek out every nook and cranny on a map, Soldiers test their might against waves of enemies and bosses, Scientists can unlock secret lore about Nexus, and Settlers help out their fellow players by building buff stations and the like. I opted for the Settler path, hoping to recapture a little bit of that special pride I got from running my own business in Star Wars Galaxies. Having just hit level 18, I can say that it was definitely the right choice.

I like being social in MMOs, and sometimes roleplay as a shopkeep or other non-combat oriented job just so I can talk with people. The Settler Path draws players to me, and gives me an excuse to indulge in that pastime. I've noticed that I'm not the only one, too. Lots of Settlers I've met up with have met me with a hearty "Hail, friend!" or some other lore-appropriate greeting, so it would seem that the Path system is indeed filtering players into their preferred archetypes.

More than 600 words later, I'm just finishing explaining character creation, the very first thing you do in Wildstar. Yeesh! It's important to know these things though, because in WildStar, the choices you make early on stick with you forever. There's no changing your class, faction or Path mid-game, and it will likely take a couple of tries before you find a character you really love. I myself ended up sacrificing three characters to the Delete button before I was happy with my choices.

Don't be fooled by its cartoonish look; WildStar isn't kid-friendly or simple. It's a complex beast, and we're just getting started.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.