Postcards from WildStar: There's a reason I failed stats class

Welcome to Postcards from WildStar, a look at Carbine's new MMO. Catch up on our previous postcards, and stay tuned for more in the coming weeks.

Hello my spacefaring comrades, and greetings once more from the planet Nexus. Welcome to the second installment of Postcards from WildStar, a short series that explores several aspects and impressions of Carbine's new MMO. Last week, we talked about character creation, classes and Paths. This week, we descend to the planet's surface to get a feel for gameplay and dissect what makes WildStar different.

Shall we?
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Wildstar (2/13/13)

After fussing and mussing and agonizing over every detail of my Aurin Esper, I logged in to begin my wild adventure. Starting out on the Exiles' damaged rustbucket of a ship, I was awoken from cryo-sleep to help a space cowboy (though some may call him the doctor of love) find his wife. This short quest introduces several mechanics that WildStar uses to distinguish itself from the MMO crowd, key among them being the telegraph system.

It's become a Thing with a capital T to make MMO gameplay more active and engaging than the "stand in place and cycle through three of your 47 abilities" combat of yesteryear. WildStar reduces the clutter of hotbars to a single set of eight abilities, and focuses its moment-to-moment gameplay on positioning and movement. This is a game where you will constantly be on the move and looking to reposition.

When you or an enemy attack, the ground will display a pattern marking the impact area of an attack. A long-range straight shot might appear as a rectangle stretching forward from a character's feet, while a close-range blast could show up as a wide cone. These light-up displays are referred to as "telegraphs." As you progress you'll discover bigger and more complex telegraphs, not only in your own repertoire but from your enemies as well. I found myself excited every time I saw some new attack with increasingly crazier telegraphs, with dungeon bosses in particular offering up some absolutely insane obstacle courses.

It's a good thing combat is so fun, because despite how entertaining they may be, much of your character's time spent will still boil down to transparent "kill X amount of Y" quests. It's true that I've done some other, more fantastical things – I've ridden 20-foot tall golems, extinguished forest fires and herded sentient vegetables to safety – but these are the exceptions, not the rule.

The upside: At least the locations and things you see along the way are visually stimulating. From cool oceans to lush jungle, rolling hills to burning forests, laboratories full of Cthulhu-like plant monsters to underground caves inhabited by giant bugs and smiling, dancing vegetables, WildStar is full of visual style.

Unfortunately, it's not all sunshine and rainbow-haired mouse-people. Stats and character attributes are a bit of a hot mess in WildStar. First, they're divided into two types: primary and secondary. Brutality, Finesse, Moxie, Tech, Insight and Grit are your primary attributes, which in turn affect secondary attributes like Critical Chance Rating, Critical Hit Severity, Magic Resistance and Deflect Chance (though there are tons more).

The primary attributes correspond fairly nicely to the more common DnD-based set of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, Intelligence and Wisdom, but they're not a perfect comparison. You might think of "Brutality" as a simple semantic change from "Strength," but not only are those words not synonyms, Brutality actually does different things depending on your class.

Let's say my Esper and a buddy playing as a Warrior are both eyeing the same piece of armor that grants a large boost to the Moxie stat. If the Warrior picks it up, his secondary attributes of Critical Chance Rating and Critical Hit Severity will rise. But if I pick it up, I'll see an increase in my secondary attribute of Assault Power instead. What's Assault Power, you ask? Why, it's part of another division of attributes of course. Because clearly we haven't gone deep enough down the rabbit hole yet.

Since each class in WildStar can fulfill two roles – one always being DPS, the other being healer or tank depending on the class – there are two main types of spells and abilities; Assault abilities and Support abilities. Looking at my Esper as an example, increasing her Assault Power will make her a more potent killing machine by bumping up her damage output. If I want to be an efficient healer however, I want my gear and stats to reflect a focus on Support Power, which increases the potency of her healing spells. Sounds simple, but remember: Classes gain different benefits from the same attribute. You need to remember that, while high Insight is great for a healer Esper, it's not something you want to focus on as a DPS Stalker, for example.

It's a complex system, and I found myself referencing multiple online guides and tables to develop my character the way I wanted. Out-of-game studying isn't necessarily a bad thing, but this isn't some secretive feature reserved only for the pros, this is basic character progression. WildStar tries to organize the system by keeping Assault, Support, Utility and Path-related abilities separate from one another in the character menu, but it still feels overwhelming.

I can't say I'm a fan, as it's not immediately apparent why the same attributes need to have different effects for each class. There may be a detailed and thoughtful explanation for why things are the way they are, but thus far it has eluded me.

Moving away from stats, let's talk some more about WildStar's path system. Those who read my last postcard might remember that I mentioned Star Wars Galaxies as not only my favorite MMO, but my favorite game of all time. My love for SWG stems from many places, but player housing and a player-dictated economy were standout features that haven't really been replicated in a major MMO since. I briefly touched on how WildStar's Settler Path bears some similarities to running a shop in SWG, but now I can elaborate.

The Settler Path is awesome. I sampled the Explorer path and enjoyed turning this tightly-controlling MMO into a 3D platformer, but I'm downright hooked on being a Settler. As I move from area to area, I find new materials strewn about, ready to be collected as if they were Easter eggs full of money. And drugs. Addictive, addictive drugs.

But hey, at least they go to a good cause: almost every town or encampment has a Settler station, where myself and other followers of the Settler Path can dump our collected materials to build buff stations for our fellow players. That spiffy-looking cylinder that gave you extra HP? A Settler made that.

Building such machines helps progress an area's overall status, so that when you build enough things, something special can happen. In an early example, I summoned an NPC which was able to grant a 20 percent increase to crit severity by building enough buff stations. I felt accomplished seeing that happen, and particularly happy when I saw players swarm to the NPC to grab the buff. I made that! I made that for you. You're welcome.

Being a Settler isn't always so serious, though; sometimes it's just nice to tidy or spruce up the joint. Settlers can alter the aesthetics of their environment by erecting faction flags, planting flowers, fixing broken barricades and more. Truth be told, these have been the least impactful of my actions, but what can I say? I'm a sucker for playing sci-fi housekeeper.

Speaking of housekeeping, stay tuned for next week's postcard, as I explore WildStar's housing system and PvP. Until then, wish you were here. Love, Sam.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.