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WildStar preview: Have it your way

If I were to ask you how you like to play your MMORPGs, you'd probably describe a perplexing predilection for one of the genre's cookie-cutter classes: "Oh, I'm a Mage-guy, definitely." Though NCSoft and Carbine's recently announced MMO Wildstar will allow you to fill that (or any other) professional archetype, they're taking a broader look at that question, not asking what type of character you prefer to be in-game but what type of player you prefer to be.

The PAX Prime demo of Wildstar showed off some interesting innovations on the MMO formula, like fast-paced combat and an active dodge system that rewards you with bonus XP for your deft avoidance. The most promising aspect of the game, however, is that very core tenet: Wildstar rewards you for playing the game how you choose to play it.

Gallery: WildStar | 46 Photos

It doles out these rewards according to the "Path" you choose during the character creation process. You decide between four of these life-defining choices right from the outset, each tooled for the different kinds of motivations MMO players might have.

For example, players who follow the Explorer path use a set of navigational tools to find their way to hard-to-reach spots on the map, uncovering hidden areas and routes which his fellow, non-exploratory players can then follow. The Soldier can set off "Horde Holdout" events, where they'll be rewarded for staving off waves of oncoming enemies who attempt to overtake their position. In short, the Explorer earns exclusive quests which task him with exploring, while the Soldier soldiers on.

The two Paths which weren't being demonstrated were the Scientist, which must catalog and analyze aspects of the environment to satisfy quest demands, and the Settler, which has the ability to build ... things that weren't really specified. Their inspirations were explained, though: The Scientist Path is tooled for folks who obsessively collect items and lore when they play MMOs, while the Settler is for folks who prefer their massively multiplayer experience to be a social one.

Each of these four Paths are available to each of the game's races and classes, a scant three of each were shown off in this early demo. There was the Granuk Warrior, a stony, hulking brute-type; the Aurin Esper, a rabbit-eared, magic-focused expert; and the Human Spellslinger, a rakish, Nathan Fillion-esque rogue with guns that shoot magic out of them. (The latter of the three was, for obvious reasons, the most popular choice among demo runners.)

Path quests only make up around one third of the missions your Fillion clone will encounter, as Wildstar also has a heavy load of story-based quests, dynamic "Discovery" quests and challenges that you can receive and accept over the phone (which makes sense, as it's the future). Zones have their own ecology which informs the quests therein -- a hunting ground can be drastically changed by limiting the number of predators, prey or poachers therein, for example.

Not much of Wildstar's story was featured in this demonstration, though it's going to be a huge part of the title -- particularly in the endgame. In a bold reversal of the current MMO trend, hitting the level cap in Wildstar won't relegate you to a life of raiding and dungeon diving; that's when the plot (or, as Carbine's calling it, the "Elder Story") really picks up steam.

Even with the very little we know about Wildstar, it's got a great deal of potential. Between the gorgeous, heavily influenced aesthetic of the characters and the world around them, the fast-paced combat and the intriguing Path system, Carbine's next big thing merits the attention of the MMO-playing community. We just hope they find some way to balance the desirability of those classes, lest we find ourselves washed away in an endless sea of Fillions.

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