Tips and tricks for surviving WildStar's active combat

All gamers have areas of interest when going into an MMO beta test, the things that they want to see and the content that they want to preserve for launch. Personally I hate going through quests and spoiling the story while in beta, so if there's a way to skirt around that, I take it. That's why my time with WildStar has been so very combat-centric, as I've been happily grinding on both PvE mobs and PvP competitors during my sessions like the archaic dinosaur gamer that I am.

Because of this, I've gotten very well acquainted with WildStar's combat system during these rough-and-tumble initial 15 levels. I'm no expert, mind you, but I definitely have a good feel for how these encounters work and what are the right and wrong ways to go about tackling them.

So today I'd like to share with you some observations and lessons to help you survive your first few days on Nexus, whether as a beta tester or a player in live.

No auto-attack? Perish the thought!

Whenever I get into a new MMO, I want the game to ease up on the tutorial at some point to just let me get a feel for fighting against as many mobs as I like. Happily, WildStar does just this early on with a room full of enemies asking for a little smackdown.

I've mostly been testing the Engineer, and as such, I was hoping that the class with its huge rifle would deliver a powerful "feel" in visuals, sound, and actual DPS that would match up to the look of that thing. I found that it really depended on the skill in question; some skills have a wonderful kick to them, looking and sounding spot-on. Some were decidedly weak, making me feel as if I were swatting dandelion puffs at the enemy. Subconsciously, I found myself slotting more of those good-feeling skills and fewer of the puff ones as a result.

So there are a few facts that you need to reconcile yourself with when engaging in WildStar's combat. First of all, there's no auto-attack. Maybe that's not a big issue for you, maybe it is, and maybe you think it won't be until you get your hands on the game and see for yourself. I dearly miss auto-attack in games that lack it because I like to see my character always fighting even if I'm moving around. It's sometimes psychologically exhausting to have to be constantly jamming on keys to do even basic attacks.

I mention the auto-attack thing because you will be doing a whole heap of running and jumping around, and you might not be dextrous enough to do so while always facing the enemy and triggering the right attack keys. Having to stop attacking just because I was more worried about moving was bothersome to me. It wasn't a deal-breaker, mind you, but at times I really did wish my character was as smart as her bots and could handle a little pew-pew without my input.

Two-way telegraphs

Many MMOs these days have what WildStar refers to as "telegraphs:" visual indicators of where an enemy attack is going to land and a strong suggestion that you not be there when it does. But WildStar takes this concept and kicks it up to the next level with a variety of telegraph types and the addition of player telegraphs.

In any given battle, you're going to see your attack telegraphs represented by blue fields with enemies' represented by red. I found it an incredibly effective way of informing and guiding me through the important points of combat without being too complex. It makes combat into a whole new minigame: Just keep the enemy in your blue and avoid his red.

This system has radical implications for how combat plays out because if you didn't catch that, both you and the enemy have the very real opportunity to miss each other if one of you moves out of the other's telegraph. Making it more challenging and sometimes visually chaotic are all sorts of telegraphs, from circles to lines (or lanes) to crosses to rings. If you're a short-ranged fighter and that mob is long-ranged, then you're going to quickly figure that out when his telegraphs reach across 10 yards to tag you while the best skill you have only bridges two yards.

I found this system to be very intuitive from the get-go, even if it meant almost constantly moving during a fight. I prefer to make small movements if possible, little side-steps to get outside of telegraphs while continuing to charge up my own attacks. I also liked that I could see where the limits of my longest-ranged attack were so that I could initiate a fight as far out as possible and get the jump on a bad guy.

Telegraphs also represent weapons powering up and deploying over time. One of my attacks slowly charged up over a few seconds, adding a new "lane" telegraph in parallel with my other ones. Four or five of these would form before the attack triggered. However, I had the option to prematurely stop the charging and just attack using however many lanes had been built up already, even though it would result in decreased damage.

Telegraphs might just be one of those features that's a lot harder to explain in writing than it is to simply see when you get into the game. If nothing else, just remember that you're going to have to move often unless you want to take second helpings of damage. Even a small pack of mobs can take a heavily armored class down if those mobs manage to catch you in the crossfire at the same time. Trust me, I've been there.

Limited action set finagling

Running and gunning isn't the be-all, end-all of WildStar's combat, of course. While positioning and evading are important, having a good set of tools at your disposal is even more so. This is where the game's "limited action set" comes into play, a phrase that sounds as if I'm collecting G.I. Joes.

Actually, the goodies you're collecting here are skills. While the game dumps the first few skills into your lap for free, after that you're going to have to find a skill vendor and buy your next abilities. (Pro tip: save up during those first eight or so levels! I actually was too poor at one point to afford two of the skills that opened up with my newly achieved level.) Before level 10, you're going to realize that you'll have more skills than unlocked hotbar slots -- hence, "limited action set."

That means you'll need to make and experiment with builds. This is pretty fun, especially if your MMO pedigree includes games that offer flexible mix-and-match skill systems. The hotbar limit (which slowly unlocks over the course of the game) forces you to think about what kind of playstyle you're shooting for, what skills best suit that, and which ones you might need in a pinch.

I had to evaluate which skill I wanted as a resource builder, for example, and which one would use those resources to best effect. Did I want more combat skills or field more bots? Should I throw in a few defensive, tanky skills for the "oh crap!" moments? Which skills should I boost with action points?

These kinds of questions gave me agency in how I built and played my character, making it a much more satisfying experience in the long run. I was aware that I have a tendency to settle into a comfortable, familiar build, so I forced myself to rotate skills in and out and experiment with different combinations to see if I might be missing a better way. Sure, there will be min-maxers who will theorycraft all of the answers to "the best way" by the time beta ends, but I find it more fun to ignore them and learn it personally.

In the end, I found it was important not to get complacent with combat in this game. The first 15 levels aren't going to beat you into the ground, but every once in a while I'd encounter a tricky mob or a pack of fast-moving bad guys that would take me unawares and use my bones (well, gears) to pick their teeth. Acknowledging and truly understanding the similarities and differences to other MMO combat systems is a survival trait that many players need to attain in this game.

Now, if you'll excuse me, level 16 awaits!

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