It's not exactly a secret that I spent a lot of time playing WildStar this weekend. It's actually my third sojourn with the game (the others being closed beta tests 2 and 3) but this is the only one I could stand to play for any extended length of time because (a) it didn't come right in the midst of raid progression and (b) the game doesn't run like total crap on my computer now. (Still can't run it on Ultra High very smoothly, but considering the Frankensteinian nature of my computer, I'll take High as a compromise.) I could probably jabber on about a number of things, but the one that most gets to me is the Path System, and how lopsidedly implemented it is.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - er, Scientist, Explorer, Settler, Soldier
So first, let's talk about the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology. (This is not the first time I've talked about the Bartle Test, but the old post did not make the transition over to this site due to being SWTOR-specific and also not very good.) Created in the heyday of MUDs and their ilk, the Bartle Test asks a series of questions about your preferences in online play with other gamers and creates a loose classification of how you prefer to spend your time, based around four axes: Achiever, Killer, Explorer, Socializer. They're basically exactly what they sound like:
- Achievers (or Diamonds, because for some reason all of them map onto card suits too) like concrete measurements of accomplishment in a game: achievement points, levels, better gear, unique items, you name it. The Achiever is easily the type that most MMOs cater to the best.
- Killers (or Clubs, because of obvious reasons involving clubs to the head) value combat, almost always specifically player-vs-player combat. In an offline game this is that person we all know who's never played a GTA game to the end because they instead spend hours at a time racking up the highest wanted score possible and seeing what they can make the cops crash into. In online games, high-percentage Killers are going to be your Arena Masters and Battlemasters.
- Explorers (or Spades, due to their tendency to dig around - har har) like discovering areas, making maps, and finding hidden things. Explorers are the kind of people who delight in the unfinished areas behind invisible walls, wall-jumping to places they shouldn't be, finding hidden programmer Easter Eggs, and the like. Achievers tend to like the game for what it does - Explorers like it for what they can make it do that it shouldn't.
- Socializers (or Hearts, go figure) are there primarily for the social aspect and secondarily for the game itself. They're there to interact with other people (and occasionally, NPCs with a lot of personality - this tends to apply more to offline games, for obvious reasons).
You can actually take the Bartle Test online if you want. It's not perfect - some of the questions are vague, to the point that you'll be choosing between two things you prefer, which can be tough (or maybe two things, neither of which you like!) - but the results are usually roughly accurate. (Mine, in case you're curious, come out as Explorer 80%, Achiever 60%, Socializer 53%, Killer 7% - and I believe the Explorer and Achiever flip-flop on any given day.)
Only two really served
WildStar's Paths system more-or-less transparently maps onto the Bartle Test, and choosing a Path is as big a part of your character creation as picking a race and class.
Explorers, Scientists (Achievers), Soldiers (Killers), and Settlers (Socializers). It's sort of the same - the Soldier attempts to take the Killer instinct and turn it back to NPCs - but the problem lies in the implementation - namely, in my opinion, only two of them are really being fully served.
- Soldier missions work really well, assuming you really like the combat system, because you will be killing a lot of NPCs. I stumbled upon a Solder holdout in progress and man, it was a LOT of mobs. Got to put those AOE abilities to use. (And since I was on a Scientist, I could scan a nearby crystal and cause it to resonate an AOE healing field for us. Cross-path synergy!)
- Scientist missions are pretty cool, too. If you like lore, you're going to drown in it: Scientists find more hidden rooms filled with Ominous Eldan Stuff than anyone, are able to scan objects to cause weird localized world effects (including finding out how to deactivate a giant killbot and hacking turrets to turn on their owners), and you get a cool robot buddy. I named mine Gears McScanley, mostly because I could. You'll be swimming in Eldan datacubes. Scientists also think with portals: one of the later perks they get is an extra portal back to town, as well as a group summon. Have Group Will Travel didn't die, it just moved to WildStar.
And then there's the ... not so great. The Settler? The Settler has two major problems in my opinion:
- Bag space issues. Now, I haven't played a Settler in this beta weekend - although I did in CBT2 - but activating those buff stations at player quest hubs requires materials that drops from nearly everywhere, and those went - where else - straight into your bag. Bags are not voluminous in WildStar. I've managed to stay ahead of the curve thanks to dropped bags, but it's close sometimes.
- Uncompelling gameplay. Woohoo, you built a +runspeed station by clicking a button. Yay.
The biggest payoff for the Settler seems to be the big 'world event' style buildings that show up (so far) about once per zone. In the very first town in Deradune, for instance, Dominion Settlers can build a big-ass arena that has wave after wave of enemies - you're going to need a lot of people to pitch in to win, but the loot and experience is pretty sweet when you do.
The Explorer, however, is just in kind of a bad state at the moment.
Dora the Don't-pick-Explorer
Don't get me wrong, there are some upsides to picking Explorer. Nexus is a really pretty planet, and you're going to be seeing a lot of it. In fact, you don't have a choice: every zone comes with an Explorer mission to unlock 100% of the zone map, and - at least in the first few zones - doing so revealed ... nothing important. It was basically busy work to fill in the map.
The actual missions are pretty explorer-y in nature, but all but one type seem to be basically hold your hand. You won't be jumping to the top of Celestial Falls because you want to: you'll be going because at the bottom it tells you to go to the top to plant a beacon. You are alerted way ahead of time of Explorer missions. Only Scavenger Hunts really live up to their promise, and right now those are kind of spoiled because they tend to be broken in the beta. But hey, it's Beta.
Explorers also happen to be the only class whose perks are super-lackluster - they barely benefit the Explorer, and they're the only Path without a group benefit. Explorer's Slow Fall and Air Brakes sound okay until you realize any movement skill from your actual class will almost always outclass them.
Frankly, a lot of the gameplay that you'd expect for the Explorer - going to out-of-the-way places that no one else gets to go to (unless they go with you) and finding cool stuff seems to have been given to the Scientist instead. The one that jumps out at me most is in Algoroc, one of the early Exile zones - you find Loftite crystals which let you jump extra high, but the Scientist finds scannable Pure Loftite, which lets you jump really, really frickin' high ... to get to a ledge that no one else can reach. If that's not Explorer gameplay, I don't know what is, but there it is for the Scientist instead.
For Science, You Monster
When it gets right down to it, attempting to map gameplay onto the Bartle Test results is never going to work out perfectly - outside of games like Darkfall, for instance, a pure-PvP path like the Killer suggests would never work, the Settler is not a perfect analogue to the Socializer (but then again, what could be?) and the Explorer obviously has its issues - boring gameplay and subpar perks.
It just makes it all the easier for me to recommend Scientist. Though enjoy trying to figure out how to roleplay a Granok Warrior Scientist. I know I am.