Monday, November 18, 2013

Limited Action Sets and the Illusion of Choice?

(The title up there reads like the title to the worst Harry Potter book ever.)

So I had previously intended this post to be about what we know about paths, but after reading one particular thread over on WildStar Central, I decided to shift gears. Instead of taking a look at paths, I instead want to focus on one of WildStar’s key features: limited action sets and the ability to quickly swap them. Specifically, I want to discuss the impact these action sets have on gear (and vice-versa).

For those who aren’t fully aware, WildStar employs what they refer to as “limited action sets.” What this means is that instead of a bunch of cluttered action bars, you will have access to one singular bar located on the bottom of your screen. This is done intentionally, and used as a means of providing easy access to 8 abilities instead of playing your keyboard like a piano in an attempt to maximize your DPS. That said, you aren’t only going to receive 8 abilities throughout your entire career as whatever class you play (it better be Esper). Instead, you will have to make specific load outs with the intention of performing whatever role you’re aiming for. For example, if you’re looking to be a healer, you’re going to want to place a fair amount of support and control spells on your bar, things that are going to help you accomplish the task at hand with the chosen role. If you’ve watched any of the Livestreams, you’ll notice that these abilities can be switched out easily and often, and this is in fact encouraged.

However, a problem lies there.

In any game that involves specializing in a specific role, there is the obvious question of gear. You’ll obviously want to collect gear that works for your spec; it doesn’t do you much good to throw on a bunch of +healing stuff if you’re hoping to lob hefty fireballs at your enemies. Without knowing much about how WildStar’s stat system works, this raises some question. With the goal of allowing players to rapidly swap out abilities and change roles, how will players gear up? Will it be necessary to collect two sets of gear in order to totally maximize the potential of all the tools at your disposal? If so, does this really save more time than respeccing?

Of course, these problems are neutralized if the same stats handle multiple things: for instance, would an “Intelligence” skill potentially boost both healing and damage? If that’s the case, do we run into the risk of there being too much competition for the same pieces of loot? Would all “casters” (I use that term loosely with this game) be rolling on the same equipment? What about tanks/melee DPS?

One thing that Blizzard has recently discussed implementing that I think is interesting is the idea of your gear sort of “respeccing” itself to fit your spec. For example, if you’re playing an Esper who’s specced for damage, your light armor would boast stats that grant bonuses to healing. The second you switch around and become more damage-heavy, the gear would change so that its stats supported damage dealing abilities instead. The only problem with that is that, to our knowledge, WildStar doesn’t feature a hard-and-fast speccing system that just says “Hey, now you’re a healer!” Instead, our abilities and some wide-branching trees that we’ve only had a glimpse of dictate that. It’s not like WoW in that all 3 trees have a specific job; it’s much more complicated.

What I foresee happening is that, despite having these awesome load outs, we will have to decide what we intend to focus on, and then gear into that. We’ll be able to effectively play as our “off-spec,” but unless you spend time gearing that way, you’re never going to be quite as effective. I know, right now you’re probably thinking, “Well hey, no duh:  you can’t play everything at once!? Shocking!” But the reason I have to conjecture this is because we’re being sold on this idea of swapping everything out and still being effective. I would love to be able to be out pew-pew’ing stuff on my own, then get pulled into a dungeon with some friends and be able to heal flawlessly without having to worry about my gear not being up to snuff.  And I haven’t even touched PvP and all that because, frankly, I don’t know jack-squat about it and I can’t go making myself look like more of a fool than I already am!

Again, I know a lot of this is conjecture based upon what limited info we know, but I hope that load-outs and limited action bars are in themselves limited because of the gear I have. As one poster astutely put it, “The freedom they’re giving us isn’t really freedom at all.” That may be a little dramatic, but I feel it sort of speaks to the point I’m trying to make. I don’t just want one or the other; I WANT IT ALL!!!

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