[Wildstar] A Look at Telegraphs and Active Combat

While the Wildstar closed beta is still running hot and more and more press footage is being released on the net (the lucky ones), players have been debating and in places worrying about the active combat and telegraph system. How comfortable does Wildstar’s combat feel compared to other active combat MMOs? How are the telegraphs gonna pan out in 40man raids?

Already in July 2013, Carbine released a devspeak introducing telegraphs, making it very clear that the most defining aspect of Wildstar combat was gonna be this: aiming. After analyzing what similar titles had done in the past, Carbine settled for a “freeform targeting” approach which, while conserving the basic tab targeting function, allows players to adjust (and miss with) their area of effect at any given time, and vice versa for enemies. The result is a fairly colorful and at times hectic bling-fest, where the player is not only trying to aim his attacks most effectively (not all parts of a telegraph deal the same damage) but reacting to enemy attacks pro-actively and dodge-rolling or strafing to get out of the really bad stuff. This makes for a rather complex and highly skill-based combat, especially where tougher challenges and PvP are concerned.

wstele

As illustrated in the devspeak, telegraphs come in various shapes, with different cast methods, ranges and synergies. They can be stationary or mobile, instant or require ramp-up times. Naturally, colors signify whether a telegraph is detrimental (red), beneficial (green) or a variety of other things players will need to internalize. This has justifiably raised questions of overlapping (telegraphs are translucent) in group play or prioritization. No doubt, telegraphs will be adjusted and tweaked for a while to come yet, before Carbine have found the perfect balance – and then there are always addons. What’s probably safe to say is that this active combat looks far from boring or the automated face-roll we know from older games.

How Wildstar combat compares to other MMOs

Not surprisingly, Wildstar’s combat is frequently compared to that of recent predecessors TERA and GW2. That is interesting because, having personally played both MMOs, their active combat falls on different sides of the same coin for me.

GW2 is hands down my favorite MMO combat to date. It is characterized by a very high mobility and character-centricity, in the sense that combat focus is less about the aiming (there is auto-attack and classic auto-aim via tab) and more prioritizing dodging and survival on the player’s end. When the stakes are high in GW2, players will always move out of the bad first while not having to worry about aiming; auto-attack can take care of such transitions for a while. Indeed, you could take your eyes off the enemy completely if need be.

Auto-aim but quick on your feet
Auto-aim but quick on your feet

TERA on the other hand, flips the coin: while there are some mobile abilities, TERA is back to classic stationary combat that won’t generally allow you to cast while running. While it combines good old feet-of-stone with dodge-rolls, it prioritizes a mob-centric focus. Special attacks and AoE aside, TERA’s active combat is all about freely aimed projectiles (via cross-hair feature) which makes for a fun change from other MMOs. Coming straight from GW2 however, I did miss my mobility. I even wondered how awesome it might be to combine the two modes.

So, where does that put Wildstar? From all I’ve seen so far studying various sources and footage, Wildstar combat falls squarely in the middle. It requires the same constant vigilance tougher GW2 encounters ask for in terms of self-management and survival, while improving on TERA’s aimed combat with telegraphs. While there are some more stationary classes such as the Esper, this new MMO is all about mobility and aiming in equal amounts!

That will take some getting used to, especially for the more laidback and lazy casters among us. I wouldn’t go as far as declaring the peaceful solo-questing routine of one-handed pewpew dead but Wildstar combat is most definitely gonna ask for more attention than many popular AAA-titles have in the past. Carbine intend to keep their combat interesting for a long time and given how combat is such a central feature for most MMOs, I don’t blame them for putting that much thought into it.

As Telwyn recently pointed out too, it’s all about finding a happy balance. We will see how the player base adjusts once the dust has settled over the Nexus and everyone has had time to learn some new tricks. I for one welcome that MMO combat is still evolving.

12 comments

  1. bhagpuss

    It sounds absolutely horrible. GW2 combat is fine and the many thousands of hours I’ve played there indicate I’ve not had a real issue with it but in no way is it more enjoyable than traditional MMO combat.

    I have always used the mouse to target in MMOs. I didn’t even know tab targeting existed until many years after I first played EQ. I also make very little use of auto-attack in most games, always preferring to use whatever abilities I’m given. In GW2, for example, I use almost all my abilities almost all the time even when it’s completely counter-productive just because I like clicking my hotbars.

    Therefore aiming and no auto-attack is fine with me. What isn’t is the pace. I do not want to run around like a demented jackrabbit. I don’t like to be rooted to the ground to cast but neither do I want to be rolling around like a toddler on a sugar rush. Stand, cast, move carefully to a new position if appropriate, that’s plenty.

    One person’s boring, automated face-roll is another person’s soothing, relaxing gameplay and I do play MMOs to be relaxed and soothed, not to get hyped up. A bit of controlled excitement is all well and good in its place but adrenaline rushes I can do without and prolonged excitement is enervating.

    As always, the proof of the pudding is in the playing. I was apprehensive about GW2 combat before I got to try it and it turned out to be tolerable. Maybe WildStar will be the same. I really hope some of the older style MMOs in development/funding do get to market, though. I’ve had about enough of the current direction. I want to be able to chat extensively in text during combat like I used to do for one thing.

    • Murf

      I see where you are coming from. I really liked combat in early Everquest II (before I realized there were a thousand abilities per character) when the game focused more on timing your abilities as you needed them and trying to keep up with the Heroic Combat wheel. Or at least that’s what I did.

      While I enjoy action, I also enjoy ability combos, synergies, and would love to see more cooperation through that than “EVERYONE RUN ALWAYS” and “AIM AIM AIM”. I’ll probably still enjoy WildStar, but I do cringe every time someone denounces classic MMO gameplay. Sure, it needs some paint, but it is still a perfectly acceptable roof over your head!

      • bhagpuss

        To be honest, it does depend what mood I’m in. On a weekend, well-rested and with a bottle of red opened, I’m quite up for some rolling about and a bit of action. After a long day at work, with aching limbs and only a couple of hours to play I just want to wind down with something steady and methodical.

        I don’t see why the same game can’t accommodate a number of combat styles through creative use of different class mechanics. The same group could have a swashbuckler rolling and tumbling and leaping about, aiming every blow, fighting beside a wizard, feet firmly planted, concentrating hard and casting spells that know exactly where to go – by magic. Don’t see why it has to be an either or.

    • Syl

      @bhagpuss
      “the proof of the pudding” – yes it is :)
      I get where you’re coming from, there are days when I really enjoyed LOTRO’s combat for all its not making me move. there are still strategic elements to that or WoW’s early combat even if it’s more about pushing buttons. WS does require more skill overall (in my humble opinion), maybe it’s comparable to PVP in certain MMOs where the more mobile aspect comes in, too. that doesn’t mean I necessarily like it….will have to see how it all turns out.

      “Don’t see why it has to be an either or.” – because encounter design and PVP.

      • Tremayne

        LOTRO is probably the best game I’ve found for the button-pushing/decision-making style of gameplay. Certainly in its early incarnations, no class was purely about just following a pre-set damage rotation if you wanted to play it to full potential. Even hunters needed to decide when to stop pew-pewing to cure poisons or do some CC (of course, some hunters never did…) Loremasters had an insane array of things to do from debuffing to CC to damage to healing to transferring power to keep the rest of the party functioning, and choosing the best thing to do next was a real challenge.

      • Syl

        Aye, I have a Loremaster in LOTRO :) really like the class, very complex. they don’t have the same oomph in terms of damage when soloing, at the same time you never die if played right. I got the Undying title early on without knowing it existed.

  2. Asmiroth

    I think it’s great to have a different take on combat. I much prefer the active style to the tank and spank of older days. While I enjoy the social aspects, you only need to look at WoW’s implementation to see what the end result is when the social tools don’t exist. I think we’re in a good spot if the WoW clones are no longer hitting the market.

    • Syl

      I think there will always be games like WoW but I agree, we need variety. it’s nice to see we’re finally moving on and some AAA-MMOs are doing their own thing again rather than just copy WoW.

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  4. Tremayne

    Looks like Wildstar has opted for reaction speed/precision/situational awareness challenge as the core plank of its gameplay. Which is fine, and very much in the current vogue for MMO combat design. It’s probably not the type of gameplay that’s going to suck me in, however. Like Murf, I prefer my gameplay to be more of a decision-making challenge where I’ve got a whole bunch of abilities and the mark of a skilled player is being able to choose which ability is best to use next (without dithering and wasting precious time). A good hotbar/GCD game is one that challenges you to make the best decision you can within 1.5 seconds, and that’s at least as worthwhile a game as one that’s all about “dodge-roll out of the red stuff now. Now! NAO!!!”
    Meh, it’s horses for courses. I suspect the more mature gamers like Bhagpuss and myself will prefer a game that rewards old age and cunning instead of one that rewards youth and hyperactivity. I’m just hoping some game designers remember us.

    • thib

      That’s a very subjective statement you make there. I don’t think you can solely say that a “skilled player” is the one who’s best at maths (which basically what you’re alluding to: the one who can number crunch the best and come up with an optimal rotation) Surely, you could argue that the “skilled player” is the one who knows several optimisations for their class and can use the correct one in the correct fight? I’ve seen it myself throughout the many years of WoW raiding where people would argue that in theory their rotation was 10% more efficient on combat dummies than someone elses – but then when it comes to the fight they are over 15% less efficient. This is simply because the boss mechanics wouldn’t either allow them to stay stationary or forced them to clip their casts and so on. Anyone who played a mage in WoW can identify with that one!!

      Sorry if it appears i’m splitting hairs here (and it’s not a personal attack), but I always think using bold statements about skill levels is dangerous. You do have a good point – and in some people’s eyes they would whole-heartedly agree with you – however there are other equally valid definitions of “skilled players”

      Anyway, back on subject, I like the idea of this type of action classes as it adds something different to the encounters. I don’t think it will be as frenetic as people will think, GW2 certainly wasn’t as bad in some fights as people made out, but I can see how it can put some people off.

      I do agree with the sentiment that there is room for valid dual ability sets depending on your playstyle, as Bhagpuss suggested. The developer that masters that will garner a lot of interest in gamers out there. Let’s face it, in WS they have spent time developing and balancing these Limited Action Sets (LAS) so you can chose what sort of class you play, instead of saying you can be a tank or healer or dps, can you not design it to be mobile dps, stationary dps, burst dps and so on?

      • Tremayne

        Hmm, don’t think I disagree with you on any of that! When I stated ” I prefer my gameplay to be more of a decision-making challenge…” I thought that made it clear that this was a personal preference. Skill means all sorts of different things – it can mean reaction time, or rapid decision-making (my preferred type) or flawless execution of a set rotation (the one you referred to, which is definitely NOT my cup of tea). I think most players out there define skill as “the thing I’m good at” and dismiss the others :) And you’re definitely right that theorycrafting and parses on dummies don’t always tell the full story – but try telling those guys on the forums that!

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