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|Shields and Absorption|
In this long, dreary drudge ’til World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor Alpha, or Beta, or you know, something, my WoW guild decided to take up WildStar. And since I’m rather susceptible to peer pressure, I went along with it. While I’m typically not interested in new MMOs – they mean new leveling! Ugh! – I figured I’m probably missing out on opportunities to hone my WoW critique by not learning new systems. Figuring out what does and doesn’t work for me in a new game could help me understand more about what does and doesn’t work in WoW, and why; and a new game with new ideas could give me a broader background to draw upon for analysis.
So with this in mind, I thought I ought to write some about my WildStar experiences. I don’t know if I’m going to do a full-blown theorycraft/ encounter/ class guide, and I don’t even know if I’m going to try all three healing classes in the game. Don’t expect to see WildStar icons up there on my header anytime soon! But it might be interesting, helpful or fun to share my WildStar adventures (and Adventures!) with you all.
Today I reached level 20 as an Exile Human Esper, and in the past 24 hours completed both a Dungeon and an Adventure (like Dungeon-lite) in the healing role. At the end of it, I was pretty happy – the group content was hard, it required coordination and awareness, and best of all, there was plenty to heal!
In this post, I’ll talk a little about my first impressions and give a bit of info about healing and how the game works. Remember, I don’t know a lot about WildStar yet myself, so these posts will be pretty much a chronicle of one old dog’s attempt to learn new tricks.
Every class in the game – Engineer, Esper, Medic, Spellslinger, Stalker, and Warrior – has both Assault (DPS) and Support (e.g. tanking or healing) abilities. What defines your “spec” is simply the types of abilities you have chosen in your “action set”, or what goes on your bars. Those are the only abilities you can access during combat, and you are limited to 8 of them, though at first you don’t have quite so many – you will unlock more of your keybinding slots as you level up. (You also have a potion keybind available, a Path keybind, and an “innate ability” keybind, for a total of 11 combat abilities, but more on this later.)
It is trivial to change what abilities you have access to on your action bar; there is no penalty, so you can easily switch between a DPS and a Support role as needed. However, at level 15, you are able to define a second “action set” which is a lot like having two Talent specs in WoW. This lets you set up two entirely different specs, which again, you may freely swap between (and of course, you can change which abilities you have access to on your action bar just as trivially as before). In other words — spec is a fluid concept in this game, but most people will have one full DPS spec and one full Support spec so that they are as good as possible in their chosen role at any time.
There’s a third category of ability – Utility – which contains things like crowd control, interrupts, dispels, pets, and other fun tools. As with Support and Assault abilities, you can freely assign these to any of your 8 combat keybinds and can take as many as you like.
You may further modify your abilities by spending “Ability Points”and “Amp Points” to augment specific abilities or your entire slate of skills. There’s some detail here but I’ll skip over it for now, because it’s not important to anyone just setting out to dabble on the surface of Nexus.
The end result here is a lot of ways to modify your character (and I’m not even touching gear!) to create the sort of playstyle you enjoy, with a lot of flexibility to switch up abilities on a fight-by-fight basis if you so desire. You might take a dispelling spell from your Utility tree for a particular boss fight or questing zone where dispellable debuffs are prominent, but then swap that out for a self-heal or pet when you are finding yourself taking too much damage. This is the sort of flexibility that I love – no kidding, I still go through 27 Tomes per SoO raid on my Shaman, because I love tailoring my Talents and Glyphs to each fight – so I’m very happy about this.
On the other hand, the stunted ability set feels quite restrictive – which is annoying coming from a game where I have 30+ keybinds and mouse-click healing – and to players who prefer to choose one set of abilities and master them, the limitation may be very frustrating. But this paradigm is fundamental to making your choices matter. And choices that matter are the best kinds of choices!
WildStar draws very heavily on the concept of “telegraphed” spells and abilities. You know how, in WoW, some boss abilities will draw a big circle or targeting reticule on the ground to let you know they’re coming, like Iron Juggernaut’s Mortar Blasts? That’s pretty much everything in WildStar. Including player abilities – and yes, heals. Abilities that operate via telegraph are called “Freeform” while abilities that behave more traditionally, affecting the player or enemy you have targeted when you cast them, are called “Targeted”.
This creates a gameplay style where awareness and responsiveness are the two most important things you can have going for you. Most of the damage in any fight is avoidable, so long as you are prepared to haul ass to do it – and you should, because in most cases, if you get hit by the avoidable damage, you outright die or you become stunned and unable to attack or avoid further damage for a long while. So the difficulty of WildStar is almost entirely devoid of ability choice, at least at low levels – as long as you’re using abil ities that deal damage, and avoiding the telegraphs, you’ll be successful.
Because this is a very mobile game, most spells and abilities are designed to be castable while moving by default. The rare few that aren’t say “Stationary” on their tooltips; those that are say “Mobile” instead. You will, for the most part, be just as mobile as the enemies you fight, and a great deal of the skill in executing your chosen role lies in figuring out when it should be safe to use your Stationary abilities.
For healers, as you can imagine, a game where players are moving almost all the time and where you draw your heals on the ground rather than targeting individual players could become very frustrating. Fortunately, WildStar has done a great job of making this feel pretty good. Your telegraphed heals will still hit players slightly outside their area of effect, and even if you can’t move while you’re casting, you can still pivot to “chase” people with your big blue telegraph. Most of the telegraphed spells can be cast while moving, though, so you end up being incredibly mobile just like everyone else.
I was extremely skeptical of this system, which is why I chose the class that I did – Esper, a psionic spellcaster, has very few telegraphed healing spells and a lot of targeted healing. This means it plays out most similarly to a healer in WoW, or other MMOs, and is probably a good way to begin if you’re scared of the telegraph system.
If you’re looking for a change, Medics have a lot of short-range, Mobile, Freeform healing spells. If you like the idea of being up close and personal and running around spraying cones of technological healing everywhere, they might be more up your alley. Spellslingers have very narrow, long-range telegraphed abilities, and probably take the most aiming skill to execute well, which is why I didn’t pick them – I’m pretty bad at aiming.
I still am bad at aiming, and furthermore I’m on a high-latency connection, so telegraphing feels a little awkward to me. However, I do think this system creates an enduring challenge for players at all levels of skill, and when it comes to end-game content, I can see it being extremely challenging to keep on top of all the movement while pumping out maximum DPS or the required healing. Challenge excites me, so I’m looking forward to it!
All three healing classes have two resources. You have Focus, which is the equivalent to WoW mana, and your secondary resource. Typically, spending Focus will generate your secondary resource, and then you will have other abilities that deplete your secondary resource. Spells that cost Focus tend to be weak, with cast times or cooldown/charge restrictions, and are called Generators. Abilities that cost secondary resources are generally more powerful than Generators, tend to be instant, and are known as Finishers.
When you’re just out in the world questing, Focus is a non-issue and it’s very rare to run OOM (OOF?). Most spells cost very little Focus, and if you’re questing in the right zone it shouldn’t take many spells to kill a pack of creatures, so your base Focus regeneration tends to keep you topped up between short fights. In instanced content, however, it’s a different story, and you will want to make certain you use your Finishers well, avoid resource-capping your secondary resource, and choose wisely which healing spells to use.
Medics and Espers have secondary resources similar to a WoW Monk or Paladin. A Medic’s Generators create Actuators, and an Esper’s Generators create Psi Points (PP). I’ll stick with Esper examples since I have the most experience. At early levels you have only two Generators and one Finisher. Your Generators are Mind over Body, a Targeted Stationary heal, and Bolster, an Instant Targeted heal-over-time effect limited by charges. Casting either one of these will generate one Psi Point. You may then spend your Psi Points at any time on Reverie, which is an Instant Freeform area-of-effect heal. The amount it heals for is directly proportional to the number of Psi Points you had at the time you cast it.
Spellslingers are a wee bit different; their Generators slowly and fluidly fill up a Spellsurge bar. When the Spellsurge bar is full, players may activate their Spellsurge ability, which enhances the power of their usual spells, causing them to heal for more (or cast more quickly) and to cost Spellsurge instead of Focus. This sort of acts as an Evangelism/ Archangel kind of deal – it’s obviously not an exact comparison, but that’s as close as I can get in WoW terms.
Here’s a fact that is going to make every non-Discipline-Priest player groan:
Every character in WildStar has a “Shield”, all the time.
However, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Stop punching your monitor.
In the WildStar system, players have a health pool and a Shield pool. Just as an example, my level 20 Esper has a health pool of 8.2k and a Shield of 2.7k. This Shield blocks 50% of incoming damaging attacks, depleting its pool until it reaches zero, at which point I’m no longer blocking anything. This means that, even at maximum Shield capacity, players still receive health pool damage for healers to heal back up.
When you’re questing, your Shield is active a lot of the time, and helps you avoid needing a healer to follow you around. Small hits, like the unavoidable damage of quest mobs, deplete the Shield slowly, so that it rarely expires. During a fight, your Shield can regenerate on its own, but of course the small amount of Shield that regenerates each second is easily removed by incoming damage, so if you do manage to screw up and lose your shield, you’ll be vulnerable for a long while. But between short fights, your Shield usually replenishes entirely, and if you use questing as a time to practice dodging telegraphed attacks, you’ll typically get a lot of damage mitigation from your shield.
In a Dungeon or Adventure, however, enemies hit hard. Your tank is probably going to lose his Shield in the first few melee swings of each trash or boss fight, and subsequent swings will be only minorly mitigated by the tiny sliver of Shield capacity that regenerates each second. This means that healing is still required despite the pervasive presence of the Shield mechanic.
Medics are able to cast spells that replenish a player’s Shield capacity directly. However, in an instanced environment, the replenished Shields will probably fade quickly, and either way, since a Shield does not mitigate all of the incoming damage, there is still stuff for all healers to do.
There is another damage-absorption mechanic called Absorption. This mechanic places an Absorption shield on a player with a certain capacity (for the sake of example, let’s say 5000). An Absorption effect fully mitigates incoming damage until its capacity is entirely depleted. So if you took a 4000-damage melee swing while you had your 5000-capacity Absorption effect up, you would in fact take zero health pool damage and your Absorption shield would remain at 1000. The next 4000-damage melee swing would deplete your Absorption shield and deal you 3000 health pool damage.
Absorption could be quite powerful, but fortunately it is rare – Spellslingers have an AoE ability to apply a medium-sized Absorption effect to up to five players, while Espers can generate it in a very limited manner. They gain one Targeted, single-target Absorption mechanic early on that generates a large Absorption effect – sort of the equivalent of a big Power Word: Shield, but on a 45-second CD – and later on, through Amps, can unlock the ability for their Critical heals to generate small Absorption mechanics (original Divine Aegis, anyone?). Absorption is an excellent and powerful mechanic itself, but with these restrictions, it isn’t going to dominate the healing field the way it does in WoW.
And that’s a great thing. While I rather dislike the idea of mindless, blanket absorbs (the “Divine Aegis” impostor I just described, and the large-radius Spellslinger ability), keeping them weak will go a long way toward making them feel just like bonuses for getting a Crit, rather than something you have to spam constantly to keep refreshed. (This opinion of mine may change if the absorption shields stack, but I won’t know that until I unlock the Amp, and I have no idea how long that will be.)
The Shield mechanic is one I’d love to see applied to WoW to replace absorption shields. It’s still quite valuable to mitigate 50% of incoming damage, and it gives non-shielding healers something to do. It’s an idea that’s been bandied about a lot, but in light of the way Divine Aegis and Illuminated Healing have played out over the course of Mists, it’d be great to see the developers tackle the absorbs problem with this simple and elegant solution.
I do have to be frank: the user interface in WildStar is absolutely terrible. And I don’t just mean that it’s not like WoW’s interface. There’s all these subtly awful things with every thing you try to do that just really build up until you’re wishing you could do a quest to [0/1] Punch a UI Developer in the Face.
Enemy nameplates by default do not show up unless the enemy is targeted or injured, so it’s difficult to see patrols sneaking up. Speech bubbles remove nameplates, so if a mob simply must confess his crimes at the moment of his death, you lose all your nameplate information for him and any other enemies standing nearby.
Friendly nameplates display health and Shield capacity on the same bar, and then, if an Absorption effect is added, that goes in the same bar as well. On the player frame, this results in the length of your health bar expanding as you gain Absorption effects; the party frames, however, are fixed-width, and it can be very confusing what is happening with Shields and Absorption effects on the same player. Furthermore, the default party UI doesn’t display debuffs on party members – you’d pretty much have to be able to see the spell effect around them (not such a big deal thanks to telegraphing) or target your party members frequently to check.
There seems to be no macro system, and no /mouseover hook, so even with an addon that emulates VuhDo/Grid with automatic mouseover healing, the game is still actually setting your target to the player you’re mousing over (wiping your boss target, etc.). Cast bars for enemies show up infrequently, which is a real problem since interrupting a cast in WildStar is like a whole big production where everyone has to work together in a tight window of time.
WildStar is designed with addons in mind, and there are already a number of addons that can address some (or all) of these concerns, but sometimes they have their own problems too. I’m hoping that as UI addons improve, and as hotfixes continue to be made to the game, this problem mostly resolves itself. Right now, for leveling, it doesn’t matter that much – but there’s pretty much no way I could imagine raiding with this stock UI, and I raided quite happily all throughout BC, including Zul’Aman bear runs in pugs, with the WoW stock UI. It’s … quite a different thing.
So far, I’ve enjoyed WildStar about as much as I can enjoy any game that requires me to level. The telegraph system feels fresh and challenging, I’ve yet to master the math behind the healing so it still has some mystery for me, and the group content I’ve done has been difficult and therefore entertaining. These things outweigh the UI issues and the strangeness of aiming my abilities.
I hope this summary has helped any of you who are thinking about testing the WildStar waters feel a little more at ease with the foreign gameplay and mechanics, and maybe there’s been something interesting in here for those of you already a little experienced in the game. Are you playing already? Have particular thoughts about the telegraphing system, things you’d like to see WoW do, things you’d like to see WoW avoid? Please leave a note here, or add me in WildStar (I’m Dayani on Stormtalon) and we’ll have a chat :)
In the next post about WildStar, I’ll talk more about the Esper, my chosen class, and the experiences I’ve had in the Adventure and Dungeon I’ve done so far. I’ve had a blast in them, and let’s just say they tugged at my heartstrings by satisfying my BC nostalgia. <3