MMO’s are meant to be many different things to their players. You have your hardcore PVPers, your long-term raid groups, your causal collectors, your social RPers, and everything in between. Carbine Studio’s latest take on their new MMORPG, WildStar, tries to find a healthy balance with all of the above. The attempt to make a brand new IP in this genre has been daring to say the least. However, like many online games before, it exceeds in certain areas while other features have been left with the short end of the stick.
As mentioned in my Closed Beta preview, the background story isn’t overly complicated and difficult to understand. The two main factions, the Dominion and the Exiles, are in a fierce territorial war to claim the newly discovered planet of Nexus. Each faction contains four playable races with enough differences to make them feel unique, with the exception of the Dominion-based human Cassian and the ousted human faction, along with the other Exiles.
If you chose to live for the Empire, you’ll also be able to choose between the Mechari, the Draken, and the Chua (or as I like to call them, evil hamsters). For the Exiles, you have more friendly options with the Aurin, the Granok, and the Mordesh. There is also the Eldan, a non-playable race mentioned throughout the story by both factions through ancient lore and legends as an advanced race that vanished from Nexus over a thousand years ago.
When comparing the last few closed beta events to the official launch, I would have to say that not much has changed. The default UI remains the same and was quickly replaced before I really began to put forth any effort into playing. I chose to do this because your screen will become easily cluttered by the clunky default settings and frequent pop-up. It seemed best to make the UI as flexible as possible right away. To that, I do give credit for the decision to make the game add-on compatible at launch.
I like to see both sides of the equation, so I created a few characters to play concurrently from both factions. The story is well-written for both sides although the lore itself feels completely optional. If you actually wish to sit there and read it you can, but I wouldn’t necessarily say you need to. As mentioned before, this game isn’t about story or deep-rooted history. Cutscenes can be skipped, although it may be a bit confusing if you were to skip a scene only to fade back into playing with every NPC dead around you.
Beyond the initial introduction tutorial, you are finally hit with the true concept of WildStar by landing completely unprepared on a new planet. Carbine has successfully created the feeling of leaving you stranded and having no idea what you’re doing. To amplify the sensation, there aren’t really any guides to help you along either. If you’re unfamiliar with MMO’s, this isn’t the type of game you want to pop your cherry with. Even as an avid gamer in this genre myself, there were plenty of times were I felt and continue to feel completely overwhelmed and outright lost.
To describe the combat, I will have to use the word “insane” here. Taking notes from games like Guild Wars 2 and Diablo seems to have paid off as the fighting style is extremely run-and-gun. Prepare yourself for dodging bombardments of area attacks in both PVP and PVE. PVP is also favored as well since you have access to practice battlegrounds at level 6. However, you are unable to see your first dungeon until level 20, although you can do your first adventure at level 15.
The quest lines are also very scattered. They are sometimes frustratingly disjointed and will likely have you backtracking fairly often. Innovations in this department are also very few, but there are small puzzles to figure out every once in a while including a take on the memory-matching game, Simon.
Challenges, however, will drive you insane. In my case, the timed challenges that randomly pop-up while exploring were almost immediately turned off. While other games may have similar world quests, the timer for WildStar’s version feels to be impossibly short for the number of kills or gathered items needed to win a prize worth doing the work for. The frequency is also very annoying and it got to the point where they were more of a hindrance than a bonus, especially in areas where mobs were already scarce or performance issues had already slowed my progression down to a crawl.
Still, one of the best features in the new MMO is its approach to the hybrid class. Classes are not set in stone here and it’s up to you where you want to put your bonus points. While you cannot directly change status attributes, you can pick and choose which skills you want, how you want to increase their levels, and how to spend your specialty points to make yourself the perfect DPS, tank, healer, or whatever in-between. This leaves wiggle room for gameplay optimization depending on what you wish to do in your role.
Crafting is also cleverly done. Items are unlocked by recipes and through your skills tree. It has a unique approach, as it can be as easy or difficult as you wish. Other key in-game features such as an auction house, bank, and costume customization vendors are also available, as well as purchasing your own house.
Housing is granted to you at level 14 and is a place to gather mats, gain daily bonuses, and simply just to customize as much as you want with available décor that have passive perks themselves. You can decorate the inside of your house as well as build interactive structures on the land it sits on. In my case, I built an Aurin house complete with a few areas made on the land where I can craft, plant seeds for farming, and even make moonshine. You can also link to your neighbors and set up roommates who will have access to your customization menus.
After the first 10 levels, you should be able to navigate through the rest of the game without the in-game tutorial, but I suggest you keep a browser page open on the side. A serious player may want to compare skill sets and try out fan-made UI’s for efficiency while a more causal player may be fine with the default settings, but still might have to read guides online to point them in the right direction. The default maps are not clearly marked with defined NPC icons that you may be used to.
In my personal experience, my only true complaint so far has been with the lack of optimal performance. While I don’t have a top of the line PC setup (and with a game like this you honestly shouldn’t need it) I had to power through major frame rate issues that varied drastically depending on where I was. This not only hindered my progression a great deal, but also made it even more difficult to level in starter zones.
To be clear, WildStar is not an easy game and leveling can be difficult on your own without support. PVP was also an uphill battle because such a fast-paced game does need to be smoother in order to create a chaotic, yet still fun experience.
So far, Carbine seems to understand these issues and have been very on-the-spot with updates and patches since release. While MMO’s may never launch as smoothly as we hope for, it’s applauding to see the studio retaining an active interest in improving and fixing what gives their players so much trouble. It’ll be a bumpy road ahead, Cupcakes, but stick around. The wait seems worth it.