Playing through Wildstar’s Closed Beta, I can’t help but feel I’m looking back over the last decade of MMO design. These massively online games were around before World of Warcraft, obviously, but through good timing, good design and unrelenting promotion, Blizzard’s behemoth managed to grow to such a level that it basically set the agenda for the genre. You would think that we were finally seeing the end of that, that the terms ‘WoW-killer’ or general features that WoW made staples would stop being used and perhaps MMOs could move on to new and better things. Wildstar, it seems, has other ideas.
This is a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek Sci-fi MMO that’s smartly adapted its mechanics to certain realities of MMO gaming, and it does offer some fairly unique and interesting features. At the same time, it’s like 2003 accidentally fell through the time vortex and planted itself in the brain of some of Wildstar’s designers. Ten years on, and I can’t help feel that it’s ridiculous that ‘mining’ is still a valid trade-skill choice... and that I have to go get the ores myself. And don’t get me started on the amount of ‘Kill X of Random Creature’ quests in the first ten levels or so, and that’s across both factions as well. There’s some stark contrast between some of the game’s clear ideas and the general moment-to-moment gameplay. I’ve played the first ten levels of both factions so far, and there are some thoughts I’d like to share:
Even the most basic attacks can have wide telegraphs allowing you to pull in multiple mobs at once. Make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew
Dominion's do it Better: The early Dominion path, so far, seems the better designed portion of the game. Both factions have players learning the ropes and running around on ships in orbit between levels 1 – 3/4 and then you’re in the starter land zone for the next couple of levels before heading out into the main zones. Comparing the two, the Dominion path was way more fun – their tutorial segment is more to the point, and way more entertaining, whilst the Exile beginning is fairly boring, and a bit grindy which kind of sets the tone for the first ten levels. The Dominion also delves more into the mystery of Nexus slightly, and keeps the pace pretty good.
The New Frontier isn’t Really a Frontier: Now, this is more of a pet peeve, and I know that the way MMO’s are designed has caused this, but a major theme of Wildstar, especially the Exile story, is that you are a bunch of plucky pioneers settling a new world. The problem is, as you progress through the game everything is kind of already there. There’s no real sense of exploring a new frontier, living on the edge. Even the Settler ‘Path’ when you boil it down, is just a bunch of people collecting resources to build buff stations at the like. Hardly the Wild West. There’s not really a sense of an over-arching plot either. The Exiles are just there. The Dominion are just there, although like I mentioned above in the early levels they’re more actively trying to ferret out the planet’s secrets.
Moreish: Despite some poor quest choices and odd design, Wildstar is incredibly 'Moreish'. So far I’ve only been playing as the newly announced classes – the Medic and the Engineer. Being a Ranged/Healer and a Tank/Pet Class respectively, these guys are the most ‘sci-fi’ of the bunch, and are quite good to play with. Despite my misgivings of the ‘New Frontier’ theme, Wildstar does reward you for poking around and exploring, even if you’re not on the ‘Explorer’ path. Apart from some bits where you’re literally just grinding from A to B, there’s a lot of different and interesting experiences on Nexus, and you interact with the environment a lot more than you traditionally would.
Carbine was founded by ex-Blizzard staff, so perhaps it’s no coincidence there’s something oddly WoW-like to the art style. Nice vistas though
Combat is Wonderful: Combat is a genuine treat in this game. Probably the best example of a non-standard combat system. Wildstar’s hacking, slashing and shooting is based all on ‘telegraphs’, which are basically visual representations of areas of effect. Every ability has its own AoE telegraph, which is displayed on the ground, along with a visual timer of how long you have before the ability triggers. As long as your enemy is within the telegraph, they’ll receive damage. This works for friendly abilities as well, so you have to make sure anyone you want to help is within the telegraph. There’s a danger that players may eventually spend more time looking at the telegraphs then looking at who they’re fighting or where they are, but it does make the combat faster and pacier, and it’s just more interesting.
As with all MMO’s, a lot of the good stuff doesn’t kick in until later. Player Housing, Warplots and the PvP, Raids etc… these are all things which are probably going to show off Wildstar’s strengths, but are things you have to work towards. Still, you can tell a lot about an MMO by looking at its first ten levels, and having played through those levels on both sides… it’s hard to really get a concrete impression of Wildstar at the moment. It’s fun, it’s incredibly charming and it’s got some interesting ideas... but it’s oddly inconsistent in areas that you wouldn’t expect. Not all classes and paths are created equally either, and some are definitely more interesting to play than others. Still, overall I’d happily say ‘so far, so good’, and there’s still plenty of time left for some polish.
Most Anticipated Feature: The PvP, whilst not exactly ground-breaking should never-the-less be a laugh. Especially WarPlots.