NCSoft's new MMO from a team of Blizzard veterans. just don't call it WoWstar
Wildstar coming from NCsoft and a team of former World of Warcraft veteran designers is almost entirely the game you might expect it to be. I recall asking a friend on bragging of his access to the close beta how it was. 'Boring'. He replied. 'It's just WoW in space'. Every MMO I've ever played has a smart-arse in its global chat channels whose only point of reference is World of Warcraft. Age of Conan was 'WoW but with fatalities'. Warhammer: Age of Reckoning was 'WoW with more PvP'. Star Wars: Knights of the Republic was 'WoW with Lightsabers'.
The implication of this accusation is that these games do nothing new, nothing we haven't seen done before (or better) by Blizzard's genre defining juggernaut. But the other implication is that comparing a game to WoW is actually a compliment and indeed, often what the designers of these games are aiming for. After all World of Warcraft is an exception to the rule that the ambitious subscription fee will be removed in short order and replaced with a painful free-to-play implementation that gates off all the features that are actually fun behind pay-walls (looking at you again Star Wars: The Old Republic). Wildstar wears its influences boldly, virtually announcing with its cartoony visuals, that actually, yes, it would quite like to be WoW, because WoW is hugely successful, hugely popular and critically acclaimed for the quality of its content.
The clear and colourful visuals are present throughout and mean it's miles away from the grim sci-fi we often see
To an MMO veteran the first five or so levels of Wildstar will probably provoke a feeling of disappointment-tinged deja-vu. Both of the two game's factions have introductory levels set aboard space-ships. They're designed to give you a flavour of that factions struggles and ambitions as you're drip-fed skills and abilities, that might eventually lead to something actually worthy of your time. It's dull, slow and the quests are largely about killing the trashiest of trash-mobs as you get acquainted with how pressing a hot-key works for the zillionth time. Fortunately, any MMO veteran knows that generally these games don't hit you with their best content up front. It's a bit of a slog and it's a troubling introduction to a game - that unlike other MMO's isn't built upon the foundation of an already beloved license or universe.
Fortunately, once you're escaped the tedious lectures and demeaning busy-work that constitutes your introduction to the game, you're sent planet-side. The planet Nexus, where the vast majority of Wildstar takes place promises us 'A galaxy of adventures on a single planet'. Which is partly marketing speak for 'Erm, we made a space game and set it on a single planet?!', but the other part of that is that it's a varied and most importantly - fun place to explore.
The classes you can choose from are sci-fi takes on the classic archetypes – damage dealers, healers and tanks. Each class can fulfil up to two roles and you can choose whether to specialize or try and make a hybrid character. For instance, the Spellslinger is a duel-pistol wielder who can pump their enemies full of magically enhanced bullets, but they've also got a bunch of healing spells they can use to keep themselves and their allies alive.
Player housing adds a collect-em-all element to regular looting as you search for decorations and components to spruce up your home
The various ways you can spend upgrades upon levelling means that it's pretty simple to choose what kind of role you want to play and by limiting each character to 9 slots on the hot-bar, it gives builds a certain clarity - you can't be a Swiss-army knife, but you can certainly be a machete. Races are a familiar mix of anthropomorphic furry animals, space zombies and erm... sort of facist robots with an improbably 'sexy' walk that is actually incredibly distracting. As ever- humans are over-represented because they generally get the best selection of beards in character creation.
The terrain of Nexus can swiftly move from lush greenery, to squalid marsh, to robotic factory lorded over by insane AIs. The developers have tilled a field for just about every sci-fi story to lay down roots and grow out of the planets surface. So yes, often you'll be killing, sabotaging, and seeking out military bases and all the nonsense busywork that occupies our time in MMO's. But there are plenty of interesting vignettes that see factions interacting with ancient guardians of the planet or warring amongst each other in this new environment. The key here really is variety, with 'Simon says' mini-games and even rhythm action moments introduced to the quest rotation to try and keep things fresh. Some quests will doubtless leave you cold and some will miss the mark, but there are plenty others to amuse and entertain.
As well as your standard questing, there are adventures, dungeons and activities related to your speciality – you can choose to be a soldier, colonist, explorer or scientist and each gives you access to further quests and a separate progression. Adventures are reminiscent of The Old Republic's flashpoints - one-shot story scenarios that will take you off to an instance where you get to make choices as a group, tackle tougher enemies and fight challenging bosses. And actually it's here where the combat system demonstrates its chops.
Weapon crafting is of course an option - in case you're sick of carrying round a ludicrous giant purple sword
Combat in Wildstar basically takes the best bits from other games - like Guild Wars 2 you need to keep moving to avoid telegraphed enemy attacks, like Guild Wars the first, your own abilities are pieced together on your toolbar from a much larger selection of skills. There's no auto-attack here so you'll need to aim yourself in the right direction if you actually plan on hitting anything. While the combat isn't exactly revelatory, it's still far more engaging than standard hotbar rotations and it means you're actually watching the action, rather than staring at cooldowns.
If your disposition towards MMOs is that you're waiting for other developers to take note of games like EvE and build something that moves the genre past World of Warcraft and its multitudes of clones – Wildstar is the anti-thesis of your dream. It's not a progressive MMO that moves the genre forward. Instead it's well-balanced, polished, highly entertaining and brimming with variety. There's barely been time to mention half of the features here, such as player housing, dungeons, raiding and the cool little flourishes - like an Unreal Tournament-esque announcer who belts out 'Double-Kill!, Triple Kill!' as you lay waste to the indigenous life of a far away planet. Wildstar may not do anything especially new, but it does things well, a distinction that means it has truly earned itself the lazy moniker of 'WoW in space'.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Upon each level-up you’re rewarded with a guitar lick and over-the top heavy metal logo smashing into the screen, which is a bit more satisfying than the traditional ‘ding’.