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WildStar Column: Stepping Out From the Shadow

By Gareth Harmer on February 27, 2014

It’s been a long time since WildStar was announced at Gamescom 2011. Since then, we’ve learned much about Carbine’s upcoming MMO, from basic principles upwards. Despite this, there’s one comment that the studio hasn’t been able to shake: it looks similar to World of Warcraft. It’s a topic that crops up regularly, even on our own forums.

But is this comparison actually a bad thing, or could it work out in Carbine’s favor? While there are a number of similarities that WildStar shares with the larger themepark MMO genre, it’s also possible to see where the game is striking out. There’s a blend of both familiar elements and innovative ideas, so that the experience is comfortable for genre veterans while still being appealing.

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But it also comes with a risk. Warlords of Draenor lurks on the horizon, threatening to sink Carbine’s ship before it’s barely out of port. But, with changes like the recently announced UI revamp and future engine optimizations, the visual differences between the two games are likely to become more apparent. The next few months could contain a number of eye-opening changes as we sail closer to release.

Genre Definition

At first glance, both WildStar and World of Warcraft have similar art styles, although they originated from different places. WoW’s imagery came from many years of RTS development, with building designs and character models being handed down from pixels to polygons. WildStar, on the other hand, looked to Pixar for their art inspiration, choosing bright colors and bold textures as the background for their game. They have both led to a similar cartoony appearance, but that’s done to ensure the game runs on a wide variety of machines and doesn’t age as rapidly as cutting-edge ultra-realistic graphics choices do.

Beyond that, both games have common elements that can be found in almost every other theme park MMO. Even so, the developers at Carbine (including veterans from Blizzard, Turbine, Mythic and other MMO studios) have been making strides to mix things up where possible in their quest to look for improvements or alternatives.

On the subject of questing, both games share similar questing methods, moving from hub to hub, and showing the impact of quests with phasing. That said, WildStar’s delivery mechanism is a little different – offering tweet-sized messages for those who just want to click through and get moving, with additional lore available for those who want it. Additional missions are available through the Path system, which feeds in further content based on Bartle preferences.

When not out in the wide world, both offer Dungeons as 5-player instances that rely on the trinity of roles. In this case, WildStar’s looking to make the experience more replayable with dungeons that change setup frequently (possibly every hour) and Adventures that let players choose their own route and outcome. Raids are also in both – Carbine’s hoping to attract the best to WildStar with setups that change every week to keep challenges fresh, and admits that attunements and difficulty will restrict them to the most dedicated.

PvP, in battleground and arena form is also in both, although WildStar’s Walatiki Temple is unlike anything I’ve played in other MMOs. But there’s also a twist for those looking for high-end battles in a slightly more organized form than World Vs World or dedicated PvP zones. Warplots are 40 vs 40 battles that on fortresses that are designed by each team, and can incorporate defensive features such as death cannons and captured raid bosses. Elo ratings are also used for matchmaking in WildStar to make sure the best gladiators float to the top.

Gathering using the resource node system is common to both, although Carbine have made things more interesting here as well. As an anti-farm and make-gathering-interesting measure, an iron node might sprout legs and scamper off, or erupt into a giant iron worm, or reveal a cave full of ore nodes. And although both have crafting, Carbine’s thrown out the flat recipe list in favor of two completely different crafting systems for consumables and equipment. Both include trading posts, but WildStar’s split theirs into a Commodities Exchange and Auction House that work cross-faction, not cross-realm.

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