Every MMO has a midpoint, where the climb to level cap is the same distance as the journey we’ve already travelled. For WildStar that midpoint is Whitevale, taking characters from level 22 to 29, and offering a variety of feature unlocks on the way. It’s a land split into halves several times – from deep snow to grassy hills, or from the opportunistic Lopp traders to the corporate Protostar.
As the first contested zone, it’s also a frontline in the battle between Dominion and Exiles. But would this war be the centerpiece to the zone, or would it be part of the backdrop to a greater conflict? With the entire region undergoing a freezing climate change, I grabbed a shuttle to find out.
Birth of a Heresy
After leaving Auroria behind, I wasn’t sure what to expect with Whitevale. Excluding some off-world antics, it was my first time away from the vast continent of Olyssia, where the Dominion capital of Illium is found. Travelling to Alizar would put me right next to Thayd, the Exile capital. It would be the first time I’d encounter the opposite faction outside of a battleground, and I was curious (and a little paranoid) to see what would happen.
It’s a conflict that Carbine seemed eager to encourage. I arrived at a Dominion beachhead, bustling with machines of war that would tear apart any Exile stronghold they encountered. That military might didn’t matter though, as the hostile climate proved to be a much more brutal enemy. It seemed that the entire region had gone through a sudden and catastrophic climate change, coating the landscape with snow and freezing anything that couldn’t handle the bitter cold.
While I considered what could have caused such a switch in the weather, I moved out towards Sunderstone Hold, a nearby exile town. It seems the locals couldn’t take the hint that the Dominion were moving in, and needed either subjugating or capturing. The Empire isn’t entirely heartless either, constructing the nearby Deadrock prison to house anyone who remains defiant. Sure, it might be built on an island and surrounded by Shellarc-infested water, but it beats the alternative.
The conflict between the Dominion and Exiles has been running for years, but Nexus also gave birth to another breakaway group. I discovered back in Deradune that the mysterious Eldan had created nanites that could convert creatures into powerful, aggressive cyborgs. When those same nanites infected one particular Cassian, however, the result was radically different. Brother Calidor Antevian, once a high-ranking member of the Vigilant Church, found he could control the microscopic machines, discovering something he called ‘The Truth’ in the process. He then set upon technologically augmenting as many others as possible, raiding nearby camps and settlements for people he could forcibly convert to his cult.
It could also represent a crisis of faith within the Dominion itself. After worshipping the Eldan as gods for nearly a thousand years, seeing someone infused with the very technology they created would probably cause some to question their beliefs. Toric Antevian, head of the Vigilant Church’s military wing and brother of Calidor, was there to put down such heresy before it had a chance to grow wings. But despite my efforts, the Ascendancy would not be silenced so easily.
The Trouble with Terraformers
Climbing back into my Orbitron, I decided to find out just how far the Dominion army had pushed into Whitevale. My answer wasn’t far away; cresting a hill, I saw the unmistakable gold, red and alabaster of a friendly fort. As I looked closer my grin changed to a frown, as columns of thick smoke rose up to the sky. Gunning the throttle, I went in for a closer look.
It became clear that two major catastrophes held the balance of war in the region. A giant terraformer hung in the sky, with Exiles and Dominion fighting over the Eldan tech on the ground beneath. By the time I’d arrived, a Granok commander made the stupid decision to switch the thing on, blasting a massive crater in the ground and hideously mutating any troops caught in the fallout. It also tore open an underground cave filled with nesting Squirg – octopus-like creatures that leap onto your head, leaving you a mindless zombie under their control.
With every setback there is also an opportunity. Mondo Zax seized on the chance to investigate the particularly potent Nexian Squirg, demanding samples and specimens from across the battlefield. It also gave me a chance to rock-n-roll with my two favorite weapons of choice – flamethrowers and motorcycles. After mowing down or napalming enough of the brainless, I’m thinking of getting something fiery for my own mount.
On the journey up to level 29, WildStar also continued to throw new features at me. Mount customization unlocks at level 20, and a variety of hoverboards become available at 25. That’s also when you can access the War of the Wilds, a MOBA-style Adventure that I’m looking forward to trying out.
While Protostar’s corporate machine is busy extracting resources from Whitevale, the Lopp to the north are just as eager to buy and trade. I’m not sure just how they keep hold of all their prized posessions, considering how short and squishy they are, but they are certainly enthusiastic. Did they have a horrible invasion to push back, or some unspeakable foe to rescue them from? No. They wanted help fixing a wedding. It doesn’t matter if you’ve managed to explode a bison in such a way that the innards form a surprisingly useful galactic map; all these long-eared creatures are interested in are the ‘shiniest of shinies’.
That said, Protostar is having problems of it’s own. Between robot sabotage and employee abduction, sales and profits are spiraling down. Their solution? Hand out promotional plushies to the Ascendancy, of course! Speaking of which, I should have definitely sneaked one away for my own housing plot.
The most significant battle that I found in Whitevale wasn’t between Exile and Dominion, or even religion and heresy. It was a battle of ideals, between a lust for power and a respect for it. The Silverscale Ikthians, an aquatic race that lives mostly below water, had discovered a way to create hulking Leviathans and Behemoths from their warriors, by harnessing the vast stores of Primal Water that run underneath Whitevale. The Clearwater Pell, on the other hand, learned to manipulate the ebb and flow of the volatile liquid through a series of shamanistic rituals – a secret that the Ascendancy was desperate to obtain.
After the small skirmishes in Deradune and Auroria, Whitevale certainly felt like I’d arrived to the frontlines of a conflict. But it wasn’t what I expected – factional warfare was just one part of a greater story. That said, I’m also eager to find out what it’s like to level through on a PvP ruleset server, particularly considering the common questing areas in the later stages of the zone. My own experience from encountering other players was how their telegraphs merge with regular mobs to make dodging even more intense, even when you’re not flagged. And when you are both flagged, how gloriously entertaining the Chua sneak attack is.
Whitevale also left me with a number of questions. At this halfway point, I was beginning to wonder if the Eldan were still around, or if they’d abandoned Nexus completely. The Lopp also had a fear of anything ‘ghosty’, but their meaning remained a mystery. And yet, I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling of a story on the turn, rotating away from the Dominion vs. Exiles conflict and pivoting towards something shrouded in shadow. Sometimes, digging into a mystery is like staring into the Great Dark itself.
Gareth Harmer / Gareth Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.