Coming from several months of Elder Scrolls Online, Carbine’s WildStar is an altogether different experience. It used to be, just a few years back, that if two high profile MMOs released in the same year, chances are they would mirror each other in tone and mechanics. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to ESO and WildStar. And for this I am thankful, because so far WildStar is a refreshingly upbeat and robust theme park MMO. It’s more feature complete and filled with content than most any game is a year after launch. WildStar doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it sure adds plenty of chrome and shiny whitewalls to the usual gameplay experience.
I’m going to assume that most of you reading this know by now just what WildStar is all about. Exile (rebel) faction finds Nexus, the lost home world of the Eldan (creators of the universe). They settle there, expecting a happy life. The Dominion (empire) finds out about Nexus, decides to land there and to take it for themselves, by any means necessary. In the process of war, the two rival factions find a much deeper and darker secret about why the Eldan disappeared. Caught up? Good!
I don’t mean to brush off the narrative like that, because there’s actually a long and storied lore to Nexus. Chad Moore and his team have done an absolutely remarkable job crafting an entire Sci Fi universe, and it’s one that I’d love to read comics and books about. There’s a great mix of humor and gravitas, though the game’s art direction might lead many players to believe that WildStar is all about the saccharine color palette and Pixar-esque visuals, and therefore does not have any narrative depth.
To those who have mistakenly thought this: be sure to read up on all the lore books you find, read the quest text, and collect every darn data cube you find. You also might want to go the route of the Scientist in terms of your selected Path, as you’ll find even MORE lore littered about Nexus this way. I’d also suggest downloading the Addon called “LoreKeep”.
Taking down MetalMaw, the level 10 world boss in Deradune.
I put off playing the Dominion side of things all throughout beta, because I did not want to ruin the content by over-playing any of it. So come early Saturday morning on May 31st, after the DDOS attack on WildStar’s head start was averted, the life of GerBill the Chua Engineer and Settler began. Thank our own Rob, Gareth, and Christina for the excellent name suggestion.
The tutorial of each faction, where you spend your first three levels or so before landing on Nexus proper, is pretty uneventful and boring if I’m being honest. But then, most tutorials these days are. But it is needed in WildStar, as the game slowly but surely throws a whole ton of systems at you. The story about each arkship experience is a solid primer for what you’re doing on Nexus in the first place, again… so long as you don’t mind reading. There are quite a few nice cinematics in WildStar’s early hours, but most of the ADHD masses will likely “accept, accept, accept” every quest and mission without reading a damn thing.
One big thing that’s worth noting about WildStar is its combat. Like many MMOs these days, it’s a mix of traditional tab-targeting and skillshots. If you’ve played HiRez’s SMITE, you’ll be familiar with the way WildStar has you fighting. The whole thing runs on a telegraph system that not only tells you where your skills will land, but also where your enemies are aiming. The goal is to give players control of every battle, and to require a lot more movement than is traditionally required. Some loathe the telegraphs visually, as they do tend to draw the eye in, but if you turn them off in the UI settings chances are you’ll die quite a bit more. Telegraphs are a necessary evil in WildStar, and frankly I’ve come to really enjoy the combat with them. In older MMORPGs, I’ve always felt compelled to watch nothing but my hotbar and my cooldowns. In WildStar, I’m brought more into the action by being forced to keep an eye on my situation and movement. Simply put, the combat works and it works well.
Glorious, glorious hamster ball mount.
The Engineer is actually everything I hoped it would be. I made a bold decision to avoid playing the class early on, knowing I was drawn to the idea of a pet and tanking class right when it was revealed. The way character progression works, you slowly open up more and more support and utility abilities as you level, and you’re given multiple builds to formulate and swap between based on your needs. The only missing piece to this puzzle is that Carbine hasn’t yet tied in a Gear Set manager to the AMP and Ability builds. For instance, on my solo and DPS build, I want my gear to be more about attack power. But on my tanking build, I want my gear to focus more on support power (two separate stats). Right now I’m settling for swapping a few pieces out before entering a group situation, but with all the bells and whistles the game’s UI has, it would be nice for a gear set manager to be one of them.
There’s a metric buttload (official term) of content and things to do so far in WildStar. You’ll start off doing a traditional kill-quest, and then find yourself dashing like mad around the map to complete a specific challenge, or running all over trying to track down caches for your Settler path quest. Oh, and you can pepper in arenas, battlegrounds, adventures, shiphand missions, and dungeons too. Oh and crafting and housing. All at launch. No waiting months or years for everything to get added. In fact, in terms of MMOs, theme park or not, I’m struggling to think of a game that has more content and systems at launch. ArcheAge might be the only one that comes close when it launches later this year.
If I had to levy one complaint against WildStar, the biggest one would be that its questing is your run of the mill experience. Were it not for all the other side activities thrown in and the thrill of combat, WildStar’s leveling experience would be a chore. You kill things, you collect things, and you kill more things and collect more things. That said the freedom of movement in combat and the way Carbine lets you interact with the world make the experience a lot more joyous. Double jump, sprinting, physics in swimming (actual currents!), and gravity defying buffs make the usual “get me five berries from those trees” suddenly a fun thing to do.
My bots keeping watch while I take care of my doody.
I’m nearly level 17 of this writing, and next week we’ll focus hopefully on Adventures, Crafting, and maybe the first Dungeon. Or just one of those things, as there’s a lot to be said about each. I’ve been playing WildStar for months in beta, but I’ve always tried to not overdo my playtime because I knew I’d be reviewing the live product. Now that launch is here, I’m really finding a lot to enjoy on Nexus. There’s such a wealth of things to do, and it’s all so perfectly stylized in terms of visuals and sound that it’s hard not to get sucked in.
WildStar’s tone and pacing are charming and frenetic respectively, but they’re also extremely engaging. Not everyone will love the stylized cartoon graphics and hyper-paced moment to moment action. Carbine’s freshman effort is a lot like a candy shop. You could get a stomach ache if you eat too much, but it’ll taste good the whole time you’re scarfing it down. Sandbox gamers need not apply, but for those gamers looking for a new theme park with a wealth of content? Well, it seems like WildStar hits all the right buttons.
What remains to be seen is whether or not it has the legs to keep gamers interested after the level cap. That's always the big question, right? Can Carbine succeed where so many other content-based games have failed? Can they give subscribers enough monthly incentives to keep them playing and paying? Does the game have enough fun and progress at the top level to keep someone who likes to achieve things active, without necessarily shoehorning them into one type of content? Rest assured, we’ll be plowing our way through the content even while we’re at E3, so stay tuned for part two next week.
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.