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Column: The Hardcore Label

By Gareth Harmer on July 31, 2014

WildStar’s honeymoon period is over. The shiny newness and novelty has worn off, as players have grown used to Carbine’s take on the MMO. Genre tourists have moved on, like nomadic versions of Statler and Waldorf. The population of Nexus is definitely changing, from a plucky band of explorers to those who want to make the game their home.


At the moment, those tenacious founders seem as if they’re split into two camps. They’re united by their love and passion for what Carbine has created – that’s evident from the effort they put into playing. But while some think it’s near-perfect, there are others who feel that WildStar is a broken, unplayable mess. At least, that’s what the forums suggest.

For WildStar, the truth is actually somewhere in the middle ground. Two months in, the game still has significant problems, some of which are crippling for those who play a singular feature rather than enjoying the broader game. Yet I’m left wondering if Carbine didn’t compound this problem by enticing that very group. Did the studio do the right thing by enthusiastically beating the Hardcore drum, or has it led to unrealistic expectations?

A Hardcore Foundation

I wouldn’t resort to the dramatic language seen elsewhere, but WildStar is suffering from a series of interlocking problems, where one can’t be considered fixed until another one is resolved. If you’re a hardcore player that wants to do hardcore content, it’s a recipe for frustration.

Let me give you an example. I love the Engineer class – it has heavy armor to mitigate a ton of incoming damage, has a ranged heavy gun to keep me out of trouble, and can quickly hop between reasonable DPS and tough tanking. What I don’t like are the bots; cute as they are, these mechanical pets have significant pathing and AI issues, making them useless in many situations. Other classes have their own issues – abilities that don’t work properly, or work all too well. This likely has a knock-on effect on class balancing, as it’s tough to gauge how changes will work in the game compared to spreadsheet-shaped predictions.

PvP has another set of problems, although some of these should be fixed by the recently-deployed PvP ultra-drop, and we’ll see how they pan out over the next few weeks.  But there are also complaints about PvP class balance, which is dependent on fixes from the class team. See where I’m going? And that’s not even touching other areas, like raiding, AMD performance, and so on. At what point would a player call PvP ‘fixed’?

Here’s where the snag creeps in. WildStar was meant to embrace the hardcore mentality for certain game modes. The DevSpeak videos are liberally peppered with ‘Hardcore’. The tone through beta suggested Hardcore. So it becomes a bit hard to stomach the news, when we hear on Carbine’s live stream that eventual fixes for the hardcore group might be another two months out. For the hardcore raider, that could mean benching in order for the guild to get a world first. For the hardcore PvPer, that could mean half a season of struggle. It feels inconsistent with the mantra preached by the studio itself.

And yet, the Carbine’s own development cycle is understandable and predictable. Game breaking bugs get hotfixed, but almost everything else gets pushed into the big monthly updates. Every month, the changes get locked down, passed through internal QA, and sent to the PTR for testing. Four weeks later, and it’s deployed to the live game. And because WildStar has so many moving parts, that period of testing is definitely required. But is it Hardcore?

The Future Outlook

So what does this mean for WildStar’s future? In the short term at least, we can expect monthly updates that are a mix of changes, fixes and new content. Carbine’s been planning out these patches for several months, and it’s unlikely they’ll heavily revamp those plans at this stage.

That said, Carbine urgently needs to get on the Hardcore front foot, responding to those critics with meaningful updates that address those concerns. Fluff like spectator modes and cosmetic options can wait, but WildStar needs a hardcore foundation that can support hardcore play. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s likely to require heavy dialogue with players, but it is possible to reach. The question is whether the studio can meet a hardcore timetable itself, in order to address the concerns of the hardcore raiders and PvPers that it courted so heavily.

But, if you’re thinking I’m giving up on WildStar, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m still having a blast with it, albeit in a non-hardcore way. Then again, I tend to play an MMO for the entirety it offers, rather than focusing tightly on a single feature. Like many games, it’s hugely rewarding as long as I don’t take it too seriously. For example, I’m heavily enjoying the practice-mode battlegrounds and building a set of PvP gear, and I’m starting to work through the level-cap content as well.

Once that hardcore foundation is in place and I’ve chosen where to focus, you can be sure I’ll be moving into a hardcore niche as well. Till then, there’s so much more of Nexus to enjoy, and I think that’s something that the hardcore players should consider as well. The fixes and patches might not arrive tomorrow, but they will arrive. Influencing and preparing for them is just as hardcore as using the changes to smash your rivals into the ground.

Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” 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.

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Gareth Harmer / When he's not blasting or fireballing his way through a virtual world, Gareth "Gazimoff" Harmer can be found dissecting the mechanics of online games. Chua at heart, he's also our resident columnist for all things WildStar.