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Bring Your Friends

Gareth Harmer Posted:
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Just how multi-player are modern day MMOs? It’s an area that’s often overlooked, especially as a large percentage of us treat them as solo experiences. Outside of the odd dungeon or battleground, many of us are happy to treat online games as a single-player RPG with a chat box bolted to the corner of the screen. Which we then promptly ignore.

WildStar tries to adhere more strongly to basic MMO principles, and that includes having content in the open world for groups of players to enjoy together. But just how multiplayer-friendly are all the basic elements? In this week’s column, I’ll be aiming to answer that very question.

Over the last month, I’ve been playing WildStar as part of a two-player team. We’ve climbed up from character creation to level 49-and-a-bit, exploring zones and completing missions as a pair. Whether you’re a gaming couple like us that are looking for their next game, or two guild mates that want to start a new project together, I’ll be letting you know just what to expect.

In the Beginning

Once we’d gone through the typical debates of picking a server and choosing a faction, creating two characters was actually fairly easy. This time around I rolled a Chua Engineer, while Cerys (my wife) chose a Chua Medic. The idea was that we’d blast away the basic mobs, but could flip to tank and healer for anything more challenging. And though I’m getting ahead of myself, it’s a strategy that paid off nicely.

Our first obstacle became apparent just after we’d logged in for the first time. In order to stop newcomers from getting overwhelmed, WildStar caps the early level zones to a low number of players, and so we arrived in different instances of the Dominion arkship. It was easy enough to fix – a quick group invite and we were automatically asked if we wanted to sync up. Once established, that group would even persist through computer crashes and disconnects, which made the rare hiccup fairly painless to deal with.

Questing in WildStar generally works well as a group, but we found that it depends largely on the type of mission. Sometimes we’d start a kill quest, only to cry in unison as the progress bar barely filled. Yes, we could pull more mobs to fill that meter faster, and often did, stacking up the Super Kills as we did. But it wasn’t until much later when we were both in Malgrave that we noticed the benefit of killing Prime mobs. These creatures have a special red outline and portrait, and usually need 2 to 5 players to defeat. By switching to hybrid specs, we could take down these tougher creatures and move the needle to completion in much larger chunks.

Other mission types, however, were a bit of a mixed bag when doing them in a group, with collection quests being the biggest problem. If the Dominion demanded twenty plant specimens, we’d both need to fill that quota individually. If we were given a special flamethrower to purge an Exo-lab of Terminites, we’d both need to meet the number. But, if we had to harvest Eldan relics from mutated slimes, the items would usually drop for both of us. It felt a little inconsistent at times, and we’d constantly be checking to see if one player’s action contributed to the progress of another. Of course, this means actually having to talk to your leveling partner rather than playing on auto-pilot, so it’s not strictly a bad thing.

Fighting Through the Layers

We’d probably have more of a gripe if WildStar was all about questing, but there’s much more to the game than that. I’ve talked about Carbine’s approach to layered content before, but it really pays off when grouping up. And it all starts right from the beginning.

I mentioned that because we were grouped, we could kill more, right? Well, WildStar’s combat mechanics have some momentum built-in, which means you get buffs for laying down the carnage. With the two of us in hybrid specs, we could just keep pulling and pulling, mowing through mobs like a machine. And besides, the telegraph system means that when Cerys is dropping down a heal, I know where I need to dash so that I can grab the benefit. She can predict where I’m going to move to, based on what the mobs are throwing down. The whole thing becomes more instinctive and natural, once you get used to it.

Challenge quests were a similar deal. As long as we both got a couple of hits in, we’d both get credit for the kill, and so we’d both progress at the same speed. Even better, if one of us triggered a kill-based challenge, the other would automatically get it, making it really easy for both of us to get stuck in. The only drawback came with collection-based challenges that didn’t relate to looting from mobs; in these cases, one of us would do the challenge and take a look at the rewards, before the other decided if it was worth doing.

Each major quest hub also has a bounty board, offering special rewards for killing a particular group mob. Almost every time, we would flip from pure DPS to hybrid or full alternate specs and take the target down, only hitting a wall with some nasty 5-player mobs. Even then, we’ve been able to rally others in the zone, even managing to bag a Metal Maw kill in the process.

Paths and Star Charts

If I’m honest, I expected our plan to become unstuck when it came to paths; we both chose Scientist, because of the extra lore and the snazzy costumes. Surprisingly though, everything worked. We could scan mobs together, unlock secrets together, and even carry out experiments together. The only problems we had were with scannable items that would subsequently despawn, like some loftite crystals in Malgrave. We’d also get a little narked about gathering up a whole stack of buzzbings or squirg, only for some of their corpses to despawn before we could fire our scanbots at them. Again, it was all about finding that balance between a killing machine and thorough researcher.

And then, there’s the prize of group play – WildStar’s Shiphand missions. If you’ve not experienced these, Shiphands are short but fun instances that flex in difficulty to the size of your group. They also have some great themes and stories, in both a literal and figurative departure from the events on the surface of Nexus. There was one time where we had to patch a science vessel where an aggressive hallucinogen was leaking into the air supply, with some amazing and hilarious results. Another had us handed over to the Darkspur Cartel, only to take part in their own version of The Running Man. And, because they’re so flexible, we could decide to do one on the spur of the moment – we didn’t need to find others before we could start.

By comparison, the Drusera instances have been a solo affair. I’ve really enjoyed the way that Carbine has presented the world story, but I can’t help but feel that I’d like to have shared the experience. After achieving such great heroics as a duo throughout Nexus, it felt a little weird to be leaving that behind at the portal entrance.

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Gareth Harmer

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.