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Cut the Cake!

Gareth Harmer Posted:
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Since my return to Nexus some six weeks ago, I’ve been able to dig further into WildStar’s many updates. I’ve noticed what’s changed since I first landed on the planet over a year ago, and been surprisingly pleased with what I’ve found. There are still a few rough edges to be sanded out, but the ocean of major issues has largely evaporated into a small pond of minor gripes. Some of which, I have a feeling, I’ll be attacking myself.

For now though, the community’s eyes have turned to the impending free-to-play transition, and what the ramifications might be. There’s the usual fear of a flood of griefing freeloaders when the switch gets flipped, or if Carbine’s focus will switch from creating meaningful content updates to shiny microtransaction loot.

And then there’s WildStar’s first birthday. For a game that’s been through so much, I’m pleased to see it make the milestone, with the player rewards spawning spontaneous in-game events. I just hope that it’s a prelude for bigger things to come, especially once the subscription barrier drops and the gates are flung wide open.

Team Effort

The biggest reason why I play MMOs more than any other genre is because they’re built for group play from the ground up. Everything about them, from venturing out into a new world, to becoming part of the fabric, is designed to promote interaction between yourself and other players. The best examples capitalize on this, nurturing a strong community that lives the game even when they’re logged off.

It’s why I had so many gripes about the earliest incarnation of WildStar, when it felt that leveling as a duo was a handicap or hindrance more than a bonus. Since coming back, however, the experience is much better – for the most part. As we’ve moved out of the mid-level areas and started to approach endgame, I’ve noticed a few collection quests where credit isn’t shared, or kill quests where we get credited unevenly. It’s a rare occurrence, but it means we regularly check as we’re working through a hub’s set of tasks.

We’ve also had a much bigger focus on Path missions this time around, although it has involved yanking eachother around the map just to finish off a zone. I can’t complain too much though, as the combined Path experience has propelled me to Explorer level eleventy billion, which rewards you with a compass embedded in your forehead and a map of Nexus tattooed on your arse. (Not really, but teaming up is a ridiculously good way of path leveling).

Aside from minor content gripes, my other whine is about the interface, and two components specifically. I’m not a fan of the current chatbox implementation and the limitation that won’t let me select channel color, or have a permanent background, or a number of other tweaks. I also really don’t like the current Auction House, which won’t let me filter on items I can actually use, or on unlocks (specifically Pets and Mounts – blame WildStar’s new range of vanity pets for this) that I haven’t already obtained. But, because they’re both written in Lua and can be modded by anyone, I have a feeling that I’m going to pull at least one of these apart in the not too distant future. The addon, that is. Not the pet.

Fear of the Freeloader

Now that WildStar’s going free-to-play later this year, I’ve started putting plans in place to make use of it. Part of that is clearing out my stock of AMP unlocks for any class that I’m not going to roll between now and the switch, as all AMPs will become unlocked by default at that point. I’m also keeping an eye on the price of CREDD as a way to pay for Signature Service, although I’m not sure if the value will go up or down at this point. It’s a little moot though, as I managed to take advantage of a retailer offer to pick up a load of Mystery Boxes and pay for my subscription through to December. With four months of additional Signature Service available as part of the Player Appreciation Rewards to anyone who subscribes by June 15, I’m not going to have to dip into my wallet again until April next year.

That’s the thing though – I don’t mind paying for WildStar, but I also don’t mind if people come in and play for free. Why? Because other players are content. They put items on the Auction House. They populate the dungeon queues. They provide targets in PvP. Heck, they might even be NPCs that just help to make the quest hubs and cities look busier. And who knows, if a free player comes in, tries WildStar and loves it, maybe they’ll subscribe too. Either way, it’s a process that’s worked great for other MMOs, and there’s no reason why it can’t work out for WildStar too.

As always though, there’re a few more things that I hope creep into the business model switch. One of them is a conversion to account bound collectibles, rather than having per-character unlocks. It would mean I’d only have to obtain a dye, or pet, or mount, once in order to use it on all my characters. I can see this being a little fiddly considering how some of the account entitlements (such as deluxe edition rewards) currently work, but I have my fingers crossed.

I’m also a little concerned about the bloat of new currencies the free-to-play transition will bring in. We’ll have NCoin, the virtual currency already used by NCSoft’s other titles such as Aion and Lineage. We’ll also have Omnibits, which are a grindable currency that will drop from mobs, and can also be used on the Item Store. And then there’s Loyalty Points, which are accrued through things like subscription time, and offer yet more in-game rewards. My initial thought was why bother with Omnibits at all, and instead let players grind gold for CREDD (which they already do), and just have the option to convert CREDD to NCoin (or vice versa). However, this would mean having to grind a whole CREDD worth of NCoin when you just want to pick up some cheap housing décor items, which is something that Omnibits would still cater for.

Cupcakes for Cupcakes

And finally, Carbine is handing out gifts to one and all. During the month of June, anyone who logs into Wildstar gets a crate full of birthday goodies. These include the Anniverserowsdower – possibly the saddest looking walking piñata you’ll ever see. Also in the pack is a Dance-plosion Device, complete with disco lighting and banging tunes, and a Party Starter confetti-horn-gun-thing. The icing on the cake, if you’ll excuse the pun, is a cupcake housing décor item. Because it can be scaled like any other prop, I’m looking forward to some of the more ingenious uses for a gargantuan treat.

More than that though, it’s sparked some impromptu celebrations, creating an in-game event of sorts. It’s also reminded me of some of the in-game events Carbine had planned for WildStar, including an early look at Shade’s Eve that we saw last year. It’s made me wonder – if free-to-play is coming this fall, perhaps it’ll coincide nicely with some seasonal content that will be completely new to both new and old players. Fingers crossed we’ll find out soon, as Carbine will be revealing more details about Drop 6 at this year’s E3.

Then again, Fall is only something like four months away. In that time, we’ll have a test realm to explore and feed back on, alts to level up, bank vaults to clear of junk, and endgame content to chew through. All of a sudden, it feels like the free-to-play switch is just around the corner. And I can barely wait to get started.


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.