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Know the Strain

Gareth Harmer Posted:
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Next week, WildStar’s first content patch will arrive. Barely a month has passed since Carbine launched its inaugural MMO, and the studio is already churning out new content. This first Strain-themed ‘Ultra Drop’ isn’t exactly slim on content either, with one completely new zone and another being revamped for levelcapped players. Throw in new group content and a range of new items to hoard, and there’s certainly a lot to chew into. If you’re hungry to see more, our very own Bill Murphy managed to get an early peek at E3.

But what’s the story behind The Strain – the biological mutagen that corrupts everything it touches, leaving behind a grotesque mess of eyeballs, claws and tentacles? Where did this nightmare come from, and why were the Eldan so powerless to stop it? And just why is it so important that the Strain is defeated? In this week’s column, I’ll be tackling all these questions (spoiler warning), as well as sharing a few further details about what’s in store.

No Escape

Before I start unraveling The Strain’s origins, there’s one question I wanted to address: if it’s so bad, why don’t the Dominion and Exiles simply pack up and leave? For the rag-tag mercenaries, the simple answer is that they don’t have anywhere else to go; if they’re going to wage war against the mighty Dominion, they’ll certainly not give up to some purple fleshbags. As for the mighty intergalactic empire, this is about clinging on to their birthright like a dog clamps on a bone. Because they either can’t leave or won’t leave, the two factions have no choice but to deal with the Strain.

The Strain’s own history is interwoven with that of the Eldan, but it’s not as straightforward as you might think. As part of their grand Nexus Project, the long-lost race sought to create a powerful divine being in a facility known as the Genesis Chamber, with the benevolent Drusera being the result. But somehow, the same process gave rise to the Entity, a twisted and malevolent being determined to reshape all life on Nexus. It was this creature that went on to create the Strain, from deep below the planet’s surface.

The biological agent was like nothing the Eldan had seen before, from countless surveys on over a billion different worlds. Using a highly advanced bio-phage, it was able to infect and transform almost anything biological, from the simplest lifeform to complex creatures – even Eldan themselves. Unable to defend against the mutagenic onslaught, it’s not clear if they succumbed to an inevitable fate or fled to the stars. The nearby moon of Halon housed the Plasmic Equalizer, a weapon powerful enough to destroy the planet if necessary, but it was never used. Instead, the records fall silent.

In the intervening years, the Strain’s contamination has spread to the surface, infecting whole areas with bio-phage corruption. What’s surprising is that it hasn’t come to dominate the entire planet, although there may be other influences keeping it at bay. That said, the arrival of both Exiles and Dominion changes everything, with foolhardy explorers spreading contaminants far and wide, besides providing a plentiful source of sentient infected for the Entity to command. It’s likely to kick-start a race against time to get the mutagen under control, if not pushed back completely.

Fight the Phage

Although Carbine is touting this patch as the Strain Ultra-Drop, I have a feeling that we’ll be fighting the Entity’s creations for some time to come. This update contains the new zone of Blighthaven – a questing area with three solo episodes of missions to complete. This area is also home to the Genesis Chamber, which means we might discover more about Drusera’s remarkable creation. There’s also a tower defense style event, where 20 players will need to fight off hordes of ravenous Strain. We can plant different types of trees during the build phase, either playing it safe with more turrets, or risking it for higher rewards.

We’ll also be able to earn reputation with a new ‘Guardians of the Grove’ faction, and pick up new crafting recipes, strain-themed décor items like ribcages and pustules, and a new hoverboard. It’s also a permanent new addition to the world of Nexus, rather than vanishing when the next patch comes out. Using the world-changing plug-socket technology, the Strain Ultra-Drop will also change the Northern Wilds for level 50 players, becoming a daily quest hub called the Northern Wastes.

Ultimately though, I think that it’s going to take months, if not years, before we finally have an effective weapon against the Entity. Part of that will require unlocking the accumulated Eldan knowledge, a prospect that remains elusively out of reach. I wouldn’t be surprised if it also requires an element of cross-faction co-operation: the Mordesh have a brilliant understanding of biological factors, and the Chua can turn just about anything into a potent, deadly weapon. These mortal enemies might end up working together to fight a greater evil, even if it’s only temporary.

I’m left wondering, though, about which way the conclusion will swing. Would it be possible to fight phage with phage, by engineering a counteracting de-mutagen that harnesses the power of the original biological agent? It would certainly clean up massive tracts of land, but might result in an escalating phage war. And just how closely tied are Drusera and the Entity – can one exist without the other? Is it possible to have the benevolent good without the malevolent evil?

For now, the landscape is set for a long-running epic conflict. It’s unlikely that we’ll see more about the strain every month (Carbine’s already hinted that the second Ultra-Drop will have more of a PvP focus), but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Entity rears its head every few months. And even so, that’s not the only mystery that lurks in Nexus - even bigger shadows lurk just behind this one.

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

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.