Allow me to be honest: WildStar’s been through a rough time since it launched last year. Players have quit and servers have been merged. Sales numbers are down. The studio has gone through layoffs and changed development cycle from monthly to ‘when it’s ready’. Planned world events were cancelled. By almost every measurable yardstick, life has been terrible for the sci-fi MMO.
And yet, as if they’ve been walking through fire, Carbine Studios has soldiered on. When former President Jeremy Gaffney stepped down following a cancer scare, narrative and development supremos Chad Moore and Mike Donatelli took the reins and kept WildStar moving. Yes, the updates have slowed down, but they’re still coming - Drop 5:INVASION has just brought a ship-load of casual-friendly content to live servers.
So, as Managing Editor Bill Murphy asks, is it time to return to WildStar? After being out of the loop since the start of 2015, I was asked to patch up and find out.
Ringing the Changes
Instead of reaching for my levelcapped Chua, I opted to start out with a middling alt. The Cassian Spellslinger was just where I left him, with the haunting theme of Auroria playing through my headset. It’s one of my favorite pieces in the soundtrack, somehow nudging me into sitting down, hiding the interface, and just watching the world idle by. It’s soppy, rose-tinted stuff, but it makes Nexus feel like home. Still, I had a job to do, and it was time to find out if this was a place worth staying in.
My first thought: the pain has gone. WildStar’s combat is no longer balanced on a knife-edge, but instead is now far more rewarding (and forgiving). You still need to pay attention in a fight, but missing a dodge-tap no longer results in being face-down in the dirt. I still prefer it to traditional tab-target hotkey-based combat, but it’s no longer draining to play for more than a couple of hours.
My second thought was that the interface has had one heck of a makeover, although many of the changes are subtle tweaks rather than major changes. Castbars now appear around character portraits. The Datachron has been absorbed into a unified questing pane on the left of the screen. Challenges are less disruptive, but also much easier to track and target.
And that’s just the first five minutes.
Digging deeper, it feels as though Carbine has finally walked away from the hardcore label it nailed itself to last year. 40-player raids are out, and a new ‘boss in a box’ raid called ‘Initialization Core Y-83’ has been added to help players gear up. Rating requirements have been removed from PvP gear, making it more accessible to those starting the battleground and arena grind. Non-combat pets, a costume holo-wardrobe, content contracts, and early level content refreshes all help to make Nexus a more welcoming place, making a stark contrast with my somewhat brutal launch-day experience. One year and five content updates later, it feels to me like WildStar is becoming the game it always should have been.
Rough With the Smooth
You probably know this, but there’s always a ‘but’. In WildStar’s case, it’s that there are still basic problems that are stopping players from getting together. The most glaring of these is the absence of default global chat channels, with the community banding together to establish them instead. On a similar note, I’m regularly hearing that the two PvP megaservers are underpopulated, with the European one being significantly affected by dwindling numbers. Over the coming months, I’d strongly encourage Carbine to look at ways in which it can encourage and nurture player interaction, even if it means making some unpleasant decisions.
I also have this nagging issue with some of WildStar’s content design. Case in point: I uncovered a Discovery, which spawned a teleport pad to a secret underground ICI base. Inside, a small group of Chua were plotting how to sneak some explosives without their Mechari manager finding out. It could have been the first in a recurring series of cameos for Tazz, Razz, Fazz, and unfortunate supervisor Ignix Delta, but instead they were generic ICI Operatives and ICI Operations Managers, puppeting like fairground automatons. It felt like a squandered opportunity that could have worked so much better in creating that sense of immersion.
The bitter pill for me is that we know the WildStar universe has a mass of lore behind it, with the studio revealing significant chunks through Loremageddon. I can’t help but wonder why much of this information isn’t in-game, just waiting for players to discover and catalogue, through discoverable books or NPC conversations if nothing else. A couple of ship technicians complaining about spindrive maintenance, fresh academy Spellslingers talking about things they’ve seen in the Void – it all adds color, and Nexus seems dry without it, even a year on.
Arguably though, WildStar has got better. To reuse the yardstick analogy I opened with, there’s much more content available to players, it’s much more accessible, and the experience of climbing to levelcap and exploring Nexus is significantly revamped. If your experience of Carbine’s MMO was sometime last year (or even back in beta), then it’s definitely worth grabbing the free trial, reactivating your account and checking out the changes. From my own experience, the cumulative updates of the last five drops are enough for me to resubscribe and get back in the game – for now at least.