WildStar’s road to Free-to-Play is nearly at an end. In less than two weeks, Carbine Studios will flip the switch, moving away from a mandatory subscription model. Fingers crossed, there’ll be an influx of new players eager to try the sci-fi MMO, and a few veterans heading back to check out the changes since last year.
And that’s the key – WildStar’s free-to-play beta is significantly different to the game that launched last year. I’ve covered it extensively in previous columns, but this isn’t just a business model change; Carbine is building on the previous five content updates to ensure that the MMO gets the best relaunch possible. Based on what I’ve seen so far, the studio intends to hit the ground running.
How so? Between now and the end of the year, WildStar has a hefty calendar of world events heading our way. It starts out gentle enough with a light PvP event to get things going, before moving headlong into Shade’s Eve. The pumpkins and poison-themed Halloween event brings two weeks of seasonal quests, challenges, and even an instance with holiday loot. Costumes and special pets are also up for grabs, and I’m particularly fond of the stovepipe hat that’s almost as tall as my Chua.
Start Your Engines
Heard of the zPrix? Until recently, neither had I, but the Hoverboard zPrix Invitational will be running for 4 days only from October 21. As the name suggests, it involves taking part in time trial races across Nexus, with three tracks available this time around. I managed to try the event out during the brief time it was enabled on the test server, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. As far as I’m concerned, the loot on offer – a costume and hoverboard – are just icing on the cake compared to how much fun this is.
Each of the three courses – in Celestion, Whitevale, and Deradune – largely follows one of the zone’s main rivers, so you end up gliding at speed on the water’s surface. The track includes a number of rings to mark the way, jump ramps and speed boosts to get around obstacles, and checkpoints to make sure you’re not cheating. That said, each one has a few shortcuts or alternate routes; crucial if you want to shave off a few vital seconds.
The fun comes in when you’re hurtling around the zone at ludicrous speeds, desperately trying to avoid any of the mobs or natural obstacles that still exist, while trying to hit every ring or beat your previous time. I managed to grab some sweet costume and housing décor rewards – definitely channelling Marty McChua – but the sweet new ride eluded me.
As an event goes, it’s not something I’d seen done in an MMO before, especially outside of player-organised events. This was something that felt unique and different, and hugely entertaining, and I’m optimistic that players will organise their own events off the back of it.
Of Pixies and Protostar
Rounding out the year, there’s Protostar’s Gala Winterfest Extravaganza – a celebration of consumerism and all the chaos it causes. Kicking off on December 18, this holiday special will include missions throughout Nexus as Protostar battles to Sell Even More Stuff. Carbine has also mentioned that a new instance – the SuperMall-in-the-Sky – will be open for business throughout the event, if you want to test your competitive shopping skills.
Beyond those already listed in Carbine’s calendar, I’m also confident that we’ll see further events throughout the year. We can look forward to the Doninion’s Foundation Day and Exile’s Starfall as two of the likeliest to appear. I’m also keen on the idea of a Draken-themed PvP event, possibly involving the defeat of High Clanlord Zhur, as a way of giving battlegrounds more of a lore-based footing. Maybe the Chua and Mordesh can put their differences to one side and host a morbidly destructive Science Fair?
That said, holiday events are just part of the content buffet that WildStar will need to offer to keep us interested. Once the dust has settled from the free-to-play launch on September 29, our attention will likely shift to the next update, likely to land sometime in January. It’s unclear what Carbine has in the pipe at the moment, but I’m hopeful that some of the studio’s housing ideas will make an appearance. After taking neighbourhoods – where players could interlock their housing plots together – off the slate a few months back, I’m hoping that something bigger and bolder will be the result. There’s also the unquenchable thirst for new raids, dungeons and other group content, but there’s glimmers of hope on that front too.
Before WildStar’s bundle of changes gets wrapped up, there’s one last thing that’s managed to creep in. According to a recent blogpost, Crafting will be overhauled to remove much of the complicated clutter, while at the same time aligning it with the new stat system. I’m still slightly nervous about the random nature of being able to craft items with particular stats, but I definitely like the idea of being able to equip our alts with some really nice levelling gear based off endgame recipes. Unsurprisingly though, it’s not so much the risk/reward balance that bothers me, but the cost of failure when pushing crafting to the limits.
Even so, there are still some features that I hoped would be added to WildStar. We’ve seen pets make an appearance, and a few more world bosses and some seasonal events will make the world feel more dynamic. But I’d still like to see how Neighbourhoods and guild housing ends up, and I’d love to see gliders make an appearance, even if they’re only linked to a holiday event. And a mobile app or armoury website would be splendid.
Ultimately though, these can wait. Carbine’s focus is on making the WildStar relaunch as successful as possible, and that’s absolutely the right thing to do. There’ll be plenty of time for whimsical indulgencies once the switch has been flipped and the gates swung open.