The chompacabra is out of the bag: WildStar will be going free-to-play on September 29. After announcing the switch back in May this year, and introducing a closed beta in August, Carbine Studios feels that the changes are almost ready for prime time. One further round of testing remains, starting today, before Nexus is opened to the masses.
However, this update is much more than just a business model change. The studio has taken a long, hard look at the game, bringing in further changes to get us out in the world as much as possible. The starter experience has been massively overhauled, and gear itemisation has been completely revamped. There’s little touches too, like a new content and group finder, a better runecrafting system, and even more sensible loot, rewards and interesting discoveries. There’s even a playtest of the first holiday event – Shade’s Eve.
If you’re a WildStar veteran, and hearing this has you salivating like a dog eyeing a steak, I know how you feel. Since Carbine announced the business model switch, I’ve been working through a mental checklist of everything that needed to be in place for it to work. And, now that we have a date for when that switch is going to happen, it’s time to review how WildStar’s free-to-play measures up.
The Value of Free
Shortly after the free-to-play announcement, I wrote that this is how WildStar should have launched. In the time since the sci-fi-MMO went live, Carbine has introduced Megaserver technology to bring players together, a slew of new content drops, and several quality of life improvements. But, with some of the best player housing seen in an online game, and a solid implementation of dyes and costumes, it feels like WildStar was built with the cosmetics market in mind. Seriously, they could have made bank selling $5 Cassian Chandeliers.
I also had three key topics that Carbine needed to deliver for a successful free-to-play launch: don’t impose obscene restrictions on free players; allow players to use the item shop without spending real money; and continually reward players for investing in the game. We’re most of the way on these – free players have only convenience and social restrictions; everyone earns Omnibits through play, and most items in the storefront have an Omnibits price, and Cosmic Rewards are Carbine’s way of saying thanks, both for subscribing in the past and spending money in the future.
Beyond that, I was eager for Carbine to make WildStar more accessible. That doesn’t mean dumbing down and pulling out all the challenge, as that’s all part of the entertainment. It means streamlining the starter experience to get players planetside quickly (it’s been overhauled). It means having a runecrafting system that’s more appealing than facing laundry day (it’s been improved). It means putting in group content with training wheels so that dungeons and adventures don’t feel like being catapulted into a brick wall (Fragment Zero opens at level 6, and the Protogames Academy opens at level 10). And it means having decent content finder tools that will let players queue for groups easily, and have a reasonable chance of success with them.
It means that, fundamentally, playing WildStar should mean time well spent. While I’ve regularly found that to be the case, it feels as though the changes Carbine is introducing will mean this applies to more people. But, in order to maintain our interest, the studio also needs to keep the content train rolling. Fortunately, the free-to-play update also contains shiny new stuff for us to chew through, including WildStar’s first holiday event.
The Three Act Epic
It only recently occurred to me, but WildStar is a tale in three acts. The first part sets the scene, unveilining the mysterious world of Nexus and the two warring factions. The second part, kicking in at around level 35, introduces Drusera and the purpose behind the Nexus Project. And the endgame was about arming us with the knowledge and power to reverse the impending apocalypse. Well, maybe not so much the last point, but you get the idea.
The only problem was, those first 30-odd levels became a bit of a drag, which is why Carbine decided to do something about it. Right at the start, hints of Drusera are foreshadowed. And at level 15, we get to dine on a feast of lore with Alpha Sanctum, a new single-player story instance. After playing through it myself on the closed beta server, I can safely say that it’s worth experiencing even if you’ve hit level cap. No spoliers though, I promise.
And then there’s Shade’s Eve. We first took a peek at WildStar’s initial holiday event back in August last year, and it’s great to finally see it in the flesh, with the capital cities of Thayd and Illium decked out in sinister finery. I’ve previously suggested that the event would make a great welcome for veterans, newcomers, and lapsed players, and (although it’s not been confirmed) it would seem that the studio agrees. For a comprehensive look at everything that’s crammed into the seasonal festivities, WildStar Core’s in-depth guide is well worth perusing. Needless to say, there’s a heck of a lot to keep us busy, including a brand new expedition to explore.
Tip of the Free Iceberg
I’ve not managed to cover everything that’s arriving as part of the free-to-play update. Bigger housing plots with increased item allowances, better quest rewards and vendors, improved discoveries with more interesting rewards, a revamped challenge system that removes much of the random luck, and the new Cryo-plex battleground are all being bundled in as well. Alas, linking housing plots together to make Neighbourhoods has been put on hold for now.
But what don’t we know? I’m assuming that Carbine will return to its quarterly cadence plan once free-to-play is live, putting the next update sometime around Christmas. What isn’t yet known is if future content will be put behind a paywall, or if content updates will be free. We also don’t know what further endgame content is planned, although there have been hints of a new raid, more holiday events, and additional lore. I think that a little bit of reassurance about the studio’s longer term plans for WildStar will go a long way.
That said, I definitely think that the free-to-play update is worth trying out, once it goes live on September 29. WildStar is almost nothing like the original closed beta over a year ago, and has changed significantly for the better since launch in 2014 - this latest iteration is by far the best yet. When you’re offered this much fun for free, it’s definitely worth a go.