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WildStar Is The Best MMORPG That Deserved To Die

Nick Shively Posted:
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As each year passes, I expect the number of Reddit threads and video game forum posts about WildStar to dwindle, but the game never truly seems to stay dead. Although the WildStar servers officially closed in 2018, the game died for me back in 2015.

I always look back at my days playing WildStar fondly. Every time I go down memory lane, I try to assess whether or not I’m wearing rose-tinted glasses, but I don’t think I am. There are so many things that WildStar did right and a lot of other ideas that made it unique. It still has some of the most challenging and rewarding MMORPG raids ever created, one of the best housing systems ever created, and a completely unique world design; it even managed to offer a diverse set of races that didn’t devolve into space elf, dwarf, human, and orc.

Despite the sheer volume of enjoyment I got from WildStar, and the fact that I haven’t found another theme-park MMORPG to replace it, I can now look back and understand that WildStar deserved to die. I’ve defended WildStar tooth and nail in the past, blaming the death of the game on NCSoft’s corporate greed by rushing out an unfinished game and slow response to fix bugs, but there were truly deeper problems that couldn’t be chalked up to simple incompetence.

The WildStar Lifecycle

Considering it’s been more than 7 years since I’ve logged into WildStar, I’ve had to piece together what I remember with a monthly column that I used to write. From what I’ve been able to recall, during the first year of WildStar’s life there were 3 main phases that most players had to pass through: leveling, attunement, and raiding.

It’s not uncommon for an MMORPG to have a different feeling when transitioning from the leveling phase to the raiding phase with a handful of attunement requirements in between, but WildStar was a completely different beast.

One thing that WildStar really got right was its tutorial. Despite being an absurdly long intro into the MMORPG, the Crimson Isles was one of the most engaging starter zone experiences I’ve ever played. Unfortunately, after that the game transitions into a fairly typical theme-park MMO experience. Accept your quests at the hub, go kill or collect a few things and turn them back in. Of course, there were a handful of public events and tradeskill-related quests along the way, but none of this really broke the standard formula.

Personally, I didn’t care for the leveling experience in WildStar all that much and even chose to grind out quite a few levels just by doing PvP battlegrounds. Although the questing was fairly generic, I found the Adventure system to be a nice twist on dungeons.

Instead of the typical go from Point A to Point B dungeon structure, WildStar created Adventures that changed based on the choices of the group. This meant there were often multiple scenarios and endings for each Adventure. Unfortunately, this often created arguments about which final boss to fight because each had unique item drops, and most public groups often wanted to take the quickest or easiest adventure paths.

Just getting to max level in WildStar wasn’t much of a challenge. It could be done through questing or PvP battlegrounds, and even on a PvP server there weren’t many challenges that delayed players from reaching level 50. However, after reaching level 50 the difficulty ramps up considerably for anyone who wanted to raid, which was honestly the only thing to do besides PvP.

The attunement process was almost a running joke among the community because of how long and difficult it was. Many sites even created infographics detailing everything needed to be done, and even those were multiple pages long. At the time, there was an outcry from many of the more casual players because some of the tasks seemed almost impossible, but after I moved onto raiding I knew that if you couldn’t clear the attunement process then raiding was also going to be out of reach.

The main problem with the attunement process in WildStar was how unrewarding it was. It essentially boiled down to multiple time gates, such as grinding Elder Gems, reputation, and killing world bosses. Having to kill 10 world bosses was often to most problematic because they didn’t drop anything useful. This meant the only people killing world bosses were groups working on attunement, and those weren’t always available. I ended up getting around this a few times by tagging a boss and letting the enemy faction kill it, but there really needed to be an incentive to keep groups actively farming these bosses.

Besides the time gated content, there were multiple gear and skill checks along the process. Achieving a silver medal for every adventure and veteran dungeon was no joke. These essentially required perfect runs while completing the bonus challenges. Technically, you could still achieve silver with a death, but having to reset a fight often failed the time requirement. Again, these also weren’t very rewarding because in order to reach silver you already needed the best drops from the veteran dungeons.

Finally, after completing all 11 steps of the attunement process, players could enter the Genetic Archives raid…and promptly get slaughtered. The raids in WildStar were the best that I’ve ever played in the entire genre, but they were also the most brutal.

The guild that I cleared the silver dungeons and adventures with was only able to kill a single mini-boss in the Genetic Archives raid after multiple weeks. Shortly after, I moved over to another guild that had successfully killed the first 2 bosses: Experiment X-89 and Kuralak the Defiler.

Experiment X-89 was mostly focused on proper tanking and positioning. The entire fight took place on a series of platforms that were destroyed based on the attacks the boss used. This led to a constantly smaller space to fight and players could get launched off the platforms, which often led to some hilarious deaths. I didn’t find Kuralak to be as fun, but that fight did require the entire raid to be in sync or everyone would get wiped by debuffs.

Next up were the Phagetech Prototypes and Phase Maw. The prototypes were hands-down one of my favorite raids to tank in WildStar. The fight included 4 different bosses with unique abilities and 2 were active at any given time. Due to the bosses phasing in at different times there was a lot tank swapping and boss stacking to maximize damage output. This also made the fight dynamic and chaotic because you never knew exactly what you were going to get in which order.

Conversely, Phage Maw was a fairly straight fight that mostly consisted of alternating between killing the boss and bombs placed around the room. After a certain point, the bombs became unmanageable and the entire raid would wipe regardless of how well you played, which made the fight a DPS check for the most part.

The fifth raid boss in the Genetic Archives was the Phageborn Convergence, which actually consisted of four out of five bosses that would be randomized weekly in the encounter. Unlike the Phagetech Prototypes, these individually felt like full-fledged bosses and my guild never made it past this point. Despite only making it to 5 raid bosses, the complexity and challenge of their mechanics has still left me impressed even today. I’m aware that WildStar eventually released more raids, besides Genetic Archives and DataScape, but I heard these never quite lived up to the original ones.

A Narrow Experience

While I loved the challenging dungeons and raids in WildStar, the focus on these was also its biggest downfall and why the game ultimately deserved to die. With only a single difficulty settings for its raids, WildStar’s endgame was out of reach for most MMORPG players. The attunement process alone culled many players and I knew quite a few more who quit after being unsuccessful for weeks in the Genetic Archives.

Other than raiding, there wasn’t much to do for casual players. Crafting was relatively simple and existed to support raiders. For a long time, there was literally no gear treadmill available outside of raiding. All rated PvP content provided access to the same gear, which was about on par with the veteran dungeon drops or the mini-boss drops from raids. After that, there was basically nothing left to do.

The PvP side of the game was also underdeveloped. I loved hopping into rated battlegrounds when I wasn’t prepping for raids, but PvP rarely received updates and when it did it often came along with game-breaking bugs. The gear being streamlined between the types of PvP also didn’t help. Rated Arenas, Battlegrounds and Warplots essentially gave access to the same gear.

This created problems with arena win trading, which gave many players an initial edge in raiding and PvP. Despite Warplots, 40v40 PvP deathtraps, sounding like the coolest thing ever, I never actually got to experience one because finding 79 other players to PvP with for no decent rewards was literally impossible. I knew many of the raiders and hardcore PvPers on my server, but I only heard of a handful of people ever getting to play Warplots.

This lack of incentive for diverse content, and an overall lack of content outside of quests, dungeons, and raids, essentially set WildStar up to fail. This was a core development failure and not the result of too many bugs or an annoying attunement process. There simply needed to be content not tied to hardcore raiding that was worth doing, and it didn’t exist until it was too late for WildStar.

There was one area where WildStar was truly unique and didn’t involve combat at all. The housing was simply unparalleled; you could do nearly anything you wanted. Housing in MMORPGs was never a big draw for me, but I do appreciate a place to put trophies or maybe get some buffs.  However, there were some players who went out of their way to turn their houses into mini-games complete with prizes at the end. The sheer volume and creativity of the jumping puzzles and mazes that other players were able to build in the housing engine was simply impressive.

A Band-Aid too Small

In order to remedy some of the issues I pointed out, Carbine started working on a few updates to try and bring new players to the game while retaining what players it already had. Unfortunately, the roadmap fell behind schedule and development resources were pooled into the third major content update. While this added some open world and solo content, it also meant canceling the Halloween and Christmas events, which are normally popular in MMORPGs and at least temporarily distract the player base.

In a last-ditch effort, WildStar eventually switched to a free-to-play model in summer 2015.  I actually predicted this switch back in 2014 after noticing a dwindling population and seeing how some other games had stabilized by going free-to-play. Unfortunately, just as I speculated, WildStar didn’t really have enough to offer by the way of a free-to-play experience. Most of the benefits to paying players were simply incremental increases to experience earned and currency drops.

Going free-to-play managed to buy WildStar some time, but the writing was already on the wall. Despite its unique aesthetic, amazing raids, insanely customizable houses and action combat, WildStar didn’t offer enough content variety to keep the lights on and in the end deserved to be shut down for good.


Nick Shively