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Destination - Arcterra Review

Gareth Harmer Posted:
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Pull on your cold-weather gear, because things are about to get frosty. WildStar’s latest content patch – Destination: Arcterra – has been on live servers for just over a week, giving us plenty of time to check out the final release.

With a huge number of open world bosses, mini events, daily quests and challenges, Arcterra is aimed squarely at WildStar’s endgame PvE crowd, particularly those who don’t raid or run dungeons regularly, but fancy dabbling in some large-scale group content. The new zone has also been designed to be repeatable, with Carbine Studios hoping that the layers of content will us entertained for some time to come.

Now that WildStar is free-to-play, is Arcterra worth checking out? In this mini-review, I’ll be looking to answer that very question. Ultimately though, it’ll depend on what you’re after: Lore hounds and open world fans will likely love the update, while raiders and PvPers will probably end up hanging on a while longer. Even so, it’s worth firing up the patcher and taking a peek at the next step in the Nexus Saga.

Land of Ice and Fire

When I wrote my preview of Arcterra a few months back, I described how the zone looks less like a winter wonderland, and more like a bleak, ice-covered nightmare. The dark sky hangs oppressively over a bleak, blue-white landscape punctuated by rivulets of lava. Every so often a blizzard sweeps in, destroying visibility and unsealing five new zone bosses. It’s a stark contrast to the cheerful snowdrifts of Whitevale, complete with dancing Lopp.

The continent itself holds a number of surprises, including a frozen crystallised river that gives a run speed boost, and a hollowed-out sea-creature that contains a few secrets. But it’s the forbidding Osun architecture that commands attention, from the new hub of Shiverskull Tower to the ominous Pillar of Kel Havik. These landmarks, combined with the sprawling river, mean that getting around Arcterra is as fast as skating on ice.

Then again, even with the fast movement, the zone is densely packed with content. There’s the usual challenges and daily quests, but Arcterra is also littered with public events just waiting to be found. These might involve freeing a Lopp caravan from an avalanche, helping an old-timer to cook stew, or protecting a wayward explorer from waves of attackers. There are several to discover, springing up in random locations on a regular basis.

Arcterra is also liberally coated with discoverables – datacubes and lore items – that are worth digging out of the snow. There’s a very grim and dark story to be found, of how the Pell assisted in building these giant edifices, of the macabre way in which they’re powered, and of the lengths that the Archon took to keep his vault hidden. My advice here is to grab the ZenRadar addon and scour the map mercilessly.

Bosses of Bor Milug

On top of the daily quests and public events, Arcterra is also home to a sliding scale of boss fights. During quiet times, these are a healthy scattering of 2-player challenges just begging to be taken down. Wipe them out fast enough, and 5-player boss fights spring up in their place. Annihilate these, and 20-player bosses come out to play. The rewards are worth it too – each boss drops an increasing amount of Pure Soulfrost, which can be traded for epic gear and zone rewards. Plus, there’s the occasional epic item, and more runes than you’ll ever need.

Several UI enhancements also make it easy to track when the major bosses are about to spawn, which makes it easy to tear across the zone and join in the brawl. It’s a huge boon, as it makes Arcterra feel less like a rampaging zerg, and more like a loose affiliation of bloodthirsty mercenaries that pull together when the big stuff needs killing.

On that note, however, not everything is perfect. Underneath Shiverskull Tower lurks an open raid encounter, but unlocking it requires a key. And that key requires loot from the Statues of the Covenguard, which only emerge during the aforementioned blizzards. Then the keyblade has to be forged, shoved in the lock, and the gates opened. How many times have I seen this happen? Zilch. Nada. Zero. There might be a boss lurking in there, but I feel that it’s currently a Schrodinger’s Box of unknown loot tables.

That said, the open world raid bosses are actually good fun. All four of them – Tower-Engineer Renhakul, Frostgale, Matuk the Scorned, and Kundar Ven Offen – have different attacks and telegraphs, and require different tactics to defeat. None of them are challenging with an army behind you, but they do require some finesse to avoid a needless repair bill.

Building a Snow-Lopp

Finally, there’s the new Zone Story. Continuing the Nexus Saga, Arcterra is where we’re supposed to discover the Vault of the Archon, revealing vital information to aid our fight against the Entity. Only... something’s missing. What story there is sets the scene, telling a grim tale about the Pell and the Osun, but then evaporates like morning mist. It doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger or planned break, but more like someone pressed pause on the narrative. As a lore fan myself, it’s infuriating; the story only took an evening to play through, and left me feeling unsatisfied.

As a result, my current playtime in Arcterra is currently spent picking up the daily quests, then bashing bosses and occasionally getting side-tracked with events or challenges. It’s certainly fun to complete, and the different forms of content can be played or ignored as I choose. Particularly the daily to get three gold challenge results – that one can die in a fire. From my current rate of progress, I’m picking up a new piece of epic gear almost every evening, which means that the zone will keep me busy for at least a few weeks.

But – and this is the big question – is Arcterra what WildStar needs right now? While I love the volume and style of daily PvE content, I feel like the zone story has been cut short. Raiders might be able to sustain themselves on the bigger boss fights, but their eyes are likely to be on RedMoon Terror, the new raid instance due later in the year. As for PvP players, there’s not much in the latest patch that’s likely to satisfy them.

That said, if Carbine is planning to release regular story content in this manner, it needs to take a long, hard look at what’s happening with SWTOR. The latest episode of Knights of the Fallen Empire just came out, loaded with an interesting story that felt carefully crafted and neatly presented. Not only that, but there was a teaser for the next chapter, and a planned release date for it. This is something WildStar desperately needs if it’s going to continue selling the pre-packed narrative.

As WildStar continues to mature as a free-to-play MMO, Arcterra is a great addition of interesting, repeatable level-cap content, that feels more enjoyable than most of the previous endgame playfields currently available. But, as competition continues to intensify, both from existing MMOs and new entrants, Carbine needs to consider how new content is carved up and presented, and how much of the production line it’s prepared to reveal.


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.