Like all other theme-park MMOs, WildStar has struggled to meet the demand for fresh endgame content. Initially the plan was to produce a content patch every month, but the growing logistical complexities crushed that idea shortly after launch. Today, a humbler and leaner Carbine prefers to focus on providing longer-term incentives for staying in the endgame, beyond adding a new raid tier or story zone.
This is where the Primal Matrix comes in. WildStar’s latest patch, currently on the Public Test Realm, aims to keep the endgame ball rolling through two new techniques. One is a new matrix that opens up at level cap, offering a mix of new abilities, improvements to existing ones, and character stat increases. The other is scaling endgame dungeons across ten Prime levels, offering better rewards for defeating the tougher challenges.
How does it all pan out? After taking a closer look at the changes on WildStar’s PTR, the Primal Matrix seems to offer those endgame incentives we’ve been crying out for. That said, I’m left with a few nagging concerns, particularly about players being left behind while preformed groups take on the hardest challenges. It’ll be interesting to see how Carbine responds to player feedback before going live with the update later in February.
The Matrix Revolutions
Firstly, the lore: what is the Primal Matrix? In her ongoing fight against the Entity, Drusera offers to unlock the full potential of those new heroes on Nexus. In one brief visit, characters have their Matrix opened ready for develop, and gain the ability to collect Primal Essences with which to power it. In this way, they’ll be able to develop further than looting gear alone, helping them to take on even tougher challenges.
Unlocked at level 50, the Primal Matrix is a new progression system enabling characters to gradually increase in power. It sits on top of Ability Points (which unlock and boost abilities) and Advanced Modification Protocols (AMPs, which work like talents to tweak those abilities), but kicks in at endgame and grows slowly. Unlocking nodes in the Primal Matrix might add AMP or Ability points, or even open up whole new abilities, making it worth spending the time to fill out.
So far, it feels like other endgame progression systems we’ve seen, such as Rift’s Planar Attunement or Elder Scrolls Online’s Champion System. But there’s a twist: rather than simply awarding points for doing endgame content, WildStar’s system uses four different Primal Essences. Different essence types unlock different nodes, and different content types will reward different essences. In order to maximise your essence intake, you’re going to end up playing a lot of different content.
At this point, it’s an idea I can get behind. It gives me a reason to regularly and repeatedly do endgame content, including dungeons, expeditions, World Bosses, contracts, daily quests, and even PvP battlegrounds. Those essence types will rotate around content periodically as well, so I won’t find myself blocked off if I’m not doing world bosses, for example. There’s even a neat catch-up mechanism - Drusera’s Gift - which acts like a rested bonus buff to boost your essence intake.
On top of the myriad primary and secondary stats our characters already have, the Primal Matrix also introduces three new ones. Tenacity deals more damage as an enemy’s health gets lower, Toughness takes less damage as a character’s health gets lower, and Hope does more healing as a character’s health gets lower. They all sound like neat ideas, but I can’t help but question the wisdom of adding even more stats when we already seem to be swimming in them. Still, it makes it easier to regulate the growth of power as more of the Primal Matrix is completed, and the concepts are in-keeping with that desperate struggle against the Entity.
And yes, I’m still bitter about the loss of Moxie.
Alongside the Primal Matrix, the content update will include two new instances: a 5-player dungeon named Coldblood Citadel, and a 1-5 player expedition named Evil from the Ether. While we’ve yet to see either make their debut on the PTR, both will come with a nifty new feature: Prime Scaling. Instead of having a Veteran mode, players will start out at Prime 0. Complete that with at least a Silver medal, and you’ll open up the next difficulty level, all the way up to Prime 10. The existing dungeons and expeditions of Ruins of Kel Voreth, Stormtalon’s Lair, They Came from Fragment Zero and The Gauntlet will also support Prime Scaling when the feature launches.
As you’d expect, Prime Scaling offers better rewards for defeating the harder challenges. Current plans are to scale up loot by 5 item levels for each Prime Level, although this needs to be balanced with raiding to make sure the latter content is still appealing. The big worry for me though is in group restrictions - Prime Instances are only accessible by pre-formed groups, which could easily leave people out in the cold. I’m concerned that, instead of pulling everyone together, it’ll push players into those that do Primes in their own groups, and everyone else who’s left in LFG limbo.
While new challenges are very welcome, I’m also looking forward to the downward scaling that all instances will support from patch day. Dive into looking for group on a lowbie alt, and the instance will scale for your level, even if you get paired with endgame players. They still get loot that’s appropriate for their level, and I’ll get carried through on an express train of carnage. It also feels like a great step for those who’ve never really got into WildStar’s instances and are looking for a way to ease themselves into it before facing the tougher stuff.
Beyond the Prime
Although we’ve already discovered about the Primal Matrix and Prime Scaling, the system is still in development, with Carbine collecting feedback and tweaking parameters in response. Even so, careful monitoring is needed to ensure that it becomes a tool that brings players together, and doesn’t segregate them into ever diminishing groups as they climb the Prime Levels. There’s also an open question around PvP, and how to address a growing imbalance between fresh endgame players and Matrix-heavy veterans as they face against each other on the battleground.
Beyond the Primal Matrix, I’m curious why Carbine didn’t seize the opportunity to simplify and streamline the runecrafting system, especially as players will be hunting for even more frequent gear updates as they press through Prime instances. We’re also still waiting to hear more on the Nexus Saga, and how the story will continue to evolve following Redmoon Terror.
For now though, I’m eager to discover what’s going on in both the Coldblood Citadel and the Evil from the Ether, and I’ll be sharing what I find once these new instances arrive. In the meantime, will the Primal Matrix persuade you to dust off your old WildStar characters, and are endgame progression systems like these enough to keep you in an MMO? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments.