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Carbine | Official Site
MMORPG | Setting:Sci-Fi | Status:Final  (rel 06/03/14)  | Pub:NCSoft
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Digesting Drop 3

WildStar Columns - By Gareth Harmer on November 13, 2014

Digesting Drop 3

Earlier this week, WildStar’s Drop 3 finally hit live servers. It’s been three long months, but the Mysteries of the Genesis Prime are now open for us to explore.  For many of us, the release marks the start of Carbine’s road to recovery. But does this latest update really tick all the boxes?

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Yes, there’s a stack of new content to chew through – I’m still working through it myself – including a heavy focus on single-player questing and the continuing world story. That said, Carbine Studios also acknowledged that it heard us loud and clear when we asked for bug-free updates. Despite having extra time to develop, tune and test new content, significant issues have still managed to creep in. Patch day itself was punctuated by server crashes, requiring a next-day hotfix to clear up. Players resubscribing via CREDD to check out the updates found themselves unable to log in until a backend fix was in place.

That said, there’s a huge amount of good stuff that also made it into Drop 3. We’ve previously taken a look at some of WildStar’s upcoming content, including the new zone and Journey to Omnicore-1 world story, but it’s the quality-of-life changes that form the bulk of this update. For me, the most significant are the runecrafting changes, taking much of the randomness out of gear itemization and making it significantly easier to tune gear any way you want. It’s not the full suite of itemization changes (those will be arriving as part of Drop 4 in January), but it’s a significant step in the right direction.

Just looking through the list, there are a number of other changes that I’m really pleased with. I can reply to whispers without having to type ‘/r’ every time. Capital city transmat cooldowns have plummeted from 24 hours to 30 minutes. The PvP Elo rating formulas have been tweaked to reduce rating decay, and Warplots have been lowered to 30v30. It’s going to take me a while to get used to all the Engineer class changes, but the improved freedom of movement is incredibly welcome. Likewise, every single class has been overhauled and rebalanced in the update.

And yet there’s this nagging sense of ‘OK, what’s next?’ I’ve been looking at the Nexus Saga and Drop 3 for so long, it’s already grown familiar and lost the sheen of novelty. I’m already looking ahead to the post-Christmas patch, mainly because I want to find out where Chad Moore plans to take WildStar’s story. We got some hints of that earlier this week where, on the Nexus Report Livestream, he mentioned that we might be heading off Nexus and visiting faction homeworlds. Right now though, I don’t know if we’ll be jumping into our spaceships next season, or if it’ll be later next year.

Returning to the present, I previously suggested that the arrival of Drop 3 would probably be an ideal opportunity to entice newcomers to try out WildStar for the first time, or to encourage former players to return. Now that the patch is actually here (although noticeably without the holiday events), I’m on the fence as to whether it’s actually a good idea. The game is certainly better than when it was released – there’s no doubt about that – but is it good enough to win people over?

Let me give you an example: over the last few weeks, I’ve been dipping into Warcraft’s Warlords of Draenor beta. It helped to cement certain things that I love about WildStar – to me, the active combat system feels so much more alive and responsive than dreary tab targeting. Movement is more appealing – double-tap dodge, sprint and double-jump are things that I check for in every other MMO now, and miss horribly when they’re not present. Azeroth’s low-poly, low-resolution world looks significantly dated when compared to the smooth newness of Nexus. But it’s the polish and care that Blizzard puts into everything, from making sure that the content works incredibly well, to making the world feel ‘lived in’, which still puts Carbine to shame.

Another example – WildStar’s Drop 3 has a number of known issues that the studio is currently tracking, and plans to fix in the weeks ahead. There are problems with limited action sets, with some harvesting nodes, and with some housing plots, to name but a few. While Carbine is reliant on the wide variety of players to test unusual combinations and report bugs that occur, I can’t help but feel that their in-house QA teams didn’t go far enough in making sure that the upcoming changes didn’t break existing features. I can only assume that they were heavily focused on catching any Megaserver-related issues, which allowed these Drop-related bugs to sneak through.

It’s clear, however, that Carbine is planning something to bring in new players. The box price has dropped by roughly 33%, with the standard edition now available for $39.99 or £24.99. Tie that in with a rumored free trial that might be happening, and you’ve got an easy way to entice potential players looking for something different. As for those WildStar veterans that are waiting for a reason to return, I can see them holding off for at least a few weeks until the bug fixes are in. Even then, the wider changes in Drop 4 – particularly itemization – are a valid reason to hold off until January before resubscribing.

With the move to a quarterly update schedule, Carbine was always going to find it challenging to persuade players to stick around. As we move into 6 months post-launch and beyond, that challenge only widens. While the level of content is certainly there, it’s the quality and polish of those updates that will ultimately decide if more players flock to Nexus.

Gareth Harmer / When he's not blasting or fireballing his way through a virtual world, Gareth "Gazimoff" Harmer can be found dissecting the mechanics of online games. Chua at heart, he's also our resident columnist for all things WildStar.