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Carbine
MMORPG | Setting:Sci-Fi | Status:Cancelled  (est.rel 06/03/14)  | Pub:NCSoft
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Five Reasons You Should Try Free-to-Play

By Gareth Harmer on September 25, 2015 | Columns | Comments

Five Reasons You Should Try Free-to-Play

WildStar’s free-to-play launch is just around the corner, with servers being switched on 29 September. But we live in a golden age of gaming, with an unending buffet of games clamouring for our attention, so why should we give Carbine’s freshman effort a go?

Surprisingly, there’s a lot to like about the sci-fi MMO, and its charm has only grown in the year since launch. The Orange County studio has also knuckled down on churning out content and improving the experience, making this latest release the best version of WildStar I’ve played.

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So, if you’re still on the fence, or a former player thinking about coming back, here are five reasons why you should give WildStar a shot.

1 - It’s Fully Loaded

This isn’t some kind of niche pocket-realm Facebook game. WildStar is a full-fat, triple-A MMO that comes fully loaded with a smorgasbord of content the size of a Thanksgiving feast. There’s everything you’d want from a meaty sink-your-teeth-into MMO, whatever your particular preference of PvP, PvE or open-world content. And all of this is wrapped up in a unique sci-fi universe, complete with a cast of interesting characters and immersive lore.

What’s your poison? Raiding? Check. Dungeons? You betcha, with regular types and choose-your-own-path Adventure variants. You’ll even find little pocket Shiphand missions for 1-5 players that are a little quicker. PvP? There’s Arenas, Battlegrounds and even 30 vs 30 Warplots to quench your bloodthirst. Out in the open world, there are new bosses to find, endgame zones to explore, quests to complete, contracts to fulfil, and reputations to earn. The world of Nexus – and it’s a huge one –  is big enough to keep you busy for a long while.

If you prefer life at a slower pace, there’s the full range of crafting, harvesting, and playing the trading post for fun and profits. Crafting is an involved process, where new recipes can be discovered through experimentation, and items can be overcharged to give core stats a boost. Getting social is easy too – on top of guilds, characters can join multiple Circles for even more places to chat. Pushing that even further, WildStar contains one of the most powerful versions of player housing in an MMO, complete with pre-made plugs for crafting benches and fun challenges, and free-form tools to let you build whatever your imagination can conceive.

And that’s just the tip of the outer-space iceberg. Throw in costumes (and dyes), challenges, contract missions, dynamic events, holidays, customizable mounts, full addon support, path missions and more, and you’ve got a truly massive multiplayer game for the low price of absolutely free.

2 – It’s Refreshing

MMOs have design tropes and traditions. In some ways that’s a good thing, as a new game can become instantly familiar. Sometimes, though, it just becomes instantly boring, like a decaying zombie wearing the skin of a young hipster to attract attention. You might look cool, but you’re still a shambling, bitey zombie. It’s why, after playing more modern and innovative MMOs like WildStar, I struggle to go back to the slow-paced and old-fashioned MMO’s of yesteryear.

WildStar does a number of things differently, and it’s a welcome and refreshing change. The core part is combat – attacks and abilities have to be aimed, rather than blindly relying on tab targeting and button mashing. Different abilities have different telegraphs – cones, stripes, circles, etc. – which you can use to hit more than one enemy at a time. It means positioning is vital, whether you’re tanking the boss, bringing the DPS or healing the crowd.

Movement’s another aspect. Just getting around Nexus is enjoyable enough (seriously – hoverboards!), but combat is where it all comes together. You can dodge to get out of the bad stuff quickly, and sprint when you need to dash out of that deadly AoE. There’s also a double jump (twice as awesome as regular jump) which you’ll need to master for both dungeons and arenas. Throw in the new mouselook toggle, and you’ve got a happy blend of hotkey combat and third-person shooter.

Stepping back from the moment-to-moment experience, there’s another WildStar nuance that’s worth calling out. On top of choosing your faction, race and class at character creation, you’ll also be asked to choose a path. If you want more missions to kill things, choose the Soldier. Fans of map-hunting, scavenger hunts and jumping puzzles should try the Explorer. Lorehounds and knowledge seekers have the Scientist, and those with a more social flair should try out the Settler. A fair chunk of each zone’s content is tailored to each path, helping to tweak WildStar’s content to your own particular tastes.

3 - It’s Free

It’s almost become a tradition that subscription MMOs eventually switch to some form of free-to-play model. But out of all the conversions I’ve seen, WildStar’s is among the fairest of the bunch. There’s no content locked behind a paywall and no crippling handicaps for those who just want to try out the game. Instead, the whole world of Nexus and everything in it is open to everyone.

Yes, there’s an item shop stacked up with cosmetic items (armour, mounts, housing décor) and convenience (unlocks, boosts, etc), but you don’t have to part with crisp cash for these either. Almost everything in the store can also be bought with Omnibits, which are tokens you earn just for playing the game. If you desperately want that sweet Aurin nightstand for your cozy death fortress, you can save up the Omnibits. Alternatively, you can buy them with NCoin (real money), a currency that’s also used in Aion, Lineage II and the upcoming Blade & Soul.

Outside the item shop, WildStar’s subscription will become purely optional, with ‘Signature Service’ offering a range of perks for the dedicated Nexus resident. These include bonuses to auction house listings, being able to set up your own guild, and a bunch of other similar stuff. It definitely feels optional rather than essential, especially if you’re just starting out in Carbine’s sci-fi MMO. And again, if you want to try out Signature without grabbing the wallet, you can still buy CREDD (monthly subscription tokens) from other players on the trading post using in-game currency.

The icing on the cake has to be Cosmic Rewards, Carbine’s way of saying thanks for spending money on WildStar. If you take out Signature service, spend real money in the item shop, or buy and sell CREDD, you’ll earn Cosmic Points, which add up to unlock tiers of Rewards. Some of the bonuses are pets and costumes, but there are also several account unlocks that would normally require a subscription. And if you were a former subscriber before the switch, chances are you’ll already have a bunch of Cosmic Points waiting for you.

In fact, the only thing I found that required spending real money was Madame Fay’s Fortune. This mystical Lopp will allow you to gamble fortune coins for the chance at some rare loot, but you might just as easily end up with a sweet Lopp hoverboard or a plain old bag of Omnibits. The snag is that Madame Fay’s mystical powers require Fortune Coins, which are only available for NCoin from the item store. Handily, most of the prizes seem to be bind-on-equip, so you might find that exclusive loot for sale on the trading post.

4 - It’s Revamped and Reborn

If you were one of those players who tried WildStar out at launch (or even the early beta), I can understand why you logged out and didn’t look back. A year ago, launch troubles, performance problems and quality control issues threatened to sink the fledgling MMO before it even got out of the gate.

Since those dark times, WildStar has changed for the better. Over the past five content updates, Carbine Studios has been working to remove many of the gripes and grumbles we had with the original game at launch. Just how much? Buckle up, because this is one heck of a list.

There’s new endgame questing and daily zones that continue the story. A new 15 vs 15 battleground. Alongside the new content, there’s been significant quality of life improvements: raids have been dropped down to 20 players each, a new level 10 dungeon has been added to teach the basics, and there are veteran levelcapped versions of the flexible-size Shiphand instances. That’s not all: daily contract missions offer even more to do at endgame, plus more endgame quest zones and raids.

Phew. And that’s just the short version of content drops 1 to 5. For the free-to-play update, Carbine’s been pulling out all the stops to cut out the clutter and make WildStar even easier to get into and start blasting. That includes a substantial early game revamp, some welcome updates to loot (and zone challenges to cut out the RNG frustration), and nice touches to the rewards from Discoveries too.

Didn’t like the confusing stat names? Don’t worry, they’re gone. Not a fan of the complicated runecrafting system? That’s been revamped. Felt that crafting was too cumbersome? It’s getting overhauled. Even the insane attunement grind to start raiding has been pruned back to four steps. It’s all part of Carbine’s mission to make life easier, allowing us to spend more time enjoying the game.

It’s why I’m very confident when I say that this is the best version of WildStar I’ve played, and it’s well worth coming back to.

5 – It’s Self-Contained

I know I’ve had this a few times: a new MMO comes out, and you decide to jump in. Only, there’s several single player prequel games, each with their own expansion. Oh, and there’s standalone novels. And a comic series. Before you know it, your desire to immerse yourself in a new game world has turned into a degree-grade reading list, just to understand all the references and background.

By contrast, WildStar has everything you need, right in the game. It’s a brand new IP, with none of the associated baggage to anchor it down. As a result, the story feels fun, quirky and unexpected, especially once the core plot steps into high gear. It’s why Carbine added the Alpha Sanctum, a lore-heavy museum of sorts, which reveals more about the mysterious Eldan and secret Nexus Project. Further story instances are scattered throughout the levelling journey, gradually peeling back the curtain on just what was happening on the planet, and why everyone’s desperate to get a piece of the action.

There are also numerous story titbits strewn around Nexus, just waiting to be discovered. Eldan datacubes contain small segments about the planet’s past, told from the point of view of the mysterious scientists themselves. Tales From Beyond the Fringe are a collectible in-game comic series featuring the history of some of the characters you’ll encounter. An assortment of books, journals, logs and other notes are also scattered around, for those eager to know every last scrap of story.

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.