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The Arcterra Assessment

WildStar Previews - By Gareth Harmer on February 29, 2016

The Arcterra Assessment

It’s been a long wait, but WildStar’s test realm has just been patched with a ton of new content. The latest update, Destination: Arcterra, introduces a new frozen wasteland zone that’s packed with cruel, foreboding architecture. It also promises to continue the Nexus Saga, picking up the world story and leading us on a search for the Vault of the Archon.

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With a lore carrot dangling like that, I couldn’t resist checking out the new content for myself. But, even if you’re not a lorehound, Arcterra introduces some neat new world events that are sprinkled throughout the zone. There’s even a curious scaling mechanism that boosts up these bosses as more players pile in to take them on. If you like your big open-world fights, it feels like this is where you’ll be heading.

But there’s also a flipside, with news coming out this week that WildStar’s PvP servers are being closed on March 16. Although existing characters will be transferred to PvE servers, there’s a slight wrinkle on character names that’s worth reading, particularly if you’ve got names reserved on unplayed alts. There are also new incentives going in for flagging yourself for PvP in a PvE zone, providing a little extra reward for those taking the risk.

No Winter Wonderland

When I think of remote snow-driven lands, a picture emerges of soft blankets of snow, cheery log cabins, picturesque forests and clear, blue skies. I’m not sure what the holiday brochure for Arcterra would look like, but there’s nothing cheery or pleasant about WildStar’s new zone. Instead, the region is one bleak ice-scape, with howling winds and a deathly chill that permeates the land. That’s not to say it’s an ugly place, but there’s a certain unforgiving brutality about it.

Getting to Arcterra is easy enough, with new shuttles available from the capitals of Illium and Thayd. Turn up in either city at level cap, and the Caretaker will ask for your help in uncovering the mysteries of the zone. It’s a particular peeve for the Eldan AI, as all knowledge of the region – including the Vault of the Archon – has been deliberately withheld from him.

Once in Arcterra, there’s a neat little cutscene that welcomes you to the zone, including the imposing Shiverskull Tower. The monolith serves as a central hub for both factions, including the zone storyline and a number of daily and weekly quests to get you started. It’s also home to the Thought Forge, an ancient Osun computer whose purpose – at least to start with – is unknown.

Without going into spoiler territory, the story of Arcterra is less about the enigmatic Eldan, and more about the two races they created. Both the Osun and the Pell feature in the narrative, describing how they worked alongside each other to carry out the bidding of their masters. It has all the hallmarks of a tale steeped in myth, describing events that happened in the region long ago, and gradually revealing the purpose behind edifices like the Pillar of Kel Havik.

Bosses, Bosses Everywhere

Putting the scenery and story to one side, the biggest change to WildStar with Arcterra is about keeping us busy. As with other endgame zones like Blighthaven and the Defile, there’s a new reputation to grind, and new gear to acquire. There’s also a new currency – Pure Soulfrost – which drops from mobs in the region, including the large number of new world bosses.

That’s where Arcterra’s major change comes in. To start, the zone is liberally coated with about twenty different named creatures, all of which require a maximum of two players to take down. Start eliminating them quickly, and 5-player bosses will start spawning in their place. And if those get exterminated quickly enough, 20-player bosses start being wheeled out. It’s a neat way of ensuring that the landscape isn’t littered with stomping death-machines, unless there are roving bands of bloodthirsty players to take them out. It also meant that I felt like I got the most out of the zone if I played with a buddy, in a subtle nudge to get me away from the solo mindset.

On top of this, there are a number of random events that appear all over the map. One had me protecting a scientist from an onslaught of attacking ice golems, while another had me helping an old-timer make a stew. A third saw me free a Lopp caravan from an avalanche, earning the title ‘Honorary Lopp’ in the process. These events appear in different places and play out in different ways, but they’re also a welcome alternative to the boss combat conveyer belt.

A new WildStar zone wouldn’t be complete without Challenges, but it feels like Carbine has toned them down significantly in Arcterra. Yes, there’s the usual ‘kill ten creatures’ stuff, but there are also a couple of cool additions. One is a Snowdrift Sprint which, in a similar style to the zPrix, sees you racing across the landscape at incredible speeds.

All this doesn’t even touch on the new event of Bor Milug. Every few hours, the zone is coated with a thick blizzard, and five Osun bosses awaken. Each boss drops a piece of a blade-key to the instanced region of Bor Milug below Shiverskull Tower. Each faction races to assemble their key first and lock it to their side for the next few hours. It feels like an interesting idea, even if I’m a little concerned that faction imbalance will result in one side continually controlling the instance.

Unfortunately, having so much going on results in a huge amount of map clutter. There were a few times where I just wanted to clear down my quest log, but I couldn’t find where to go because of the sheer number of world boss markers covering my map. And, unlike every other type of marker, there’s no toggle to hide them from display. It feels like a simple oversight, but it can be a little intimidating to people who just want to focus on getting stuff done.

Frosty Rewards

Arcterra’s content feels surprisingly rewarding to complete. Simply by completing challenges and events, I progressed up the reward track. In an afternoon’s play, I might fill up that track 5 times or more, earning precious Icebound Pouches. These usually contained ten Pure Soulfrost tokens, but sometimes had a rare reward instead. Those tokens aren’t anything to gripe about either, as there’s a vendor in the capital selling iLevel 85 epic gear and runecrafting bags. A complete loadout might take a few weeks or so to complete, but it feels like great catch-up territory.

Pure Soulfrost tokens can also be spent at Arcterra’s reputation vendor. I have a known weakness for pets and mounts, but there’s also a significant amount of housing plot décor up for grabs if you really like the zone aesthetic.

Ultimately though, I’m left with questions about Arcterra. Just who is the zone intended for, and how is it intended to fit in with existing content? Are players supposed to have completed Blighthaven and the Defile before continuing on with the Nexus Saga, or is Carbine opening the doors to fresh levelcapped characters as well? Should it be tuned to provide a challenge for seasoned players that have been on Nexus since launch, or is it a ‘catch-up’ zone for newer players and alts?

Also, there’s a question around where this leaves older daily quest hubs, such as the Crimson Badlands. Is Carbine hoping that everyone will switch to the shiny new content with great rewards, leaving the old content as unloved as an egg mayo sandwich?

And just how will these world bosses interact with the new PvP rules-set that’s been added? Will we see roving band of Exile and Dominion players fighting over the new bosses in a ball of bloodthirsty carnage, or will the PvP fanatics be left out in the cold as everyone decides not to flag for it? My gut feeling is that we won’t know until the zone launches, but it’s certainly something to watch for.

All this will decide how challenging the new content is for both new and veteran players, and how quickly they chew through it as a result. It’s the kind of thing that would be well served with a clear statement from Carbine to manage our expectations, just to make sure nobody feels they can’t take a ride on the content train.

Destination: Arcterra is due to hit live servers sometime in March, roughly the same time as when WildStar hits Steam. I’m not going to say I called it, but…
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.