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Down, but not out yet – Can WildStar turn it around for 2015?

Carl Phillips
Carbine Studios, Features, MMORPGs, NCsoft, PC games, WildStar

Down, but not out yet – Can WildStar turn it around for 2015?

Man, that’s a title I didn’t think I’d be writing six months ago. Despite my positive assessment of WildStar and the entertainment it gave me in its first few months, the momentum dissipated by the end of the year. While the latest content drop helped to keep the existing fanbase content for a spell, the problem was that it wasn’t enticing those who had tried the game and left, or those who had yet to even pick up a copy. As this was happening, old behemoths were proving they were still relevant with new expansions, a suckerpunch to what was meant to be a new home for disillusioned former WoW players. Meanwhile, titles like The Secret World and especially Guild Wars 2 were demonstrating how to do an ongoing storyline with style, putting the much-touted World Story instance to shame.

It was heart-breaking to see it happen, but it was ultimately understandable. Something needed to change, and fast. So with that said, this afternoon Product Director Mike Donatelli issued a statement over on the official website detailing the battleplan for WildStar. The summary of it was that Carbine Studios know "there are important areas where we can, and must, do better in 2015 — and we are.” As such, it seems to be a good time to take look at what Carbine have in store with both the announced and unannounced content and features, reflect on the issues from the last few months, and see if WildStar can restore some of that lost excitement from last summer's launch.

Down, but not out yet – Can WildStar turn it around for 2015?

Let’s start with the pledge of adding more solo and group content throughout the game. At first glance this is a good thing, because more content is always welcome. However, it’s important that, in terms of shiphand missions and dungeons, the players are given a reason to keep repeating the same content over and over. After all, it’s an issue that plagued the attunement process that burned out a large proportion of players. Likewise, any new Adventures would need to be balanced better than the existing ones. For example, many of them have optimal choice routes (Gangs of Whitevale and Malgrave Trail in particular) which exacerbate the repetition. As long as each choice is balanced well enough, then going back into these group instances won’t see so much of a chore.

One thing that does confuse me is that, according to Donatelli’s address, there are many players who felt they weren’t prepared for the challenges end-game dungeons threw at them. Personally speaking, I thought the game did a great job of teaching me about interrupt armour and watching for telegraphs, but Carbine are planning on improving the learning curve so inexperienced players have the knowledge of how to survive harder encounters. One such idea is the Protogames Acedemy - a version of the long-promised dungeon to help train players to tackle WildStar’s challenges. Again, I think it was more to people not realising they need to be more mobile and quick on the ability triggers, but the fact Carbine are looking to give everyone the help they need should mean any potential newcomers won’t be put off in the future.

Down, but not out yet – Can WildStar turn it around for 2015?

Another topic that was brought up was the revamping of customisation. This is one of my favourite aspects of WildStar, as I found the choices and mechanics to be vast yet easy to use, but the problem is that gaining those options wasn’t a simple task. In the case of costume dyes, they were either too rare or too expensive to use, while actually finding costume pieces that matched the look you were going after was impossible without resorting to mods or outside wikis. Hell, despite the fact that this is clearly a sci-fi cowboy’s dream setting, there wasn’t a wearable cowboy hat to be found! According to Donatelli, this is apparently being addressed and I for one am glad. While I managed to find a look I was happy with, the truth is that more flexibility and access to new looks would be better for everyone.

One of the biggest changes to be introduced in the next patch is the raid player requirement. I’ll admit it – even though I wanted to relive the glory days of vanilla WoW, requiring 40 players for a raid isn’t feasible anymore. Logistics and organisation for that size a group meant that only the most dedicated players saw the content, meaning anyone who dared to be even just slightly casual was trapped below a glass ceiling watching all the funs happen without them. The drop to a 20-player requirement is a right move for everyone, and while there will still be a fair amount of organisation to be done it should mean smaller guilds will stand a chance of taking on the toughest encounters in the game. That said, what this will mean for the 40 vs 40 Warplots PvP is unknown right now…

Down, but not out yet – Can WildStar turn it around for 2015?

Of course, a lot of what has been mentioned here was already on the road map, but there are a few new items to discuss. Firstly, there’s the LFG upgrades, which should mean that content that previously required players to go off the beaten levelling path to unlock will now be automatically available once at the right level. Considering how many times my guild and I had to wait for an extra 10 mins for one person to unlock an instance, this is music to my ears, and should mean players aren’t shocked by the sudden change in telegraph difficulty at higher levels. Next, there’s the new 20-player raid, which the top guilds will no doubt have been after for some time now.

Finally – and this is the bit that interests me the most – is the mention of the new Contracts system. Described as “short, fun objectives throughout different kinds of WildStar content,” the mention of “rare and exciting rewards” certainly has my interest piqued. Hopefully this won’t be another form of daily quest, but more like the Bounty Hunter missions from the days of SWG or, to be more current, the Leves system in FF XIV. Perhaps with a rep system and perhaps some sort of leaderboard thrown in. Yes, I’m just spitballing ridiculous ideas right now, but imagine small groups of players overcoming difficult contracts and making a name for themselves. Of course, we’ll need more info on them before we get too excited (and no doubt crush my dreams) but I’ll be keeping an eye on how that system develops.

Down, but not out yet – Can WildStar turn it around for 2015?

So what about the things that weren’t mentioned? One thing that was missing from Donatelli’s address was PvP. It’s been clear for some time that the PvP system hasn’t been up to scratch for some time, with balancing issues and matchmaking woes something that was never really resolved. Hopefully this is something that will be addressed in the near future, because when the playing field is balanced the PvP is some of the most frantic fun I’ve had, but we’ll just have to wait on that front.

So, Carbine are making all the right noises, but the proof is the pudding as they say. With the next Content Drop imminent it will be interesting to see if it reinvigorates the existing fanbase and entices former Nexians back to the game, but the hard truth is that Carbine need to deliver something great with their next patch. With other MMOs providing a great experience without a subscription, WildStar must show that worthwhile content is not only here, but will continue to be added to regularly. That is something that hasn’t happened,  which is why players left in significant numbers. I really, really hope Carbine do pull it out of the bag, because I still stand by my opinion that WildStar is a fun theme park MMO, but it’s put-up-or-shut-up time, cupcakes.

Don’t disappoint me, Carbine.

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