As you'll no doubt have noticed, we've been covering WildStar a fair bit on the site over the last few weeks thanks to a bunch of beta codes from NCsoft, and constant updates and conference calls from the dev team that have kept us plenty busy with info roundups and fact drop features. We've delivered videos designed to inform and (haplessly) entertain, and we've had a lot of fun doing it.
But we haven't really dished out our verdicts on the game thus far, and it's time to rectify that. So here's a big, fat, meaty roundtable of juicy WildStar impressions, and we recorded an hour-long podcast yesterday chaired by our MMO expert Carl that'll go live later today. Enjoy!
To say “my enthusiasm for WildStar is well documented” would be putting it rather mildly, having followed and provided coverage for Carbine’s MMO for well over two years now. I’ve waxed lyrical about its refreshingly fun art style, I’ve swooned over what will end up being one of the best soundtracks in recent years, and with each hands-on preview I have been graciously invited to I’ve seen the game develop from its first iteration with WoW-like mechanics into the fast-paced combat we have in-game today.
As I’ve stated previously, the telegraph system isn’t a new concept – The Secret World uses a similar (albeit slightly different) system – but this is the closest an MMO has been to twitch-style gameplay, which is both a game-changer and somewhat jarring at first to MMO veterans. I still remember the pain of the first time I pulled more enemies than I could manage, with red telegraphs everywhere and my virtual corpse right in the middle, but once you get the hang of it, once you know how to use your stuns and utility skills effectively, and perhaps more importantly, once you learn how to put the telegraphs into your peripheral vision, everything clicks into place (especially in PvP, which is beyond chaotic but some of the most fun I’ve had in some time.) And all of this is based on playing on US-based servers, meaning once we finally have some EU servers I can only imagine the combat getting even smoother. Hopefully, anyway.
However, despite my praise for the game thus far I do think there are some issues that need tidying up - the mini-map being one of them. I’ve mentioned a fair few times that tracking friends or group members is more trouble that it should be, and while Carbine have stated it is something they are looking into, it definitely needs fixing sooner rather than later. Another thing (which is probably more down to personal tastes) is how the Dominion Ark Ship experience feels like a slog compared to the Exile one. Lore hounds will certainly get a kick out of learning about the Emperor or the Illuminai deities that the Dominion worship, but action junkies could be frustrated by the constant chats and reading of ancient scripture.
But considering the sheer wealth of activities once players get into the main world of Nexus, I personally feel that it’s all worth it, and the recent reveal on customisation only furthers the emphasis on choice at the player’s disposal. Want to PvP all the way to level 50? Go nuts. Want to run around Nexus looking like a chef when in fact you’re wearing the beastliest of armours? Go right ahead. And here’s the thing – the ability to customise your character and mounts, the varied and colourful zones to explore, the various layers of content through Paths, challenges, and quests, all of those things are great, but to me are just the icing on the cake.
You see, we still have very little knowledge on the Elder Game (ie. end game) content, or the huge customisable floating fortresses that will be in the War Plot modes. Hell, other than the fact they will apparently be ridiculously hard, we don’t even know a thing about Raids, and all of these features that have yet to be unveiled are, in my view, the most important aspect to WildStar’s future success in keeping the community happy once at level 50. I’m eager to learn how Carbine plan on (for lack of a better term) remixing the raid instances each week, which will mean even the most dedicated raiding guilds won’t be able to plan out their tactics days in advance. I’ve been impressed with the game so far, so here’s to hoping that they can surprise me with these currently [REDACTED] features.
Of course, I couldn’t do a quick WildStar piece without mentioning what my favourite class is, and while the Spellslinger is just the coolest looking thing ever, I must say that I’ve been rather impressed with the Stalker class as of late. The ability to go in and out of stealth mid-fight offers so many tactical possibilities, and some of the crowd control & stun abilities are equal parts gratifying and fun. More so in PvP. Especially in PvP (what I’m trying to say is, never feel like what you're about to capture is unguarded, ever, as a Stalker is usually around somewhere…).
Wildstar is big. Wildstar is colourful. And it lets me live out my bizarre fantasies as a hot pink sociopathic hamster-rabbit who rampages across the surface of Nexus in a massive exoskeleton with an army of battle droids and a shotgun that would make Serious Sam soil his jeans. As such, my infatuation with the beta burned intensely, but for reasons I couldn't quite pinpoint, I found myself coming back to it less and less as the weeks wore on. No, it wasn't the awful Dominion starting area. Something wasn't quite to my tastes, nagging at the back of my mind, and I couldn't put my finger on it.
Having delved back into Guild Wars 2, Neverwinter and The Secret World, I think I've realised what's been putting me off. It's the combat. Or, more accurately, the hours I've spent staring at the floor when I ought to be gawking at the scenery, or participating in what should feel like a massive epic battle.
There's no question that Wildstar's real-time combat is slicker and more engaging than most MMOs on the market (including the three I've just mentioned), but its near-total reliance on AoE attacks feels slightly at odds with its gorgeous art design and massive sweeping vistas. In battle, which is much of the time, you'll have to lock your eyes to the ground to stay out of enemy attack telegraphs and aim your own, feeling less like a real fight and more like neon dodgems; as if I'm controlling a floaty vehicle rather than a combatant and pointing a coloured template at foes instead of shooting a gun or swinging a sword. Its overtly 'gamey,' taking me out of the experience, and keeps me watching the dirt even as the gorgeous art direction demands my undivided attention. It's a personal thing, a bugbear, not necessarily a criticism.
Thank goodness for the Explorer path, though, that challenges me to chart the highest and lowest points of the universe Carbine strived to hard to create. Ultimately Wildstar will eventually win my subscription with its more unique features that really set it apart from the pack. The housing. The shiphand missions. The insane level of customisation, and the ability to carve out a piece of the wild frontier with warplots before defending it against other players. There's much to look forward to, and I'll have my adorable pink furry boots on the ground.
As a relative noobie, I was worried that WildStar would be a little overwhelming. But actually the tutorial parts of it have proven excellent, particularly when supplemented by Carl's informative Dealspwn Playthrough vids. Yes, that's a shameless plug, but it's also the truth. There've been a few sticky moments in the early stages, but by and large, Carbine have done a nice job of introducing systems, features, and mechanics, and easing players into the world.
If you're a sucker for first impressions, though, make sure you go Exile.
MMOs for whatever reason have never particularly grabbed me, but WildStar is a bit different. I have to say, I've been really enjoying the combat. Every encounter feels tense and meaningful thanks to the near-twitch mechanics and constant direct control. There's more immediacy here, helped along by action that's fast-paced and immensely satisfying, something that will hopefully only get better as we begin to see some servers this side of the Atlantic.
The ability to put your stamp on the game shouldn't go amiss, either. The expansive customisation options and the dedicated Paths help to give characters more of a nuanced identity, but they also give hapless goons such as myself things to focus on -- little challenges, objectives, and rewards for doing the things I'd normally do in an expansive game like see what's over the top of the next hill. I've been sinking lots of time into the Explorer and Scientist Paths, and I've been loving both of them.
Even during the couple of years when I was funnelling money into NCsoft's coffers for City of Heroes, I never really felt the urge to engage in PvP, it just wasn't for me. But I'm chomping at the bit for a bit of WildStar PvP action, and it's coming. I'll almost certainly die rather frequently, as I have been doing for so much of the PvE adventure thus far, but just as with the time I've already sunk into the game, I'm pretty sure I'm going to have an utter blast doing it.