Developer: Carbine Studios
Well, here we are. After nearly three years of following the project it’s a little weird to be saying that the game is finally live, but myself and many others have taken to Nexus like a swarm of Chompacabras, ready to eat up whatever Carbine have been cooking. Before we kick this off, some housekeeping – because of the size and scope of MMOs, and the wide range of content available in this one specifically, WildStar will be reviewed in instalments that cover different aspects of the game, with a finale in a few weeks’ time that will deliver my overall verdict. I’ll be providing a “summary so far” at the end of each part, but be aware this is a huge effort, because it’s a huge game.
Or, alternatively, just throw all blame at Matt. Because.
Anyway, enough of that – let’s summarise what Carbine’s MMO is all about for the three of you that have ignored my coverage of it up until now (you swines.) WildStar is a sci-fi MMORPG where two factions – the oppressive empire of the Dominion, and the ragtag group of rebels that are the Exiles – vie for control of a newly found planet called Nexus. Both groups are there because it is believed to be the home planet of the Eldan, a hyper-advanced race that hasn’t been seen in a millennia, and it’s up to the players to tame the wilds of Nexus to forge a new home, fight for the honour of their chosen faction, and discover the reason why the Eldan aren’t around anymore (spoiler alert – bad things happened, and you’ll eventually go head-to-head with that badness.)
Upon entering the character creation, players will find both faction has four races to choose from, each with their own distinct style and personality that provides enough variation to cover most tastes. Initially it’s a very familiar affair of selecting hairstyles and facial expressions, but the level of customisation available is impressive, with enough sliders and choices for players to make the furriest of Aurin or the most intimidating of Mechari, or even somewhere in-between (my personal favourite being a rather dignified yet incredibly ferocious Draken with a Fu Manchu moustache. Glorious doesn’t even begin to cover it.) In short, there are enough options available to provide a decent level of individuality, and there’s a good chance the perfectionists out there will spend a good few hours tinkering away to get their avatar just right.
After that, it’s the important decision of which class to play, and WildStar has six to choose from. I’ve dug out some visual aids to help you realise the heart of what their classes entail – so here’s the Warrior, the Esper, the Spellslinger, the Stalker, the Medic, and the Engineer (you’re welcome, internet.) Each class is capable of fulfilling two of the ‘MMO Holy Trinity’ roles – Tank, Healer, or Damage – and while we will go into more detail later down the line, these roles can be switched between or mixed together at a moment’s notice, building upon the sense of flexibility and adaptability that was found in The Secret World and Guild Wars 2.
You might think that’s where the character creation ends, but there’s one more choice that need to made with the player path. It’s here that around 30% of the content is tailored to a specific playstyle – the combat-orientated Soldier, the lore-hound-focused Scientist, the jump-puzzle-fanatic Explorer, or the community-building Settler. Each one has their own set of tests to complete and rewards to gain, so for example the Soldier can summon horde-mode style events, while the Explorer can discover hidden caves with mini-bosses inside. The Scientist can provide buffs by scanning enemies, while the Settler can place down a vendor in a specific spot in the world so players don’t have to head to the nearest town to sell and repair.
It’s arguable that Carbine could have made these paths available to everyone to do at any time, but personally I think having specifics paths has its advantages. It provides players with a role that only they can fulfil, knowing that if they team up with other player paths they can effectively enjoy all the content WildStar has to offer, without making the list of things to do too overwhelming. On top of this, it also provides something most MMOs have trouble providing – replayability. Gating the content via paths means that there’s a reason to experience the content again beyond the usual methods of choosing a different class or going as the other faction, and that can only be good in terms of WildStar’s lasting appeal.
You know, beyond the shed-load of stuff to do.
Anyway, enough of that, let’s talk about the gameplay and what happens when you begin your life on Nexus. The big thing to note is how everything will feel familiar to MMO veterans – the ability bar at the bottom, the quest tracker on the side, health bars and bag inventory, and quest givers telling you to go kill a bunch of a certain type of foe. Yep, it’s a theme-park MMO alright, but then again Carbine’s aim was never to reinvent the wheel – it was to refine it to be as slick as possible, and the first spoke on that super-charged wheel is the telegraph system.
With (almost) every ability projecting an area of effect, including melee abilities, players can remain mobile and attack multiple foes at the same time, allowing for fast-paced positional combat. It’s a culmination of the mechanics we’ve seen most recently from The Secret World and Guild Wars 2, but going one step further by unchaining the player from having to tab-target focus on a specific enemy. The result is the most fun combat system I’ve seen in an MMO, further amplified in the case of PvP (which, again, we’ll get to further down the line.) Add to this the ability to dodge out of harm’s way (or towards a fleeing foe) and regenerative burst sprint, and it all adds up to the nearest thing to twitch-style combat the genre has seen. Goodbye static gameplay where you’re rotted to the spot pressing buttons until someone dies – it’s time to get mobile with the slaughter, no matter your choice of class.
However, to unlock all of the best abilities players will need to level up, and the ‘Ark Ship’ tutorial experience guides the player into the core mechanics in a gradual manner. For those less interested in the story elements, this will prove more frustrating than it could be, as a good portion of the level 1-3 section is spent talking to people, learning to interact with items and, in the case of the Dominion side of things, go to church. Admittedly the Exile side of things is a little more action packed, but this just sets the tone for each storyline – the Dominion as the smug and stylish empire, and the desperate Exiles struggling to keep it together as they make a fresh start. Ultimately though, I hope Carbine included a way to skip the Ark Ship experience down the line, as the last thing I’ll want to do when making an alt in the future is to be told how to dodge again.
However, once finally on Nexus the game truly begins to shine thanks to the steady progression and rewards for players, gradually building up both the action and the storyline to an open event against a mini-boss. That said, there are issues that become immediately apparent during busy periods, with players competing over quest pick-ups in the world despite being able to share kills if they manage to get a hit on the enemy before it dies. It creates a bit of a stutter in terms of the flow from time to time, which could frustrate those with less patience. Sure, you can probably overcome this by grouping up with other players, but considering other MMOs have since addressed such issues (or tried to) it feels like an oversight, which is a shame considering how on the whole the first few zones are a great introduction to the increasingly difficult challenges that lie ahead.
It’s also great to see that the various zones have mission chains themed upon the area themselves along with storylines that, if players take the time to immerse themselves in, are entertaining affairs - be it saving a sentient tree or strapping a rocket onto a cubig (that’s a cube-shaped pig, by the way, and it’s adorable.) All of this on top of the different lays of content such as path missions and the challenges that pop up from time to time (yes, we’ll get to that next week) although I must admit, but the time I got to Wilderun I was feeling some level grind in regards to some “kill X of Y” questions. That said, the highlight of my run so far (I’m currently level 37 at the time of writing) is the final zone of Farside where players complete missions on the moon. The change of ambiance and altered gravity really mixes up the gameplay, along with a faux fighter pilot sequence that while utterly cosmetic was joyful to watch.
Then there’s the quality of life improvements that make the experience all the better – things such as automatic quest offers and remote hand-ins, being able to see in what direction you should be heading just by clicking on the quest tracker, and quest text that is short and to the point (with the option of learning more if you desire it.) Again, these aren’t innovations, but it’s surprising how many other MMOs overlook these little touchs, whereas Carbine have made sure to give the players the choice to dive deeper if that way, or just click through and start smashing stuff.
So, it’s been great to get playing, but has the launch week been a success? That depends who you talk to, really. On one hand, those playing on the PvE or RP servers have praised it as being one of the smoothest launches ever, while those who choose to play on the PvP servers (Hazak in particular) have had to ride out some pretty heavy turbulence, including waiting queues as long as six hours (I only had to wait an hour and a half at most, so I consider myself rather lucky.) Ultimately, Carbine should have launched with more than one EN PvP server, but they have reacted rather quickly on the matter by offering free transfers from full servers and improved waiting times. The queues are still there during peak times though, but hopefully things will calm down further over the coming week, so I’ll update you all in the next part of the review.
It’s also worth throwing some kudos at the devs for handling a DDOS attack bang on the start time (that also affected Guild Wars 2.) It could have completely derailed the launch, but Carbine managed to roll on full steam ahead. Chua-choo!
(I apologise for nothing.)
Summary So far:
Despite a bumpy ride for PvP players initially, Carbine has managed to weather the storm and deliver one of the better launches in recent years, and its early zones have been great to explore and level in. Get beyond the standard quest affair and seemingly-same-old UI, and the telegraph combat system will kick it up a notch like never before. WildStar’s first steps are hugely encouraging, and providing the content remains as entertaining as it has been during the early levels, Carbine & NCSOFT could be onto a long-term winner.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week, where I’ll dive into the different types of content available on the road to the level cap. In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding WildStar or the review be sure to ask away in the comments!