Developer: Carbine Studios
We’re back with the second part of our in-depth review of WildStar, having covered our initial impressions of the gameplay and the launch in our first instalment which you read here if you had the gall to miss it. Go on, catch up if you must. I’ll wait here, judging you, until you get back.
I’m just kidding. I’ve judged you already.
Plenty has happened over the last seven days on Nexus, with hitting the level cap of 50 probably being the most significant thing. What that means is that I have now experienced every zone in the game and finally delved into the world story, but it also means that I’ve had chance to sample every aspect of the PvE content, which is handy considering today I’ll be talking about the array of activities players can get up to in WildStar. And there’s a lot. Most of it fun, too.
Let’s begin with the bread of button of the experience – levelling. Wandering through the various zones is a familiar affair, with hubs acting as temporary resting points that deliver various types of quest chains – tasks (random quest), regional stories (which guide you through that particular hub), and world stories (which tie everything up together in a “OHMYGODWEBETTERSAVENEXUS” bow.) The objectives for these quests are tried and tested – kill X of Y, pick up X of Y, attach a rocket to a Cubig, etc) although Carbine’s inclusion of a few aspects of Guild Wars 2’s public events system makes questing a more agreeable affair, and the combat system along with increasingly more elaborate telegraphs certainly mix things up as well.
For example, kill quests are measured by percentage, which jumps up by a set amount depending on how difficult the foe was you just slaughtered. Take on tougher enemies and the objective bar will sky rockets, while slaughtering critters will be a safer yet slower process. It’s a system that works very well, and the open tagging system – meaning if you get a hit on an enemy you’ll get credit for the kill – allows for players to band together at a moment’s notice to take on an elite monster without needing to group up (and yes, that includes opposing faction players… although it’s usually quite tense whilst doing so, and it almost certainly ends in a scrap afterwards in you’re on a PvP server.)
The hubs also vary in task depending on the zone and group who are awarding them, so Faction hubs usually involve killing things and advancing their place on Nexus, while the adorable hoarders that are the Lopp usually send players out seeking treasure or doing something ridiculous. Likewise, any time the player ends up at a Protostar facility will indicate they’re about to sell out and be used as a corporate stooge (for money!) Along with differing zones such as Farside (the moon zone I spoke of last week) Carbine have managed for the most part to give the levelling process enough variation and sense of tempo that has, for me at least, made it one of the best levelling experiences I’ve had in an MMO.
That said, the final zone of Grimvault does fall into a familar MMO trap of end zones having less direction, with rather grindy quests with dastardly enemies filling the land undoing the fine pace that had been set by previous zones. That’s not to say there aren’t quests with grind in earlier zones (the hunting chain in Wilderun in particular was a test of endurance / patience) but it is far more evident in the level 49-50 area, which is a shame. However, the road to level 50 is completely doable on your own or with others, and Carbine’s balancing of this is to be commended.
Another part of the open world experience is the public events which can randomly begin or be initiated by players. The stages for these vary but they almost usually end up with a boss fight at the end (or in the case of Metal War in Deradune, go straight to the mass slaughter of the unprepared.) Players are graded based on contribution to the event, be it collecting items or dealing damage, but Carbine have also had the sense to grade healers for their contribution as well, ensuring that the best are rewarded no matter what they’re doing. That said, the meteor crash event on Farside, where both Exile and Dominion players are put in a very small space, usually ends up being a PvP brawl than a mission to save a moon (which is fun and all, but utterly screwed up leaderboard contribution.)
Questing isn’t the only thing available to players as they travel around Nexus thanks to what Carbine call layered content. With Player Paths offering different types of content around the game world focused on the chosen play style of the player, and optional Challenges popping up when a certain type of enemy is killed or item picked up, it adds what can only be described as an arcade feel to the gameplay. The rewards at the end of these challenges (bronze, silver and gold) encourage gamers to try and do better, but it’s not always ideal in terms of flow despite the attempts to Carbine to make it seamless. For example, there were a number of times I had been in an area killing mobs for a quest, only for a challenge to appear just as I had finished or would send me off in a different direction. That’s not to say that was always the case, and completists will no doubt enjoy trying to master all the challenges WildStar has to offer once at cap, but some of them could do with some refinement.
On top of open world content there are other things to break up the road to level 50, the first of which are Shiphand missions. These scalable instances for 1 to 5 players can last between 15 and 45 minutes, taking the player off-world during that time and providing what is best described as a “filler episode” to get through. With zombie outbreaks at mining facilities, getting trippy on a space station, or trying to survive a reality TV show, they are a welcome distraction when they appear, even if they are the same activities done in a linear fashion in different locations. Being repeatable means players can try taking it on alone again or groups up together & up the difficulty. In short, choice is good as far as we’re concerned.
However, for those looking for a more open and varied affair will want to jump into the Adventures of WildStar. These 5-person instances provide virtual simulations of scenarios dreamt up by The Caretaker – a schizophrenic AI that is determined to see you suffer – that present players with different objectives to choose from that ultimately affect the course of the run. In the case of the first one (Hycrest Insurrection or Riot In The Void) the choices will define what abilities the end boss has. That said, it isn’t all about making choices, for example the War Of The Wilds acts more like a MOBA complete with “creeps” and capture points, but all Adventures grade the player at the end and reward them with loot and renown (a special currency used to buy exotic items like high-end gear and recipes.) With Veteran modes available, and special end game unlocks that require near perfect runs to access, there are reasons to return time and time again. That said, those looking for experience gain may find them lacking in that department, something I realised after my first run of War Of The Wilds – the time and effort, while enjoyable, hadn’t been worth it ultimately, which left the victory somewhat hollow.
And then there are the dungeons. Oh, the dungeons – filled with devious traps and relentless enemies. Even the earliest ones of Stormtalon’s Lair and Kel Vorath present a challenge I have never seen an MMO, as they require not only knowledge of the layouts and bosses, but the ability to pull off the tactics when the abilities start going off. Reading the telegraphs becomes a skill that will make or break a dungeon run, and ranged classes (including healers) will never feel bored again thanks to the movement-heavy nature of the encounters. Even the “general population” (that’s trash mobs to the rest of us) will punish you if you aren’t careful, meaning the dungeons of WildStar really aren’t for the faint of heart (or the impatient.) For someone who relished the more difficult encounters during my raiding days on WoW, this is everything I could have hoped for.
Even if it does kick my ass when I slip up. But I’m okay with that.
Now is probably as good a time as any to talk about the mentoring system, which allows higher level players to be scaled in power to that or a lower level friend. This effectively means veterans of the game can re-experience the instanced content with newbies at an appropriate challenge level whilst still keeping all the abilities and AMPs (something we’ll detail next week) they have unlocked on the road to the level cap. This to me is incredibly important for the longevity of the game, as newcomers to Nexus will not have to rely on fellow newcomers or alt characters to team up with should the need arise.
All this, and we haven’t even spoken about PvP yet, either. Which you can level up in too. So. Much. Stuff.
Summary So far:
The road to level 50 has had a few bumps in it, and some fine tuning on the pace of content could do with addressing, but overall the journey to the level cap has been one of, if not the, best levelling experience I’ve had in an MMO. Varied content and constant rewards have ensured this, and I hope that Carbine keep the quality level up high for the post-launch content. Level 50 is achieved – now it’s time to see what else WildStar has to offer.
That’s your lot for this week, but in Part 3 I’ll be evaluating the crafting and economic systems, along with the customisation options. As always, if you have any questions regarding the review or the game in general, hit me up in the comments below and I’ll answer as best as I can!