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WildStar Review Part 3 | Arts & Crafts… for money!

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

WildStar Review Part 3 | Arts & Crafts… for money!

Platform: PC

Developer: Carbine Studios

Publisher: NCSOFT

Our in-depth and ever-growing review continues for WildStar - because if you're going to do something, you may as well drag it out for several weeks. Or do it properly considering the size of the game. Yes - let's go with that one. If you're a latecomer to the party that is my review, or if you're a swine who has been all like "MMOs? Nah," then I suggest you SHUT THE HELL UP and check out the convenient hub I've provided below for you to click on.

WildStar Review | Part 1 – Initial Impressions | WildStar Review Part 2 | Blazing a trail with PvE content

One of the biggest complaints about MMOs in general is the crafting and economy elements. Cries of “it’s too complicated!” or “it’s too boring!” can be heard from across the interwebs, as a large percentage of those that try it will simply go “nah, it’s not for me” before becoming a hoarder of all the crafting materials they can find, vendoring away at the earliest opportunity. Thankfully, Carbine have created mechanics that are not only varied in nature, but far more hands-on than first glance, providing a multiple levels of depth depending on the comfort zone of the player.

I won’t go all FAQ here with the details (if you want that you can find my rather in-depth article on it here) so I’ll give a quick overview - It’s the usual affair of selecting two professions out of the bunch that are available, some of which are better paired than others, while everyone has the ability to cook (labelled as a ‘hobby’ activity.) The strong theme with these crafting elements is that of player choice, providing players with the ability to customise items with stats needed for specific roles (or, if things are being made to order, with a specific balance of stats for maximum class build efficiency.)

WildStar Review Part 3 | Arts & Crafts… for money!

The two distinct mini-games that power these crafting elements can appear somewhat daunting at first, and the game does little to help with that initially despite the overwhelming positives that the system provides. For instance, the ‘circuit board’ weapon and armour crafting does not explain which stats are needed for which class, assuming players already know ahead of time. The old guard such as I knows a Warrior needs Brutality for attacking or Tech for tanking, but nowhere does it state this in-game. Sure, there is a wealth of guides online to assist you, but considering the amount of time Carbine have put into tutorial sequences it would have been helpful for newcomers interested in crafting to have had the same helping hand.

That said, once you understand the stats required for each class and the way it all works, the circuit board ends up being one of the more accessible yet powerful crafting systems I’ve seen in an MMO. Although there is a large amount of RNG thrown in on the way to becoming an Artisan in your chosen field, it provides a hands-on approach that ensures the crafter is interacting at all times instead of pressing a “craft all” button and going to make a sandwich. On top of this is the “overcharge” feature that provides risk vs. reward gameplay for those that wish to make the best stuff possible with the chance of losing their materials. If it all goes their way, they’ll end up with an awesome item and a feeling of utter smugness.

Which I have yet to do. Damn you, virtual dice rolls!

On the other hand, co-ordinate crafting provides a more random element and is generally more complicated than the circuit board, making the careers of Architects, Chefs, & Technologists (ie. alchemist) somewhat frustrating to progress. Some might see it as more strategic, and I will admit there was a great feeling of achievement landing the cursor to the correct zone with my final move, but I found it far too annoying to do as a crafting profession. All personal feelings aside though, the system itself works & is just as involved as the other crafting mini-game, which is all you can ask for, really. However, that isn’t all there is to crafting, as each profession has its own progression system, with rewards of improved efficiency in various aspects as you level up. It encourages even the most casual of crafters to engage with the system and goes further than the old “get my skill to X by crafting Y another Z more times” mentality other games have employed.

Of course, diving into the world of crafting isn’t cheap, but then you have to spend money to make money, and Carbine have certainly provided the ability to make money with its two marketplaces. First off is a traditional MMO-style Auction House which keeps searching and buying (or bidding) a simple affair for items that are finished products – that means weapons, armour, and housing décor. For materials to make those items, players must use the second marketplace known as the Commodities Exchange, which acts in a very similar vein to EvE’s marketplace (or even Guild Wars 2’s) with the ability to place buy and sell orders for those wishing to play the market for massive profit (which I’ve seen a few people do since launch to great effect… the damn rich swines.) My only criticism of this is that, much like crafting, the system isn’t explained in-game for newcomers to understand, which can lead them to being taken advantage of buy more savvy players. Some might see this as “common sense prevails” but not everyone has played an MMO before (or engaged in the monetary side of things) so, again, some guidance would probably ensure a healthy economy in the long run. After all – knowledge is power!

And money!

WildStar Review Part 3 | Arts & Crafts… for money!

Making money and getting the best loot drops goes well beyond gear though, and that is thanks to the expansive customization systems that are in the game. You can read about in more detail here, but the short of it is that it come in numerous forms – costume pieces, mount flair, and housing plus and décor – and each is not only rather expansive in scale, but is ridiculously time-consuming and fun. Costume sets (which unlock as players level up) allow players to have distinct looks for everything wearable, with the limit being whatever dye colours they have in their possession. Again, explanation in regard to costumes is severely lacking, including how to dye items you are actually wearing (which involves taking it off, dying it as part of a costume, and then putting it back on as an item again – far too long winded a process) which is a shame, because once understood it allows for players to keep uniformed visuals even when new gear is equipped (including weapons.) As such, I’m on the look for the finest of cowboy hats for my Stalker. Just ‘cause.

Mount flair also provides a limited amount of personalization by adding PA systems and ramen noodle bowls to your chosen vehicle of choice, but options will be limited initially as most of the more elaborate items will need to be found in the open world or through reputation vendors. However, the real meat of the customization pie (DAMN IT, I’M HUNGRY NOW) is the housing system. With the ability to install different types of plugs, each capable of turning your floating slice of home into something productive or purely cosmetic, it is easily the most versatile part of the game. The mechanics for placing down décor items allows for imaginations to run wild (such as the Lopp Snowmen bouncers outside my house, armed with huge freakin’ swords.) With player housing also acting as a source of Rest XP depending on the items placed down, there’s an additional reason to, at the very least, just place items anywhere on the homestead, but why do that when you can line up your hard-won plush toys in a row or pretend they’re having a tea party?

Not that I’ve done that. No sir.

WildStar Review Part 3 | Arts & Crafts… for money!

Overall, the cosmetic customization Carbine have provided have been, for the most part, implemented in a great fashion for something that is completely optional at the end of the day. I’ve already seen players torn between buying a new piece of gear off the Auction House or putting that money towards a new end table, and heated dungeon rolls on that elaborate Draken-style lamp. With the addition of guild-based neigherhoods in the near future, I can only dream of what the community at large will come up with, and that in itself shows what a good job the developers have done.

Before we finish this instalment of the review, there is one other topic I want to cover – the visual and audio presentation of WildStar. There has been huge debate over the last few years regarding the art design Carbine chose to go with (which was aptly described as “Tangled in space” by one commenter back when the game was revealed) but even with the more serious elements of the world story, the art direction fits like a glove to the action happening in-game. Accentuated movement and abilities add a sense of fun to pretty much everything – (double) jumping, dodging, firing huge weaponry, it all seems to have been refined to a high standard. It’s the little touches such as shadows from clouds and flying vehicles adding to the emersion, the dynamic lighting that can turn up the atmosphere of dark areas, and things such as camera positioning when turning add an action-cinematic feel as well as providing an enhanced field of view (especially when the camera is up-close to the avatar.) Hell, even the animations for the characters have a labour of love about them, although I will say this – there could have been more dances (a Chua-specific one would be been gold.)

WildStar Review Part 3 | Arts & Crafts… for money!

The various environments exude their own charm, from the arid expanses of places like Algoroc and Malgrave, to the natural locals of Wilderun and Whitevale, to the completely different locations of Farside and Grimvault. Climbing to the highest point possible and looking out over the vistas was something I found myself doing quite regularly (despite not being an Explorer) and that just goes to show how well the art design team have done building the world of Nexus. Even the day/night cycles add a sense of time to the world, and that includes how certain NPCs react during certain times as well. However, I don’t think it would have been half as effective had it not been for the masterful audio design.

The whole sound design for the game has been expertly done - from the sound of weapons firing and the roar of vehicles, to the stomp of mechanical feet walking by - there has been so much attention to detail that I'm still discovering hidden gems when I do things (my latest joy is listening to the hum of the hoverboard, or constantly cloaking as a Stalker. So. Bad. Ass.) That said, the real start of the show is the soundtrack composed by Jeff Kurtenaker. With unique pieces for each zone and variations for transitions to new locations, the soundtrack provides fine examples of the best the industry has to offer, not only being creative from a technical standpoint but capturing an emotive tone that hits the nail on the head time after time. I know I’m not the only one who has just stood there in the world listening to the music instead of paying attention to the huge gank squad about to smite me. The score for Malgrave and the Drusera instances in particular are personal highlights in a score not only one of my personal favourites of recent memory, but making the music is the tastiest of icing on this particular MMO cake (and now I want cake. Great.) Plus, that rousing theme during the login process…

But in fairness, this attention to detail can be found all over the game, and I don’t have the space to make note of it here. The short of it is that, as far as the art design and aesthetics go, the whole team at Carbine should be commended for a job well done in a game that should age very well.

Summary So far:

Although more explanation to newcomers would be ideal, the depth of choice in the crafting and economic systems show huge promise for the longevity of the game, and the cosmetic customization options should keep the more creative players busy for quite some time. That said, those not interested in these optional portions of the game will no doubt be impressed by the high level of detail within the visual and audio designs, with the soundtrack being one of the more creative and emotive to be in a game for some time.

We'll be back next week for the final instalment of the review, as I analyses the PvP options and the Elder Game, before giving my final verdict on Carbine's MMORPG. If you have any questions about the game or the review, let us know in the comments!

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