WildStar is officially the new kid on the block, but should you take the journey?
As a longtime fan of the MMORPG genre I have to admit that I’ve been pretty disappointed with the direction it’s been going as of late. A genre that once seemed chalk-full of life with mystery and adventure now seems to be just another convoluted cash grab by most companies these days. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for game developers making money (they do need to eat after all) but initially that meant creating a believable world where player’s paths crossed from chance encounters. Where fear meant exploring an underground labyrinth with a rag-tag team of adventurers and encountering the most challenging creatures you’ve ever faced. Worlds that weren’t afraid to call you out on all of your boasting and bragging and throw you center stage with some of the most difficult challenges you’ve ever seen, but then turn around and reward you for succeeding through all of it.
Unfortunately, that no longer seems to be the case. Now we live in a time where paying money to skip the journey and see the end is deemed acceptable. Where monsters should not be too difficult, because everyone needs to get a turn at the epic loot they’re guarding. And where, in most cases, games are afraid to tell the player “No” and have them work for things from time to time.
And then there's WildStar.
As a player who thoroughly enjoys every part of the “MMORPG experience”--whether that is Raiding, PvP, Crafting, Questing, Exploring or Socializing--very rarely has a game come along that takes every one of those points and gets them “right” in my eyes. However, WildStar does just that. It takes all of the parts you’ve come to know and love about the MMO genre and gives them to you tenfold. While the game doesn’t do everything completely new and innovative, what it does do, it does extremely well. From its fun yet challenging combat systems, to its in-depth and relevant crafting, to having one of the best player housing iterations we’ve seen in the genre, WildStar is an enjoyable reminder to MMO fans why we play MMOs.
Now with the game having officially launched as of June 3rd, I want to take the time to dive into each of the pieces that make up this vibrant sci-fi MMO and why I think you should check out Planet Nexus for yourself.
Understanding the Journey & Creating Your Own
Like the IP itself, the world of WildStar is vastly new and unexplored. Despite that, the game offers a huge amount of lore, background story and interesting characters to get attached to. In order to begin to understand the WildStar universe, you need to understand that most of its technologies are based off of the technological advances of a long forgotten race who are referred to as the Eldan.
The Eldan are very much at the core of WildStar’s story and ultimately the reason behind the faction split of the Exiles and Dominion, the game’s two playable factions. Despite the influence this mythical advanced race has had throughout history, a few questions still remain:
How did the most advanced race the galaxy has ever seen suddenly disappear without a trace? Where did they go?
After discovering that Planet Nexus–the fabled Eldan home world–has long been abandoned, it’ll be up to you to reveal the mysteries surrounding this newfound world and uncover the fate of the Eldan. Now admittedly, this may not be the most original plot to hit the Science Fiction genre, but the delivery and execution fit quite well in the context of the game.
Like most MMO's, when you jump into WildStar for the first time you’ll be tasked with creating your character along with the choice to align with either of the two factions I mentioned above, the Empirical Dominion or the renegade Exiles, both of which have laid claim to Planet Nexus and are now fighting for control over the planet and its secrets. Each faction comes with four playable races. For the Dominion you can choose from the Cassians, Mechari, Draken and the Chua, while the Exiles have the Aurin, Granok, Mordesh and the exiled Humans. Each race also has access to at least three or more of the combat classes of Stalker, Warrior, Spellslinger, Medic, Engineer and Esper.
Limiting class selection based on race is something that I feel most MMO’s have done away with, but is a mechanic that WildStar chooses to go back to. While some of the class restrictions make sense from a lore-perspective, some players have definitely voiced their concerns surrounding the fact that their cute and adorable Aurin can’t be a Warrior, among other restrictions. While I play a Human who has access to all six classes, here’s hoping that the race-based class restrictions will open up in the future.
Character creation itself is along the lines of what we’ve come to expect in MMORPGs up to this point, giving you enough options to make the character you want while simultaneously maintaining the game’s distinct art-style. You have a pretty decent selection of body types, hairstyles, eye color and face options and can then customize your character appearance further by changing the hair color and manually customizing each section of your character’s face, such as jaw width and eye shape, to suit your needs. While the character creation tool gets the job done, I personally felt that there could have been a larger variety of distinct hair styles to choose from, specifically for the Humans and Cassians. Despite that, I was still able to create a character that I was happy with the hopes that more options will become available later in the game’s lifespan.
One thing that sets character creation apart in WildStar compared to other games is that, in addition to selecting your characters’ race and class, you also choose their “Path”. Paths in WildStar essentially classify the type of MMO player you are, and give you more content based on your associated path. Do you enjoy discovering every nook and cranny of a zone? You’ll probably like the Explorer path. Or if you’re someone who really gets deep into the lore and story of a game, then Scientist is probably for you. If you just like blowing stuff up and setting helpless aliens ablaze, then you’ll most likely gravitate towards Soldier. Lastly we have the Settler path, which is basically the path for the player who loves building things and being both social and helpful towards everyone around them. From what I’ve seen in game, being a Settler will net you a bunch of friends quickly due to the amount of helpful buffs they can provide to players through specific Settler-built structures.
Now, before you freak out on which path to choose to most efficiently deck out your character, paths don’t give you any combat-specific abilities or advantages. They are simply there to give you out of combat convenient skills, such as “slow-fall” for explorers or group summon for scientists, and provide you with additional content of that type to enjoy throughout Planet Nexus. It is important to note that your player Path levels up separately from your character level, but provides plenty of cosmetic incentives such as costumes and mount customization items for your character.
After you’ve chosen your faction, race, class and path, and ultimately created the perfect character for you, it’ll be time to jump into the actual game.
Taking the First Steps: Creatures and Questing
Upon jumping into the game with a freshly made character, you’ll be greeted with a pretty cool faction-specific cutscene that gives you a rough breakdown of the story behind your chosen allegiance and what role Planet Nexus plays in that regard. While these cutscenes just barely scratch the surface of some of the more interesting parts of the story, the game does a pretty good job at giving you options to find out more for yourself through optional quest dialogue, lore books and journals, as well as recordings left behind by the Eldan themselves that get stored in Data Cubes scattered throughout the world. All of the stories you collect can be read or reviewed in the player’s personal lore book, a compilation of all the lore you’ve acquired, characters and factions you’ve met along your journey.
Now onto the Starting Zones. Upfront I’ll say that the tutorial zones for both factions are pretty linear, which in all honesty, is to be expected. They want to ease you into the story, controls and combat mechanics as opposed to dropping you face first on Planet Nexus only to become overwhelmed with the wide array of bells and whistles that make up the game’s UI and plethora of creatures trying to kill you on the planet’s surface. So with that in mind, I wouldn’t say either of the Exile or Dominion starting zones are bad by any means, and I particularly enjoyed the story and lore bits you got from both experiences. While neither one has any “holy crap that’s amazing!” moments per say, both are solid starting areas and do a good job of setting the stage for the game and the world you’re about to enter. Even as a veteran MMO player, I felt that the pacing was about where it needed to be. They did a good job of introducing key characters through cutscenes and introducing players early to the game’s telegraph system, which we’ll get into a bit later. If you’re taking the time to read everything, you can expect the tutorial to take roughly 20-30 minutes to complete, but if you’re one of those players who likes to click through quest text--as many of you are I’m sure--expect to be done in around 10-15 minutes. Once you’ve completed the tutorial, you’ll make your way to the planet’s surface, where you can begin uncovering the long forgotten mysteries that lie in wait.
There is something to keep in mind when jumping into WildStar, as you’ll no doubt already experienced from completing the tutorial zone: the game does have a traditional questing system that’s prevalent through most of the PvE gameplay experience. In general you’ll go from quest hub to quest hub, pick up your quests and complete them for EXP. There are dynamic events that kick up as you get further into the game, but these are generally tied to other rewards and are by no means your main source of exp. So for players hoping for a Guild Wars 2 based questing system, sadly you probably won’t be getting that same experience here.
With that out of the way, if you’re a player who doesn’t mind the quest text, or actually takes the time to read it, WildStar’s quests are well written and varied enough to keep you interested throughout the leveling experience. One minute you’ll be trying to safely detonate mines without accidently blowing yourself up and the next you’ll be chasing down a space pirate while piloting a ship “Star Fox-style” as he tries to make his daring escape.
On top of the quest variety, WildStar’s quests tend to function a bit differently than the typical kill 10 'X' quests do in other MMOs. Instead of giving you a solid number to reach in order to complete the quest, nearly every quest in the game has a percentage bar that tracks your quest completion and ties closely to creature types throughout the world.
Let’s say you get a quest to go kill Moodies (WildStar’s tribal race of little blue people who love the taste of humans...yummy). It’s pretty easy, right? Kill enough Moodies to fill your quest bar and bam, you’re done. However, scattered throughout the world are stronger versions of those same creature referred to as “Prime Mobs”. Some of these Prime Mobs are solo-able, some you’ll need another friend or two to take down and others you’ll need an entire group of players to have any chance at defeating them. Each of these mobs fills a larger portion of your quest tracker based on the difficulty of the creature, allowing you to either play it safe and kill the easier creatures for normal quest progression, or feel like a bad ass and tackle the hardest creature in the area for a whopping total of roughly 25-50% completion with just one bad ass kill.
While this addition may seem like a subtle change to a questing system, it has had a hugely positive impact on how players go about maneuvering through the world. On one hand it forces the players to make sure you’re constantly paying attention while questing, in fear of accidently pulling one of these tough monsters and taking an early dirt nap. On the other hand it’s been creating an interesting dynamic between players due to the fact that anybody can jump in to help take down any creature in the world and still get quest credit based on their contribution.
Often times I’ll run into one of these Prime Mobs in the world and without even needing to say much or formally create a party, me and another player will both agree to try and help each other take down this mighty creature in order to help us quest faster. It’s a mechanic that gives players a reason to group together to tackle objectives in the open world and is one of the best iterations of traditional questing that I’ve seen in a title to date.
One of the other reasons why questing in WildStar can hold your attention so long, has to be due to the combat being so well executed. If you’ve been following the game even casually, then you probably know that WildStar uses heavy telegraph-based system where it paints on the ground enemy and player attacks alike, in order to create a clearly visible and reactionary combat system. Combat takes the fluidity and responsiveness of World of Warcraft’s combat system and combines it with the action-combat of Guild Wars 2, mixed in with some League of Legends style skill-shots, and executes it flawlessly. On top of basic combat abilities, players can also double-jump, dodge, and sprint to run faster both in combat and while exploring the world, making controlling your character that much more fun and enjoyable.
Throughout your journey on Planet Nexus, the game will continue to throw a wide variety of creatures at you, each with unique abilities and uniquely-shaped telegraphs. While these are fairly easy to dodge early on in the game, they do a good job of preparing you for the more difficult encounters to come. Later on these aren’t just red circles or squares you’ll be dodging out of. Rotating crosses, checkerboards and even telegraphs that lock on to players and follow them around the room are only the tip of the iceberg. With that being said, now seems like the perfect time to talk about the game’s group content.