July 24, 2014 by Paul Curtin
Over the span of the past decade, many MMORPGs have come and gone as developers have tried to recapture that billion-dollar, lightning-in-a-bottle formula Blizzard perfected with World of Warcraft. We’ve seen some worthy challengers with pre-established entities and big-budget investors, but ultimately every MMO has fallen when trying to overthrow the Lich King and Blizzard’s never-ending list of expansions. WildStar‘s DNA has all the makings of a successful MMO with a team of 17 ex-Blizzard employees who know better than anyone what it takes to not only be like WoW, but be better than WoW.
Focusing on upgrading the wheel rather than reinventing it, WildStar’s story starts off by throwing players into one side of a two-faction war over the planet Nexus. The Dominion is an empire that claims the right to Nexus as their legacy. The Exile on the other hand are a group of outcasts and mercenaries who have come to Nexus to find a new home. There is no good or evil faction; both sides of the war believe that they are in the right and that their enemies are in the wrong.
One standout feature of WildStar is the vibrant and diverse art style. Exploring new locations is exciting as you never know what lurks around the corner. You might end up fighting groups of yetis in a crazy tornado snowstorm, deep sea diving, or jumping around on the low-gravity environments of the planet’s moon. The Pixar animation art style might put some older players off, but overall the game looks and performs great — even on older low-end PCs.
Creating a character is also a diverse experience that allows players to make avatars that are fun and playful or strong and sexy. Players are able to choose from eight different male and female races (four on each side of the battle) with a wide range of sliders and color palettes that allow for a ton of customization and individuality.
In typical MMO fashion, each player must select one of six different classes and choose to be a tank, healer, or damage dealer. But unlike other recent MMOs, WildStar’s classes are less restrictive and allow players the freedom to switch roles at any time during gameplay rather than being forced into one. Customizable action bar sets allow for fast and fluid changes that go beyond the normal specialization switching that has become customary in most MMOs.
WildStar also offers a secondary path leveling system that consists of four occupations that give players an added layer of customization. Soldiers can accept horde mode wave-based missions, Settlers can build buff dispensers for themselves and others at camps, Explorers can discover secret areas on Nexus that others can’t, and Scientists are able to find and study relics scattered across the planet. Each path has its own unique activities that help change gameplay and offer a change of pace to the usual grinding that’s involved in primary questing.
Unfortunately, WildStar’s story that starts out strong quickly devolves into a typical MMO grind fest and involves objectives like going to set locations to collect 8 car parts or punch 10 donkeys or some other tired mechanic that is used over and over again from levels 1 to 50. Exciting missions that have you running over zombies on motorcycles or chasing after spaceships appear far too infrequently, which leaves the entire leveling process feeling like busy work.
Throughout the game, players can find tons of lore in the form of readable journals, the occasional quick cutscene, dialogue with NPCs, or even the comical self-aware narrator. While the lore is deep and helps flesh out the story of Nexus, it does little to bring your individual character to life. There are certain areas of the game that change after you’ve completed them, but WildStar still doesn’t fully manage to avoid the same issue of witnessing other players around you completing the same quests and reinforcing the idea that everything you’re doing is just busy work.
Even with the questing being repetitive and dated, Carbine Studios has still made massive improvements to the overall process that makes WildStar far more enjoyable than older MMOs. Some quests can be given or turned in via the character’s mobile device, ending the need to physically run everything back to the original quest giver and saving players time. The entire questing process is far easier than other MMOs, and Carbine has made things very user-friendly. Hardcore players can easily hit the level 50 cap in a month’s time, and even beginners with a lot of free time can hit the level cap in only a couple months.
Like every RPG, there are tons of abilities that players can invest points into as they level up. Unlike other MMOs, players can only use one set of eight abilities on their hotkey bat at once. Hardcore MMO fans might not like this oversimplification, but focusing more on the most important abilities like a MOBA makes gameplay less stressful and cleans up the typically crowded MMO UI. It also forces players to think about which abilities are most important to the characters they are building instead of having everything at their disposal.
Carbine clearly knows the MMO market and what needed to be fixed, the most obvious of which being their changes to the combat system. The biggest and most enjoyable improvement to combat is the telegraph system. Telegraphs let players see projections of where their attacks are going to hit and where incoming attacks are going to land. This unique combat system makes gameplay much more active with the ability to aim attacks, dodge, roll, double jump, and sprint during combat.
Not only does the telegraph system make the entire leveling process feel like less of a chore, but it also makes dungeons and raids an absolute blast. WildStar’s first 50 levels are easy for players of all skill levels, but after hitting level 50 and reaching the Elder Game content, things really begin to ramp up in terms of giving players a true challenge. Telegraphs help players see where a boss’s attacks are going to land, which makes learning their abilities on the fly crucial. Even with these visual attack cues, the learning curve is steep. Carbine has used telegraphs in many boss encounters to form crazy patterns that group members must avoid in sync. Quite simply, WildStar’s 20 and 40 member raids put old MMORPG raids to shame.
While the telegraph system works amazingly for PvE content by forcing players to work together, it doesn’t translate as well into PvP. WildStar offers a wide range of open world PvP, small team competitive arenas, big team objective modes, and unheard of 40 vs. 40 Warplots where teams can even use giant monsters against each other. But the more players that are fighting in one area, the more chaotic things get and the harder it becomes to tell exactly what’s going on and where attacks are landing. Still, even with it being a bit too chaotic, PvP is an exciting and enjoyable experience that players can also use to level up.
Anybody who has played an MMO before knows that it’s all about the loot. In addition to a very detailed crafting system, players can assign costumes and dyes if they don’t like how their class-specific armor looks, and even mounts can have unique flair added to them to make each player stand out. And then there’s the player housing system…
I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical about the player housing at first because I’ve never seen another MMO pull off the idea well enough to justify spending time alone in your own private house. But WildStar’s player housing system is brilliant. Each player is given his own individual plot of land where he can build a house, farm, craft at stations, train, complete unique missions only available at his home, and more. Unique items can be looted or purchased all throughout the world of Nexus and scaled to whatever size you want to fill your home. There’s also the option for friends to join together in neighborhoods and work on one another’s houses. Best of all, the more time spent investing in your house, the more you get out of it in terms of XP buffs and other various rewards that help make the leveling process go by even faster.
Out of all the MMOs on the market right now, WildStar is easily one of the best. Although not perfect and with its fair share of bugs, Carbine should be commended for launching such a massive game this smoothly, which has the potential to become the new #1 MMO on the market. With the developers already listening to player feedback and releasing a constant wave of new content, WildStar is off to a great start and only looks to get better with time. WildStar gets 4 out of 5 stars (Great).
- Great for both beginners and hardcore MMO fans
- Telegraph system makes combat feel more active
- Constant updates from developers who listen to the players
- More player customization than any other MMORPG to date
- Housing system is surprisingly fun to sink your time into
- An endless amount of things to see and do
- Leveling system feels dated and repetitive
- Lacks a great story like the CGI trailers would lead you to believe
- Cartoony art style can be off-putting for some older gamers
- Bugs can sometimes prevent leveling up