Since my first glimpse of the WildStar I have been excited. Just the thought of a game that was so completely over-the-top and unabashed in its pursuit of awesome left me completely floored.
The storyline of WildStar takes place on the newly discovered planet Nexus. On Nexus’ surface and in surrounding space two factions, the Exiles and the Dominion vie for control of the planet. The Dominion, a faction that came to immense power by the will of a recently vanished ancient race known as the Eldan, see Nexus as their destiny. The Exiles, the races disenfranchised by the Dominion, see Nexus as their only chance to establish a home. Players will not only contend with the opposite faction, but they will also battle the perils of Nexus and uncover details surrounding the sudden disappearance of the Eldan.
Players siding with the Dominion will be able to choose between four races: the ruthless Cassian Humans, the robotic Mechari, the savage Draken, and the maniacal Chua. Players fighting in the ranks of the Exiles are also given four race choices: the renegade Exile Humans, the towering Granok, the nature-loving Aurin, and space zombies called the Mordesh.
During character creation, players must choose a faction, race, class, and path. I will get more into classes and paths later, but for now I would like to stick to visual character customization. Each faction is given four racial choices, as noted above. Within each playable race there are a tremendous number of appearance options. Though players must build from a set of base face styles, there are many ways to tweak a character’s appearance. There are a wide array of hair, eye, and body type and color options available to players. Having chosen Aurin, I was even able to customize my type of ears.
With ear-related decision making behind me, class selection was my next big choice. This is a place where I have to commend the WildStar team. Each class feels unique and plays differently. Each class is also capable of filling two of the three roles of the RPG “trinity.” All classes are capable of fulfilling a damage roles. The engineer, the stalker, and the warrior are capable of tanking. The spellslinger, the esper, and the medic are all capable of healing. Though class roles are conforming to the trinity, each class takes on that role in a different way. Take for instance the healing styles of the medic and the esper: A medic healer is more suited for being mobile in close-quarters combat while an esper would be better suited planting themselves at a greater distance.
Not only are major class variations for playing the same role, but there are also numerous ways to play role with one class. Thanks to a feature called the “action set builder”, players are able to pick and choose which skills they want to utilize. Players can then save action sets and change them any time they are out of combat. My tree-hugging bunny person happens to be an esper. As an esper, I am able to choose abilities from three categories: damage, healing, utility. There are far more abilities than can be equipped at one time, so some thought is required to create an action set. If I build in only damage abilities, I might be missing some much needed control abilities or self-healing abilities to allow for additional flexibility. If I build in too much utility, I may make my damage sub-par. Through the use of action sets, WildStar is able to give players class flexibility while keeping the number of abilities a players has to deal with at one time low. I feel that the action set builder allows for players to eliminate the screen clutter and mental clutter that come with having 30 abilities at their disposal so that they can focus on the frenetic combat occurring on screen.
Stepping away from class selection and class variation, new players are also faced with path selection. Paths are somewhat similar to professions in other MMOs. Paths allow for additional variation between players that happen to be the same class. They provide unique side missions and bonuses to suit the preferences of the player. There are four paths: soldier, explorer, scientist, and settler. Soldier involves combat missions and gives the occasional special ordinance item. Explorer involves, well, exploration and grants special travel bonuses. Scientist is built heavily around discovering lore items and will allow access to the occasional hidden room or pathway. And lastly, settler is a resource collection and building path that allows for construction of special buff stations. I enjoy the path system, and I feel that further down the road it will make levelling up alternate characters more varied and interesting.
Having gone through the race, class, and path selection (Aurin, esper, settler) and having dealt with the paralyzing indecision of choosing a name (Plox), I am able to get into the bigger gameplay elements: combat and questing.
I feel that combat is where WildStar really shines.
The combat system of WildStar is a bit more complex than most MMOs that I have seen. While most other MMOs would have players targeting specific enemies, hitting a button and waiting out a cast time; WildStar combat is action packed and movement oriented. Most of the attacks, and heals for that matter, that I have seen are in some way area-based. Different abilities have different targeting zones that make them uniquely useful depending on the situation. This makes positioning key. By paying close attention to the positioning of my character and my enemies, I was able to maximize the utility of my character. In most cases this meant applying liberal amounts of pain to many foes at once.
On the other side of the combat coin, enemy NPCs and enemy players will project telegraphs for where their powerful attacks will land. On the occasion that I found myself inside of one of those telegraphs, the aforementioned pain buffet was served to me.
This kind of action-based, elevated-skill-ceiling style makes combat incredibly rewarding.
My experience with questing, however, was a bit less rewarding. WildStar features standard MMO fair for questing. I spent countless hours completing kill quests, gather quests, delivery quests, and “hey go talk to this guy” quests. WildStar does occasionally break from this, though with the occasional odd quest mechanic, or completely absurd event. I really have to credit the writers of this game for providing some levity within the standard structure for MMO questing. While it may be difficult to break from the grind of MMO questing, chasing around a tiny bunny man as he hurls off his clothing to Benny Hill-esque music certainly makes that grind a bit less painful.
What was a bit painful, however, was the sheer information overload that set in once I had levelled up a bit. Confronted by endless clickable path doodads and quest items, it was difficult to choose a direction and stick with it. Countless times, I would be trying to complete a quest and a challenge would start up after I had killed some innocuous enemy, crossed some threshold, or picked up an item. I would let out a groan and, if the suddenly sprung challenge detracted too much from quest completion, I would simply abandon it. WildStar is in no danger of running out of things for players to do. However, I wish that it felt a bit less like busywork that was arbitrarily assigned a reward.
Outside of the overworld, separate from the rigors of questing, there is a great deal of entertainment (and loot) to be had. WildStar’s group content is remarkably enjoyable and challenging. Said enjoyment is contingent upon attitudes about challenge, because WildStar’s adventures, dungeons, and raids are no cakewalk. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to hit the 20 and 40 man raid content so I will be focusing on the 5 player dungeons and adventures.
Dungeons and adventures both take place in instances and are limited to five players (1 tank, 1 healer, 3 DPS). Both are also accessible via a group finder system, should players not have a pre-formed group. Adventures are the more freeform of the two. In adventures, players will advance through a piece of the WildStar storyline as actors in a storyline event. The adventures are not linear though, as players are able to vote on which objectives they wish to tackle through the course of the adventure. Dungeons, on the other hand, are set up in the linear fashion that most MMO players are accustom to, with a series of trash, bosses, and a big-bad at the end. Both dungeons and adventures feel huge and offer a great deal of exhilarating combat. Group coordination and strategic planning are required, especially in dungeons, as the encounters are brutal and failure from a single player can spell defeat.
Should you players need a break from the dangers of Nexus, they can visit their player housing. Having largely disappeared from the MMO genre in recent years, WildStar has brought back player housing in a big way. Upon reaching level 14, players are able to own a plot of land to call home. Housing plots are incredibly customizable and interactive. Players can customize practically everything about their housing plots, from tiniest teacup to very atmosphere of the space in which your housing plot floats. Décor items can be bought, traded, and even picked up from enemies. Finally, a game where player can loot an epic couch from a raid boss.
Players can even visit “neighbor” or public housing plots if they like. Should a player want to invite a friend over to check out their massive treehouse, enchanted glade, or hobo train (not joking), they totally can. Having the ability to visit player housing plots adds an extra avenue for player interaction and community building, a big boon for a MMO.
Overall, WildStar is a remarkably stylish game. Every facet of the game is vibrant and filled with personality. Bright colors, wacky characters, and unique, if not bizarre, models are pervasive. WildStar does not take itself incredibly seriously. The game is filled with humorous elements, pop culture references and charm. When you level up, a flashy message appears on screen and an announcer tell you how badass you are. When you resurrect at a holocrypt (graveyard) you are mocked by the holocrypt AI. It’s that type of game.
WildStar is not without its warts though. Some fairly large bugs made it into release, including one that made the medic class incapable of healing the engineer if they had a particular robotic pet out. Some quests and path missions were completely broken. Some bugs at release is pretty much par for the course at MMO release nowadays, but the impact of some was a big disconcerting. To the developers’ and support team’s credit, they have been very responsive to game issues.
All said, WildStar is a very enjoyable game. If you are into the zany, humorous aesthetic, the game will be a joy to play. The combat is fun. The housing and path missions are addictive. Community interaction is rewarding. And there will be fresh content available on a regular basis thanks to regular updates. I’m very eager to see more of the world of Nexus and how my character’s story unfolds.