Wildstar is a cartoonish sci-fi MMO that has been in the making for 8 years and will make its debut in early June. I played a little bit of the Beta over the weekend and found it to be traditional in design but designed so well that I wonder whether this might be the formula that finally solves some of the biggest issues within the genre. It has two factions with four races each, eight classes and four paths to choose from, PvE as well as PvP, interesting combat and player housing as one of the core features of the game.
The idea of Wildstar sounds very promising. It wants to be everyone’s MMO that caters to everyone’s individual tastes. Love PvP? No problem, enjoy open world PvP, duels, arenas, 10vs10 battlefields and unlock warplots, customizable 40vs40 PvP battlefields at Level 50. Love exploration, crafting or collecting things? Choose a path that gives you more of the quests that you enjoy.
Quest NPCs are even kind enough to offer two options, the top choice is always the “just tell me what I have to do” option and those disinterested in the story or interested in leveling alts don’t even have to skip through long quest texts and narrative, click and click and be on your way. For those who do prefer knowing why they are taking on a job, there are narratives around each quest and it fleshes out a story around the new world and brave adventure you are just beginning.
Wildstar has a good system with a selection of customizable features, as well as a series of sliders for customizing small details, like chin width, nose length, eye size, but I found the options available less than ideal. Body types are now available, but instead of adding sliders to adjust dimensions, there is a selection of set types to choose from and when it comes to female characters in particular, they all have pretty slim waists and very wide hips.
I didn’t spend much time here thought and remain hopeful that when I invest a decent amount of time on customization, I should be able to find at least one option that creates a character that I can be proud and fond of.
Factions, Races, Classes
Wildstar has the traditional options for all of these. Two opposing factions, four races on each side. The Exiles have Humans, Granok (big rock shape dudes and dudettes), Aurin (cute bunnyesque race with furry tail) and Mordesh (undead/zombie race). The Dominion Cassians, which remind me of Sebaceans from Farscape, Draken, a muscly demonoid race, Chua (cute dog meets gremlins), Mechari, a.k.a. robots. All races have a male/female option.
I love the idea of paths and hope it’ll pan out as advertised. Each path has custom content designed to suit a particular play style. Explorers look for secret trails, hidden relics and lovely views. Soldiers are focused on slaughtering enemies and conquering their territory. Settlers build battle arenas, hospitals, taverns and spaceports, among other things. Scientists scan things to unlock hidden secrets.
Interaction of different paths are apparent within minutes of starting the first quest. As a settler, I was able to make buff stations other players could use at Level 2. I could also repair some equipment which a scientist could then active with their scanner to put into use. It is one of the concepts of Wildstar that offer a lot of potential and I am excited to see how these skills and abilities will unlock with progression.
Player housing is something that has been requested and coveted by MMO players everywhere for quite some time. Finally, an MMO has arrived that not only includes player housing, but promises to make it an integral part of the game. I haven’t experienced anything related to housing , but watching the DevSpeak videos on the subject does make me want to play Wildstar more than anything I have seen. Although houses aren’t built, but selection from a range of options, there looks to be quite a lot of customization options and housing isn’t just a house, it’s a plot where other buildings can be placed, like your own crafting bench or your very own mine.
I love the idea of housing and this is the aspect that made me click the pre-order button, but how much I love it will very much depend on whether it lives up to my expectations and how difficult it will be to source materials required for building and expanding this little plot of land.
Obviously at the first few level with a single character it is impossible to form a true or lasting impression of combat, but on first impression, I think combat will be more than just click-click-click-click. Everything I have heard from the Carbine devs has reinforced that interesting and engaging combat is one of their top aims and an integral feature. Combat relies heavily on Area of Effect abilities and dodge is a vital skill. The combat felt smooth and natural at the opening levels and I hope it retains that natural sense of reacting to what’s on the screen rather than just pressing keys in a set order.
I’m not wild about the business model chosen that requires either a monthly subscription fee or a sizeable invest of time. I have no desire to get drawn into a subscription fee game based game, but I also do not have spare time in abundance to spend on any single game. At the moment, it holds enough appeal for me to invest the initial cost that also include a 30-day trial. I am not a ferocious entertainment consumer and on average spend about a month on a traditional game and at around the same cost, a Wildstar pre-order with 30-days play time sounds like a lot of content for a fair price.
My first impression after playing for only an hour is that it felt quite accessible. The special effects that worried me in the video didn’t bother me in person, but with only a handful of initial abilities and no other players adding their visual affects, the verdict is still out on how flashy it is going to be when participating in multiple player elements like raids or battlegrounds. I found the text quite easy to read, it was adjustable in the menu and important visual cues were obvious, but some are colour coded, like AoE surface areas.
I had severe hearing issues during the two days I was playing and had no difficulties enjoying the game without accessing any of its sound.
The combat initially worried me after I listened to the devs talk about it at Rezzed last year, but the combat is well designed and I didn’t have any great difficulty. I did struggle to aim my AoE abilities precisely, but I think that is a rectifiable problem by switching out my hardware so that I can use a joystick, like that of an Razer Nostromo gamepad instead of the WASD keys. Movement is usually one of my biggest headaches in open world games that are not controller supported, but access to a double jump and not a single and the directional spin tied to the A and D helped me out tremendously.
Dodge was easy to use as well with a quick tap on the D and although I struggled to pay attention to action on the screen and the action of my fingers I think this too, was a hardware issue in my case as I have never been able to effective use a gaming keyboard for gaming.
MMO’s by nature are complex games that require quite a high level of organization, planning, memory and other cognitive skills. There are quite a few elements that make it more accessible. I am particularly a great fan of the navigational system in place. There is a mini-map in the top right corner, easy access to a full-screen map as well as a glaringly obvious breadcrumb trail (see image above) that can be activated by clicking on the quest in the UI.
I also found the user interface easy to use and information was at my fingertips whenever I needed it. If I lost track of a quest, I could open up my log for access to the complete quest information, I could glance over to the right for a bullet-point summary or click on the summary to activate the trail. I didn’t not feel my usual sense of overwhelm as I started to play as the initial quest trail is a chain of single quests with clear and easy to find objectives. I hope as the game expands it will continue to do so in the same manner.
I did find the tutorials that pop-up to be very detailed, but for an experienced MMO player they would be superfluous and can be turned off. In fact, most items could be turned on or off in the UI even without the use of custom add-ons creating the opportunity to allow as much or as little information onto the screen as is comfortable to individual players.
Add-ons and Curse
Curse has announced that it will be hosting Wildstar addons. Massively reported last month that “Curse will be supporting WildStar mods with a new version of the CurseForge platform, which purportedly will streamline tools and better fit players’ needs.” This is wonderful news for accessibility as players will be able to mod and change their user interface to compensate for their weaknesses whilst focusing on personal strengths.
It has been some time since an MMO has caught my eye, but the attention to detail that has gone into Wildstar’s design combined with how easy it is to pick up and start exploring has made me want to dig deeper into the world on Nexus, the planet where it is set. The availability of add-ons to customize the user interface is a big bonus and even without that, the standard UI is more flexible than many. There are many customization options available in the menu and combined with the potential of further customization with add-ons, I am very optimistic about Wildstar’s accessibility.
I am not a traditional MMO player and although I happily dabble in multiplayer content like raids and battlegrounds, it is the vast open world and solo or small group quests that appeal to me and it looks at the moment as if Wildstar has managed to cater for various different tastes and play styles, including my own.
Player housing is a huge attraction as well and I can already imagine my blue-haired Esper lounging on the terrace or making a few useful things whilst a few friends come to help out in my mine or grow and harvest some vegetables. It may be an traditional MMO, but it looks like all the tedious and boring bits have been ripped out and replaced by the things players enjoy. I would like to set out on a long, interesting solitary (with maybe one or two companions) adventure in a wild untamed world filled with resources, riches where I can carve out a place of my own amongst interesting characters and stories. I think Wildstar just may be able to deliver on that. I hope it works out that way.
Available for pre-order, release date 3 June 2014. (Pre-order includes 3-day headstart from 31 May.)