By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), the Lucky Rabbit Aurin
Wednesday morning was an exciting day. Not only did I finally receive beta access to WildStar, but I gained permission to cover the first fifteen levels for a write-up. I figured I could easily play the first 15 on both factions and have a write-up ready by Friday morning with two all-nighters. But there was something I didn’t expect. WildStar revived my inner child with its wonder, focus on exploration and discovery, and overall graphical appeal. Yet it kept my jaded veteran gamer side entertained with its fresh combat that meshes the realms of TERA’s action, Guild Wars’ skillbar building, and Dragon Nest’s pacing. Good decisions are rewarded while bad decisions are horribly punished, ensuring you never fully lull into the ‘grind’ mentality, unless you’re willing to shell out some currency to recover from your mistakes.
But back to the coverage. Well for one, I only slept four hours the past two nights, ensuring all spare time not dedicated to work and my fiancé’s demand for Chinese New Years’ celebration was spent in the game. And despite this I managed to only see up to around the level 13 content for the Exiled faction. Why you might ask? WildStar is an ADD gamer’s ultimate playground. Everywhere you look there’s a subtle joke being told, an unusual monster/npc interaction occurring, a nook that seems oddly designed for climbing, and even a wave to catch! While the questing is streamlined to be as simple to follow as it gets short of a full out auto-path system, I spent hours ignoring it just to see what wild discoveries awaited me in the world of Nexus.
They’ve essential brought the magic from the past age of platformers like Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo Kazooie and introduced it into an MMORPG landscape complete with all the mission related goals, sidequests, collecting, jumping, dodging, baddy smashing, and achievement hunting one would expect from the golden era of platforming games. Only now you can experience it in a glorious multiplayer setting.
The Purpose of Paths
If you can’t tell by now, I went with the Explorer path. I.E. out of the options of Settler, Warrior, Scientist, and Explorer, the concept of mapping every inch of every territory while performing death defying leaps appeals to me like nothing else can in an MMORPG. But that’s what makes WildStar so special.
These devs are OCD about the details and want more in their world than the standard gamer’s mind can possibly grasp in one playthrough. Beyond that, there’s certain activities some gamers never want to be a part of, often describing it as a chore more so than an engaging experience. My fiancé for instance never wants to touch a jump quest again after the hell Maplestory forced her through. Meanwhile I get bored to tears watching her catch butterflies mindlessly in Skyrim when she could be delving into dangerous caverns instead.
And that’s exactly why the Paths are here! She catches butterflies, I climb mountains, and we both have a good time. We then meet back up and show off our unique path related skills, such as my ability to dive off huge cliffs and suffer no damage. And occasionally she even opens up areas I couldn’t otherwise explore, making the full experience even more joyous.
This has come a long way since my initial tests of the game for sure. And given its graphical appeal, WildStar is interested in getting some girl gamers onboard. Yet the character customization still clearly has some ground to cover. The facial sliders are pretty impressive and offer a decent amount of options, and no race felt like it was ignored or given special treatment above the others. But beyond that it’s pretty standard fare of choose from around eight hair styles, with a wide variety of colors (not surprisingly, the colors are plentiful and random. Actually this game’s entire slogan could be “Random Plentifulness…ness.”). Another note was that various jobs were race locked, though thankfully none were sex locked. And while at first it was frustrating that I couldn’t make a lucky rabbit medic, I can see the value of this system helping to quickly identify an opponent's strengths in weaknesses at a glance in PvP.
Oh sure, the pregnant lady gets a body slider, but I don't.
To my surprise, though this might just say I’ve been in one too many Asian MMORPGs lately, but there wasn’t even a breast or butt slider. Thankfully the devs appreciate the default one ghetto booty fits all approach, otherwise this might have been a serious complaint. All in all just a few more options across the board and a couple body sliders would go a long way for a lot of people. Hopefully the vocal minority don’t push it further in the wrong direction by full launch.
Combat and Leveling
Given the nature of an MMORPG, combat is almost undoubtedly going to suck when analyzing only the early levels. WildStar seems to get this by making their tutorial painlessly short while making skill acquisition unusually rapid. But with their advanced action heavy combat system (and don’t think it’s easy peasy just because of the telegraphs), it’s clear newer players to the genre could quickly be overwhelmed. As such they keep your hot key slots locked up tight, opening one at a time as you level through the early stages while teasing you with more skills than you can even equip to give veteran gamers plenty of variety to toy around with while their newer compatriots are still getting their feet wet.
Around the time you unlock your sixth skill bar, combat begins to get serious. With an array of damage skills, channels, CC, jumps, and heals (give or take depending on your focus and class), most games would feel easier at this point. You know the old carrot on a stick in front of a super saiyan approach that most games give a player to let them feel invincible for a while so they can mindlessly power level to the non-existent end-game. WildStar prefers to slap a tuna in your mouth and send you crying home to mommy if you take on your enemies mindlessly.
While you’ll rarely have trouble if you play smart and fight one foe at a time (which can easily be done with the extended respawn times), that urge to sneak past your foes will eventually get to you. Maybe you’re bored of fighting the same monster? Maybe you’re pretending to roleplay a spy? Or maybe you’re just that clueless of the massive blue man-eating gorilla coming up behind you? But sooner or later you’ll find yourself caught in an oversized bear trap with a heaping helping of power attacks and CC slamming down on you faster than you can realize your false sense of confidence was your undoing. Keep those jerky sandwiches and stim packs on an easy to reach hotkey cupcake, because you’re going to need them.
In the end it’s all worth it as an announcer straight out of a Monster Truck Rally explodes with mocking congratulations as a list of fantastic new options lets you know your time spent leveling was worth it.
Granted beta communities are always awesome. But Carbine Studios current community is some sort of freaky Twilight Zone level of awesome. I must have spent an hour just watching and learning all the little hidden stat passives, AMP explanations and recommendations, quest completion tips, class differences, and even lore explanations. Never in a hurried or holier than though manner. Always sincere.
The only toxic experience I had was spending too much time in radioactive waste.
Guild recruiting is alive and well and it wasn’t uncommon to see a player rescue a foolish ally that had bitten off more than they could chew. While I never did much partying as it’s not that needed this early on, I had plenty of exploration missions where other players would race me to the top or to the end of caves in a silent competition of twitch skills. Crossing my fingers it doesn’t change much as I could literally make myself at home in my virtual WildStar home.
As it stands the only area the game felt lacking in for the early stages was optimization. Occasionally I would get hit with random FPS drops which wouldn’t normally be a big issue in other MMORPGs, but can mean missing a critical leap as a WildStar explorer. At this point in the beta all seems as it should be though. Well except for maybe the color overload combined with small oddly colored chat boxes that may have exploded a few blood vessels in my left eye.
The questing variety was a tad bit on the low side, at least in the early levels. This seems to not be the case further into the game as my last couple of hours playing saw every odd questline from putting out a forest fire on a flying water sprinkler:
to shrinking and following a white rabbit to a mystical tea party:
At one point I was even bouncing on magical mushrooms to fly through the air as I scaled a waterfall. Try doing all that in one day elsewhere without suffering serious drug related side-effects!
Overall Experience: Excellent
I’ve had more fun gaming the past two nights than I’ve had in years. WildStar just captures so many elements of humor, fun, platforming, and combat that aren’t available in combination with each other anywhere else in the online sphere. And while I typically go for the dark and epic storylines, WildStar’s ‘srs bsns’ storyline is so riddled with satire towards the faction war that I can’t help but love the personality and races on both sides. WildStar will stand strong in the eyes of people who love to jump around, laugh at some lore notes, earn a gazillion achievements, shoot some cocky Chuas, and never accomplish the goal they signed on specifically to do. If that’s your idea of a good time, get yourself into beta and enjoy the ride.
Perhaps one day you too can be as mighty as Chesh.