WildStar Review in Progress: So Far, They've Done It.
WildStar has been building their hype train since late 2011, and at 12:01 a.m.Saturday morning, that train left the station. It carried on board the hopes of so many of us who want something to live up to the titan that was World of Warcraft. I spent the Beta reserving judgment for any incompleteness, bugginess, and balance issues. I also made sure to not experience any dominion faction content as to avoid spoilers. So early Saturday morning, after the crippling DDOS attack, I booted up and created Guss, the Evil Chua Engineer.
I was first greeted by the grand interior of the glorious Dominion mothership. There, I dined on propaganda and glory until my little hamster belly could take no more. I spent my first 10 minutes blasting through traitorous robots with my three engineer skills and poisoning those who opposed me. However, after those initial 10 minutes, as the novelty wore off; this game started feeling like any other MMO, albeit with a better combat system. I noticed, however, that I was looking forward to dialogue and quest scenes. The game gives a huge nod to series like Ratchet and Clank, Jack and Daxter, and Crash Bandicoot. It is absolutely stuffed with gravitas, deadpan comedy, and tons of fun sci-fi shenanigans.
In addition to this, WildStar keeps you entertained with the “path” system. Think of this as a sub-class. Each person has various helpful abilities throughout their leveling process. Scientists, Explorers, Settlers, and Soldiers each have their own path quests and abilities that splash just a little bit of variety onto each character. The problem here is, Soldier and Explorer just don’t have very useful skills. From what I’ve heard from people playing them, they feel useless. Issues like that aside, your path levels up alongside of you as you progress through the world, and it gives you something to focus on instead of the monotonous questing in the beginning.
The combat in Wildstar uses almost exclusively non-target abilities that have to be “aimed” in order to land successfully. We’ve seen derivatives of this style of combat before in games like TERA and Guild Wars 2. In WildStar, I’ve spend most of my time as a hamster jumping and dashing around, franticly trying to attack from a spot that isn’t covered in missiles/ooze/fire/death. There seems to be a rule with enemies in WildStar: The more they can cover the screen with red, the more of a blast I have killing them. Certain enemies will spout all manner of terrible devastation to so many places on the screen that you find yourself dashing and dodging around for dear life trying desperately to do any damage at all on their health bars. It also helps that you run into these enemies as soon as level 5, and they have 20 times your health. Also a few helpers to boot. I think WildStar really shines here in it's combat, and it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a combat system that feels this refreshing.
It is precisely these three things that got me through the first 10-15 levels. The time spent running up the first handful of levels feels again, somewhat stale. Although the combat is great, and I run into more than a few impressive solo or duo fights, I’m still hopping from quest hub to quest hub with little variety to punctuate my experience. This all changes when you hit 14, and blossoms to completely at around level 20. In this period, all of the systems that WildStar uses to break free of the mold are introduced, and, man, are they impressive!
The first time I thought “Man, this game really has a chance” Was when they introduced me, at level 14, to my house. I pre-ordered the game, so they provided me with my own little rocketship house. It’s wonderful. Players have a set amount of “nodes” where they can setup gardens, forests, crafting stations, buff stations, even entire dungeons. In addition to this, I added a friend or two as a neighbors and made sure to visit them as often as possible to judge them with extreme prejudice. Now, as for my plot, I was hurting for money so I just got a garden and a thicket, but, more so than any game before, it feels like home. I actually feel like this house is MINE right off the bat. I don't feel like I received a room in some virtual hotel as I have with other games. My house is mine and there's nothing you can do about it!
The sheer amount of items that are strictly cosmetic and allow you to make your house your own is absolutely mind boggling. Some of these items even give buffs to things like Rest XP. You can acquire these throughout the world. The issue is, often now whenever multiple types of loot are dangled in front of me and I can choose only one, it’s not even a contest. Giant gun that can nuke the whole damn world, or a tea set complete with a plush puppy? Not even a contest. Somebody go get Mary effing Poppins, it’s about to get real in here!
Once I was high enough level, I decided to brave the first instances of the game. These are your bread and butter, wow-esq dungeons runs where you join up with 4 other players to run through a loosely story driven dungeon that includes a few bosses, a lot of time, and some great loot. I’ve heard from other people that these were difficult. I quickly found out that this was an understatement. From the second we touched foot in Kel Voreth we experienced wipe after wipe, learning just a little more each time. The trash mobs were tough, the bosses brutal, and every victory felt oh so sweet. In WildStar, the dungeons do two things very differently. First is the aforementioned difficulty curve, and second is the way it handles wipes. In other games, when you wipe in a dungeon it usually involves tons of flaming and long walks back to the corpses. Sometimes you have 10 or 20 minutes between dying and making your next pull. Having had this happen, there isn’t much worse that can happen for morale. However, in WildStar you take your durability loss and get right back up on that horse. Not only do you respawn IN the instance, but the instance has checkpoints as well. Everytime we wiped, it took no more than 2 minutes to get back to getting slaughtered. It was GREAT!
Adding to that, we have “Adventures.” These are essentially mini-instances with chose-your-own-adventure type prompts. Different choices along the way lead to different paths, different loot, and even different bosses! The idea here is replay ability, and they’ve hit that one on the head as well. Often times, they also have mechanics made just to suit the Adventure in question. So far I have only experienced “Riot in the Void” wherein a group of prisoners have taken control of a Astrovoid Prison, a prison housed on a rock orbiting nexus to house the worst of the worst. This particular adventure has three branch-off points, making for 19 ways to complete the thing. Take a look at the Beta Footage from WildStar forums, as not much has changed.
All of the above, so far, combine to make this game a formidable competitor in the current MMO scene. However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the land of nexus. The game is still a new MMO, and despite the exhaustive testing done in the beta, there’s still a gaggle of bugs who rear their head far too often. Let’s take another look at a clip from Astrovoid Prison. I took this one myself, and you may notice something slightly different from the last one you saw.
Bugs in the game are numerous, as you can also see from the gigantic bug list for my class. These bugs aren't small inconveniences either, many of them are really annoying and do hinder gameplay. In addition to this, my class isn't the only one with a bug list this long. This game, like nearly every other MMO we've ever seen launch, can be buggy.
Honestly, this list rivals that of some of the more guilty MMO releases in recent years. But if the list is that big, then why is WildStar not getting the hate that, say, Final Fantasy XIV Version 1 did? The reason is simple. This game is amazing. It’s honestly not hard to look past the bugs when there is so much original and impressive content to feast on. Sure, my adventure was broken and I had to boot up a new one, but I don't have to chose the same route I was on before and the experience isn't repeated. If I get bored of that, I can go melt my brain with intensely difficult dungeons, or go the opposite way and hop over to my house and get my Harvest Moon on.
So let's get down to business here. Where does this leave WildStar? I think it's only fair to base scores out of 10 on a system competitive with other games. I would consider a 10 a perfect game on release. Completely infallible and something that blows everything we've ever seen out of the water. I probably would put the launch of World of Warcraft somewhere between an 8.5 and a 9. The launch of many other triple A titles have fallen into the 8-9 range. However, WildStar is something really special. Sure, there are bugs, and certain planned features aren't yet in. Sure there are still fairly large login queues on my server but in all honesty, it doesn't matter. The game is just enchanting. I really can't put the thing down. They aimed to recreate the magic from successful MMO's that were built around the DPS-Heals-Tank trinity, and I really feel like they've succeeded. I give WildStar a solid 9/10.