Ok, so we’re more than a month in. I was on vacation!
I am a firm believer that an MMO should be judged past the 1 month marker and your decision to be made after 2 months of play. Outside of MMOs, I can’t think of another type of game I pay full price for anymore mind you. The timing has less to do with the game and more about the nature of the game – multiplayer. After 2 months, the zeitgeist passes and you get into the player plateau. Still, onto my thoughts.
I have never been a big fan of character creators in MMOs, unless the game was mostly helmet-less. I like having different character models for silhouettes but if everyone is the same (SWTOR and RIFT come to mind) then what’s the point? Wildstar gives me enough variety in sizes and art to make me happy. I have a tremendous dislike with race-restricted classes mind you and Wildstar applies that to Espers more than other classes for some reason. So I created a grumpy ol’ human esper and a granok engineer.
The tutorial zone is decently done. You can zip through it under 5 minutes if you want. I feel bad that the zone is never visited again mind you – wasted assets. The starter zone follows and you get 2 choices per faction and those choices link to the first “starter zone”. There’s a gradual build up of skills for your character and there was clearly some thought behind it all. By and large, the “power path” is similar between all classes. They get a stun at the same time, a builder, a finisher, flavor, etc…
You get access to costumes early on, which is on-par with RIFT in terms of customization, very good. Housing at 15, nearly fully featured, which is amazeballs. Mounts too, which makes travel a whole lot easier (mounts are different enough too!) I’d say from 1-20, the progress is really well thought out.
This is the 20-49 game and by and large, we’re talking about PvE content. PvP is there and certainly the most fun pre-50, but the game is built on something else. So from 20 on, you get a zone per ~7 levels. Whitevale – a frozen tundra which starts off cool and ends on a whiper. Farside – probably the most fun I’ve had leveling in years, certainly with the moon sub-zone where gravity is weak. It’s well designed. Wilderrun – your typical jungle level, which we’ve seen a thousand times. The story is kind of cool but anything after Farside feels meh. Malgrave – a western themed zone which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There are some neat parts but you’re happy to leave. You finish with Grimvault – a plague filled area with few redeeming qualities. Western Grimvault in particular is just horrible making the trek from 47-50 feel longer than 20-47.
Questing is decent enough, with traditional kill X, deliver X or press X quests. There are varied questing interfaces mind you – a simon says game, a mash the button game, a button timing game. There are zone defense sub quests, public tagging (so you can share quest progress with non-group members), smart drops and quite a few quality of life PvE boons. Group quests are present, with ~5 per zone and still at this point people are grouping up. In fact, grouping with people rewards you with reknown, a currency for non-combat items. There’s even guild credit too. Everywhere you go, Wildstar rewards you for grouping.
Paths are less fun, as a “side” leveling exercise. Each gives you 3 skills to use and bluntly, the only ones worth mentioning are scientist with a group summon and portal to the capital and settlers with mailboxes and vending machines to repair gear. I expected more. There was more in early beta. A lot was cut back. It’s more than any other game on the market mind you but once you unlock the skills, there’s no reason to keep going, other than being a completionist (which all scientists are I suppose).
Crafting makes sense and provides gear at or above your level, better than quest and drop rewards. I think it’s the first time where crafting is a viable alternative rather than an end-game activity. There are crafting daily quest (used to get credits for top level recipes), talents to customize your skill set and only 5 tiers to progress though, so you’re rarely stuck in some grey zone. Customizing gear, including rune crafting, is rather well thought out in terms of mechanics. What isn’t though out are actual stat numbers and I’ll get to that.
Wildstar’s term for what to do at max level. PvP, dungeons, veteran dungeons, crafting, daily quests, raiding, adventures and ship hand missions are all options. Solo, you can do most of it. Majority of groups will do everything but raiding. Raiding requirements are simply too high for the average skill set and the logistics of getting 40 people together means every server is going to have 2-3 raiding squads, at most. I expect this to change in a future patch. Still, there’s a whole lot to do without raiding. Housing has private/group instances (dungeons) which is something you could spend a week doing.
Limited action bars are the future, plain and simple. WoW has always been a poster child for skill bloat and SWTOR exemplifies that further. Wildstar gives you a limited slot to put in what you want. You can customize those skills as well, for various buffs. Sometimes you need more AE attacks, sometimes a super interrupt. It’s smooth and forward, a step forward compared to TSW’s decks – at least to me. AMPs (or talents) work ok as well, with a lot of simple passives and flexibility. I think the fact that there are no existing cookie-cutter builds as a good thing, as each build is based on a set of circumstances.
What doesn’t work so well are stats. DPS players value attack power above absolutely everything. Healers need focus (mana) regeneration to a breakpoint, then support power above all else. Tanks are slightly different with 2-3 rather even weights, after deflection. Carbine has said this is a problem and they are going to make changes. It’s not to say there are BAD stats, just less optimal ones. We’re not talking about SWTOR’s haste issues (it actually made you worse) or those that scale wrong (armor penetration in WoW). This further affects rune slots, as some are worthless and others worth gold. It’s a fair amount of balance needed and that’s due in the fall as my guess. Overall, the largest impact on stats is on raiders, most people won’t notice it that much.
Actual combat, what with the telegraphs and all, is very hectic. It is very easy to die in this game. As a healer, I’ve been conditioned to think it was my fault but in fact, 95% of the time, it’s the other player who stood in the bad stuff. Solo play, it isn’t so apparent mind you, though some areas with tight enemy patterns are hard. Group play though, wowza. If it’s red, get out. If there’s a cast bar, interrupt. You need a mouse to move, not be a keyboard turner. I think the group content is paced at such a rhythm that you don’t grow tired (sword maiden excepted). It’s challenging and fair, therefore extremely rewarding to complete something. I’ve been in random groups wiping on a boss for 30 minutes. When you get through, it just feels great. There’s still some need for skill balance mind you. Like Medics are horribad at DPS, Engineers are way too strong on DPS and so on. But again, these are tail end metrics as while you’re leveling, it is rarely apparent.
This one is its own section because it’s very polarizing. Wildstar is very B-movie in approach. Everything is an exaggeration of the industry, with rather wild (pardon the pun) flair. Character models are distinct. Enemy types are varied. People look different from each other and are recognizable. Music is pretty kick arse. Dungeons have good art style and the bosses are more than just giant humanoids. Heck, the first end boss in a dungeon is a dragon that hatches from the ceiling.
What also works incredibly well is the lore. There is a very interesting story to be had here and it is subtle. You can read books, you can read text, NPCs jabber on while you’re about (“oh the hero!)” and Drusera’s reveal is well written. You knew Blighthaven was coming and the story told there is well done. For a game without an established IP to work off, I have to say that there are years of work put into it and very little of it conflicts. Incredibly well done.
Wildstar uses a standard auction house and a commodity one. You can only list 25 items per AH, which drastically reduces the number of bots/market barons. I remember in WoW I would have 300 postings at once, RIFT wasn’t far behind. The commodity one has buy and sell orders, which makes for a more interesting market. Sure, you can game the thing if you wanted to but overall, the system works fairly well, especially with the floor being high vendor prices. In fact, you can afford pretty much anything in the game at level 50, as part of your core. Money is used for customization by and large, which is smart. There are very few taps as well, so inflation isn’t crazy. There are no Caturdays here.
Now is Wildstar the next best thing since sliced bread? No, not so much. It is a fantasy themepark with all the pits therein. It is a fine evolution on WoW, SWTOR, FF14 and RIFT. There are things on those games I’d like to see here (FF14 and RIFT’s open zone content for one) but by and large, there’s little to complain about. The pacing is well done; you’re not flying through levels hitting a cap in a day. There’s plenty of side activities to do. There’s challenging content without the need for facerolls or the “go go go” attitude. Grouping is pushed early on and social interaction. There are a few bugs but none that are gamebreaking. I think I found 3 that I needed to re-log for in my run from 1-50. It’s very well polished.
I do expect there to continue to be progress on content as the days go by. There are some needed tweaks here and there, in particular around the raiding aspect. If given the choice between FF14 (which is also difficult) and Wildstar, you’re in for a rather even fight as I consider those 2 MMOs to be the only ones worth any subscription. The biggest benefit to Wildstar is the sheer variety of content on offer and things to do. I personally am enjoying my time and my subscription is continuing for the foreseeable future.