By Anni Simpson on May 13, 2014 at 12:00pm
“WildStar” is a new MMO developed by NCSOFT, a South Korean company that created other well-loved titles including “Aion,” “Guild Wars,” and “City of Heroes.”
The game features two opposing factions – the Exiles and the Dominion – who intend to battle each other over ownership of the newly-discovered planet Nexus. You can choose between six different classes (warrior, spellslinger, esper, engineer, stalker, and medic) and four different paths (explorer, soldier, scientist, and settler) based on the faction and race selected at the character creation screen. Each class provides different special abilities and play styles, and path selections offer additional side quests and abilities intended to give you a deeper understanding of Nexus lore and environment.
From there, you are sent on a series of mostly-understandable quests that take you to explore the landing site. You're then dropped onto Nexus itself with the intention to help your faction dominate the new land, standing in as an ambassador for them as your explore regions never explored before.
With space exploration as a backdrop, you receive the receive introductory quests that serve as a vehicle for showing you how to play, receive new, basic abilities as you hit the early levels, and are rewarded with gear incrementally better than your starter set.
Your abilities are predictable to your class. As a stalker who was also a aurin (cat-bunny creature), I scratched my enemies in the eyeballs from melee range and sought gear with moxie (critical strike), brutality (strength), and finesse (dexterity). Aside from renaming attributes, all of this was intuitive and well explained in pop ups that littered your UI. I wasn't a fan of how those pop ups were displayed, but I have to give NCSOFT credit for giving us as much information on how to play the game as possible. Keybindings for game elements (e.g., “I” for inventory) were also pretty predictable.
“WildStar” doesn’t push the envelope on gameplay or mechanics so far, but if we’ve learned anything from the MMORPG genre in the past decade or so, developers who try to fix formulas that aren’t broken are not rewarded very well at all. (Ask the last several “WoW killers” like “RIFT” and “Star Wars: The Old Republic” how that worked out for them.) One of the biggest competitors in my personal circles for a long time was “Guild Wars 2,” so NCSOFT is likely familiar with those dynamics anyway.
If you’re familiar with any other modern MMORPG, you’ll probably fall right into a routine pretty immediately.
I played two classes: an assassin and a spellslinger. The assassin was much more entertaining, Her abilities threw her right into melee range, where she tore up her enemies to shreds, Her abilities and weapons were appropriate to the way rogue/assassin-like characters "should" feel without being boring or rotation heavy (yet). Spellslingers seemed to be mages who wielded guns instead. They were a little less interesting, a little less intuitive, and little less fun. It was also a pain in the butt to try and kill enemies on my own as I leveled up. One of the draws to being a ranged caster is ... the distance between you and an enemy mob, and I didn't see much of that. I ended up deleting the spellslinger in lieu of my assassin, who I'll probably continue to play.
However, they do add one new feature through the path system. By choosing a path – similar but not identical to professions – you receive specific quest lines, skills, and exploration opportunities that other players don’t get to access. Although they aren’t necessarily intuitive, that may be because they’re actually a new element, not a part of the same rehashed quest system we’re all used to. As someone who’s interested in lore and environment, choosing “scientist” was a great choice. Actually utilizing your path is optional, so if you aren't interested in lore or exploration, you don't have to participate in any of the side content. It's actually a very clever way to engage those of us who want to know more about the new planet without alienating those who don't.
Graphics are incredibly stylized without looking childish or poorly designed, and they don't try to look so realistic that controlling an almost-human becomes awkward. I know everyone says this about every highly-anticipated game, but the graphics really are stunning. More than once, I actually stopped running forward to look at my surroundings and take in the wholeness of the imaginative enemy creatures, the high level of detail used to create the environment, and the variety between the different races in the game (which are not your typical fantasy-world races like orcs and trolls). The artists NCSOFT hired are nothing short of masterful, and what they created stands as a perfect example of how games can be a legitimate form of art.
The biggest downside here is awkward character movements. My character looked like she was doing an awkward cross between a hop and a skip when she moved forward, and even though she sort of resembled “Inuyasha,” her jump was a creepy alien maneuver that launched her into the sky and almost directly back down. It was hard to take my cat/bunny seriously when she became an off-world predator every time she slipped into combat. Out of combat, she was cute as a button. They don't connect these two different aspects of the character I chose very well at all.
Here’s where “WildStar” really failed for me. The lore and backstory were fairly entertaining, and when they weren’t, I ignored them by pushing through the quests and explored the zone. However, the voices were so poorly executed for the characters they resembled, it was impossible to take solemn cut scenes and quest turn-ins seriously. Coupled with some parts of the script, dialogue became downright cringe-worthy:
“If we all just stick together, we’ll all just be okay.”
When I start a new game, especially an MMORPG, what I’m looking for from the developers are introductory quests that teach me the controls, the navigation, game-specific quirks that are imperative for me to understand, and how to kill enemies in this brave new world. I’m not looking for an after school special on togetherness, especially when it’s undermined immediately by the same character telling you he was glad he didn’t kill you just for being in the vicinity of the landing site.
With the beta status of the game in mind and the fact that NCSOFT is actively crawling for community feedback, “WildStar” is at the very least entertaining, interesting, and fun to explore. Developing an MMORPG as a part of a new IP, rather than a pre-defined world (e.g., “Star Wars,” “Warcraft,” “Final Fantasy”) is something we haven’t seen in a long time, which provided a refreshing experience.
With a stunning world, appropriately adventurous score, and creative new races to grow to learn, “WildStar” quickly grew on me, and it’s my sincere hope that NCSOFT uses the open beta as an opportunity to fix things that are awkward or difficult to understand.
I have high hopes for this one.
"WildStar" is available for preorder for players in North America prior to its June 3 release. The title costs $59.99 for the standard edition, $15.00 for the deluxe upgrade, and $74.99 for the digital deluxe edition. Cosmetic rewards are rewarded to players who shelled out the extra crash for the upgrade or digital deluxe. Additionally, NCSOFT intends to wipe characters you created during the 10-day open beta. If you pre-order, you can access the game three days before people who don't, and you can keep the characters you created during the three-day head start:
The final beta wipe will occur immediately prior to the head start. You'll be able to keep all characters created during the head start through launch.