WildStar Review in Progress: The building blocks to something great
Reviewing a MMORPG like WildStar is quite an undertaking. It probably has the most content of any MMO at launch, and there's so much to do that it can be quite overwhelming. That's why I'll be handling the WildStar review as a Review In Progress, with frequent updates on my level, new experiences, mechanics and more. After three days of headstart, I currently sit at level 18.
My character is on the North American PVE realm Stormtalon. I'm playing an Exile Spellslinger named Adonnis. I even have a cool backstory I made up. Basically, he went to a Dominion academy on an athletic scholarship, but knew that education was important and wanted to pursue a career in science (the Path I chose). He saw that the Dominion were performing cruel tests on Aurin, so he helped the test subjects escape and joined the Exile. I like creating backstories.
As for the servers, there have been ups and down, but everything seems to have stabled out. Carbine Studios added new realms and are offering free realm transfers. There were some queue times here and there for a couple of hours, but during the day everything runs swimmingly. Overall, there have been some server resets and patches, but it's been one of the smoother launches for a MMO, and the Carbine devs are constantly responding to problems that pop up.
The art style of WildStar isn't going to appeal to everyone. If you liked the visuals in World of Warcraft, you'll like this. It has a lighthearted, comic book-look to it. It doesn't try to be photo-realistic, and it's a drastic difference from another recently launched MMO, The Elder Scrolls Online. Characters are very emotive, and you have tons of control over character creation.
While I wish you could be any class-race combination, the developers stick by their decision of race-restricted classes, and they didn't have the time to create all-new animations for the race-class combinations that are missing. That said, the attack animations are great. In PvP and large-scale battles, all of the different telegraphs can get a little overwhelming. It's hard to make out what's what at times, but it adds a sense of pressure to combat and encourages you to be reactive and play frenetically.
The zones I've experienced vary a lot in style. I've been from snowy peaks to lush jungles, from a desert to a mining crater to a place where the vegetation looks diseased. What's cooler is that the style of certain towns/areas will change upon completing an event or quest. It makes the world feel alive, and like you have an impact on what's happening.
I haven't had any issues with framerate, and I'm not running on a really amazing gaming PC. I have 8GB of ram, and Intel i5-2500K CPU @ 3.30GHz, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Ti. I could use a SSD, new video card and some more ram, but it is what it is. I'm pretty much always above 40fps, and I'm playing at medium to high settings. Any lag I've had has been server-related and has had nothing to do with PC performance.
The soundtrack for the game has been a blast to listen to thus far, and has a sort-of Firefly vibe to it. As for the voice acting, while it isn't at the production level of a game like SWTOR, it's still superb. It really gives the characters, well, character. Their personalities are over-the-top, almost to the point of caricatures, but it fits in with the whole theme of WildStar. Sound effects are well-done, be it melee or ranged attacks. And presentation as a whole is flashy, like when you level up.
That said, there are some problems. My sounds cuts out every once in a while, especially in the Exile capital city, Thayd. Also, while the UI is an improvement over what it once was, there's still a lot to be desired. Unit frames are very lackluster, and the best add-on, BijiPlates, has a memory leak that's affecting game performance.
Story / Lore
I can only speak on behalf of the Exiles, since that's what I'm playing. I like the characters I'm meeting and performing quests for -- I can say that. The story that's given to you in the tutorial aboard the Exile ship lacks a bit of a punch. That said, once you disembark to Nexus, things pick up a bit. There's a event that could be overlooked if you skip cutscenes and don't read text that drives a revenge motive. Meanwhile, I'm exploring Nexus while starting to learn a bit about the technology on the planet. Not too much has been revealed yet, but I'm also not diving too heavily into the lore.
One thing I like is that WildStar doesn't force lore on you. If you want to skip all the text and lore and just level up as fast as you can to get to Elder Game stuff, that's fine -- have at it. For those that want to delve deeper, you have the opportunity to do so via Datacrons and Journals you find.
Questing / PvE / Crafting
Questing starts slow. Really slow. For MMO vets, the tutorial area will kind of bore you. Yes, it serves the purpose of introducing mechanics to newcomers, as well as introducing the story, but I wish I had the option to opt-in to the tutorial. Honestly, questing in WildStar is just like questing in every other MMORPG, but with some tweaks. For instance, in other MMOs, you might have a quest to kill 10 monsters in a certain area. WildStar gives you the option to complete that type of quest how you want. Instead of killing 10, you have to fulfill a percentage amount. Weak enemies will give you a miniscule percentage, while really tough ones will give you a higher percentage. It's pretty neat.
Adding some variety to normal PvE questing are challenges. Sometimes you'll kill something or pick something up and it will start a timed challenge. These have you do more of that prior action (killing or picking something up) within a certain amount of time. There are three reward levels -- bronze, silver and gold -- each yielding one of four possible rewards. I've gotten to the point where I'm skipping some of those, because it's just becoming a little too much to do. I'm already outleveling my area, and for a few reasons. PvP gives good XP, and I'm a completionist with quests, so I'm doing every single one. I've just now got to an area where quests are my level again and not two or three levels below me. Also, the challenges are fun at first, but depending on the area you're in and the enemies you're fighting, it's a bit of a hassle.
PvE combat is slowly introducing harder monsters with more complex telegraphs, and I feel like it's doing a good job getting me ready for what will be coming my way later on.
The Path you choose also gives you another task to do as your explore Nexus. If you're a soldier, you'll hold defense points against waves of enemies, settlers will build buff stations for allies, scientists will explore the mysteries of Nexus by scanning items, and explorers get to the hard-to-reach places in Nexus. Paths have their own experience bar, and they'll reward you with some Path skills along the way. Again, with everything going on, you'll want to ignore certain aspects of PvE occasionally. See what works for you and do that, because otherwise you'll get burnt out.
Crafting I haven't been able to explore a ton, but it does give you control over the item you're making. I chose to be a Miner and Weaponsmith. Like everything else in WildStar, customization comes into play. You can choose what stats you want to put on the weapon, all while dealing with an energy mechanic. Go over the allotted energy for the weapon, and then you start to get a crafting fail chance. I'll explore more crafting in the next update.
Mounts and Runecrafting both open up at level 15, but I haven't done anything with that yet.
If combat in other MMOs are skirt steak, WildStar's combat is filet mignon. Actively aiming and firing your abilities while avoiding enemies' attacks works perfectly and keeps you engaged in combat. The telegraph system is wonderfully implemented, but during a dungeon or PvP match, it can become a bit chaotic and hard to read. The combat system changes up how you approach things with an interrupt armor mechanic where players need to time their stuns/interrupts. Furthermore, being able to sprint, dodge, and double-jump add even more skill to the game. I don't think I can ever play another MMO without double-jump now ...
PvP is a chaotic, messy, helluva good time. I love that PvP opens up at level six with Walatiki Temple. It is Capture the Mask gameplay where you have to capture five masks and bring it back to your base before the other team can do it, but you also have to defend masks you've already captured, because the enemy team can steal them. It's awesome, and combat is frenetic. When everyone is clumped together, though, it's a hot mess of telegraphs. It's like a telegraph orgy. I can only imagine how Warplots will be.
What I love about PvP is that it is a very viable option to level. You can level the entire way PvPing if you want to. It gives really great experience, you get loot bags, and you get a PvP currency to buy new PvP-oriented gear as you level up.
At level 15, I unlocked another PvP battleground to try out: Halls of the Bloodsworn. It's entirely different than Walatiki Temple. In Halls of the Bloodsworn, you capture points and push forward to new points until you take the last one, while the other team is defending. Then you switch sides and reverse roles. If both sides take all the points, whoever did it faster wins. Pro tip: healing wins matches. Moar healz pleez.
I love the character progression in this game. There are assault abilities, support abilities and utility abilities available to your character. Using the action set bar, you can only have eight abilities active at once, but out of combat you can change what those abilities are and mess around with your build. Then you get ability points that you divvy up amongst your active abilities, increasing the tier of an ability up to tier 8. Higher tiers increase the damage and effectiveness of an ability. Eventually you won't have enough ability points to keep every ability maxed, so you'll have to make some tough choices.
THEN there are amps. Amps are kind of like your talent tree. There's one for each of the types of abilities, then hybrids of each. Higher tiers of amps will require you to find, receive or buy the amp, so it will take you quite a while to get all of them. The problem with the amp system is that I have only gotten one amp for Spellslinger, and it's not in the assault tree, so I'm stuck on the first tier of the tree I want to progress down. I haven't gotten any other amps for rewards or drops, and there's none in the auction house. The way you get amps are the only thing I hate about WildStar.
Outside of abilities and amps, you're constantly unlocking more costume slots and other things as you level up. You're always feeling or seeing your progression, which helps in a grind to max level.
Housing / Adventure
I love that housing is an integral part of WildStar, and that it gets introduced to you at level 14. The amount of customization is mind-boggling. You can change the sky, the exterior and interior of your house, the size and orientation of objects, the lighting in your house -- and you can link items to another parent item. It's utterly ridiculous. You have a certain number of sockets in your housing plot, and you can insert things like mining nodes, portals, and challenges.
Housing is a communal thing, too. You can make your friends your neighbors and let them visit your house. This is beneficial for your friend and you. Let's say you go away on vacation, so you're not logging in to mine your mining node. Your friend can visit your house and do it for you. What's more, you can decide the amount of resources you want to share with your friend. Set it to 50-50 and when your friend mines your nodes, you'll split the mats right down the middle. There's so much more to it and I haven't been able to spend a ton of time with it, so I'll touch more on housing in the future.
At level 15 I unlocked the first adventure. The Exile Adventure is The Hycrest Insurrection, a repeatable Eldan simulation which re-uses existing maps. Think of Adventures like dungeons that have different gameplay styles and are kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure. They're for groups of five, and trust me, you need five. We beat it with four players, but we died a bunch. In the Hycrest Insurrection, you're evacuating and helping the citizens of a small town under siege. The map is littered with spotlights and snipers, and which direction you take the simulation is put up to a vote.
WildStar starts out slow, but it's a slow drip of greatness. The further I get into the game, the more I enjoy it. There's so much to do it's ridiculous, and you can customize your experience by choosing what elements of gameplay you want to take part in. Want more story? Get more story. Want to level via PvP exclusively? Have at it. There are bugs here and there, and the UI and unit frames could use some improvement, but the visuals are catchy and a joy to look at.
Little touches, such as circles -- essentially a Google circle for friends of yours in the game, complete with your own chat channel -- are little quality of life touches that are appreciated. I love what WildStar is offering so far, and can't wait to see what else is coming the further I venture into Nexus.
Stay tuned for part two of our Review In Progress.