Ah, the fresh smell of a game not yet out of beta…
I found myself playing the latest build of Wildstar last night. This was my first experience with the newest darling of the MMO media’s eye. As with any title, it has it’s ups and downs, but I admit that I may have gone into the game with a bit of a critical eye, considering the amount of hype and praise being heaped on the yet-to-be-released title has probably raised my expectations slightly.
Character creation was fairly straightforward. There were some big races and some little races. I picked a human because Braxwolf is a human, and I always tend to start there if for no other reason than it provides a nice baseline for comparison. I was slightly disappointed in the lack of physical customization options. Several of the faces/heads looked almost identical to me, and it seems like the only way I would be able to differentiate myself was by hairstyle/color. Perhaps if I would have chosen a female character they would have provided me with more sliders. Playing a human in Wildstar doesn’t limit the class you can choose. I decided on playing a stalker, because stealth really appeals to me. I also chose the side of the exiles, because – hey, if you’re going to be playing a Firefly-like space western, you’ve got to be a Browncoat! I probably wouldn’t have spent so much time on the character creation screen in Wildstar except that I kept clicking all over the place trying to make sure I hadn’t missed the “advanced” customizations. But alas, there were none.
Being woken up from cryogenic freezing wasn’t nearly as painful as we’ve been led to believe. In fact, immediately upon re-animation, my toon was up and walking, pressing buttons and pulling levers in order to find the pregnant wife of a rootin’ tootin’ space cowboy. As I’ve stated before, I prefer realism over cartoonish art style, but I will say that I liked the world of Wildstar better than the ooey-gooeyness of Guild Wars 2 or the shiny flash of SWTOR. Perhaps it was because of the exile environments, but there was more of a gritty feel to it. I guess letting sheep wander around in your space station will do that. The music is great. The western flair really plays well with the theme of the game.
Character movement felt pretty strange. Turning with the keyboard was extremely slow, and although they make it a point to let you know that you can hold down the right mouse button to turn, that option actually felt too fast – like a FPS – out of control. There was no middle ground. Also, I’ve never been a huge fan of the sprint mechanic – especially if you can only do it for a certain amount of time. Sprint until your sprint meter goes down to nothing, then wait for it to fill back up, then sprint again. It all seems very tedious. I would prefer to have two speeds to choose between – run and walk. Running while in stealth could cause you to have a higher chance to break stealth. Done. No silly arbitrary sprint timers. I do like being able to double-jump, but I fear that it might lead to some more difficult jumping quests in the future.
The UI is pretty self-explanatory. Pretty much MMO 101. The quest tracker has a nice little feature that if you click on a quest objective, a large arrow will show up pointing you in the direction of the objective. It’s a nice touch, because sometimes you need a little hint about which direction to head. It’s also not as obtrusive as the sparkly trail in Neverwinter, which I found myself following instead of exploring the world. If you think this kind of feature breaks immersion, then you can choose to not click on the quest objective. The choice is up to the player. One thing I didn’t like about the UI was the chat bubbles, which seem to pop up all over the screen at random intervals.In my case, some of this was tutorial hints which should die down as I advance through the game, but even NPC interactions seemed to be very frequent and distracting.
Questing was fun. Again, nothing revolutionary here. Take the transporter to the next hub, pick up 2 collection and 2 slayer quests from an NPC, complete, then move on to the next hub. Basic MMO design. Each NPC had voice acting, which made it fun, because you felt like you got a sense of the NPC personality through their voice. Voice acting was caricature-ized and over the top, but that’s kind of what I expect of this game. There were a few times when I literally laughed out loud, one in particular that I remember when your quest objective was to lead a group of vegetables to a safe planter. There I was, a hero of Wildstar with a ‘herd’ of hopping vegetables following along behind me making squeaky vegetable sounds. Slayer quests were not overly cumbersome or grindy, at least at the lower levels. I don’t think I was ever made to kill more than 5 of a specific mob for any given quest.
Combat in Wildstar is fair to above average. I like that it is more closely related to ‘old school’ MMO combat (requiring a bar full of skills and not just a quick index finger) and less like the recently touted ‘action’ systems of today. Yes, there is the double-tap dodge mechanic, but it feels slow and unresponsive. I’ve heard stories of ground-targeted colors and shapes for group content (green spots for increased healing from your group-mates, etc.) but since I’ve only soloed up to about level 7, I was not able to evaluate those mechanics. They sound promising, but if they slow down combat (like the dodge seems to) instead of integrating into the natural flow, then Wildstar will have failed in implementing a good idea. As far as the stalker class: Woah, Nellie! Can somebody say Wolverine? Yes, I have mechanical retractable claws, and yes, I mangle the mobs with them. Sometimes before they even realize I’m there.
Progression looks exactly like LOTRO did prior to the recent skill tree revamp. At a specific levels, you are granted access to buy specific class or path skills at a skill vendor. This system gives me pause. LOTRO found themselves in trouble due to “skill bloat” after a certain number of levels were added to the game. They were faced with two choices: Start granting “upgraded” skills (more powerful versions of the skills granted at lower levels), or start handing out skills that overlapped with the abilities of other classes in the game and risk making all classes self-sufficient. They chose the former for levels 50-85, which failed to excite players but kept the class balance in check. At level 85, they were forced to completely re-do the skill system in favor of trees in order to combat the bloat issue. I wonder if Wildstar has a long-term skill strategy in mind. Also, what’s with having to find a computer terminal to “buy” skills? Do you plug in like in The Matrix (I know Kung Fu!)? I’d prefer that they just allow you to buy your skills from a skill panel instead of having to find/return to a terminal in order to purchase skills.
In all, I was a little underwhelmed by my time in Wildstar, but it’s probably because my expectations were fairly high going in. I can see why the gaming/MMO press loves this title, though. It’s much more of a straight-up MMO than it’s nearest 2014 competitor, The Elder Scrolls Online. It was developed exclusively for the PC, so there are none of the UI limitations present with cross-platform game design. It has the advantage of being a little self-depreciating and exaggerated, so any cheesiness can simply be overlooked as intentional humor. The same can be said for the cartoonish graphics, which will age well but not have to withstand the initial scrutiny of not being “realistic” enough. Plus, it’s fun to play (at least through level seven, which is all I can speak to)! The big question is: are all of these things enough for the general gaming populace to justify factoring a monthly subscription fee into their budget? Is the hardcore, traditional MMO crowd still large enough to support it? Critical success doesn’t always translate into commercial success.
Don’t get me wrong, Wildstar is a good game. If Carbine can continue to support it to the level that a AAA MMO deserves, it should find long-term success. I’m just not sure it will be with a monthly subscription model. As for me, I’ll wait to see if they decide to change their stance on subs.
#wildstar #firstimpression #beta
Featured image by Kyle Mercury on Flickr Creative Commons