Last year was kind of a tough time for MMORPGs, don’t you think? Of course, those MMORPGs that had already been going strong for some time continued doing what they do, but last year felt like a bloodbath for those entering the market.
Of course, there was all the drama surrounding ArcheAge as the game promptly set sail before players realized Trion, the developer, had forgotten to install a rudder on the ship. When players also discovered that, despite Trion saying the voyage would be free of charge, those who decided to pay money anyway weren’t required to man the oars as often, they blew quite a bit of hot air around. Without a rudder to guide them, the ship was promptly swept into some sharp rocks.
Who could forget The Elder Scrolls Online, either? Perhaps the only MMORPG in existence that was actively harmed by its attachment to a popular brand in gaming. Half of the subscribers arrived, naked and confused, in various ports around the continent of Nirn before quickly realizing that The Elder Scrolls Online is as close to a true Elder Scrolls game as a hot pocket is to a pizza. Thus began the mass exodus of naked and confused players who, in the way only people of the internet can, had to form a zealous inquisition to prove that anyone who happened to enjoy The Elder Scrolls Online for what it was was simply a dummy.
And then there was Wildstar. Ah yes, that last bastion of rose-tinted MMORPG conservatism in a genre rampantly progressing towards the equivalent of playing a single player RPG and occasionally texting your friends. Wildstar was meant to arrive like the second coming of Christ on a chariot of fire to cast all those wimpy nerds and their pitiful 8-man content into eternal damnation, restoring 40-man raids to their former glory. And then Wildstar arrived before the worshipping masses, threw open the gates of raid heaven, and we all got up, shrugged, and said, “Ah, man, yeah. That seems really cool but, like, I have work tomorrow and it’s Game of Thrones night tonight. I dunno, that seems like a lot of work.”
So yeah, we kinda left MMO Jesus hanging there while we fed our kids and browsed Reddit. But Carbine, the developers of MMO Jesus, learned an invaluable lesson: Even if people say they know what they want, they really don’t know what they want.
This fall, Carbine and Wildstar are turning that lesson into real change as Wildstar relaunches as free to play. And though time will tell if enough has changed, the initial reception is very positive. So if you’re still on the fence, here are just a few things that might make Wildstar worth a second glance. Oh, and don’t worry about turning your back on MMO Jesus, he always forgives, but, unlike the actual Jesus, he never forgets.
Killing the Grind
Finding the fine line between being rewarding but not too easy and demanding but not frustrating isn’t very simple. Case in point: grinding has long been a point of contention for the entire MMORPG audience. Wildstar, unfortunately, had a pretty soul crushing grind. Around level 20, most players went from wide-eyed newbies to soulless corporate employees, punching in and out daily just to get a little more experience to bring them to end game.
But where most MMORPGs drop that mind numbing grind once you reach max level, Wildstar’s end game was like waking up one morning and realizing that your retirement from grinding is actually 20 more years away. You climb a mountain, collapse at the peak, and the clouds part to reveal an even bigger, uglier mountain to climb. Crap.
The good news is that, while Wildstar is still wholly in love with World of Warcraft and can’t stop trying on its clothes when it isn’t home, the new leveling process has been made much more approachable. Carbine has gone through and tweaked various quests as well as making some adjustments to the way enemies spawn in certain areas. Its a small fix, but already people seem to be warming up to the new curve.
You’re Not So Hardcore
Perhaps one of the most misguided philosophies driving Wildstar back when it first launched was the idea that people wanted a game that evoked the same feeling World of Warcraft did back before expansion packs seduced it into trying drugs and hanging out with the wrong crowd. But here’s the thing: People want vanilla World of Warcraft back for all of the wrong reasons. They want the sensation back, not the actual game. Sure, World of Warcraft had a lot of things going for it back then, but it was also the cause of some major indigestion too. Things just weren’t that palatable in vanilla Azeroth, and we’ve all refined our tastes significantly.
That philosophy was also driving Wildstar’s hard-as-nails raids and dungeons. With Wildstar heading towards free to play territory, rest assured that Carbine is still keeping its hardknocks attitude toward raiding, but there have been some significant alterations so that, for Wildstar, difficulty isn’t equated with frustration.
For starters, the medals you earn on completing a dungeon are now much more informational about your progress through that dungeon. Last year, they also fixed the awful system that rewarded players at a certain point only if they were able to achieve the highly coveted gold medal. Now, everyone still has a chance at that awesome loot, but earning gold just increases those odds.
Changes have also been made across all dungeons. Bosses tend to not hit as hard, and the inclusion of several quality of life enhancements makes running them that much easier. There’s even a brand new dungeon for low level players to get them ready to have their faces smashed in. How cute!
Keep Skills Simple, Stupid!
Wildstar, like all MMORPGs, has so many metrics for measuring your character’s abilities that getting a physical from a doctor in-game requires an excel spreadsheet. While the complexity of those skills, and their importance, is staying the same, Carbine has finally ditched their obtuse system in favor of something a lot more intuitive.
In the olden days of Wildstar yore, secondary skills meant different things to different classes. It was a great way of making everyone loath min-maxing because collecting useful data required a lot of effort. Now, the system is getting the boot and replaced by something far more manageable and understandable.
But Carbine isn’t stopping there, they’ve also made some nice overhauls to the AMP system. Before, AMPs had to be rounded up before they could be found, and it was a terribly irritating idea that always pulled you away from what you wanted to be doing to dig around for AMPs you needed to do it. Now, things are much simpler as all AMPs are provided, you just need to unlock them.
Being Rich Doesn’t Mean You Win
Sorry rich bachelor who doesn’t want to actually play the game but just throw money at the screen and then flex his virtual muscles for all the ladies, Wildstar isn’t for you. And, spoiler alert: Those ladies are all dudes anyway.
Going free to play is always a pretty scary thing for a game because, as the customer, we never know how corrupting the pursuit of money is going to be to the basic principles of the game. Are they going to sell out entirely and offer $50 potions that give you double experience for an hour? Are they going to start selling the best loot in the game? With Wildstar, while time will tell, you can likely sleep safe; Carbine doesn’t seem to intent on robbing us all blind.
Though the only evidence we have so far is the test realm cash shop, those who have peeked with trepidation at the items for sale have mostly been sighing with relief. Wildstar doesn’t look very pay to win. Instead, the focus seems to be on cosmetic options, experience potions, and a lot of decor items for the inevitable virtual revival of MTV Cribs.
The Glimmer of Hope is a Little Brighter
Talk to most people who don’t already hate MMORPGs with a burning passion and a lot of them will say the same thing: Wildstar wasn’t terrible, just misguided. It’s true. But, and I might just be the optimist here, WIldstar feels like it is finding its groove in a whole new way. In reality, Carbine is just making up for lost time. With games like Final Fantasy XIV surging ever onward, Wildstar has a lot of catching up to do if it’s ever going to survive the next year. Going free to play doesn’t give it an automatic pass on all of its sins, but, for now, it seems like Carbine is working tirelessly to address as many of them as they can.
Is Wildstar still borrowing a little too heavily from World of Warcraft? Absolutely. But if you were one of the many who, in a moment of abject sorrow, cancelled your subscription and left your character to rot in digital purgatory, there is a lot of reasons why you should be looking forward to jumping back in this Fall. There’s a lot of kinks left to sort out, but, at this point, all you have to lose is a little bit of time.
Do you have some reasons why Wildstar is bringing you back? Do you think the reasons above are totally bogus? Let us know in the comments!Related: Column, Listed, Top List, Wildstar