“Anticipated” is a word that gets easily thrown around before game launches. Any barely decent marketing team should be able to generate a modicum of hype to pique the public interest, so simply calling WildStar anticipated does really convey how hard the public has been waiting for this game.
It’s not because it’s the first real new property for NCsoft since 2008. It’s not because it’s the project that Carbine Studios, founded by a team of Blizzard escapees, has been building to for almost a decade, although that’s definitely part of it.
It’s mostly that all over gaming media WildStar is being touted as the first great MMO since before the public lost interest in MMOs, and the hope of the genre.
“WoW killer!” some whispered.
“Really? Finally?” others responded with only mild interest.
Other than die-hard Star Wars fans and long-term WoW lifers, the western market has mostly moved on to MOBAs or dabble briefly in free-to-play experiments, rarely finding an experience that match that initial thrill this genre delivered back in the mid-aughts. So with all the press this game has received before even launching, it should be impossible to live up to the hype.
But, oddly, WildStar somehow does.
This is a game crafted to appeal to people who love MMOs, people who have never played MMOs before, and especially people who have already given up on MMOs. Experienced players, especially those from Azeroth, will instantly feel like they’ve dropped into something completely familiar but oddly new. This “different-but-the-same” impression sticks with you, and eventually you get accustomed to thinking that this gameplay is right and all the games that have come before were wrong.
The development team took their sweet time making this game, and they have decided to include the entire MMO kitchen sink. This was a move that could have fantastically backfired but the ex-Blizzard staff got it all to work by adopting team members from just about every other important franchise, and focused on incorporating everything they loved about the medium while cutting out the things that caused flaws.
As a result WildStar incorporates an immersive single-player PVE experience with a ton of story, a huge crafting and tradeskill framework, standard PVP in addition to customizable Warplot battlefields, massive end-game raids, player housing, and the completely unique Paths system.
And it’s those Paths that represent the biggest departure from the standard MMORPG mold. The system functions as a cross between how most games handle race (in this game after character creation race is purely cosmetic, whereas your Path provides a few unique abilities that alter your role) and a second class, delivering a great deal of additional gameplay and missions specific to your preferred style of play.
In fact, the Paths arguably make the classes unimportant. Your class choice seems to merely determine how you kill (ranged attacks or melee, tanking or heals, stealth or pets) but your Path opens up what you do. If this doesn’t interest you there is more than enough content for you to ignore the Path system entirely, but many people will enjoy the unique rewards for buffing other players, exploring every remote corner of the world, or racking up extra kills in intense bonus battles.
The World of WildStar
As for the content itself, the game has a very simple, almost “cute” aesthetic that will seem natural to WoW fans and weird to anyone who prefers more visually realistic games, but it perfectly fits the approachable and unpretentious vibe of the game. The same can be said of many of the accents in the ridiculous amount of voice-acting recorded.
The two game factions, the Exiles and the Dominion, start out pretty one-dimensional, but that can’t be avoided: other big MMO games usually have the benefit of existing games to borrow from, or are based on licensed source material, but WildStar is creating a whole new setting from scratch so they opted for the really easy-to-grasp split between hungry conquerors and noble rebels. It’s not terribly original but it works for a reason. Once you get going there is plenty of exposition and lore available everywhere you go to flesh out and add dimension and uniqueness to the world.
(Note: the game developers, and a large portion of the new fandom, insist that neither side of the conflict is fully good or evil. To some point this is true, there are shades of gray, but it’s pretty obvious which side are the bad guys. The starting tutorial mission for one side involves curing a dying, comatose, pregnant woman; the other faction orders you to torture suspected traitors to death.)
The frontier environment solves another problem inherent to creating a new massive game setting from scratch. The planet Nexus serves as both the birthplace of the galaxy-spanning civilization and the furthest thing from it, putting both factions on equal footing to quickly explore and take control of a now uninhabited world filled with ancient secrets that could tip the balance in the conflict. Every new area you get to is a mixture of untamed wild and a crazy rush to claim and build something new over the ruins of something really old.
Earn play time by playing
Even the game’s business model shows a great deal of confidence in the product. After the initial game purchase your connection becomes pay-to-play, but you have the option of paying with real money or in-game currency. Exactly how effective this winds up being won’t be clear for a few months, since an internal economy needs to develop to set the exact cost of playing in fictional currency, but it means that NCsoft believes that enough people will find the game fun enough to play even if they have to spend most of their gold just to keep playing instead of on gear and consumables that will let them advance faster.
WildStar is visually stunning, fun to play, and just feels new. Despite the overwhelming number of systems it has an incredibly easy learning curve, and is overflowing with entertaining content.It’s clearly the first real step towards the necessary evolution of the genre.
Ultimately this game may not satisfy everyone that tries it, but everyone that has played or will play MMOs really does need to try it.
Video recap of WildStar:Related: Carbine Studios, NCSoft, Review, Wildstar