The lights are on
WildStar officially launches today, but Head Start players were able to dive in over the weekend, assuming their server queues weren’t in the 8 hour territory. My initial foray into Nexus and the world of WildStar had me playing each class (except medic) to around level 11, with my “main” engineer settling in at 18. While the tutorial zone is nothing to write home about, once the game opens up the polish and style begin to take hold. While passing any real judgment on a MMORPG is ludicrous without endgame experience, based on my experience thus far, WildStar is the best MMORPG I have played in a long time.
WildStar’s cartoony style and flavorful space-banter make an interesting foil to the core of the gameplay, which can be quite deep and hardcore for those looking for a challenging MMO. You’re getting a “Way to go cupcake!” level up one moment and basking on your housing plot having some BBQ with friends, the next you may be failing to dodge a dozen death strikes from an alien robot.
The core of any MMORPG is the combat, which WildStar appears to have nailed. Each class’s starter kits are designed to basically attack in an easy-to-land fashion, and as players level they can change their kits to more daring and more rewarding builds. Around level 12, players start to get punished for landing into red “telegraph” areas, a concept not new to WildStar, as we’ve all learned how important staying out of fire and green liquids are over the MMO years. But it’s different here, as many different shapes, speeds, and patterns form some sort of hypnotic death dash as you scramble to avoid lethal attacks and still be in range to land your own blows.
The red telegraph zone fills up with color at varying speeds, indicating when the attack will be executed. As a result, you can watch the beams and circles fill out and know exactly when you’ll need to active dodge, use defense, or trigger mobility abilities. It’s fast. It’s fluid. It’s fun and addictive. The combat almost feels arcade-like, with monsters exploding and popping out loot from pack to pack. Players can jump in and engage on your “pulls” without penalty; everyone gets credit.
This isn’t a game in which you can take on challenging foes while watching Game of Thrones on your second monitor; if you pause for a moment against a real foe you’ll be punched into the ground; it’s a grand thing, to not experience the MMORPG leveling process while binging through a few series on Netflix. In any given zone, if you want a challenge it’s there for you, and you’ll be rewarded for using all your skills to take them on. You’re constantly engaged, and not just by the combat itself.
You arrive in a new area and survey the situation. There are a variety of easy trash packs that you could farm and easily take on without any effort, but there are also larger creatures that are going to require your full attention. Deciding to test the waters, you jump in and smash the trash pack. CHALLENGE TIME! What’s that? Often, you’ll discover challenges to kill as many creatures as possible or to collect things in a certain time period, with rewards tied to level of completion. These are rolled out gently in the early areas where the challenges are simply pass/fail, but later on varying degrees of success can confer excellent rewards. As you’re cutting through creature after creature, you’re getting short-acting buffs for double and triple kills that make the frenetic pace of combat even sweeter.
Players can quickly respec abilities at no cost which is fantastic for experimenting with new builds or switching to a PVP oriented spec. Changing your “AMPS” (passive bonus tree and more) does come with a minor fee, but the cost doesn’t seem restrictive.
Let’s talk about housing. I wasn’t too excited about this aspect of the game, but once I hit level 14 and acquired my plot of land I spent all the gold I had been saving for a mount immediately on plot goodies. I neighbored a few of my friends, took up architecture and spent far too long cutting down trees to begin my path of housing customization. Not only can you farm up crafting mats, play mini-games for rewards, and tinker with all kinds of add-ons for your housing plot, you can actually create dungeons on your land for you and your friends – scalable instanced dungeons for you and up to 4 friends. From changing the weather on your lands to placing that beer sign just right, I can see people falling into the housing game and never escaping. It’s brilliant.
At level 6, players can queue up for the first PVP area, a capture-the-flag romp. The PVP is crazy, fast-paced, and fun. Players can earn both material rewards and experience through PVP, so a player could theoretically reach top level simply through PVP play. After a few rounds, I can see this happening regularly; as the combat’s frantic feel lends itself toward twitchy, skill-based battles that keep you coming back for more.
I’m looking forward to trying the dungeons at level 20, but I’ve tried the first sort of group instanced experience – the adventure – at level 15. My guess is these are more casual group experiences than the dungeons, which I believe are designed for a serious challenge.
These are sort of interesting as players pick different options as they go through in a Choose Your Own Adventure fashion, and it can change what bosses and encounters you face as you go through. This feature does a lot to keep the adventure from becoming stale if you choose to go through multiple times.
It’s far too early to give the final word or accurate review, but I’m comfortable saying that if you enjoy MMORPGs you are going to find something incredibly fresh and polished here in WildStar, adhering to some of the genre’s conventions while serving up deliciously satisfying combat.
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