Wildstar: First Impressions, It’s Bipolar

Cartoon spaceships. WoW. In space.

Yep, it’s WoW in space.

How can it NOT be, when this is the very first thing that hits you in the face when you open the Options with Esc?

How can it NOT be, when this is the very first thing that hits you in the face when you open the Options with Esc? Add-ons. Oi vey.

Perhaps more interestingly, it’s not JUST WoW in space.

It seems to actually blend quite a number of MMOs, having borrowed bits and pieces from each. (See how many other MMOs I name later in this post, fer instance.)

I actually quite enjoyed both the Exile and Dominion tutorial areas, for a start.

To understand this perspective, as opposed to the myriad number of whining compaints over the zone channel about how sucky the tutorial was (thank goodness the channel text is so small by default, hell is other people and they’re much easier to ignore when their words aren’t in your face,) you need to realize that I came into the Wildstar Open Beta completely unexposed to much of the prior hype beyond scanning the official website regarding classes and paths.

That is, I start like a total newbie would, and see how far the tutorial takes me.

And it took me right into the world and setting of Wildstar with fairly understated storytelling. No large walls of text, no extreme infodumps, but a lot of small things combined – visual theme, music, cutscenes, eavesdropped NPC speech, clickable signages, traditional quests, etc.

I played the Exiles tutorial first, which was probably wise, as it set the tone right away for what to expect. A space western that didn’t take itself very seriously. Full of explosions, excitement and rebel sound and fury. Pioneers and frontiersmen to this new planet of Nexus.

(Yes, I'm running on low res textures. Deal. I'm already impressed my seven year old toaster can run this at a -playable- level, as opposed to say... Landmark level.

(Yes, I’m running on low res textures. Deal. I’m already fairly pleased that my seven year old toaster can run this at a -playable- level, as opposed to say… Landmark level.)

Playing the Dominion tutorial was an interesting contrast, for sure.

The Star Wars echoes hit me there and then, and I grokked it, just like that.

Exiles are the free-spirited Rebels and Dominion are the Ebil Empire.

Long live ebil empires!

Long live all ebil empires! Hail the Emperor / Empress / Dark Lord of Indeterminate Gender!

Weirdly enough, though I belong to the rare nerd subset who aren’t at all taken with the Star Wars universe, I was quite willing to play along with Wildstar’s take on things.

(I think the difference is that Star Wars wants to be taken seriously, to be all angsty and drama-ridden, and it ends up reading like Twilight vampires – a saccharine adolescent fantasy – while Wildstar is plainly on a ‘Let’s be f–king outrageous for laughs’ roll.)

I picked up little dribbles of lore via the tutorial’s fairly good design, which you can see sneakily forces you to interact with NPC members of each species so that each race can be explained to you in game. The Temple and Imperial Musuem on the Dominion side also did a decent job sneaking in more bits of lore so you get an idea of where everything stands, so to speak.

The music of Wildstar is a giant plus in its favor.

It really sets the mood for each zone and map you wander into.

Obviously, all of the above is a matter of personal taste. If you think a game that isn’t grim-n-gritty realistic, and that unabashedly -enjoys- splashing around in bright comic colors and reveling in its comic+western+space themes is -awful-, you’re going to hate Wildstar with a vengeance.

If you’re okay with, or even laugh at being ordered around by a tiny furry space gremlin with a comic sadistic streak a mile wide and who talks a bit like Yoda but FOR MAD SCIENCE! to press buttons and accidentally incinerate, innervate and transform innocent NPCs into Creatures of Chaos in the name of bringing them back to the loving fold of the Ebil Empire, you can probably get along with Wildstar’s setting just fine.

(Oh yes, there’s themes of Warhammer 40k too, blending in right along there. You’ll know it when you get to the end of the Dominion tutorial.)

Personally, I rather liked it.

Hope that doesn't reveal too much

Hope that doesn’t reveal too much about me. Hissssss….

Out of the tutorial zone and into the more open world (insofar as that word stretches), it’s WoW all over again.

We all know the schtick by now, I’m sure. Even me that didn’t play WoW for long.

Zones are divided up by appropriate level quest hubs where you pick up a bunch of exclamation marks standing conveniently near the village/town (Wildstar addition: Settler buff stations) and then go to the nearby areas to kill and pick up and click on things as appropriate.

There will be the odd exclamation mark away from the quest hub and a little out of the way so that you can feel like you’ve found a side quest or two by somewhat wandering off the beaten track, and a bunch of clickable lore collectables that are reminiscent of Rift or EQ2.

There is some new innovation mixed in with the old in that you can contact certain quest NPCs with a communicator and call in your quests that way without having to go back to the NPC, which is the more modern and convenient take on things.

Confusing the issue though are some quest NPCs that -don’t- allow the option, so you’ll STILL have to jog your way back to those. (I wish Wildstar would make up its mind.)

Adding on to the new-and-improved WoW feeling is the addition of extra stuff to do.

Kill certain mobs or reach a certain area and a Challenge will pop up – asking you to accomplish something within a certain time limit. If you manage it, you get a random roll for some bonus loot.

Which I found rather fun, up until the point where I found the area denuded of mobs and unable to progress any further while my clock was running down, because there were five other players in the same area as me trying to do the same thing.

(Cue HEAD SLAM and heartfelt CURSE TO THE GODS for the stupid traditional MMO model of competitive nodes and competitive quest completion.)

Sometimes, it’s like Wildstar doesn’t quite know where it wants to be, having blended both old and new.

I make no apologies for running up to someone and ‘helping’ to take down their mob. Sorry, but I’m from a GW2 culture, it’s what we do.

I’ve had other people do the same to me and I’ve had mixed feelings about it.

See, the thing is, there’s no hard tagging as in older MMOs where the first to tag gets all the loot and xp. Hard tagging gives a second player no reason to help because they don’t get anything. So they run off and leave you to it.

XP appears to be automatically shared. Unfortunately, no, it’s not like GW2 where both parties get the full credit. I killed a Wildstar mob by myself for 45xp. I kill the same mob with someone else and get 20-30xp. The benefit though, is that the mob dies pretty durned quick with two people firing on it.

Then again, I’ve encountered the situation where some crazy level 15 player has decided to wander around in level 7 mob territory and singlehandedly shoots up everything from range, not letting anyone else get a hit in, effectively tagging everything by virtue of killing it dead.

Leading to a lot of foot-tapping while waiting for mobs to respawn and for this stupidly outleveled player to finish whatever he came to do and leave.

Yet, there are Public Events, and Soldier-started quests, and even the odd veteran or elite mob (at least, judging by their increase in hitpoint reservoir) or meant-for-group mob that seems to encourage just jumping into the action and helping each other attack. Because you do still kinda share quest credit completion if you manage to get tags in.

Wildstar is freaking bipolar, man.

It’ll be interesting to see what mob ettiquette winds up becoming once the player culture is more established… seems like it could go either way.

Speaking of extra stuff and Paths, I gave the Soldier, Explorer and Scientist ones a spin.

Explorer was pretty overwhelming when I got into the first zone and everything started opening up on my quest log. If you like jumping puzzles and wandering off the beaten path via following directional prompts in a quest log and climbing to high places, it’s not bad. It’s more like for Achiever-Explorers though.

(I didn’t mind the directional prompts for quests, by the by. The maps are so huge in that barren WoW fashion – ie, a cunning excuse to make the place feel big and take up more of your subscription time jogging across it – that it’s hard to determine which direction to go without it – and there’s nothing worth your while in most of the adjoining space as it’s all non-interactable background scenery or mobs.)

450 freaking meters. Of barren rock. At times like this, an on-call arrow by clicking the quest on the quest log is definitely welcome so that I'm not wasting my time wandering in circles.

400 freaking meters. Of barren rock and some random mobs. To jog ever so slowly to. Sprint notwithstanding. At times like this, an on-call arrow by clicking the quest on the quest log is definitely welcome so that I’m not wasting more of my time wandering in circles.

Scientist felt a lot more suited to the Bartle Explorer as there’s less obvious signposting. You get a little scanbot summon and keep your eyes peeled for the Scientist icon appearing on things, which you then scan to complete quests and trigger group buffs. The most fun thing I encountered playing the Scientist path was wandering into a large green teleporter-like object hoping it went someplace… and it did…

ws_eldanlab

Turns out it was a sekrit Eldan lab of some sort, with interactables that were triggerable with my scanbot, and a bit of a logic puzzle at the end (which I mostly solved via clicking very persistently until the right combination was reached, than through any real understanding.)

Got some speshul achievements out of it and a bit more story lore as to what was going on with the zone – like how a certain NPC faction we were fighting came to be. Which was neat, and did trigger all the right chords in lil ol’ Explorer me.

The Soldier path I found pretty fun too. As it opened up more combat opportunities.

(Yes, it did really explode into giant chunks of meat. Whether you laugh or groan at this will determine if you like Wildstar or not.)

(Yes, it did really explode into giant chunks of meat. Whether you laugh or groan at this will give you a good inkling if you like Wildstar’s atmosphere or not.)

Ah, combat.

To me, this makes or breaks whether I can stand to play certain MMOs.

If the combat isn’t enjoyable, I simply can not stay with it for long, since that tends to be the most common activity on repeat loop.

Wildstar combat reminded me of City of Heroes and Guild Wars 2, with a side helping of Rift or TSW AoE indicators and talent trees.

Which, if you know my MMO history, reflects fairly well on it.

I got City of Heroes vibes from the three classes I tried up to level 6-10 or so. The Warrior was like a tanker in pace. Heavy stately (some might even say, slow) attacks. Each blow ought to be placed for maximum effect, because you’ll be wasting a lot of animation time otherwise.

Oh, yeah. Surround me with mobs, I can take it!

Oh, yeah. Surround me with mobs, I can take it! Cleavecleavecleave. Cackle gleefully. (The joys of Soldier holdout quests.)

The Stalker brought with it echoes of both CoH’s stalker and scrapper class. Melee deeps, baby. With stealth! If you like fast melee animations and spamming buttons up in melee range, this is the class for you. It attacks at a much faster pace than the Warrior, but generally hits for a little less each blow (stealth backstabs excepted).

The Spellslinger reminded me of a CoH blaster. It had a ‘snipe’-alike that required some setup time and could wipe off a lot of hp from enemies, and then you cleaned up with some mobile pewpew.

Balance-wise, I dunno, it’s going to take some time for things to shake or settle on that front, I feel.

And it might go in a number of directions, from traditional specialized holy trinity to hybrid combinations, depending on what the true numbers turn out to be.

I kept seeing Medics plow through fields of mobs at a pace that my warrior could only dream of, ranged dps/heals has always been a fairly potent tank-mage combination. (Groups of defenders and corruptors in CoH were always very popular and successful, and easily kept apace with or were even better than specialized tanker/blaster/heal0r combinations.)

The Engineer looked to have some interesting robot pets and can apparently be a ranged tank (shades of City of Villain’s mastermind, anyone?)

Movement and positioning-wise, experience with GW2 stands you in very good stead in Wildstar.

I watched a fellow Warrior stand toe to toe with a couple of even-level mobs and get knocked around to half hp or less, and he had to use a consumable heal to recover and defeat them.

Then I waited for the same mobs to respawn and danced around their telegraphed AoE cleaves, interspersed a knockdown at the correct timing, and slaughtered them with barely a dent in my shields.

Oh, I -love- the interrupts in Wildstar. Watching the heavy telegraphing disappear with one well-timed interrupt (knockdown, stun, etc.) on a group of mobs, and following up with a synergy attack that does extra damage to knocked down mobs, is such a great feeling. It makes it really obvious that your cc just prevented a world of hurt and the tables have just turned. Making crowd control feel good has been always pretty hard to do in MMOs.

It does lack some of the elegance of GW2, in that there’s less of a focus on watching mob animations and tells (crucial in GW2) and more on watching colored indicators of crazy shapes and sizes on the ground. So you’re more always looking at the -floor- rather than at the mobs per se. (Granted, it’s not like you can see certain mobs in GW2 either once they get covered in particle effects.)

There’s still a bit of a bipolar feel to Wildstar combat-wise.

I keep wanting to know if it is possible for good movement and positioning to reward a skilled player with being able to solo content meant for groups. (I really would like such a possibility to be an option, with speed of group clears being the bonus encouragement for grouping.)

I tried it with a group quest marked for 2+ players. Some random named mob, Direclaw or some such. I ran in with my warrior and CIRCLE STRAFED the sh-t out of it. This actually -almost- defeated the AI, and I was getting the 6.8k hp down 100-120hp at a time, though I did catch some damage from unavoidable blows and some unexpected AoE and was frightened enough for my hp bar to pop a health consumable.

Unfortunately, I think I chose to pop the health consumable a little too early, when I was at half health and ended up wasting some extra hp I could have really used. I ended up dying with it having a -sliver- of hp left.

(Of course, after that, an extra player showed up while I was ghosting around dead and sulking. I watched him attempt to tank the mob solo with his bots and he didn’t seem like he was getting very far on that front, so I chose to splurge and spend half my accumulated currency to respawn right there and then to jump in and help. Then a third player showed up and the group mob got pwned.)

I suspect there will be a hard limit later on just how far this is possible, given how traditionally WoW Wildstar seems to be trying to cling on to. (Wouldn’t do for all the co-dependent players to start crying, y’know, that their precious specialized roles feel unwanted…) Which is sad, in my book.

On paper, there does seem to be room for hybrid roles. The APM tree, or whatever it’s called, is some kind of point buy system which separates out the Wildstar trinity into Assault, Support and Utility, and allows for hybrids between the three. But I suspect the theorycrafters will get to it sooner than later and develop their cookie cutters for best dps, best tanking, and best healing, and all that middle flexibility will be lost in the search for optimization. I mean, it’s really too much work otherwise for many other players to figure out, so the easiest path of least resistance will be to copy someone else’s builds, down the road.

The skill and build selection portion is interesting, in that it has shades of GW2 and TSW. Your skill loadout at any time is limited, and you’ve got more than enough skills to fill the bar. So pick and choose the ones that fit together best for the purposes you’re trying to achieve. You could go full assault, or full support, or some mix of the two, choose skills with interrupts, skills that build threat or those that don’t, skills that keep you mobile, etc.

ws_actionset

I had little to no issues pressing 1 repeatedly due to both CoH and GW2 prior training, where sometimes you don’t just want to rely on the preset autoattack and want to queue up your basic attack at a better interval. Mileage of folks more used to a less active system may vary.

And here’s where it gets bipolar yet again. It seems like a great combat system that brings in a lot of the innovations of the newer MMOs, that is going to be put to a very old and traditional use.

My admittedly limited take on the Wildstar endgame is that it is going to be PvP like WoW battlegrounds, 5-man dungeons and *wince* 20 and 40-man raids.

This in an age where even World of Warcraft is going flex in their raiding.

Are players going to innovate in their builds if you set them up with exponentially increasing gear and stats and scenarios that are likely going to challenge a very specialized holy trinity?

Or are they simply going to go back to what is familiar to them.

Truth is, I know I have no long-term future in Wildstar if they’re going to stick to a traditional MMO endgame.

I wouldn’t mind playing along with the leveling game to experience some of the stories and content, enjoy some of the combat along the way, but I’ll be damned if I have to put my fate in the hands of a tank or healer that I -hope- is competent enough, or have to wait for ages for a tank/healer duo to deign to pick up some disposable and interchangeable dps, or alarm clock raid for weeks on end because I’ll be letting down 19 or 39 other players if I don’t meet a schedule in order to progress, ever again.

Nor am I going to pay $15 like clockwork every month for a game that tries to take up as much of my time as possible around every turn.

Why should I, if I can play comparable games like Rift or TSW or LOTRO or whatever for free?

Sure, they say, if you’re hardcore enough and can earn enough gold, you can buy a month’s sub in game coin from other players willing to drop the cash for you. Which is all very well if you want to be hardcore enough, but I’d really rather not go the traditional WoW hardcore route, thanks. (I’d already be playing WoW for that, right? Cos being hardcore means keeping up with all those prior commitments and investments of time.)

So as a filthy casual, it’s unlikely I’ll can earn enough for a sub in-game just to feed a leveling urge.

If I ever found a month that I can devote tons of time to Wildstar, I might put down $15 for that month to just go on a leveling/story/combat spree for a while.

But I wouldn’t want sub time ticking down on me otherwise, feeling guilty that I can only play it irregularly or for limited periods a week (which in a sub game designed by nature to waste your time, may not be sufficient to get anywhere at a reasonable clip.)

As for buying the box at full price… well…

Let’s put it this way. If I wanted to commit fully to Wildstar and be that hardcore raider and PvPer and house owner and what-not, yeah, I think Wildstar is worth the box price AND the sub every month.

For just wanting to casually sample some stories while leveling and play with the combat system, I’m thinking more in the 50% off range, and hoping that the included 30 days is enough. Maybe a month or two more if one gets hooked, and less if it gets boring.

If it goes free to play at any point, hell yeah, I think it’ll be really worth it then.

Your guess is as good as mine as to how many of each player type there are and how many Wildstar is hoping to capture from each group.

I suspect Wildstar should gain a decent enough following akin to Rift or TSW to keep it going, more or less.

That there’ll be a LOT of three monthers falling off the title.

And that there’ll be quite a number of players like me who don’t think the game is that bad, but are unwilling to spend the time or money at present, and will sit on the sidelines waiting for the situation to get more attractive before considering jumping in.

In the meantime, the week-long Open Beta is a great opportunity to play free and make your own decision whether you’re ready for that MMO marriage to Wildstar.

I know -I’ll- be playing it for all its worth while it’s still free.

I mean, any MMO where you get to play one of these little critters

I mean, any MMO where you get to play one of these delightful little critters is worth spending some one-night-stands on, right? (The Chua and Draken race animations are pretty neat, by the by. I could double jump all day as a Chua and grin at the resulting tucked-into-a-ball roll on the ground. ALL FREAKIN’ DAY.)

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10 thoughts on “Wildstar: First Impressions, It’s Bipolar

  1. bhagpuss says:

    If WildStar was B2P I might well buy it, even though I have no intention of playing it at the moment (same goes for TESO). Given that most MMOs stick around for a long time, $60 upfront for years of potential gameplay is a good deal and I am more than happy to pay real money for potential entertainment (I have stacks of DVDs and CDs with the seals still unbroken and piles of unread books yet to be opened).

    The combat is ok, if busy, but then the entire game is busy. The writing is flat and formulaic but not terrible. I quite like the character and mob models but I do think that, other than that, it’s one of the ugliest MMOs I’ve ever played. That’s the main drawback from my perspective.

    One big part of that is the issue you mention – the bland emptiness of the landscapes. SO far almost everywhere I’ve seen looks like filler, only you’d expect filler to fit between some actual points of interest and I’ve yet to coma across one of those. Maybe you have to take the Explorer Path (I took Scientist). Unlike you I have my settings turned way up and I can assure you it looks no better. There doesn’t actually seem to be much texure in the textures – it’s all flat, matte swatches of color.

    Speaking of color, The palette they’ve chosen, at least in the Dominion tutorial and first two zones, just doesn’t work. It’s nothing to do with the cartoony look – WoW has a great color pallete, for example, as does Allods. I get the impression they were going for an animated cartoon vibe, circa mid-90s but it doesn’t do anything for me. Well it does – it makes my eyes ache after about fifteen minutes.

    I’m guessing I’d get used to that if I played enough, but it’s going to be a challenge sticking with it long enough to find out.

    • Jeromai says:

      The sub model is indeed a big issue to me as well.

      If not for that, I might very well consider buying Wildstar at full retail price too. I pushed the warrior to level 15 last night and encountered a few things that were fairly interesting to me – fights with gronyxs of various scaling that were fairly involved affairs with varied AoEs to dodge, a soloable shipboard mini-adventure that was like a well-paced story instance, technologist crafting which had a small minigame of adding additives to get to a certain coordinate and so on.

      But I simply do not want to hear this constant refrain of “wait till X level, it gets better and better” on a subscription model that is charging me per month to keep waiting.

      There is no way to take my time and work through it at my own leisurely pace. No, a sub model forces rushrushrush to get your money’s worth.

      As a result, everywhere I turn, design that delays me annoys me to high heaven. “No, I do not actually NEED to spend 3-5 minutes sitting on a stupid automated flying mount getting from place to place. I would sit back and enjoy the immersive view, but the sub clock is ticking down here…”

      It’s no problem if you’re content to put Wildstar as your first and only MMO. But if you intend to have prior commitments elsewhere, it’s going to be rather costly (in time and amount of commitment required, not just money as well) to maintain a sub to it too.

  2. João Carlos says:

    Sadly, I fear TESO is an one-monther and Wildstar is a three-monther (i Played both betas…). It is sad, but true. So, no news on the front for long time, until EQNext finally come.

    Developers need learn to move out WoW model, like EQNext is trying to do. Or like GW2 tried to do, with mixed results. Like it or not, but quest hubs and the holly trinity need to go, forever.

    Take note, GW2 is not perfect, but it is the second most played MMO. But I think after the chinese launch, GW2 will be closer to WoW player numbers.

    So, for now I will play GW2 and wait for the second living season starts.

  3. Isey says:

    How many hours did it take you to finish MASS Effect or games like that?

    Usually not long. That is the justification I am using to sub for a couple of months.

    Green Man Gaming had it for sale and that’s the math for me for the second “free” month. I’ll get 30 hours or more of game time and then decide If I feel like I got the value for a third month.

    It’s tricky in a lot of the ways you mention. On the verge of being amazing bit settles in on good to great (and somewhere in between).

    Will be a fun couple of months. I’ll report regularly 🙂

    • Jeromai says:

      I think the problem for me is that Wildstar feels inherently “unfinishable.”

      The foundations are set up to compel you into accumulating stuff, then paying a sub to maintain it.

      I buy a cool motorcycle mount. Later, I get to customize it with front and rear flairs and what not. I build a house, I have the option to constantly upgrade it with gold. I reach max level and get cool armor, but stats-wise, it will never be enough because new raids will come out with ever increasing stats.

      I find it very hard to look past or temporarily ignore all the little tricks to extend sub time and end up feeling a bit like a space hamster running around in a giant wheel chasing sunflower seeds.

      • Isey says:

        That’s a very good argument. I suppose that is the point of the old day sub fee though, you pay and get that perpetuity. I subbed into WoW for many, many years and while I think there is a LOT of room to improve how sub fees work (why are they all $15? What is that based off of? Shouldn’t it go down the longer you subscribe? etc. etc…) but that is a whole other argument.

        It is kind of nice not knowing when or where the journey ends. What is that worth paying for?

        • Jeromai says:

          A buy to play game has the same perpetuity, but does not require one to pay every month without fail.

          I suppose a possible argument in favor of a sub would be that a buy to play game is motivated to give you many reasons to pay the equivalent of a sub every month and if you’re tempted and have little self control, you may end up paying a lot more.

          I just rather like the idea that the company needs to be on the ball and delivering temptations every month, rather than being able to rest on its laurels and relax because they’ve entrapped people into paying 3 or 6 or 12 month subs.

          • Isey says:

            I keep qualifying this for clarity, but I have been anti-sub fee for quite some time. Not against the principle but just a lot of consumer practices that don’t line up with it.

            That being said, The sub games I have played have been higher quality – at least the *feel*, and my personal opinion. I have subbed to EQ, DAOC, WOW, EVE and LOTRO (before it went F2P). They had a certain feel to them where while part of me disliked paying the monthly, I felt like I got value.

            Conversely, I feel like I got LESS value from GW2 even though I don’t have to pay a monthly fee. Same with LOTRO now that it’s F2P. SWTOR ftp is brutal – although everyone agrees on that (I am still interested in the storylines there but can barely play it…)

            The only company that has done F2P “right” in my opinion, is League of Legends, and it is a MOBA.

            The whole debate around subs, f2b B2p (etc.) isn’t going away anytime soon and its always great to debate and discuss. Bah, I should go make a post about it instead of pestering you on here =)

          • Jeromai says:

            No worries, I love to hear well-reasoned opinions.

            And if there’s one place wall of texts are safe, it’s this blog. 😛

            It’s true that sub games tend to have a “polished” quality about them in general, though Rift and GW2 might beg to differ. There’s perhaps a certain exclusive club status about a sub, though regular readers of this blog will know where I histrionically stand on the word “exclusivity.” 😛

  4. […] talks about how WildStar feels like a blend of several MMO’s. I have gotten that vibe myself, […]

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