I am not as experienced with MMOs as many others are nor am I the type that needs all the best components. But I do enjoy the MMO experience quite a bit. To me, a MMO is the best type of sandbox game. There is tons to do and progress to be made on all fronts. Additionally you can play with others if you want or, largely, just play by yourself. And while end game content is something I frequently don’t see, that doesn’t mean that I feel my time was wasted.
I establish all of this because my perspective on Wildstar is likely different than many others. I feel most people who talk about MMOs like this are more likely to have a standing group of friends to play with or join a guild quickly. They are focused on raids and end game. And I am not.
This review is being written about 2 weeks after the game launched. I personally only played the game through a guest pass which allowed me to play for a week without investment, and I don’t have any real desire to go back into that world. But even I can appreciate that there was a lot of work and appreciations for MMOs that went into that world.
An impressively complete offering
I learned about Wildstar through a friend who loves MMOs. He is frequently one of the earliest people to hit max level (him taking a week in Wildstar was actually rather slow for him) and will play for months afterward. He had participated in the betas, read the forums, and planned with his standing group of MMO players how they were going to play.
Part of his excitement came from the fact that Wildstar was launching with tons of features and content. And I can say from my limited time in the game that there did seem to be a lot there. Besides the normal quests, classes, crafting, and dungeons, there was a huge amount of effort that went into housing. You get your own personal house at level 15 and can customize it a ton for both visual and practical benefits.
I was impressed by the sheer number of different items that could be put in and customized in the housing areas. It was a fun minigame to really express yourself while also adding things like a garden so you can farm the crops for your crafts.
Of other features I’ve only heard about that were all ready for launch, PvP was fully functioning, the auction houses (one for gear and one for commodities) with a much more complicated, almost stock-market-esque purchase and sale order system was ready, the ability to purchase subscription time with in game money (encouraging those on a budget to keep playing adding more players to the universe), and even the first max level raid was ready (though with some strict entry requirements that will ensure people are ready for the raid when they get there).
Some new tricks
Every MMO is different in some way, but Wildstar took the time to change a couple fundamental staples in meaningful ways to really be more interesting and embraced some less common smaller changes.
On the small side is the idea of exploring. In the world of an MMO, you tend to explore around quite a bit but as part of quests. The idea of just going places tends to be less interesting unless there are nodes for your gathering skills available. In the end, you’ll see the world as the story and quests lead you there.
Wildstar had a concept of paths which are separate from classes and crafting entirely. All the four choices (soldier, settler, scientist, and explorer) encourage your to encounter the world at large in a different way. Some of the missions pair nicely with the story and other quests going on (like setting up surveillance when moving in on an enemy base) while others can just be for more lore (like researching plants and scanning datacubes). All of it works together to encourage you to do more in the world with the world itself. And all of the missions are optional with regards to the story and other quests. You can completely ignore your path if you don’t care.
Moving up on the innovative points is the dungeons. Like many MMOs, there are different sizes of dungeons and a variety of them as you go along. What I have never seen before is that, during the dungeon, a vote may be presented. The vote relates to what objective you want to achieve. These all fall into the normal category of go somewhere and click on something or kill something(s), but the fact that the dungeon is branching allows it to play out differently quite a few times before you’ve seen it all. And the different paths can lead to very different experiences. As one who likes dungeons, I really like the variety built into a single overarching mission. Additionally in the end, you are given a rating (gold, silver, or bronze) about your performance. As far as I know, this really just comes down to how many times did anyone/everyone die. This gives a good reason to play it again and try to do better. Embracing that people may like to replay things is very enjoyable.
Completely shifting gears, we can look at crafting. There is some basic crafting where you click on a recipe where you have the ingredients and click make, and you have the item. Crafting quickly becomes more interesting though. Though in different forms, crafting takes on positional aspects. This can come in the form of placing components on a blueprint with different connections to make different items. The quality of the components comes into play as well as how things are actually laid out.
Even more different (though I didn’t find it to be particularly fun, honestly) is when you have essentially a target. In the center is the base craft. You can then add different additional components to move where the craft will land on the target. There are then variations on the craft that might be to the left or right or any direction and distance from the center. It becomes its own game to find the way to get the craft to land on what you want. What I dislike here is functionally it is just a recipe with many ways to get the result but they won’t tell you what it is. And you might spend your in-game money adding things to try to get to the point you want (possibly in less than effective ways as they only will show you the results of the next additional component and not a chain of them).
Speaking of positions, though, there is one huge difference between this game and most other MMOs I have experienced. The combat is extremely positional. What I mean by this is that most attacks do not just go toward the enemy you have selected. Instead, they form a shape on the ground that, when filled, is where the damage will occur. Both players and enemies attack this way (though enemies have basic attacks that don’t do that).
Now, the MMO I played the most over the years is Dofus. Dofus is a French turn based tactical MMO. This means I am very familiar with how positional combat works and, as one might expect from me playing it a lot, I enjoy it. One large problem with Dofus is it is slow in combat. This does make it very strategic, but it also makes grinding (which, at least when I played, you will do a lot) a bit unpleasant. The creators tried to improve this with the successor, Wakfu. It was better by making combat execute faster and giving bonuses to hurrying through battles, but it honestly was a strange combination of speed with strategy as you do need to think in many battles, but you are given bonuses if you just react (though it does make grinding a lot nicer).
There are no turns in Wildstar. This means all of the delays are just on a timer and can happen simultaneously. In the end, this can make for a wonderful merging of tactics and smooth flowing gameplay. I really like the positional combat. It not only encourages attacks that can hurt multiple enemies at one time, but it really feels like the combat involves the player rather than just tab-ing to your target and clicking a few buttons only to move if the enemy gets to do something interesting. The added challenge makes this super neat and can make you feel like you really are succeeding.
Nothing is perfect
Even a good MMO will have some quirks and problems. Others may not even see these as flaws but decisions I didn’t like. That said, it doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t like them.
The path I chose for my first character was an Explorer. I figured that, since I love jumping around in games like Titanfall, having that as a mission would be more fun. That part (as in exploring hard to reach places) was actually fun. The rest, not so much. The rest of the missions came down to walk to the spot and sometimes click a button. It’s not that the spot was hard to get to; it just might not tell you where it is so you have to walk back and forth until you find it. Then you click and win.
Also, one challenge that still irks me had to do with what happened after I climbed a big tree (which was neat). My challenge was to get down to the ground without taking fall damage. There are two things that annoy me about this challenge. One is that failure means you have to climb the tree again which wasn’t trivial. It’s possible you failed pretty quickly (as the game is very happy to dish out small amounts of fall damage which will cause you to fail), but you also might be at the bottom and then need to start again. The other problem I have is there is an ability you will unlock with your path that can essentially eliminate the challenge. There is a huge difference between having to jump down a tree without missing a step and just jumping off and clicking a button at the right moment, but the game sees them as equal.
The first class I played with was the Esper in a DPS role. I can only comment on it up to level 16, but up to that point, it was a surprisingly not fun experience overall. The problem I had with the class up to that point is you really aren’t moving. Your primary attack requires you to stand still for 1.25s. Any movement cancels the attack. This means most of the time you stand still and just click. This means that most of the combat is like the traditional select target and click abilities until you win except most of your abilities you won’t be using.
Eventually, you can unlock ways to use all of your abilities. There are tons of extra abilities (called AMPs) that can make many builds viable. Until you unlock those, though, you are a class that can’t really move and doesn’t do all that much damage (at least not quickly). Even trying to just do all the damage you can quickly doesn’t work because the class is based around “builders” where the resource you need for big attacks builds up during combat. And the knockdowns and snares and other enemy movement hindering spells all have a long cooldown and don’t build toward your good attacks, just to make it more annoying.
I actually didn’t realize how much fun I was missing until I played my second character as a Stalker. All of the flowing movement and the positional planning really paid off and I felt I had a great set of abilities that allowed me to manipulate my movement and my enemies movement.
But changing to a more fun class and more fun path couldn’t save me from the biggest problem in the game.
A universe completely filled with idiots
This is not a comment about other players in the game. This is a comment about the game world and the NPCs that run it.
Personally, I love to roleplay in games. If there’s a story, I embrace it or the lacking of a major one will just cause me to play as my character and come up with more specific motivations. For two examples in MMOs, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn has you play as one of the Guardians of Light who is trying to save society from evil (it’s actually a good deal more complicated than that in good ways, but fundamentally that’s what it is). In that game, I was happy to serve toward this greater good and felt like my actions were advancing the goal. On the other hand, Dofus essentially sets up your motivation as go collect these mythical dragon eggs because they might make you awesome. Or maybe not. We’re not quite sure, but they sure seem awesome (the game is rather silly, but I’m happy with that). So I play as a silly adventurer what wants to find the eggs for glory/profit/power/whatever. I can fill that in and am happy.
In Wildstar, there are two sides: the Exiles and the Dominion. This video goes through a lot of the backstory that goes into who they are. You could easily think of the former as the persecuted and the latter as a more evil and more imperialistic Roman Empire.
I started playing as the Dominion. I didn’t really realize how evil these people were supposed to be, but they really are evil, entitled, imperialistic, horrible people. What bothers me a lot is that I think I’m supposed to realize these people are evil and… I’m not quite sure. Your character passive aggressively will verbally disagree with people at times, but then goes along with the play anyway. This feels like the worst response a character can have. I still wouldn’t like playing an evil villain if my character embraced it, but at least my character would stand for something.
I’m guessing the evilness is supposed to come across as funny… but I really don’t see it. Part of that might be that there seem to be actual consequences for the evil actions (sort of; it’s still an MMO, so the world can’t really change, but sometimes your view of it does). So as a character, why would I want to support these evil actions? The people giving me orders seem to think of me as fodder to be thrown at problems and my victories make me feel like I’m a bad person. My character can’t seem to care that much since he disagrees and does it anyway. It turns into an evil corporation exploiting an apathetic employee to commit atrocities. I didn’t find that enjoyable.
So I started another character on the persecuted Exiles. They are the scrappy rebel group who is first characterized as just disagreeing with the Dominion and then running away to try to just survive. The Dominion is clearly much, much stronger in battle and would like to exterminate the Exiles. So the Exiles go to Nexus (the planet where most of the game takes place) to try to found their own place to live. And the Dominion finds them and the planet.
As an Exile, you start by trying to help this old talking tree try to tell all of its secrets. After it’s just about to, the Dominion kills the tree. This is illogical to a really annoying degree. The story is set up such that the Dominion wants those secrets too. Additionally, instead of bombing the tree, the Dominion could have just killed the Exiles standing directly next to it. But, even though the Dominion has an essentially unlimited military, they don’t. They do the only thing that can only hurt them.
But the Exiles are no better for planning. Their response is that we need to take the battle to the Dominion. And every time they have in the past, they have, at best, survived with great losses. But now, they want to go on another attack. This doesn’t make sense. This abandons the idea that the Exiles actually are most interested in making a new happy society and that they have any concept of tactics. It is a sign of insanity to try the same thing with the same situation and expect a different result. This might not be identical, but the leaders are idiots to not be able to see it.
I guess it should have told me that I wasn’t going to agree with this side and want to be a part of it when one of the first NPCs you end up helping and saving his pregnant wife said, “I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t kill you.” Why would you kill one of your allies that has done nothing to wrong you other than existing? It doesn’t particularly seem like the Exiles are all that lacking in evil themselves… but it looks like natural selection will solve that one.
Hopefully this long review was helpful for showing what is good in Wildstar and what is not. There are plenty of people who love the game (though I admit the server I was playing on, a high population one, felt a lot less populated by players than the server I played on for FFXIV:ARR). I am not one of them.
With some balancing changes and better choices about what to play when starting, there are a ton of great fundamentals to choose from and enjoy here. The underlying gameplay really feels solid.
Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the game to anyone who cares even the slightest about story. If all you want is another MMO to play in which gives you quests and numbers and just has annoying text between you and playing, Wildstar may be for you. If you want to read that text at all, you might become some combination of bored, angry, and disgusted.
No matter how much I try to enjoy the game, I just don’t. It’s such a shame when they did so many other things right.