I’ll come right out and say it; I’m not the biggest fan of MMO’s. That’s not to say I haven’t given quite a few a decent shot. I’ve played World of Warcraft, The Old Republic, Rift and more recently Guild Wars 2, but I seem to have a fundamental problem when it comes to playing these games. It’s not so much a problem with the game, but something wrong with me. I’m all for freedom in a massive world, but when that’s coupled with often confusing and vague directives I start losing interest. Guild Wars 2 doesn’t really have this issue, but even it doesn’t hold up a candle to the way Wildstar handles quests.
It’s immediate from the first few hours. Wildstar wants you to keep pushing forward, so much so that it often feels like the game is in control rather than you. I began my adventure as a Dominion Stalker, a more humorous take on a Sith-like empire. My character, as a Stalker, was a little more than a more equipped Thief, allowing me to disappear into stealth as a class specific ability and equip light and medium gear. The rather long tutorial aboard a Dominion ship did well to introduce me to the game’s lore, fellow characters that are important to my chose Explorer path as well as the basics and not so basics of Wildstars interesting combat mechanics (a bit more on that later). I was shuffled from one quest to another, with more important ones preceded by rather great looking cutscenes, which also feature the light-hearted tone that is generous spread throughout the title.
At first I thought this was only because of the first few levels being a veiled tutorial, but as soon as I set foot on the nearby Exile Planet, which the Dominion and Rebels are fighting to control, it became apparent that this was how Wildstar was structured throughout. Your main quest line shuffles you from waypoint to waypoint, NPC to NPC, giving you objectives such as killing creatures, collecting items and exploring locations to keep you entertained along the way. This keeps that narrative flowing at a good pace, but it may feel somewhat restrictive to players hoping to explore at their own will. It seems like, at least in the first 15 levels of this ambitious MMO, that the only way to progress to a new hub world is to complete the main story quests featured in the hub you currently preside in. A new, rather bold move by developers Carbine, but one that catered perfectly to how I like to play MMO titles. Instead of being overwhelmed with quest givers around a massive area, I was directed to my next objectives and give the choice to take a few on the side. Often I’d take close to three of four quests before leaving a town, completing them all and then returning to progress the tale and gain some experience and items on the side. It’s something I can see lots opposing, but also more than a few getting behind.
That’s not to say you’re confined to just story quests though. Wildstar offers quite a bit of content that doesn’t even require q quest giver, but rather objectives that spawn from your chosen “path” when you create your character. For example, I chose Explorer, so every hub featured its own set of Explorer specific missions that popped up on my little HUD. On top of these were missions that forced me to explore the map more, seeking out high vantage points and low tunnels beneath the surface. Missions which involved me claiming pieces of land for the Dominion had me racing around the hub I was in, keeping an eye on a signal meter to indicate how near or far I was from the flag placement. These then unlocked good for other Dominion players to use, as well as supplies for myself. Random challenges have a habit of springing out of nowhere, giving you a short objective to complete in a small amount of time for a, you guessed, small reward. It’s great when all of these intertwine with what the narrative mission are telling you to do, and more often than not I found them overlapping, which just made normal task a bit more interesting.
Sadly, Widlstar has escaped the clutches of some MMO traits. More than a few quests feel like the standard “go here, kill a few things, come back formula”, and these were only made more frustrating when the objectives progressed so slowly. On a few occasion I was required to kill creatures in an area, but wiping out three would only progress my quest by 5% or so. This meant a lot of killing, and a lot of searching for the right prey. It takes some of the magic out of the entire experience, and really puts a rather interesting combat system, to waste. The same can be said for a lot of fetch quests, which involved me having to pick up an obscene amount of herbs and flowers. There are some great quests here and there, like investigating the private dealings of one of your commanding officers, or lighting up beacons on a path crawling with all sorts of nasty creatures. But more often than not Widlstar gives you quests that you’d expect to find in your standard MMO, although they are seemingly taking a lot of feedback on this.
But the real reason why Wildstar has been turning heads since its reveal has been it’s new, innovative take on MMO combat. Wildstar requires you to be quick and constantly alert, which doesn’t sound all that innovative at first until you actually see it in action. Despite what the animations suggest, attacks in Wildstar usually affect an area, which is highlighted when scrolling over an ability. Abilities have limits as to how many targets they affect, but it does change combat in the sense that you’re no linger targeting enemy’s individually. Instead, you’re getting in close, or as close as you need, and firing off abilities one after the other. Combat is flashy, fast and frantic, with most abilities I used having minor cooldowns and costs to Suit Energy, which controls and balances gameplay. This combat forced me to become a master of camera control, as I was continuously moving around my enemies to avoid their attacks, which are highlighted in read in the game world. You’re able to before dodges in any direction, which will award you experience and keep you alive, and the whole thing drips with ideas from action titles to traditional RPG elements, all cohesively working as one. Combat is one of Wildstar’s best attributes, which is good considering it’s one of the main draws of the title.
Although, the “not so open” way in which you upgrade your character might irritate a few players. Every time you level up you gain access to new abilities and sometimes new slots on your Action Bar to use. Wildstar restricts the number of abilities you can have active at any given time, not allowing you to have toolbar after toolbar of spells and attacks at your disposal. Instead, you’re forced to pick a finite amount, something that you can change at any given time. However, new abilities are often not give to you, but rather made available for purchase, adding another layer onto the decisions you need to make. Early on, I had no issue buying all the abilities that became available to me, but their prices weren’t exactly low. I can see this becoming a rather important decision in the future for higher level players, as they choose abilities that are more important to their current role and ignore the rest. On top of this, from level 6 you begin earning AMP’s, which can be used to passively increase statistics such as critical hit chances and shield regeneration. It’s a traditional type of progressions system working with one not so standard, and while I had no problem letting the game essentially continue without me having to navigate walls of text to just see what my new ability does, it can feel a little underwhelming when you do progress. Despite the awesome animation that plays when you do.
Usually the first few levels of an MMO set the tone for the rest of the title, but don’t necessarily paint a good picture of what the future holds in store. Endgame is a major component of MMO’s and right now I can’t comment on how that pans out. Mostly because I haven’t reached that point yet, but thankfully the first 15 levels of Wildstar got me invested enough in its world for me to curiously continuing playing. Carbine is currently aiming for a release in the next few months, and it does seem like all the important pillars are there. Right now it’s all about balance, bug fixing and feedback, which Carbine seems to be well on top of it all. It’s pretty, it’s fast and it likes to hold my hand more often than not. Wildstar is already showing how it plans to do things differently, and so far I, along with many others, like what I see.