Well, isn’t this an exciting week in MMO land? First we get WoD pre-orders and the free level 90 boost, plus a fall release date, then Wildstar drops the NDA and announces a pre-order and release date. I have to admit I am more excited about the Wildstar news than the WoW news. I am increasingly disheartened that Blizzard, despite many promises, still doesn’t manage to release expansions without a huge gap in content between final patch and expansion. This 11-12 month gap disappoints me incredibly. I feel that the level 90 boost and the mount you currently get via Hearthstone are cheap measures to keep the playerbase interested. I was already bored in December, and instead of just letting my sub continue without playing, I will likely unsub for real this time, until WoD is released. I seriously don’t need a level 90 boost right now. In the time it takes til release, I could probably level multiple 90s if I felt the urge. Bitterness, I have it.
Of the upcoming releases, I am only interested in Wildstar. I have yet to play a single Elder Scrolls game, and due to my love of linear game design, I likely never will. I have watched a friend play Oblivion and Skyrim and they both bored me. TESO is a no-go for me for that reason. Wildstar is another thing entirely. It’s been described as going back to vanilla WoW design, it’s bright and colorful, and has hoverboards. Enough to wake my interest. Thanks to a lovely friend, I managed to get into the closed beta test about four weeks ago. Since then, I have been playing quite a bit, enough to get one character to level 20, which is no small feat, as leveling is a lot slower than what anyone might be used to from WoW these days.
Overall impression is very poor here. It offers disappointingly few customization options for the bodies. There are many faces and hair styles, but you are trapped into incredibly ridiculous body shapes, especially for female models. The male Mordesh upper body puts male night elves to shame. Female character models, regardless of race, all have big busts (scary to think they were already reduced in size during the beta test), the tiniest waists you can imagine, and a posture that hurts to look at. Naturally, my first attempt at creating a character resulted in a female warrior. I went with a Granok, the big, hulking race of Wildstar. My warrior made it to level 9, before I despaired of the hotpants and the model. I will probably get used to it, but it makes me angry that this gets released in 2014. Before any bro comes along to tell me it’s just a fantasy world and to chill, forget it. It’s just as terrible as I found GW2 character models in beta.
There is not a single female character model that doesn’t have those features. Even Mechari, the robot race. Only they also wear high heels. Siiiiigh.
I ultimately went with a female Mordesh medic. Mordesh move like blood elves in WoW, and are suspiciously similar to the Forsaken. Their backstory is that their head scientist unleashed a plague on them and they’re now trying to find a cure on Nexus, the planet that Wildstar is set on. They have apothecaries, labs and a secret service. Overall I really like them though. Speaking of races, there are two factions, the Exiles and the Dominion. Unlike WoW there is no grey here, the factions seem very black and white. Exiles are the good guys trying to settle on Nexus and just move on with life. They have the Mordesh, the hippie flower-picking Aurin bunnies, humans and Granok, tough mercenaries with a heart of gold. And big guns. Then there’s the Dominion who are trying to conquer the universe and rain destruction down on the Exiles. The Draken look like demons, the Mechari are a robot race, the Cassians are humans with a rigid caste-structure, and then there’s the chua, the ‘lovable’ tiny race that reminds me of gremlins. And not Gizmo.
All classes in Wildstar are hybrids. They all have an assault tree aka DPS, and they all have a support tree, either tanking or healing. Warriors, Stalkers and Engineers can tank, Medics, Espers and Spellslingers are the healers. I tried a warrior first, and felt it was fun, but felt that ranged DPS is probably a lot more fun. Which is why I went with Medics. They’re a weird middle between melee and range. All classes seem to have a resource. Warriors use a mechanism very similar to rage, while medics use something called Actuators which is very similar to paladin holy power. You start with 4 Actuators, can use them straight away, and then have to build more with a resource builder. From what I gathered, every class works like that. Medic healing uses focus, very similar to mana. I haven’t really tried healing at all, aside from self-heals and basic healing spells I used for group quests. I like the resource building, but I can imagine it’s not for everyone.
A big difference from WoW and derivatives is that Wildstar uses a Limited Action set much like Guild Wars 2. You only get one action bar with a maximum of 8 abilities. You have to pick and choose which abilities you want to have active. I found fiddling around and figuring out what works best quite fun, but not everyone might like this. It also allows you to save multiple sets, so that you can easily switch between a bar setup for DPS or healing/tanking. When you level, you get tier points which you can use to improve some abilities. Again, you can switch that around easily with a click in the Action Set Builder.
The first couple levels are a tutorial, but not a very fun one. Much like the very early levels in Rift, the first levels are fairly boring to anyone who’s ever played an MMO before. I wish there had been an intro quest to introduce you to the action combat, and not the few very boring quests you initially receive. I feel that people stepping into the beta for a weekend likely got a poor impression from the first 10 levels. At around level 3 or so, you move from the tutorial zone onto Nexus itself. Two races of each faction share a zone. In my case, the Aurin and the Mordesh both play in Everstar Grove and the follow-up zone Celestion. It’s all about lush green zones, and in Everstar Grove’s case maybe a touch too colorful. This zone should come with an epilepsy warning, due to a certain effect there. The Granok and humans get a more rocky, wintery start zone called Northern Wilds, but I didn’t finish that zone. Overall, I feel the first few levels do the game a disservice. No one’s going to get hooked alone from those levels.
Questing in Wildstar is very reminiscent of vanilla and TBC WoW or Rift. A lot of Kill Ten Rats, plus gathering quests, with a few vehicle ones thrown in for good measure. It’s not revolutionary whatsoever. Sometimes it feels very grindy. I hope they will re-consider the amount of mobs you have to kill for some mission. Think Nagrand Nesingwary quests before they were nerfed. Also, there are so many quests. So many many quests. They differentiate between storylines which means you get lots of follow-up quests, usually via communicator, or tasks, which are just one-shot sidequest that you can do while doing a quest chain. Sometimes it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, because there’s so much going on.
While you are out questing, you will frequently have challenge windows pop open. Currently, they automatically start which I find suboptimal. I wish they just popped open. Most of the time I ignore them because you can retry any failed challenge whenever you feel like them. Challenges are diverse. A lot of them are kill challenges where you have a time limit to kill a kind of mob. Some of those are easy, some are hard. Some involve finding and gathering items within a time limit. Some require climbing mountains or jumping puzzles. Later challenges have different tiers, and the better you complete it, the higher the probability you get a good reward. Once the challenge is over and you made it, you get to pick which reward you want and then it spins the wheel and sorts out what you actually get. Often it’s crafting supplies or dyes, but also bags, decor for housing or green or blue items for your class. Completionists will be veeeery busy with challenges. There’s a lot of them.
When you create your character, you also have to pick a path, based on the Bartle Test. Explorers is pretty self-evident, as are Soldiers, who are the Killers archetype. I assume that Settlers are the socialites and Scientists the achievers, but I am not 100% sure. On my two characters, I tested the Settlers path with the warrior, and the Explorer path with my medic.
Settlers are very popular. As Settler, you gather materials throughout the world that you can actively farm for, but which are also dropped by mobs, and bring them to depots. At the depots, you can purchase buffs if you have the right mats. Those buff stations are available to anyone in the area, and there are bright beacons indicating depots. It’s very sweet to get health regen, XP or run speed buffs because someone was so kind to get them. You also get a campfire ability that gives you a great buff and heals, and lingers around for a while. Finding a campfire that a settler built is sweet. You get specific settler missions to build buffs at all the depots in a zone, or for specific objectives, which gains you path experience and path levels. I liked Settler, but I also enjoy a good bout of farming at times.
My medic is an Explorer. Which in all honesty I found a bit overwhelming. You get so many Explorer missions, it’s ridiculous. You get missions for map completion. There are jumping puzzles. I think I spent a good 3 hours trying to climb to the top of a waterfall in Celestion before I realized that I had already climbed as high as it goes. Some of those missions are similar to the vistas in GW2. Then there’s Scavenger Hunts that sound more exciting than they really are. They’re basically kill and gathering quests across the map. Zone maps are huge, and I enjoyed the discovery aspects. I stopped exploring after Celestion, because I really didn’t want to spoil myself further than I already did. The Explorer ability rewards are kinda lame, mostly changes to jumping. Fall damage was ridiculous during the beta, so I died a lot while exploring. I hope that gets tweaked because dying because you slid down a mountain side is not that much fun. I know a lot of beta testers seemed to expect more from this path, because you get waypoint arrows throughout, and you don’t really find anything specific off the beaten track. I enjoyed it regardless.
The heart of every MMO is the combat system, and that’s one of the aspects I enjoyed the most in Wildstar. Which really surprised me because I hated the similar combat from Guild Wars 2. Gone are the days that you can target a mob and then shoot at it from afar. Wildstar uses a telegraph system. All your abilities have certain areas of effect in front of you, in different shapes, colored blue. Enemies that use special attacks will telegraph those as well. You actively have to move out or use the dodge ability to get out of danger areas. If you don’t, it’s a recipe for disaster. Particular elite mobs in group content will kill you in no time. Telegraphs are also used for healing, so if you see a green telegraph, stand in it to receive healing. It feels fast, but not too fast. I felt it rewards skill and really feels different. I definitely enjoy the combat. If you want to see it in action, the Yogscast video for the first dungeon in game is a good starter.
I didn’t spend much time with the tradeskill system because again, I didn’t want to spoil myself too much. Like most systems in-game, it’s not revolutionary and doesn’t offer much that is new, but I thought it was interesting. I went Survivalist/Outfitter which means you can fell trees with a cool laser chainsaw, and automatically skin and butcher animals. Outfitters make medium leather armor. Every time you use your abilities, you get tradeskill experience until you have enough experience to move to the next tier. That was really easy with gathering, but actually creating items takes a lot more effort. You start with a couple basic schematics and have to create things with them to learn new schematics. This works through tech trees so you have some control which items you want to learn next. Also, probably very appealing to completionists. There are work order quests so you have good reason to not just waste the items you create but get more experience and new schematics. A lot of potential, but a lot will hinge on how good crafted items are at endgame.
There are two ‘hobby’ skills everyone can pick up, farming and cooking. As farmer you can collect seeds and mushrooms throughout the world and plant them on your farm in your housing area. Most plants are mats for crafting. I reckon there will be an AH market for stuff, but I don’t know anything about the economy yet. Cooking I piddled around with as well, as you get a lot of recipe drops. I will openly admit to not understanding how cooking works. You have a basic recipe, but you can discover improved versions by adding spices and such. There’s a system in place for that but as I said, I didn’t understand it at all, and didn’t discover anything.
I think this is one of the best and most feature-rich things in this game. Big thumbs up. At level 14 you get to your capital city, in my case Thayd, and Protostar, sort of the shady goblins of Wildstar, give you a housing plot. It’s completely empty so you have to buy a fairly basic house and start building from the ground up. Mobs around the world drop decor items for your housing area. There are fabkits that you can use to build grand projects. There are things like banners, trees and similar you can add. There are vendors who sell you many things for your housing. It’s the biggest moneysink ever. You can bring friends to your housing, and you can actually give them permission to help you with decorating your area. You have your own farm, and you have a buff board. You have a regular hearthstone like cooldown to where you last linked yourself too, but you can teleport to your house on a seperate cooldown from anywhere in the world. It takes you back to where you last were when you leave. I am a poor sucker, so my housing area is fairly boring. It’s no WoD garrison, which will probably be very cool, but it’s very creative housing and I like it! It’s everything I enjoyed about my Pandaria farm plus the ability to actually be creative with it.
As mentioned above, your housing area comes with a buff board, where you can pick up a buff once a day. Unfortunately it seems a bit buggy at the moment, because leaving makes the buff go away, but I am sure they have fixed this in a later build.
There are old-school elite-quests throughout all zones, most of them 2+ or 3+. In the beta, finding a group was never a problem. If someone is fighting a quest mob you can jump in and get credit so if you see someone hanging out by a named elite, getting the group quests done is fairly easy. There was always someone calling for more people in zone chat too, and I never had to wait more than 5 minutes to get a group quest done. There’s also public events, which again reminded me of Guild Wars 2 events. I participated in two of those but didn’t find them very compelling.
Around level 12 you get your first shiphand mission. Shiphand missions take you off planet. In my case I had to investigate a mine on an asteroid. Despite the comic-style and the brash humor of Wildstar, that actually felt serious and very Alien-esque. The cool thing about Shiphand missions is that they scale to group size. You can solo them, but if you bring a friend or two or four, the mission will scale accordingly. Nifty! I got a very nice blue reward and a title at the end. Looking forward to more of those.
Around level 15 you get your first Adventure. They’re what scenarios in WoW could have been. They’re 5 people content, holy triad and all. At the start, you get to choose between 3 different kinds of assignments. It’s put to the vote, the assignment with the most votes wins. This continues throughout the Adventure. Some of the assignments were basic kill assignments. Others involved stealth and blending in with NPCs. Basically, you are able to have a different experience every single time you do the Adventure. At the end, it’s calculated how well you did, and based on that you receive loot at the end. My group got a silver award, and the rewards were nice indeed. There’s also a leaderboard and such at the end.
Of course, this could sound great in theory and end up being regular LFD rushes as in WoW. I went in with a Group Finder group (as long as you have discovered the entrance, you can use the fully-fledged group finder for PvP, Adventures and Dungeons), and the guy who had run it before basically told us what assignment we should vote for. People will min-max those adventures, I am sure, but apparently the reward structure is tied to different missions. If you always pick the same ones, you will not have access to all rewards. With a group of friends, Adventures could be a killer feature.
I didn’t have time to test the dungeon you get at level 20 though I discovered the entrance. Closed beta ends with the pre-order date, and I am so busy that I won’t have time before that. It’s alright though. What I have seen in videos looked very fun.
Wildstar uses two interesting systems to allow people to play together. Mentoring isn’t new, as GW2 has this as well. You can lower your level to play with friends. Unlike GW2’s automatic downleveling, it’s a toggle. Rallying will adjust everyone’s level to be the max for an area. In a dungeon this means everyone entering it will be the max level for this dungeon, so e.g. level 20 for Stormtalon’s Lair. This also affects people who haven’t reached this level yet. You’re level 17 but want to do Stormtalon’s Lair already? No problem, your stats will scale up. Being able to play with friends is a cool thing. I like.
The current UI is fairly fugly. It’s functional, but not very special, and maybe a bit too busy. The game itself is very busy, so information overload is always an issue. Just like WoW, Wildstar is addon-ready from the get-go, and I have used a couple great ones already, for better nameplates and such. I think the addon community will be very lively. Note that the UI on all my screenshots is not the final UI. The lead UI designer posted a preview for the new UI recently, and I like the looks of it very much.
Despite the really terrible female character models, I find more to like than dislike with Wildstar. It’s absolutely feature-rich. Zones are incredibly huge and leveling feels rewarding even though it is fairly slow. There is so much to do which I find extremely appealing. I enjoyed all group content I have done so far. I admit that I do not have high hopes for the community based on what I saw in the beta. Maybe it will chill out once TESO is out, but the beta was a battlefield of TESO fans and Wildstar fans hating each other. I plan on pre-ordering, though not immediately, and think Wildstar will definitely be my MMO of the summer. I know once fall rolls around, WoW will beckon me in, and that’s cool. In the meantime, I intend to explore all the juicy content Wildstar seems to offer. Beta testers really seemed to like veteran dungeons, so I am looking forward to group content. I just hope I will be able to find a guild that’s as very cool as my WoW guild is. That would be the icing on the cake.
Unfortunately, Wildstar uses the same frickin’ archaic region lock system that WoW uses, so I won’t be able to play with Americans, which is as disappointing as the awful character models.