Preview

WildStar Preview (PC)

Playing through Wildstar’s Closed Beta, I can’t help but feel I’m looking back over the last decade of MMO design. These massively online games were around before World of Warcraft, obviously, but through good timing, good design and unrelenting promotion, Blizzard’s behemoth managed to grow to such a level that it basically set the agenda for the genre. You would think that we were finally seeing the end of that, that the terms ‘WoW-killer’ or general features that WoW made staples would stop being used and perhaps MMOs could move on to new and better things. Wildstar, it seems, has other ideas.

This is a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek Sci-fi MMO that’s smartly adapted its mechanics to certain realities of MMO gaming, and it does offer some fairly unique and interesting features. At the same time, it’s like 2003 accidentally fell through the time vortex and planted itself in the brain of some of Wildstar’s designers. Ten years on, and I can’t help feel that it’s ridiculous that ‘mining’ is still a valid trade-skill choice... and that I have to go get the ores myself. And don’t get me started on the amount of ‘Kill X of Random Creature’ quests in the first ten levels or so, and that’s across both factions as well. There’s some stark contrast between some of the game’s clear ideas and the general moment-to-moment gameplay. I’ve played the first ten levels of both factions so far, and there are some thoughts I’d like to share:

Even the most basic attacks can have wide telegraphs allowing you to pull in multiple mobs at once. Make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew

Dominion's do it Better: The early Dominion path, so far, seems the better designed portion of the game. Both factions have players learning the ropes and running around on ships in orbit between levels 1 – 3/4 and then you’re in the starter land zone for the next couple of levels before heading out into the main zones. Comparing the two, the Dominion path was way more fun – their tutorial segment is more to the point, and way more entertaining, whilst the Exile beginning is fairly boring, and a bit grindy which kind of sets the tone for the first ten levels. The Dominion also delves more into the mystery of Nexus slightly, and keeps the pace pretty good.

The New Frontier isn’t Really a Frontier: Now, this is more of a pet peeve, and I know that the way MMO’s are designed has caused this, but a major theme of Wildstar, especially the Exile story, is that you are a bunch of plucky pioneers settling a new world. The problem is, as you progress through the game everything is kind of already there. There’s no real sense of exploring a new frontier, living on the edge. Even the Settler ‘Path’ when you boil it down, is just a bunch of people collecting resources to build buff stations at the like. Hardly the Wild West. There’s not really a sense of an over-arching plot either. The Exiles are just there. The Dominion are just there, although like I mentioned above in the early levels they’re more actively trying to ferret out the planet’s secrets.

Moreish: Despite some poor quest choices and odd design, Wildstar is incredibly 'Moreish'. So far I’ve only been playing as the newly announced classes – the Medic and the Engineer. Being a Ranged/Healer and a Tank/Pet Class respectively, these guys are the most ‘sci-fi’ of the bunch, and are quite good to play with. Despite my misgivings of the ‘New Frontier’ theme, Wildstar does reward you for poking around and exploring, even if you’re not on the ‘Explorer’ path. Apart from some bits where you’re literally just grinding from A to B, there’s a lot of different and interesting experiences on Nexus, and you interact with the environment a lot more than you traditionally would.

Carbine was founded by ex-Blizzard staff, so perhaps it’s no coincidence there’s something oddly WoW-like to the art style. Nice vistas though

Combat is Wonderful: Combat is a genuine treat in this game. Probably the best example of a non-standard combat system. Wildstar’s hacking, slashing and shooting is based all on ‘telegraphs’, which are basically visual representations of areas of effect. Every ability has its own AoE telegraph, which is displayed on the ground, along with a visual timer of how long you have before the ability triggers. As long as your enemy is within the telegraph, they’ll receive damage. This works for friendly abilities as well, so you have to make sure anyone you want to help is within the telegraph. There’s a danger that players may eventually spend more time looking at the telegraphs then looking at who they’re fighting or where they are, but it does make the combat faster and pacier, and it’s just more interesting.

As with all MMO’s, a lot of the good stuff doesn’t kick in until later. Player Housing, Warplots and the PvP, Raids etc… these are all things which are probably going to show off Wildstar’s strengths, but are things you have to work towards. Still, you can tell a lot about an MMO by looking at its first ten levels, and having played through those levels on both sides… it’s hard to really get a concrete impression of Wildstar at the moment. It’s fun, it’s incredibly charming and it’s got some interesting ideas... but it’s oddly inconsistent in areas that you wouldn’t expect. Not all classes and paths are created equally either, and some are definitely more interesting to play than others. Still, overall I’d happily say ‘so far, so good’, and there’s still plenty of time left for some polish.

Most Anticipated Feature: The PvP, whilst not exactly ground-breaking should never-the-less be a laugh. Especially WarPlots.

Comments

By Voqar (SI Core Veteran) on Jan 09, 2014
Voqar
"Ten years on, and I can’t help feel that it’s ridiculous that ‘mining’ is still a valid trade-skill choice... and that I have to go get the ores myself. And don’t get me started on the amount of ‘Kill X of Random Creature’"

So let me ask you this, when you review BioShock Infinite, do you make the comment that, 10 years or more after Half Life and 100 companies a year churn out linear story based shooters that all have almost the exact same mechanics and exact same gameplay?

Our hero has been wronged, must kill big bad dude, and must kill other boss dudes along the way, progressing thru legions of baddies that get slightly tougher and/or more numerous as the game goes on; while our hero starts with a pistol and ends up with an arsenal of weapons that all boil down to the same weapons in every game, and maybe has some RPG-lite joke of talent/character development thing going on. Maybe our hero has a computer controlled companion who's next to useless. No longer and never was original. Repeat. 100x. A year. And that's every FPS made these days.

MMORPGs are what they are - if you don't like them, don't play them, or at least write about what IS wrong with MMORPGs and not about what will never change about any RPG. RPGs have quests. Going back to D&D. Since it's NOT you and 5 friends with a GM doing incredible RPG depth, the quests are going to be a little less dramatic.

The real problem with MMORPGs today is that they are glorified single player games - and that is NOT what the genre is about, not how the genre started, and is NOT what real players of the genre want. There are TONS of excellent single player games (that often have MP too) that do single player vastly better than any MMORPG will ever do single player; so, designing your MMORPG to be a weak single player game and a weak MMORPG results in an MMORPG that *might* sell a lot of units, where most of those players WILL bail as soon as they finish the single player portion of the game, and where ultimately your game is a failure because too much time was spent catering to the wrong type of player (casual soloists who should be playing single player games, not MMORPGs). The list of MMORPG after the initial wave of "real" MMORPGs (the EQ/DAoC/FFXI/originals) that aren't WoW is pretty much a list of games that are ultimately failures because they couldn't stay sub-based or retain players - no, really? Games designed to be 90% solo with speed leveling you finish solo in a few days can't retain players - what an effin' shocker.

IMO WildStar is the best looking MMORPG in the near future. That's not saying much because it's basically a WoW attempt in space. 40 man raiding is a moronic idea - so few people can do that - so few could do it back in early WoW days when Blizzard, who aren't idiots, figured out that designing content for < 5% of players is pretty stupid. These days people play multiple MMORPGs and EVERYTHING is online so there will be even fewer nutjobs in paramilitary style guilds doing 40 man than ever before.

WildStar has some interesting ideas, even if it is going way too heavy with solo, just like all the other failures since WoW (and IMO, WoW was a once in a lifetime thing - right place, right time, right design, and nobody will ever pull that off again with an MMORPG - because online gaming as a whole exploded since then).

The worst thing about WildStar to me is that I detest cheating losers, and WildStar has built-in cheating. They have this thing called CREDD that they market as you can pay for your sub with your extra game gold (what they don't clarify is that someone else is buying a token for cash, selling that to you in-game for your gold, and effectively buying game gold for cash - ie, real money trading without the Chinese). Usually you only see sleaze like this in FTP, where it's bad enough (like in GW2), but to see it in a premium priced game with a sub is pretty weak.

What defined the MMORPG genre was complex, deep gameplay and heavy and/or forced grouping. The neutring of the genre has lead to a lot of mediocre titles and a genre that has lost its way.

Some say there are now too many MMORPGs - but that's not really true - there are too many BAD MMORPGS that are glorified single player games with tiny bits of optional grouping. There is nowhere NEAR enough real MMORPGs - at least there is no modern MMORPG that features the gameplay the genre originally had with modern tech, UI slickness, and modern twists.

SOE can't be trusted and I doubt EQNext makes it out this year regardless (and LandMark has already gone from "free for everyone by the end of the year" to "paid alpha access for up to $100") - EQNext is like Star Citizen - lots of talk, lots of dreams - and we'll see what and when the reality ends up being. MMORPGs that start off F2P are always trash - when you know your game is so bad it's not even worth trying for a sub, you know it's bad.

ESO is just a bad idea for a game. If you could play skyrim with friends co-op, hosting your own games ala MC and so many other great co-op games - that would be amazing. 1000 squeling dudes on a server, 30 people crammed around blatantly obvious quest NPCs, dungeons filled with dozens of players waiting for repops, small zones, linear quests and goals - that's not elder scrolls.

So WildStar it is.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Jan 09, 2014
SirRoderick
"So let me ask you this, when you review BioShock Infinite, do you make the comment that, 10 years or more after Half Life and 100 companies a year churn out linear story based shooters that all have almost the exact same mechanics and exact same gameplay?"

I have to be honest here, when I played Bioshock Infinite that's EXACTLY what I thought. Which kind of makes the rest of your (otherwise very well thought out) argument fall flat on it's face from my perspective.

Although I WILL agree that MMORPGs should play more onto their inherent strengths instead of trying to draw in single player crowds with wild promises, I still believe that the enormous stagnation of actual mechanics is the worst problem. If it's all been done before, you need to change stuff or people will jsut get bored, MMOs cannot run off the hardcore crowd alone.
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Jan 09, 2014
JustCommunication
I don't really understand what your problem is?

I've enjoyed my time with Wildstar, but certain things have just stood out at me as being a bit antiquated? Like the Tradeskills system. For a game that prides itself on the fantasy with a sci-fi twist classes, the different paths, micro-instancing etc... to see something as banal and common as a 'mining' trade skill just struck me as incredibly odd.

Also: Never played Bioshock Infinite. Not really my thing.
By foader (I just got here) on Jan 11, 2014
foader
"something as banal and common as a 'mining' trade skill just struck me as incredibly odd."

Where are raw materials going to come from without a mining trade? They have things like this in the game because it makes for a healthy in game economy. If everyone could mine/harvest or you could just buy stuff you need cheap from a vendor it would take away huge layers of depth to the economy and alienate those of us that enjoy econ pvp
By foader (I just got here) on Jan 11, 2014
foader
"They have this thing called CREDD that they market as you can pay for your sub with your extra game gold (what they don't clarify is that someone else is buying a token for cash, selling that to you in-game for your gold, and effectively buying game gold for cash - ie, real money trading without the Chinese). Usually you only see sleaze like this in FTP, where it's bad enough (like in GW2), but to see it in a premium priced game with a sub is pretty weak."

This same system has been in EVE for almost 10 years. Alot longer before F2P even was a thing.
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Jan 13, 2014
JustCommunication
@ foader: I wouldn't mind seeing some system where the NPC's collected the raw materials, and players had to spend some time protecting them from mobs so that they were gathered successfully.