In a current market that is oversaturated with MMO’s, WildStar has an uphill battle in front of it. It is a game that has a set tone that people will love or be turned away from. This is a game that has taken what has worked in the best MMO’s and compiled them while adding its own flair. WildStar is a very polished game and it is a complete MMO that is not releasing with major pieces missing (pvp, endgame) that will be released in a patch, but it also feels like it has been done before. While exploring, you will see the influences of World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, DC Universe Online, and countless others, but it doesn’t add any brand new or out of the box mechanic to the table. That being said, what it does it does well. It takes all those games and picks out what worked and tweaked them. It is a fantastic game with great controls, graphics, sound, and combat even if it does feel a little unoriginal.
WildStar is a charming game but it never takes itself seriously, and that itself may be a turnoff to many players. The world of Nexus is a mash up of everything and it sometimes feels like it doesn’t have its own set identity. Constant mentions of movies, other games, and comics, the pop culture references are never ending and it has a list a mile long of easter eggs. The game also never second guesses its own ability to break the fourth wall and always feels zany and wacky. It is over the top and relies heavily on a space/cowboy theme with cartoony and kid friendly graphics. In many ways it purposely goes way over the top in the same way as games like Saints Row The Third did, albeit with less adult themes You will either come to love its charm or quickly turn away from its lack of seriousness.
Like many massively multiplayer games before it, WildStar takes place in a story filled with turmoil between two main factions. The story between the Exiles and Dominions is told briefly in cut scenes but if you really want the full story of Nexus you have to find lore hidden in the world that is in text format. It is optional but finding them will reveal a lot about the world and there is a shocking amount of material you can go through. If you want to know more about anything going on it seems the information is out there. At the same time if you only care about questing you can skip that altogether. Each faction has different races you can choose to play as, along with classes and a path. You have all the standard MMO class types here in the forms of damage, DPS, and healing. One nice thing however is each class has a secondary function so you are not locked into one playstyle. For example my Stalker is a DPS character that relies on stealth much like a rogue, but I can change his stats and equipment and make him a tank. It really opens up the ability to play how you want without locking you into a specific role throughout the whole game. Along with your class you pick a path which levels separately and adds unique features such as the Settler path which allows the player to build health stations or taxis to an area and help out any other players. The classes and paths all feel different and balanced although with the slow grind of leveling I do not see many people making alternate characters to the level cap.
One of the biggest downfalls of WildStar is the leveling and pre-endgame quests. To be frank there is nothing new here. Occasionally there are specific missions that have you blowing stuff up in a motorcycle or putting out fires in a helicopter, but for most of the early game it is filled to the brim with standard MMO quests. If you are not a fan of kill x amount of monsters or fetch quests you will get bored with the leveling extremely fast. The leveling is also quite slow taking anywhere from 50 to 150 hours to level up to the cap of 50. Honestly leveling up in WildStar is a slow grind and that is unfortunate and may turn off many players long before they see the endgame. The structure of the quests and leveling as a whole really feels outdated and making it to the cap started to feel like more of a chore into the late level 30’s. There are a few features that help this process however. You can get mounts early on which helps with mobility, and you can call in many quests when they are complete so you do not have to trek back into town just to turn in the completed job to an NPC. Also the main area quests are constantly leading to other quests and adventures so you do rarely have only one objective at a time. The combat in WildStar is also enjoyable enough that it makes the sometimes mind numbing grind give life to otherwise average encounters.
WildStar has one of the best combat systems I have ever experienced in an MMO. It is fast paced, strategic, and fun. You can truly see the developers have paid attention to what works in an action game and very intelligently used mechanics from many other roleplaying games. Much like Guild Wars or Diablo 3, WildStar allows you to choose what skills to unlock and limits the action bar to 6 main skills. It forces you to experiment and test skills together, and ultimately by level 50 you have a very intimate connection with your character and how they play. It also allows for more customization within a character and you can have 2 players with the same class but completely different skills and roles. There is also an AMP systems which as you level you pick perks that fit into different categories and can greatly help define and aid in making your character play how you want. Another big part of the combat is the telegraphed moves, which lays down either red (enemy) or blue (friendly) tiles on the ground. This shows you the area in which an attack or heal will take place. This is where WildStar really shines, seeing where the enemy’s attacks are going to hit allows you to dodge and evade them if you are quick enough. At later levels the enemies hit hard and it doesn’t take long to see your health bar deplenish, which makes learning to read the telegraphs essential to stay alive. After learning your class these encounters soon start to become a choreographed dance of dodging and attacking, becoming insanely complicated in groups and dungeons. The game can be downright brutal but it gives you a true feeling of accomplishment with each successful battle that feels like it was worth it.
The overall sound design in WildStar is spot on. Every area has not only great music but very well made ambient noises that brings life to the terrain around you. The overall atmosphere in the game is beautiful and every area feels different and evokes feelings towards it. Darker areas seem have nocturnal animal sounds and spooky unknown tones come from all around, while the brighter and more open areas are filled with happy symphonies and vibrant background noises. The voice acting for the most part is also well done and very believable. Sometimes a bit over the top but it fits into the cartoony feel of the whole game. Even during a respawn when the announcer mocks you after a mistake it feels right even if it does get annoying. Although I didn’t fall in love with every song on the game and I do not feel it reached the height of game soundtracks such as Halo or Skyrim, it does feel like a perfect fit for the atmospheres it creates in the game and it is very well polished.
The graphics in WildStar are beautiful but will not be appealing to those looking for realistic or gritty visuals. They rely heavily on a stylized, cartoon aesthetic that is very reminiscent of World of Warcraft, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t gorgeous. From snowy mountains, to dry deserts, and into space every area of the game feels polished and unique. The wardrobes, dyes, mounts, housing, landscapes, dungeons, and even the water all look crisp and vivid and give off a true feeling that Nexus is its own world, even if it is cartoony. From NPC’s to the character models, all the life on Nexus feels unique but also feels like it fits in. When I first started my play through of WildStar I was more than a little skeptical of the graphics, I had spent many days wandering around The Barrens in World of Warcraft, and at first almost felt like WildStar looked to familiar. After time spent wondering around all the leveling areas that feeling had completely subsided though and gave into a love for the world I was exploring. Even with cartoon aesthetics the amount of detail and life the game has speaks for itself. One another note in the same vein as World of Warcraft, cartoon and stylized graphics seem to hold up better in the long run so WildStar may actually be making a smart move by giving their game graphics that can hold up against time, be tweaked more easily, and overall evolve with the game.
No MMO will thrive if the world it is based in is not amazing or at least interesting since you will spend so much time exploring it, and Nexus delivers. Although the overall size of Nexus in comparison to other MMO’s is nothing extraordinary it feels massive. It has wide open spaces and well thought out map design. Also through some smart storytelling and it being set on an alien planet it has the ability to give us a huge amount of unique terrain to explore. From space levels, dense forests, dry deserts, alien colonies, and creepy caves, the world of Nexus feels alive and diverse. Most of the maps are also designed in a way that the main paths go right through the middle with the quests areas sprouting to the sides, which makes traveling through an area quick but allows a lot of room to explore when leveling through that area. The world of Nexus is broken up into different quadrants that you progress through as you level but as a whole the world feels vibrant and alive. The animals are all alien and cartoony but yet feel believable. Same with the people and towns scattered across the planet. It is intelligent and when exploring it feels like a creature has a feature, or a town is in a place for a reason. For a game that has so much humor and such a cartoon aesthetic it is astounding how realistic and thought out the world actually is. Creatures and places are not just there for a quest, they are there because if Nexus was real they would have a reason to be there.
Customization is a huge part of WildStar and it really shines. As you progress you unlock many different items that all help you forge your place in Nexus. When you start your new adventure the character creator is very robust and allows you to create a unique persona no matter what race you choose. As you level you unlock costume slots that allow you to take armor and special items and place them on your character. This allows you to change how your characters armor looks while keeping your current armors stats. Add the current dye system to that and it will not take you long before you can create a unique character that looks cool and is unique from all the other same leveled characters around you. You can even add flair to your mounts and make them stand out from the rest in your guild. But where the personalization of WildStar is fully seen is in your home. At level 14 you can purchase land in the sky which serves as your personal home base. This is the player’s sanctuary and purchasing or finding objects in the world and placing them here can give bonuses or buffs. Within your plot of land you can place a house, training equipment, moonshine distillery, firework show, crafting areas, farming plots, and countless other attractions. Some provide crafting supplies while some or simply for aesthetic, but one thing is clear, this is your area within Nexus. You can change the sky, terrain, and layout and by the end it truly does feel like not only your housing, but your home.
With many MMO’s turning to catering to more casual players WildStar is doing the opposite. In a time when free to play is becoming the norm WildStar is requiring a monthly fee to remain in Nexus( although you can buy game time with in game cash and vice versa in the C.R.E.D.D. system). They are also bringing back 20 and 40 man raids to the MMO world and the endgame is no joke. While the game has plenty to do for casual players, Nexus seems to be trying to bring hardcore players the challenge that has been missing. The endgame dungeons and raids are relentless with different medals awarded on performance. One problem is the second a group cannot earn a gold medal it is not uncommon for the group to disband forcing you to start the dungeon over fresh with a new crew. You can also start your attunement at the level cap which is difficult and time consuming. The endgame material is really not based on soloing and is more based around guilds and friends. With the big raids many guilds have set nights that everyone gets on and works together to achieve these hard feats. It is not for everyone and I do not see casual players being able to do the endgame events easily if at all. That is not necessarily a bad thing however; defeating the end bosses is rewarding and gives a huge sense of teamwork. It is something I feel that is missing from the MMO market currently and running the endgame really gave off the same feeling I had as raiding Molten Core in World of Warcraft’s younger days. It is not for everyone but for those who stick it out, very few games can give you the same feeling of accomplishment and teamwork which hardcore players will thrive on. The biggest disappointment of the endgame for me so far has been the PVP. That is not to say it isn’t there or it is not good but every game I have played feels chaotic and unstructured although I have hopes that as the community evolves so will the PVP.
As in any new MMO WildStar had a few bugs but what I experienced were more annoying and not game breaking. There were many quests that the arrow that guided me sent me to the wrong area or didn’t tell me to do something to complete the task. Also there were some problems with the HUD not working properly or crashing. Luckily there is an easy way to reset the HUD and the whole UI is fully customizable which helped create an interface that worked with what I needed and no clutter. Sometimes the graphics would look off or a texture would load late but for a new MMO that just launched the game really worked well. I never had server issues (other than being kicked for maintenance) and never had to use the stuck button. It is common for MMO’s to be riddled with bugs upon launch but I was surprised at how well polished WildStar was.
All in all WildStar is a fantastic and strong entry in the MMO market. It may not add anything new to the gameplay but it takes all the MMO’s before it and intelligently combines them into a polished and fun game. It is beautiful, humorous (for better or worse), polished, and fun to play. It definitely seems to appeal to a certain crowd with its aesthetic, but gameplay wise it is one of the best MMO’s I have ever played. It is relentless at times and gives hardcore players looking for a challenge a new home. Only time will really tell if the market and gamers have room for another MMO, especially one that still charges a monthly fee, but as a game WildStar is one of the greatest MMO’s on the market and can stand toe to toe with any game out right now.