Travelog: Wildstar Beta

This is a part of my MMO Tourism series. For more information on the series, click here.

Opening Comments
First of all, let’s open with some comments on the state of the MMO space to date. Like it or not, World of Warcraft is king. It has the most players, has been around longer than anything still running with the exception of EverQuest and perhaps a few more obscure titles, and is without a doubt the most recognizable MMO title. MMORPGs now fall into two categories: WoW clones, and not-quite-WoW-clones. There have been many games that have tried to take them on, but no one has really succeeded. Some have even directly attacked the MMO giant (and, debatably, failed spectacularly). But I’m going to go on record here and say that if any game to date can take on WoW, it’s Wildstar. This game takes all of the ideas that I like from Guild Wars 2 and all of the ideas I like from WoW-like games and mashes them together.

Also, I know I’m starting this project off on the wrong foot by playing a subscription-based game, but it was in free open beta last week, so I figured it technically counts. Anyways, let’s make a character, shall we?

Character Creation and Customization
When the game loads, new players are greeted by this goat:

I would totally play as this race if I could.

I would totally play as this race if I could.

I haven’t even created a character and I can already see this game’s offbeat sense of humor.

There are a nice variety of races. The Exiles (think Rebel Alliance meets Browncoats) faction can choose from Exile Humans (good-guy humans), Aurin (the mandatory furry race), Granok (rock people), and Mordesh (cyberpunk undead space elves… now there’s a new combination). The Dominion (aka the evil empire who thinks they’re good) get Cassians (bad-guy humans), Draken (space demons), Chua (badically evil versions of Guild Wars 2’s Asura), and Mechari (robot people). Character creation is pretty standard; no surprises, but nothing missing either. You can choose from a few different torsos, which range in size from “Hmm, that’s a slightly disproportionately small waist” to “Am I playing as a Barbie Doll now?” Apparently cryosleep makes you anorexic. Similarly, there are a variety of prebuilt heads with a bunch of sliders to change the shape slightly. In my experience some of the sliders didn’t seem to do much, while others made a big difference. Some even seemed redundant (is it really necessary to have separate sliders for eye size and eye socket size?).

Speaking of eye size, while poking around the character, I tried out a Aurin. They’re the Exiles faction’s resident playboy bunny race. The ones I had seen running around in trailers and such seemed fun and cute, so I figured I’d at least play around with one, even if I didn’t plan on playing one. When I chose the race, I was given this randomized character:

Wildstar Aurin 1Did I mention they’re also the hippie/treehugger race as well? Well I can’t imagine anyone would someone running around nexus shooting stuff they can’t see because their hair is in the way. Kids these days, it’s just downright disrespectful. So I gave him a haircut…

Those eyes. THOSE EYES.

Those eyes. THOSE EYES.

I literally jumped and recoiled in horror. I was not expecting to have that staring back at me.

Aurin stares into your soul.

Aurin stares into your soul.

Seriously, am I the only one who finds this head extremely creepy? Anyways, I promptly ran as fast as I could to the other faction in the hope that the next time I saw the above face it would be on the other end of a weapon. The Draken are creepy in a demonic kind of way, but at least the Dominion doesn’t have a race that looks like a mutant slow loris. Anyways, I ended up with a Mechari Stalker, a melee rogue/tank hybrid. I must admit, I cheated a bit before writing this review, and previously rolled a Mordesh Engineer, so I thought I’d try out a melee class on the other faction.

Here's Raspbian in all of his awesomeness. Please, don't mention his crooked teeth; he's very sensitive.

Here’s Raspbian in all of his awesomeness. Please, don’t mention his crooked teeth; he’s very sensitive.

Tutorial
My first impression of the tutorial was “Why is my framerate crap?” Walking around in the start of the tutorial, the best FPS I could get was around 15, and it averaged more like 5. The graphics on Wildstar are by no means bad, but they certainly aren’t better than Guild Wars 2, which I can handle just fine. Obviously this is unacceptable. After some fiddling with the settings I managed to find that nothing affected the framerate other than textures (keep in mind that I have 2GB of video memory), which brought my framerate to a bearable 20-30 FPS most of the time. A friend tells me that they’re having problems with CrossFireX multi-card setups like mine right now, and are working on that, but either way it was a big turnoff. But hey, it’s beta™. So if my screenshots look a little more last decade than you were expecting, that’s why.

Anyways, you want to hear about the tutorial itself. Most MMOs have about the same controls, so generally it seems to me that the challenge in creating a modern tutorial is to keep veteran players from getting bored while still helping newbies understand what they’re supposed to be doing. Wildstar does this very well. I almost forgot I was in a tutorial as I was instantly swept up in the story of your chosen faction.

Raspbian Interrogation

Wait, is this an interrogation or a Klingon Rite of Ascension ceremony?

After a short brain scan (er… CPU scan?) to make sure you’re loyal to the Dominion, you are politely asked to “interrogate” citizens to make sure they’re not Exile spies (using some kind of electrocution staff, of course). Why bother with painsticks when you can scan my brain and be sure I’m not plotting to overthrow the empire? Maybe it’s just more fun that way. Or maybe the developers just enjoy making you feel like a horrible person. Anyways, having proven myself, I moved on to meet the emperor himself. Holo-Skype time!

"The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi."

“The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.”

I’d like to pause here to contemplate just how much he looks like a Blood Elf from WoW. In fact, a lot of the art in Wildstar is reminiscent of that of WoW, though somehow it succeeds in not looking like a complete copy like most games. The similarities are not coincidental; Carbine Studios was formed by a bunch of ex-WoW staff who wanted to “do ANYTHING BUT WOW.” It’s good to know that even people in what many would consider to be a dream job still get burnout.

Another thing I wanted to point out in the above screenshot is one of my biggest complains about the game. I really don’t like the way they do quest dialog. I get that it’s supposed to be like a speech bubble for him and a speech bubble for me, but it feels really disconnected, like what he says isn’t as important as me clicking through the boring quest text. I also felt like the text was a little hard to read, and unfortunately there’s no way to adjust the size or weight at this time. But hey, if this is one of my biggest complains about the game, they’re doing something right.

After a rousing speech about curing treason, I’m sent to a Chua named Mondo Zax to see how treason is “treated” in the Dominion. Hopefully this will make me feel like less of a horrible person after zapping those innocent people. Nope. This guy would put a maniacal smile on GLaDOS’s face (if she had a face, that is).

Mondo Montage

“Without the looming consequence of death, is this even science?”

A few burnings, electrocutions, and mutations later, and I feel like a monster. I’m also laughing out loud at the quest text. After turning in my quest, Mondo enthusiastically cries “SCIENCE ACHIEVED! And now… More science!” and I’m seriously considering rerolling a Chua. It’s just a one week beta, though, so I decide to press on. When faced with the decision of which starting zone to go to (a nice touch, by the way), I, of course, chose to go with Mondo.

General Gameplay
The game feels fast and tactical like Guild Wars 2, while keeping the depth and complexity of WoW-like combat. I love the combat. Everything has a target area, with its hitbox shown on the ground. Now I’m really wishing I could see exactly where my attacks in Guild Wars 2 will fall. Perhaps a toggle option? It doesn’t come in to play much with melee classes like the stalker, but the engineer’s main attack has a cool staggered hitbox with a sweet spot in the middle that does extra damage if you can get them in just the right spot. Other attacks have different shaped hitboxes. Sadly I didn’t get to experience any group content or PvP, but from what I’ve seen in videos it looks like these mechanics really shine in both of these areas.

Quests are pretty standard in terms of mechanics, but reading the quest text is a must; they just shine with personality. Also, I really like the fact that you can click on any objective and the game will give you a direction and a distance. Much better than digging out your map and trying to figure out which dot is the one you’re looking for.

What was unique about this game?
I absolutely love this game’s sense of humor. So many things make this game hilarious–the announcer’s over-the-top zone descriptions, the memorable NPC personalities, the pop culture references, and even a little poking fun of itself and its genre–and that’s something that I think WoW has that most other games have missed out on.

Also, hoverboards. And, more generally, the style of the game. I’m so sick of fantasy MMOs. Add that to the list of reasons why I won’t be playing games like Elder Scrolls Online; the world just seems incredibly generic. Nexus and its inhabitants are a breath of fresh air. The bright colors, comic book stylization, and off-the-wall humor of everything makes sure you know you’re playing Wildstar. In what other game will you be saving walking vegetables with faces from killer guinea pigs? (Actually, come to think of it, that sounds like it could be the plot the next Mario game…)

Would I play again?
The answer is a resounding yes… if I could justify the subscription. This game has it all, but there are just so many games out there that don’t require a patch tax that I don’t think I’ll be able to justify it to myself any time soon. Maybe I’ll jump in for a month or two at some point, but, unless it goes free to play, I don’t think Wildstar will ever be a permanent fixture in my gaming schedule. The question is, of course, will it ever go free to play? All I can really say is that time will tell. No game since WoW has really been as successful with a subscription as with a free to play option. It seems like the general pattern is to launch as subscription only, then, as the player base declines, add a free to play option and suck in a bunch of new and returning people (and their money) all at once. Then use this momentum and cash flow to bring out an expansion and bring even more people back with open wallets. Wildstar, however, may just be good enough that it can skip step two and sustain its subscription model just like WoW has for so long. Again, only time will tell.

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One thought on “Travelog: Wildstar Beta

  1. Great review, and I enjoyed your perspective. I had a different take-away, and some of the things that you really like left me frustrated.

    I found the humor to be jarring; like questing with the mad hatter, and at any moment the Red Queen would sweep through, shouting “off with their heads!” Great to play as a one-shot but not something you could sink your teeth into in a long-term campaign.

    However, I am right with you about the combat. Neverwinter ‘action combat’ was a little rough; this was done perfectly. I found the ground targeting (telegraphs) very engaging, but not overly complex.

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