It has been hard to get a feel for WildStar since the new MMORPG was announced by Carbine Studios in the Summer of 2011. Published under the MMO-umbrella of NCSOFT, WildStar is a sci-fi adventure with a vibrant color palette, exaggerated character-design, and the western-meets-space motif made popular by the likes of Serenity, Titanfall, and Borderlands. In a genre saturated by fantasy, and licensed settings made popular in books or film, WildStar stands out as something starkly different. I am always drawn to something different, so when I was presented with an opportunity to jump into the beta this weekend, I was eager to see what Carbine Studios had cooked up.
Jumping right into the create-a-character screen, I found my confronted with choices I did not fully comprehend. The first option for character creation is the faction players want to fight for, the rebellious Exiles or the established Dominion. The rebel vs. empire battle is nothing new to sci-fi worlds, you need look no further than the aforementioned sci-fi titles to find examples of the conflict in previous works. WildStar’s customization options are slim, options are removed based on choices players make. There are eight races in WildStar, but choosing a side in the game’s central conflict eliminates half of the playable races. In turn, selecting a race eliminates three of six classes you can choose between. Each classes can only use one weapon and have a very linear tree of progression. Players looking for a wide breadth of options to tailor a character to their liking are going to be left wanting as WildStar forces players down a singular path.
Trying to get a taste for the zanier side of WildStar, I picked the Exile for my faction, the floppy-eared Aurin for my race, and the stalker class. Picking Exile, I started the game being pulled out of cryo-sleep by a man named Deadeye who was looking for pregnant wife. As I aided Deadeye in his search, it quickly became apparent the ship, while having arrived at Nexus (the planet upon which the game is set), is under attack from the powerful Dominion. Initially I found WildStar disorienting. There is a lot of reading one can do in order to fully understand the established lore, current events. and their place in it all. Skipping this lore will leave you with a handful of questions regarding your actions, but everything is sussed out quickly enough. WildStar’s questing is simple, and well-directed. I never felt lost when trying to reach an objective and before long felt like I had a good grasp on the over-arching narrative being spun.
WildStar is as casual an MMORPG as they come. There’s no fretting over how to upgrade your character, no wandering about looking for resources to craft your own gear, the game is a loop of receiving and completing quests, resulting in a steady climb of character progression. There are small distractions here and there in the form of side quests or special challenges, but they serve as brief palate cleansers amidst the cycle of questing which is at the core of WildStar’s mechanics. WildStar’s combat reinforces this casual nature, with an auto-target, numbered, attack system very similar to World of Warcraft. There are some movement mechanics allowing players the opportunity to dodge area attacks and use their acrobatics to solve certain quests. These mechanics are easy to use, and WildStar’s difficulty is far from demanding.
My initial draw to WildStar still feels like its strongest aspect. While WildStar’s gameplay fails to standout from other MMOs, the aesthetic of WildStar does a good job of separating itself from the pack. Sure, the cartoony character models harken to World of Warcraft, same could be said about the brilliant color-scheme, however the science-fiction set dressing manages to provide distinction. It begs the question if WildStar is simply a dumbed-down World of Warcraft with science-fiction elements, which might not be a bad comparison. It would be unfair to say that WildStar is traditional science-fiction, there are a lot of cool ideas Carbine plays with, blending magic/mysticism with robotics and technology. It is nothing ground-breaking, nothing which has not been done before, but all the same it still weaves an intriguing web of lore, setting, and characters which I found interesting and inviting.
There are smart mechanics in WildStar, organically provided through the game’s setting. When finishing quests, characters will allow you to turn them in via comm-link, instead of backtracking through a zone you just hacked your way through. Instead of crafting weapons or armor, players collect resources to build helpful stations at safe zones for other players to use, feeding the idea of players contributing for the good of the community while trying to settle a hostile planet.
People who are looking for a break from the weighty, meaty MMORPGs with crazy-deep mechanics will find refuge in WildStar. The game’s simple and casual core allow for you to jump in quickly and not feel overwhelmed by the sheer content, unlike a different, recently-launched MMORPG. If you want the depth and infinite options more akin to the traditional experience games of this nature usually provide, you might not find what you are looking for in WildStar. The game is still in beta and it is clear more options and mechanics are in the works, not to mention gameplay aspects which could be patched in later. However, as more is added to the game I hope it is able to maintain its inviting nature. The world of WildStar is unique enough to be attractive in the MMO genre, in many ways it is refreshing. Let’s hope much of that remains the same as the game continues development.