Wot I Think (Part Two): Wildstar

By Philippa Warr on June 19th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

We always feel that MMOs are difficult to review in a single article, and Wildstar is even larger than most. To give a broader sense of what playing it is like, we asked Philippa Warr to venture inside and report back in three parts (part one). Part two covers more combat detail, and getting to grips with PvP and dungeons.

In a piece of advice likely cribbed from Game of Thrones, the Wildstar respawn narrator has just told me to “use the pointy end” while fighting. I went for the Esper class so my weapon is actually a shuriken. The whole damn thing is a pointy end and yet I’m still dead. Maybe I’ve been hitting them with the flat side.

It is at this point I decide to investigate exactly how combat works. Becoming more efficient should speed up the levelling process which in turn opens up level-gated abilities, dungeons and so on in MMO land. It should also mean I cease banging my head repeatedly against quests which are allegedly aimed at my level.

MMO hotbar combat doesn’t come easily to me. My fingers seem to turn into gigantic hams, smooshing inaccurately at the number buttons and sacrificing any sense of where WASD might be in relation to that. But I’m determined to find out how well Wildstar can teach me about itself. I want to get a sense of exactly how easy is it to figure out.

The figuring out stage feels rather opaque given I’m not well-versed in MMORPGs. Concepts like how abilities can be used to generate points which in turn power other abilities are introduced early on and prepare you for picking your own toolset when ability slots open up, but there’s so much information and so many statistics to deal with on all fronts that I’m soon alt-tabbing to the wiki and forums or asking a few questions in zone or guild chat to try to piece them together into a decent overview.

The grand finale of the figuring out stage is me self-medicating my way through the confusion by eating an entire tub of olives in fifteen minutes. It is at this point I turn to my friend Chris for help, as he has a formidable number of MMO hours to his name. He turns out to be the most voluble and helpful corpse on my in-game friends list.

His own experience of the game is that it assumes a certain level of familiarity with RPG character construction and roles. “If you’ve built a character in WoW or Guild Wars or Diablo then you have the tools necessary to unpick Wildstar’s reworking of those ideas. It doesn’t stray too far from the norm, but it alters the terminology and that means reading tooltips until you’ve figured out how it all fits together. This was actually impressive and appealing to me, particularly when combined with the amount of freedom to customise ability loadouts and AMPs. The game gives you a tremendous amount of power to express yourself and your expertise.”

“It’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going wrong without being there,” Chris adds as he tries to help me with my own unpicking. “It could be anything from being undergeared to using a suboptimal rotation to not having the right balance of stats and so on and so on.” Through some Gchat detective work (“Was it a prime monster that killed you? Skull round its portrait, ten times more health – that sort of thing?”) we work out that it’s actually all of the above problems at once.

Wildstar combat requires mobility, particularly from its light armour characters. I seem to have been favouring abilities which need me to be stationary. I’ve also taken up vital damage-dealing ability slots with healing options from back when I tried a dungeon, and have been trying to kill mobs alone which were intended for groups, thanks to looking at their level rather than their health bar. I picked armour by whether it offered more improvements instead of paying close attention to their effect on attributes. A DPS build would be most useful to me so I should have been favouring the brutality, moxie and finesse attributes because of the assault power, critical chance and burst damage boosts they offer an esper.

Some time spent rebalancing and experimenting is all it takes to solve the main problems (alas there is a limited amount anyone can do about my hotbar hamfistedness). The leveling returns to a regular pace and the better build also opens up the world of PvP possibilities.

There are currently two 10v10 arenas available to my level 21 character. One involves capturing masks and bringing them back to base, the other is about capturing and holding points. They’re fast-paced opportunities to show off your aforementioned customisations and expertise. They’re also bloody good fun. At one point some unexpectedly skilful hotbar manipulation on my part saw me dancing around between telegraphed attacks, dodging and weaving just enough to stay alive. I’d infuriated and distracted enough of the enemy team that the rest were unable to stop my Dominion group dragging another mask back to base. It’s a heady mixture of showing off and having fun.

I’ve had less luck with the dungeons. There are adventures which let your group of five choose which particular quests to complete as part of a mission and then there are dungeons proper which don’t involve the choice element and behave like traditional MMO dungeons. The adventure currently available to me is one I’ve completed a few times, but never attaining higher than bronze rank. It’s the nature of working with strangers – playing pub Dota versus playing team Dota. People wander off, or aren’t quite syncing up their actions with other players and as a result someone (then everyone else) dies.

In dungeons the issue was magnified. When I tried one, players kept dropping out for whatever reason so we were frequently idling as we waited for a new party member. Then when we did fill out the group the lack of in-game voice meant it was incredibly hard to work together properly. When everything was working well, the dungeon itself was an enjoyable and satisfying challenge, but the peripheral issues mean I wouldn’t want to do it without being a guild party or with friends on voice comms.

A week further into Wildstar the quests are still maintaining my interest in the world and its story, but getting to grips with the PvP has been by far the more rewarding and given me a great degree of attachment to my character. As a less experienced player when it comes to MMORPGs it felt very easy to get lost in the flood of concepts along the way which affected how easily I transitioned from pure PvE to a mixture of the two. That said, friends who spent the last decade ensconced in Azeroth adapted very quickly. There are also a wealth of third-party resources dedicated to offering information when you can’t consult your own personal Friend-ipedia or are drawing an in-game blank. Besides, confusion can sometimes serve as a great acid test: asking what might be incredibly stupid questions is an easy way of working out whether you’ve signed up to a patient and friendly guild.

The third and final part of our review will land next week.

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50 Comments »

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  1. brgillespie says:

    I wish there wasn’t an entry fee. If all that was required to play was setting up a monthly subscription, I’d go for it.

    • aliksy says:

      I wish it was just a box fee. If there wasn’t a sub fee I’d try it. Can’t please everyone, I guess.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Give it time and it’ll just be a hats fee.

      • Grygus says:

        Either of those options would snare me; it’s both that I balk at. This was a fine model a decade ago, but now there are too many high-quality free games.

        • Kinch says:

          Are there really that many ‘high quality’ ‘free’ MMOs? Even if you include LoL and Dota2, the list is very short and many people would argue that Rift and SWTOR are by no means ‘high quality’ (or even ‘free’ for that matter).

          Myself, I have no problems with subscriptions as long as the game is worth playing. Wildstar has got me hooked so far, despite the terrible performance issues on many machines.

          • HPLoveshack says:

            So many high-quality free games… what a preposterous statement. And when you apply it to mmos it’s even more ridiculous.

            The last truly impressive mmo was WoW back at launch and it was in steady decline from there on. Nearly every MMO released since then has been a straight clone or a clone + slight twist with a few outliers like Darkfall and Mortal Online which were simply too clunky and content-starved to ever gain more than a niche audience.

            Some of them have higher production values than others, but it simply doesn’t matter if the core game is still the same damn one or a generally worse iteration. You’re not “high-quality” if you’re not bringing anything significant to the table that wasn’t already there.

          • scatterbrainless says:

            Well, he didn’t necessarily say MMOs. But off the top of my head for free-games that qualify as great: Planetside 2, Path of Exile, Warframe and Dota 2. You can find problems with any and all of these, but there’s no denying that they’re of a quality and pay-model to put a real scare into into more… atavistic business plans.

      • malkav11 says:

        The sub is honestly the big barrier for me. I simply don’t play any game consistently enough to feel comfortable paying on an ongoing basis for access, and the moment I stop paying the subscription it’s a much, much bigger mental block to going back since I have to deliberately spend money again. The box price is a barrier to checking it out initially but as long as that price goes down it’ll eventually hit a point where I’m sufficiently interested. The subscription will put me off indefinitely.

        • -Spooky- says:

          U don´t have to sub. U can earn ingame money and pay the sub, or buy sub resttime from other ply they sell their time.

          • bleeters says:

            Which depends on you playing enough within that month to earn the ingame currency required to afford whatever the playerbase has settled on as a purchase cost. It’s an interesting system, sure, but I don’t exactly consider having to grind money each month or losing access to the game to be a decent alternative to there just not being a subscription at all.

          • Maxheadroom says:

            Yeah I imagine earning enough in-game currecny to afford the monthly sub would require playing 8 hours a night and/or being part of some uber guild making demands on your in-game time – And that why I quit WoW.

          • malkav11 says:

            If I played enough to earn the subscription fee in game, I wouldn’t mind paying the subscription fee. It’s not that I don’t have $15 a month, it’s that I don’t have $15 a month to spend just to preserve the option of playing a game that I’m only intermittently dipping into. I play The Secret World for maybe 5-10 hours every three to four months, but I do keep playing it. I can do that because there’s no subscription. (Admittedly, that particular game I liked enough that I picked up a lifetime subscription long before they changed their business model so that I would have had that option anyway. But now I get bonus stuff, so, eh.)

        • scatterbrainless says:

          I agree; I really don’t want to feel compelled to play a certain amount each month to justify the money spent, I’m far too whimsical and mercurial (read: inconsistent and unreliable) for that.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Absolutely same here. I’m cool with sub fees really, since it means I can quit paying when I’m not playing, and it’s hard to justify dropping $60 on something I might only stick with for a month. What I absolutely cannot justify at all is paying $60 for something to keep paying on a monthly basis when I might wind up only wanting to drop in for a few hours each week. There isn’t even some sort of demo (e.g. what WoW has now), seriously?

      • LionsPhil says:

        It’s early in its release. This is when they can basically make extra money from people who want the game enough that, yes, they are willing to pay for it twice. If people will pay for copies, they’d be silly to give them away.

        </armchair_econ_101>

        • scatterbrainless says:

          But, given how heavily the longevity of an MMO is predicated upon building critical mass, surely putting off the number of people unwilling to pay twice will have an inimical effect in terms of sub maintenance, generally considered the true test of an MMOs success?

      • Moraven says:

        Seeing how fast TESO and FF14 dropped in price for their boxes, Wildstar will be $20-$30 sooner than later ($5-$15 extra cost on top of the included month).

      • Bull0 says:

        They gave out loads of trial keys to people who pre-ordered to share out and they ran a lengthy open beta, if you wanted to try it for free there were pretty ample opportunities to do so.

        • Premium User Badge

          jrodman says:

          I signed up for beta *years* ago. About three years ago.. Never got access.

          • Philomelle says:

            I didn’t even sign up for the beta. Had a bunch of beta keys simply dumped into my inbox just because I had a NCSoft account.

          • Kitsunin says:

            I have an NCSoft account, never got random beta access. I signed up for beta, never got access. Besides, I don’t really give a shit if there was a demo, though I would have tried the beta had I actually gotten in.

            Plus, you aren’t supposed to give out trials to people you don’t know, so I’m not going to bum one of those off somebody. Besides, 3 per purchase != loads.

            At any rate, even if the purchase model were better I won’t drop any money if I can’t at least make sure the netcode/server sitch doesn’t suck, which it probably does (This is an MMO after all, even Blizzard ought to be ashamed for lack of Oceanic servers)

          • Bull0 says:

            It was an *open* beta for ages. Open. It seems like you’re kind of just being contrary here, 3 trial keys per purchase is quite a lot – most games I know give you 1 if you’re lucky – and yeah, the thing about an open beta not being a good enough opportunity for you to try the game without paying, etc. It’s OK to be wrong sometimes!

          • Kinch says:

            There was an OPEN beta that lasted a few weeks.

            Guess you can never satisfy some people. Man up, grumpy fellow!

          • Kitsunin says:

            Huh, yup, you’re right, there was an open beta. Well, nobody told me, emailed me, posted on any gaming news locations I check etc., even though I had signed up for closed, so it’s too late for that now.

            Since you were supposed to still use a key for open beta, I’m surprised they didn’t send me one upon them being accessible by all.

            At any rate, while 3 trials per person might be a lot relatively, it’s still not enough for people to be giving them away to any stranger that asks, especially since their actions could, theoretically, put your account at risk, it seems.

            So yes, I may have missed all sorts of opportunities, as I know now. But there still isn’t a good way for me to test the laggy waters.

          • Bull0 says:

            They actually covered it here on RPS. http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/05/08/wildstar-open-beta-download/

            The wildstar subreddit had a space for sharing guest passes as its top post for ages around launch, too, but it’s done now.

            Might sound obvious but did you check your spam?

    • vahnn says:

      Something to keep in mind is the CREDD system. CREDDs are in-game items purchased with real-world money, which can then be traded for in-game currency. On my server, CREDDs have sort of stabilized around the 4 platinum mark. If you play regularly and just put your head to questing, you can not only get to maximum level, but earn a TON of gold along the way. By the time you hit 50, you’ll be able to afford a couple months of game time–for free.

    • Stephen Roberts says:

      How much more attractive would it be if the subscription cost was about a fiver? I think traditional mmo subscription models (eg wow) are far too highly marked. There’s no way you can keep more than one running because of the ~9 pound a month cost. Unless, of course, you have money (and time) to burn. World of Warcraft have sadly set the standard for cost per month MMOs.

      If Wildstar said ’30 quid to start and monthly subscription of buggerall’ (3-5 pounds) I think it would not only make it easier to commit to, it would make it easier to ignore. Much like gyms that make the bulk of their income from people that can afford not to turn up (although gyms can be expensive, different market).

      The low-pricing-but-get-lots-of-people-in-on-it method just hasn’t been tried. Even free to play games have high prices – look at the cost of a gun in Planetside 2. That banana money equates to around a fiver per gun. And by gun I mean non-transferable, non-tradeable, non-refundable digital representation of gun that’s not a unique model and may have it’s stats changed at any time whatsoever. For a fiver. That, my friends, is a sick joke. It almost makes subscription fees seem attractive. If only they just reigned it in a bit.

      • toxic avenger says:

        Bang on. I skipped Wow, but loved MMOs pre WoW, and the argument for subscriptions back in the day was while yes, it paid for the cost of the server, it’s secondary purpose was to keep a barrier of entry up somewhat in order to not flood the game with small children cursing over /all chat. Something tells me that as time went on, that stopped being a viable purpose to bank on. Or maybe I’ve just matured. Either way.

        • SomeDuder says:

          That’s exactly what I’m very much willing to pay for. It’s not elitism – I just don’t want to deal with the people that inhabit the F2P stuff or online shooter folk. The (man)children who can only talk in expletives and the acts they want to perform on my mother. Or don’t speak English. If a subscription is what’s needed to filter out the poor and terrible, then I don’t mind.

          As for the game itself, as long as it doesn’t compromise on its promise to go back to the pre-WoTL style of WoW in terms of difficulty, it might do well, and I’ll be impressed if they can keep the subscription model going and not switch to F2P. That might actually be a new benchmark – how long can a MMO keep up its subscription model?

          • Premium User Badge

            lurkalisk says:

            To desire a feature in the hope that it filters out the poor and the foreign because you think they’re all terrible “man children” isn’t just sickeningly elitist, but downright bigoted.

            …And no, subscription fees for MMOs were never intended to keep their player base posh and English speaking.

          • derbefrier says:

            Wow dude I was with you untill you included the poor and non english speakers.

            Funny thing is when I was really into WoW and my small guild wanted to raid we merged with 2 guilds that were primarily mexican and brazillian. Sure there was a bit of a language barrier but it was also really fun just talking and getting to know those guys even though there were more than a few that didn’t speak good english at all. Hell I even learned a bit of spanish after raiding with these guys for over a year and considered them friends even. You are just an ass.

          • scatterbrainless says:

            Eww, yeah, poor people and non-English speakers: gross. If the subscription could keep out fat people too, I would totally pay. It’s not that you can see their fatness in game, but you can kind of… sense it, through the internet. Just bums me out.

    • magogjack says:

      The box fee is a little much, but to be fair to Carbine they are already adding new content in July (two new zones, and some stuff for housing) and seem committed to continuing to add large updates. Something that actually makes those costs make sense.

  2. bangalores says:

    (I’ve posted this same comment on PC Gamer and IGN, but I’m gonna leave it here too just in case someone here has any different tips)

    My biggest problem with this game right now is I get TERRIBLE performance, even on all low settings (disabled if possible) with view distance at 50% and 1920×1080 resolution. I’m running the game on an i7 @3.4ghz, 8 gb RAM, Radeon HD 6770 and Windows 7 and i’m literally seeing about 20-25 fps in most zones, sometimes even less.

    Has anyone else had this issue and come across any tweaks that actually work?

    • Bull0 says:

      Certainly makes my PC very noisy, but my framerate’s alright. I’ve noticed some funny flickering water and shadows and stuff, so I’m also looking forward to a patch. I’m on an nvidia card (GTX 580) and have double your ram but my CPU’s about the same as yours and I’m also on Win 7.

    • magogjack says:

      You are cursed with a Radeon card and Wildstar is Optimized for Nividia, so thats a big part of your problem.

    • nrvsNRG says:

      6670 is entry level (same as gtx460 or 550ti), plus, what i7 is it? if its first gen then its gonna struggle.

    • Kinch says:

      You’re not alone, the game is poorly optimized right now (just like GW2 at the start). Give them some time, they’ll fix it.

  3. Bull0 says:

    In fairness, concepts like not taking healing spells when you’re a DPS character and choosing gear with the right stats for your role aren’t exactly unique to Wildstar. The mobility tradeoff is interesting though and I have noticed some of my spells don’t get used to their best effectiveness when I’m soloing because they get interrupted when I dodge, so it might be that some thought about that would pay off. You’ve got me thinking now…

    (I’m a cassian spellslinger on Archon, by the way).

  4. malkav11 says:

    In my experience, even if they had in-game voice nobody would use it because there’s some sort of bizarre bias against the simple and convenient option in favor of clunky, server-requisite bullshit like Ventrilo.

    (To be fair, there are advantages to external voice chat programs, like maintaining the connection even if you get dropped from the game itself, and possibly better audio quality. But to me, that doesn’t justify completely ignoring the in-game system when you’re playing in mixed company.)

    • Kinch says:

      I can remember how they introduced in-game voice chat in WoW and then literally noone used it.

      • Nevard says:

        The thing about WoW’s one is that not only did it feature the problems above (low quality, drops if you disconnect, tied to your game’s performance) it wasn’t even the “easy option”.
        It was kind of fiddly, didn’t work 100% of the time and didn’t really give you good results when you did get it to work.

        I have seen well-run pick up groups asking you to join their ventrilo/teamspeak server in the past though.

    • therighttoarmbears says:

      This, man. I was into planetside 2 pretty hard for a while and was in an outfit, and nobody talked on in-game voice even though the quality seemed pretty good to me. This despite the fact that often our squads often had about 50% pubs in them, who were obviously not on the private team speak. Typing out real time instructions sucks, and the whole point of team play is, you know, playing as a team. If they give you the tools to do it, and it works, why one earth wouldn’t we do it?

  5. aircool says:

    PvP is probably the best way to level up and get to know the game and your character class. It’s also the most fun, but can be frustrating from time to time in pugs. However, it’s great if you keep a light hearted attitude and don’t be ‘that guy’ who always gets frustrated and calls his team noobs.

    …which is always funny when someone does it and your playing a new game, with everybody under level 15…

    I’ve always found dungeons boring. You basically run past all the normal monsters, then attempt a perfectly choreographed dance around a boss whilst pressing a number of buttons in a strict rotation. If someone forgets to press a button at the right time, or isn’t quick enough to hide behind a rock when the boss does his ‘tell’ for an instagib AoE, then it’s wipe time. It really is the most boring aspect of mmo’s.

  6. Yargh says:

    Philippa, while you have probably already completed part three by now, why don’t you try for some organised team play by joining up with the Rock, Paper, Snoglugs gang?

    Having had the perspective of the solo player doing dungeons with pickup groups, it would be nice to see what the ‘guild’ experience is like,

    • SomeDuder says:

      Seems she’s already in a guild, but if its members don’t regularly play together it’s a p. shitty guild

    • mechabuddha says:

      I was super excited to join the RPS guild…until I found out the servers are region locked and NA players can’t play with Europe. =( I wish there was a NA RPS guild somewhere.

      • HothMonster says:

        Just started playing. Trying to get something together on Stormtalon. Have not had any response on the forums yet though.

      • LionsPhil says:

        the servers are region locked
        Seriously? Wake me when MMOs (other than Champions Online, which I haven’t even played for years) move into the 21st century.

  7. marano says:

    Gave this game a try, but really couldn’t manage to get past level 27. It’s just that boring.

    I enjoy mmos in general but Wildstar really doesn’t deliver; the zones are incredibly ugly and bland, the quests have no variety whatsoever and the gameplay gets stale very quickly due to the lack of dungeons at early levels and limited amount of skills (which all look the same).

    I’m sure the game’s not all bad, I’m just the kind of player that demands a game to be fun from the get-go and not only after I’ve invested an X amount of hours in the tedious parts.

    At level 20, you unlock the first 2 dungeons, which are okay I guess. But they have absolutely no replay value, so you’re stuck questing pretty damn quickly and will be for at least the next 10 levels I imagine (level 27 now and still no new dungeon unlocked.)

    For me, not worth the €30. Even with the free month.