Viewed Prior To Release: Wildstar

We sent Brendan to see Wildstar. This is his report.

A lot of good games have come from pitting the player against ‘the frontier’. (What is Minecraft, for instance, if not a blocky representation of a pre-civilisation?) On paper, the MMO genre seems perfectly suited to the frontier, since it could so easily harness real human nastiness to provide the sense of danger and lawlessness. Some MMOs, like EVE, embrace that interpretation of the wild, at the expense of giving new and inexperienced players an easy ride. On the other hand, WildStar – a new project by NCSOFT currently in beta – is shaping up to be a much more conventional, welcoming game world. A place where the frontier is a cartoon one.

It is set on the newly discovered Nexus, a lost planet of legendary status, thought of universe-wide as a source of riches and adventure. A sort of intergalactic El Dorado. The player’s role is of courageous frontiersman or frontierswoman, who must go out into the dangerous wild. But this is a thematic wildness, provided by the setting, lore and NPCs, rather than a ‘real’ wildness, which is always best provided by the threat of other players. Although there will obviously be PvP elements, they are distanced from the PvE part of the game in ways that will be instantly familiar to MMOers – but more on that later.

The character creation screen is likewise familiar, offering an assemblage of alien races and classes. To give a few examples, there are the Draken (one part goat, one part lizard, one part beard), the Aurin (very thin, lots of hair, rabbit ears) and the Mechari (a transformer, minus the transforming). The classes are fairly customary RPG types. The ‘Warrior’ as tank, the ‘Spellslinger’ as damage-dealing mage, the ‘Esper’ as healer and support, and so on. Although some races are limited in what class they choose, this limitation is somewhat offset by an extra layer of variety: the ‘Paths’ system. This allows you to adopt one of four professions on top of your character’s build so far – Soldier, Scientist, Explorer or Settler. It might sound a little elaborate but really all this means is that there are three tiers of creation – race, class, path – resulting in any number of combinations.

Each of these ‘paths’ is permanent and each has a variety of mission types particular to them. The Scientist’s missions, for instance, focus on unlocking secret labs or ancient structures, cataloguing the planet’s flora and fauna, hacking enemy computers, and generally Indiana Jonesing about. The Explorer’s missions are all about going further and further across the map, charting new areas and staking a claim for your alliance. There are bits of equipment and objects scattered around which only certain professions can interact with, so if you want to completely farm an area of its XP, you would want someone from each path in your party. This way all players will get some XP for every computer your Scientist clicks on and every satellite dish your Explorer sets up, as you all go along vacuuming loot up from all the corpses the Soldier leaves behind.

In my two-hour long session, I played as a Spellslinging Settler, whose role is to build structures in towns and activate little do-hickeys in each settlement to keep the place appearing functional. I would go around town maintaining the banners, torches and satellite dishes for small amounts of XP. These devices would reset to their ‘deactivated’ state within 5 minutes for me or another Settler to come and do it all again. NCSOFT say that, thus far, these maintenance jobs are purely for appearance – the satellite dishes might whirr and rotate for a short time but they are more of a housekeeping activity and don’t currently help other players in any way.

There are some exceptions to this. Like when the Settler builds some sentry droids, which can guard the area and lend support in a fight. Or when you take on an ‘infrastructure’ mission. This is when you have to collect resources and build a hospital, prison, spaceport, or something else like that. Once constructed, these buildings will house new characters with quests for whoever wants to take them. The confusing catch being that the building will dissolve back into its ‘unbuilt’ state after a few minutes to allow other Settlers to build for XP. Unless, that is, other players keep adding resources to it. In this case, the structure will remain.

However, the Settler also has some advantages in combat or when scouring new areas with a party of players. There are construction posts close to enemy-infested areas where the Settler can build machines that give a boost to speed or max health. There’s another that increases the XP earned within a certain bubble. The idea is that your party will be about to tackle a bunch of laser-wielding spacesuits or irradiated jabberwockys and the Settler can prep the area with all these different buffs before the fight occurs.

And when the fights do occur it is very MMO. There are spells, stuns, high damage attacks, flurries – everything you might expect. But the Combat is also about range and positioning, with lots of wooden jumping, dodging, strafing, backflipping and double-jumping out of the big red glow of the enemy’s attack range. Simultaneously you want to make sure they remain within your damage-dealing ‘cone’. While this focus of constant movement will be refreshing to those looking for a little more dynamism in their dungeon, it can also feel a little cumbersome and took me some time to get used to. And, although the paths were the focus of the demo, most of my time was spent peppering generic bad dudes with bullets and leaping out of the way of their attacks, in order to rescue some prisoners from cages.

When I escaped from that, exploring the planet revealed a world that wasn’t afraid of verticality. There is a type of crystal on Nexus that acts like that most obscenely-named of minerals, ‘unobtainium’, in that it causes the overlying earth and rock to float. It has the same effect on the player when you are close to these crystals, allowing you to leap huge distances. All of which results in these rudimentary platforming sections where you are challenged to scale mountains at the behest of an insolent countdown timer which suddenly appears on screen.

NCSOFT have yet to reveal how the guild system will work but the PvP component will comprise of large battlegrounds, an arena for bouts of 2v2, 3v3 or 5v5, and something called ‘warplots’. These fights look to be similar to the sieges of Guild Wars 2, in that there is a settlement that has to be built up with defences by one team while being charged and razed to the ground by another.
Yet the most interesting aspect of WildStar is arguably the ‘frontier’ conceit. The website and promotional material so far suggests that, as a group, you will be able to go on an expedition into the unknown parts of the world and stake a claim on the land. But the exact mechanics concerning this part of the game haven’t been fully explained. The idea of your ‘home’ is one exception.

Players will be able to build and maintain their own house in the world and NCSOFT have come up with an admittedly clever solution concerning the limitation of space in the game world, by doing what every horrible megacity has been doing for decades and building ‘up’. In this instance, player housing will be placed on islands in the sky. But this also negates the chance of conflict over land space. Whether you’re a fan of that decision will depend on whether you like your MMOs to taste spicy or sweet. Personally, I think sticking to the safe road of disallowing your players to burn each other’s houses down somewhat defeats the idea of a game about frontiers. Then again, the closest I’ve ever come to enjoying an MMO was Mortal Online, so WildStar’s cuddly WoWish conventionalism doesn’t exactly feel targeted at me.

In fact, the question of WildStar’s target audience is an interesting one because its cartoon aesthetic and jokey promotional videos seem to be angling for a wide audience, not necessarily those who go from MMO to MMO. At the same time, the mechanics, quest types and XP-farming imply a requirement for genre fluency. Overall, I get the feeling of a game that is welcoming newcomers, while also being subtly aimed at a very particular 1.3 million people, or, at least, a sub-section of that diaspora. It has yet to reveal its business model or set a concrete release date but, as of April, the beta is underway. If the current taste for F2P doesn’t disappear we may soon be discovering that the frontier planet of Nexus really is a wild free-for-all.


  1. trjp says:

    I’m keen on this but I think I need to hear tales of how they’re financing it before I get in any way excited.

    I’m not anti-F2P but Neverwinter is a good game wrapped in a lot of ‘gimme cash’ bullshit and I can’t take that again anytime soon ;(

    Sometimes I’d rather just hand-over some cash and be left alone to play the damned things…

    • Mbaya says:

      I agree, I’m enjoying Neverwinter…but the cash model just doesn’t sit well with me. Boiling flashy mounts down into cash and what not, I’d much rather pay a monthly fee for access to everything, even if I have to get my grind on for the results. Buy once can work, but I fear ‘bolt on’ prices hindering full enjoyment of the game (cosmetic/convenience item store to support the game post release).

      Still…I’m already thinking of my Aurin Esper Scientist jumping around scanning goo. The art style, setting and humour are really appealing.

      • Choca says:

        Carbine’s Jeremy Gaffney has said that the game would have a “hybrid” model in an interview at Game Breaker I think. So probably free to play with optional subscription if you want to skip all the bullshit.

  2. frightlever says:

    The ruins would suggest that Minecraft is set post-collapse of a civilization.

  3. Ron Swanson says:

    I can almost guarantee you that you will have to at least buy the box to play. I would be shocked if it was 100% F2P.

    (P.S. Why would RPS send someone who “the closest I’ve ever come to enjoying an MMO was Mortal Online” to demo Wildstar?)

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Sometimes the person who can cover an event is the only person who can cover an event. When publishers do this kind of preview we can’t always choose who to send.

      When we have the game and can choose, it’s a little easier.

      • chewbaccasdad says:

        Because he’s the reporter this article deserves, but not the one it needs right now.

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Because Brendan is evil and he must be punished.

  4. aliksy says:

    As was determined by the comment review in the Elder Scrolls post, pretty much this:
    return ( requiresSubscription ? “meh” : “interesting….” );

    Or, I simply won’t play a game that has a subscription fee. It’s either buy once or maybe free-to-play, but most f2p implementations are iffy.

    • voidburn says:

      Funny, it’s the exact opposite for me. I’m sick of facing a pay-wall around every possible corner I find in the game. I’m much happier when I get everything for a box price + a decent subscription fee I can accommodate in my monthly budget. This works for me probably because I cannot conceive the idea of committing to more than 1 MMO at the time.

      I love planetside 2 model, where I can optionally subscribe, and I truly hope WS will give me an option to dodge microtransactions altogether in the form of a full subscription fee (I’m ok with special skins/mounts on top of a subscription, what I’m not ok is paying for decently large inventory, character slots and the likes).

  5. medwards says:

    Strictly speaking aren’t there only 36 combinations not ‘any number?’

    • Brendy_C says:

      I say “any number of X” whenever I am too tired for maths.

    • Bastas says:

      In the end there are going to be 10 races, 6 classes, and at least 4 paths. I’m not sure if all of the paths have been announced or if more are coming down the pipeline. Of course each race has class limitations, so I’m not sure what the number of combinations works out to.

      • mickygor says:

        Assuming each race has 4 classes (seems to be the percentage most games with class limitation based on race go to), that’s a minimum of 160 combinations.

  6. Bobka says:

    This looks really appealing to me, but my relationship to WoW was, although passionate, also rocky and mildly abusive, interspersed with existential despair. I’m not sure I’m ready for another MMO.

    • Pofruin says:

      While this, obviously, was meant as humour, I find is unnervingly spot on description of playing MMO…

  7. Choca says:

    Also, I don’t remember my Esper having any healing spell the last time I played the game so I don’t know if they can spec to heal but they can definitely spec for pure (mostly AoE) damage.

  8. CrispinFister says:

    So… it’s like WoW in pretty much every way except the subscription fees? So radicall. NCSoft aren’t exactly known for their original and quality games, all they’ve made is generic garbage to cash in on other companies’ successes and they haven’t even done that very well.

    • Asurmen says:

      You must have read a different preview than me just now. I saw several difference between this and WoW. How big of a difference they are remains to be seen.

    • Curzen says:

      Yep, this is a copy of WoW just as WoW is a copy of Everquest.

  9. Kollega says:

    Well, here are my thoughts: i’m thinking that even without permanent buildings on the ground, the focus of the game should have been a PvP war for land between the Exiles and the Dominion, not static quests given by NPCs. It wouldn’t neccesarily have to devolve into EVE-style parade of barefaced deceptions – for instance, the factions could be directed by the developers, but still involve PvP between the players to advance the aims of their faction. All in all, it just feels that WoW “themepark” model for an MMO is outdated and stupid, and the developers should do dynamic PvP-driven worlds more often.

    • aliksy says:

      This is so obvious I suspect you are actually noted superhero, Captain Obvious.

      • Kollega says:

        Well eeeeeexcuse me, princess. Fun fact: originally, this comment was going to be even more obvious!

        In seriousness, though, i’m just stating my opinion. It’s not anyone’s fault that it’s easy to come to and completely in line with yours.

  10. defunct says:

    This game looks promising. I’m looking forward to seeing how the paths thing works out. I viewed the movie they put out on the paths, and I love the idea. I wanted to try out a scientist or settler.

    Happy the pvp is restricted. Can’t handle yet another pvp game that devolves into insults and accusations. They all do. I’ve seen NO exceptions. At least not in the last few years.

    I’m not sure what all the complaints are about how they make their money, though. I’ve read ‘I won’t play another f2p!’ and ‘I won’t play a subscription model!’… I think people have become a little too finicky, because the game companies aren’t making (enough?) money and are trying new things. I played Neverwinter, and the only thing I got tired of was all the game breaking bugs. Oh, and the constant gold selling spam in town. The two are actually what caused me to leave the game for a while. Tired of being a beta tester, so I’ll wait until they get it done.

    Oh. And this –>

    Ron Swanson says:

    (P.S. Why would RPS send someone who “the closest I’ve ever come to enjoying an MMO was Mortal Online” to demo Wildstar?)

    I’m dying to know this, too.

    • Veritaas says:

      I’d much rather prefer someone like that sent over someone like John Walker who actually enjoyed Neverwinter.

      For every person (sheep) that enjoys the reskinned themepark MMOs, there is someone like me who hates it and can’t wait for another MMO like Graal or UO to come out.

  11. Time4Pizza says:

    Where’s the beef?

    Did you enjoy playing the game or not?

  12. BloatedGuppy says:

    Between his apparent confusion of publisher and developer and his sniffy reveal towards the end that he doesn’t particularly like the genre, Brendan is making a strong argument for being entirely the wrong guy to have gone and previewed this thing. This is not the level of quality I’ve come to expect from RPS. And no knock on the author either. Send me to review something I barely understand and don’t particularly like and I’d be hard pressed to even rival his dubious efforts.

    • Time4Pizza says:

      Agreed. There is a lot of dry talk about game mechanics, but I don’t see a single opinion about the game anywhere in the article. If his goal was to outline some of the basic gameplay mechanics mission accomplished I suppose, but don’t these articles also usually include some sort of opinion/feeling about the game?

      Did the author enjoy the game? What pleased him? What was annoying? Don’t just throw bland game descriptions at us, we could find that on the WildStar website. If you played the game tell us how it FEELS. That is what we cannot find anywhere else.

  13. fdisk says:

    This game looks great; but after Tera, GW2 and NWN I’m sick of MMOs that use “Action Combat”; I’ve found myself going back to games like WoW and I recently discovered and fell in love with Rift.

    Just like GW2 taught me that I actually LOVE MMOs that use the Holy Trinity, NWN and Tera taught me that I much prefer old school semi-turn-based combat in my MMOs.

    Still, looking forward to Wildstar for the art style alone.

  14. notenome says:

    I’m making an MMO in my basement.

    So, RPS, when is Brendan coming over?

  15. Lux says:

    Not a single mention of Carbine Studios, the people behind Wild Star, but Turbine gets listed in the tags?