When the planet of Nexus was found it became a centerpoint for galactic interest. To the Dominion it’s the birthplace of the Eldan—an ancient race of forerunners who seeded the technology of the galaxy—to the Exiles it could be their potential home. The result, the old disagreement waged between the draconian Dominion and the ragtag Exiles becomes a vendetta that defines the experience of players.
Developed by Carbine Studios and published by NCSoft, Wildstar is currently in an extensive beta period and is expected to launch on June 3rd, 2014.
The game has been in development and hype for so long now that it’s gathered quite a following and from my extensive playing of the game, it’s certainly worth the wait and much of the hype. Carbine Studios has done a brilliant job of building a science fiction MMORPG that takes into account many of the game mechanics and styles that discerning players want out of a game.
For the duration of this First Impressions you’ll hear about what this game has to offer and how it feels jumping in feet first.
Graphics and sounds: A modern cartoon edged with sharp-toothed serrated-humor
From the get-go players introduced to Wildstar will find it to be stylized and somewhat cartoony—an effect that many MMO gamers have been trained to expect from games such as World of Warcraft, which uses the cartoony elements to make sure that the game doesn’t quickly degrade under the ever advancing capabilities of graphics cards. Of course, Wildstar has the advantage of being a modern game and as a result, although cartoonish in appearance, the textures and presentation of the world is actually quite high fidelity.
A lot of the game is played in a near-seamless pull between playing the actual game and witnessing cutscenes (and combined with a certain amount of voice acting.) Unlike games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic quests themselves are not cutscenes or voice acted, but NPCs do babble a little bit when delivering news or taking information. And very similar to WoW NPCs do talk to each other in world with talk bubbles—something that Guild Wars 2 excels at by voicing those conversations, but Wildstar does not.
The world in Wildstar is an excellent presentation of how cartoony imagery combined with science fiction realism (and apparent magic) blend extremely well together. The takeaway is somewhere found in the mobile faces of the characters, as seen with the giant trees in the Exile’s campaign, and the giant eyes of the vegetables saved in the tutorial contrasted with the ubiquitous cameras made of unblinking eyeballs all around the Dominion’s tutorial zone.
Planetfall only brings even more elements of world building with the appearance of actual rain drizzling down, with lighting strikes; and a zone that’s covered in windblown snow.
Sounds and effects also blend nicely together when it comes time to activate powers. The vroom-thoomp! of the Engineer’s gun is a visceral thing, as is the shing-shang slice-and-dice of the claws on a Stalker when slicing through a pack of foes. Creatures and foes make distinct noises as do a certain amount of environmental hazards—all nice telegraphs as to what to expect.
Add in that when some enemies die they seem to explode into a cloud of mechanical components or bits of cartoon meat…and you’ve got just an edge of the humor found all around Wildstar.
Speaking of telegraphs—a ground-effect that appears like a red or a blue region to designate the location an attack will land—they work out extremely well. Very similar to Guild Wars 2, telegraphs don’t just describe the range of a particular AoE; but they also give a fair warning to dodge out of the way of incoming firepower and they’re quite obvious when they’re on the ground.
Gameplay: Action-packed, agile combat combined with a variety of classes and customization
As an MMORPG, Wildstar gives players control of a single character in the game world and then asks them to explore. The game is littered with NPCs, intractable objects, and a whole virtual world of interesting things. The game is also split nicely between opportunities to advance using combat, crafting, social, and exploration.
An interesting difference between other MMOs and Wildstar has something called Paths. The paths are Soldier, Explorer, Scientist, and Settler. Soldiers get to add more fights to their day by being able to fight at “holdouts” where waves of enemies spawn that they must put down. Explorers can open up new places in the world and explore jump puzzles, strange openings in the earth, races, etc. in order to get to places that might otherwise be inaccessible. Scientists can scan strange objects in the environment and open up extra information and lore about the world. Settlers are tasked with activating structures, building up social areas and putting down stations that buff stats and quality of life.
All players get to pick one Path to go with their usual race/class selection.
The races of Wildstar are segmented between the two factions of the game: The Domnion and the Exiles.
With the Dominion you’ll find the Cassians, basically humans–Mechari, sentient robots built by the Eldan–Draken, horned lizard-like folk—and Chua, rodent-like, cute and evil. With the Exiles Humans, says it all there–Aurin, ears-and-tail forest folk–Grannoc, rock-humanoids with a granite disposition–Mordesh, a goth-race of undying but sick space zombies.
Like every other MMORPG, Wildstar presents players with a set of classes that mimic those found in many other games, but they synergize differently due to a limited action set that permits a lot of customization within a given class. The classes of Wildstar are Warrior, Engineer, Stalker, Medic, Spellslinger, and Esper.
Warriors bear a giant sword and wield a rocket-hand that allows them to smash up close and punch at a distance. Engineers go with heavy armor and a big gun, as well as a number of little friends (robot companion pets.) Stalkers bring up the invisible-until-stabbing-you rogue brigade and excel at dodging and sneaking. Medics may have healing on their side, but their guns double as field-effect-debuff and extreme AoE damage. Spellslingers go with dual-pistols and a lot of interesting magical effects as well as movement tricks. Espers call upon psychic forces to pull out illusions that can slice, eviscerate, hamper, or even provide pets and firepower in the field.
The developers of Wildstar speak a great deal about a “limited action set” and this refers to the fact that while a great deal of abilities can be unlocked, players only have access to a small number at any one time. All classes have one innate ability (Engineer’s get a temporary heavy armor suit, Stalkers turn invisible, etc.), eight class abilities from their pool, a path ability, and a gadget. There are literally dozens of abilities to choose from so players need to pick a load-out for when they’re going into the field. This is different from games like World of Warcraft which have a proliferation of buttons everywhere, many of which are rarely used opportunity powers.
The game is an MMORPG and as a result, the combat is all about guiding a character in the third person, but it’s also very much action-oriented. While it’s possible to target enemies, Wildstar is not a TAB targeting game and instead attacks have a particular area-of-effect meaning that positioning and firing timing can be very important for the best effect when using abilities.
Foes also use abilities that hit areas—and this is where telegraphs come into play. When a big-bad-attack is about to be laid down, a red warning area is laid down on the ground where it will land. Oftentimes this warning is mere moments before a bomb blast hits or a body hits the floor. Fortunately, players have the advantage here in being able to double-tap to dodge.
The combination between telegraphs, dodging, and an action set that allows players to stay in motion while triggering attacks, gives the combat in Wildstar fast paced and agile sensation.
Pay-to-play: The standard MMORPG subscription system is expected at launch
Wildstar is a pay-to-play game with a box price of $60 (already on pre-order) and an expected subscription cost of $15/mo.
Pre-orders are already available for people who want to get in early, but Wildstar will officialy launch June 3rd, 2014.
Conclusion: Get your ass to Nexus
Wildstar combines a lot of the elements that make gaming fun and interesting with a strong dose of humor. If you haven’t watched the Dev Speak video, it’s time that you did; the sheer personality of this game is critical to finding fun in it and it’s full of humor, effervescence, and not-so-subtle-jabs at itself.
As an MMORPG, Wildstar seems to hit all the high points from a living-breathing world, two factions to fight in PvP, a deep lore, and a lot of things to do. It may be especially fun when played alongside friends or with a guild.
A lot of the world is full of strange humor, even the quests that lead players to discover the world of Nexus has a particularly sharp edge. The battle between the Dominion and the Exiles is a thickly woven tapestry of betrayal and long-held grudges that really drives the plot forward and gives players a reason to wonder about how each side got to where they are today.
The dark humor is much more in play on the Dominion side (for whom life is cheap in a Brazil-like dystopian surveillance society) but it’s also quite present among the Exiles who are not just happy-go-lucky space bumpkins.
Then there’s the apparently sentient vegetables that the Aurin have—I’m still not sure about those.
Erstwhile, Nexus awaits!