Wildstar is a new MMO from NCSoft, developed by ex-Blizzard developers Carbine Studios. It’s sassy, it’s got some good ideas, but it also seems haunted by the spectre of its spiritual ancestor, says Joe Robinson.
“It’s a unique game that feels like a breath of fresh air, while at the same time telling you that the past ten years of MMO design just didn’t happen.”
For the past decade, the MMO agenda has been firmly and irrefutably set by World of Warcraft. Sure, there have been more experimental MMOs, better designed MMOs, even prettier MMOs. But to date none has managed to capture the business and interest as Blizzard’s behemoth.
But now we have a new contender. Wildstar is a sci-fi/fantasy mash-up by Carbine Studios, a company formed in 2005 by former members of Blizzard Entertainment. Does this game have a shot at becoming a new MMO favourite? As always, the answer is never that simple.
Playing Wildstar is a lot like looking into the past. Perhaps it’s Carbine’s heritage, or perhaps they are just one those companies that decided to iterate and improve, instead of trying to reinvent Blizzard’s wheel. It’s a unique game that feels like a breath of fresh air, while at the same time telling you that the past ten years of MMO design just didn’t happen. It’s weird, but on the whole, it works.
Wildstar is set on the distant planet of Nexus – Home of the ancient and suspiciously absent Elden. Both of the games’ main factions, the Dominion and the Exiles, want to settle and claim Nexus for themselves and you, plucky adventurer/tyrant-wannabe, are going to be part of this glorious journey.
The game’s single biggest strength is definitely its atmosphere – it permeates everything from quest-design to visuals. The story itself is actually pretty forgettable – ten levels into the Exile game and I still wasn’t really sure why I was doing what I was doing – but as you can see from the trailers, that refreshing willingness to be just a little bit silly is everywhere. Well, nearly everywhere. I’ve enjoyed playing as the competing faction, The Dominion, the most so far. Being the evil autocratic empire that they are, they’re wonderfully and humorously portrayed in the opening levels as evil snobs who have very set, and very inaccurate, views on the world. The Exiles, while less endearing, are never-the-less portrayed as the plucky pioneers wanting to escape the oppressive yoke of the Dominion. It makes some of the less impressive parts more bearable.
Questing is the meat and potatoes of any MMO, and this is where things start to get a little complicated. Wildstar has its fair share of stock quests. Some are more inspired than others, and every now and again you’ll have a kill quest, or a fetch quest, that’s presented in a much better way then what is typical. But it’s inconsistent, and almost jarringly so.
It’s not that the quest design is lazy – there are some rather funny, quirky tasks that you’re asked to do. There are also some well thought out multi-part quests, and overall, you’re gently tugged through the world at a respectable pace. Wildstar also makes decent use of micro-instancing, where the game world will change at key times depending on where the player is in a quest. Carbine has put some effort into it, but it’s almost like it has done so well in some areas, that when you come across something that isn’t as accomplished, it’s painfully obvious. And there are far too many ‘kill ten rats’ quests.