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Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: NCSoft
Developer: Carbine Studios
Release Date: June 3, 2014


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PC Review - 'WildStar'

by Rhi "StormyDawn" Mitera on Sept. 23, 2014 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

WildStar offers epic high adventure, where players make their mark as Explorers, Soldiers, Scientists or Settlers and lay claim to a mysterious planet on the edge of known space.

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In trying to give a full review of Wildstar, I didn't know how much stuff I'd need to do (my "first look" piece is here). So far, the folks at Carbine have managed to flip some popular sci-fi tropes on their heads and giving them hidden depths. They've also made what may be the first real "next-generation" MMO, adding just enough of the familiar to make us comfortable with all the new stuff.

I am a huge sci-fi nerd, and my favorite trope is space cowboys. I love the idea of a crew of misfits, thrown together by circumstance and surviving however they can. The Exiles is a faction clearly made with me in mind. I immediately made an Aurin Spellslinger and set off, skipping through the forests with a gun in each hand and a song in my heart.

Out of a sense of fair play and completionism, I also knew I'd need to give the Dominion a try. I didn't expect to enjoy it; they're clearly the bad guys, and the Dommie-side races have descriptors like "blood-thirsty" and "psychopathic," but I made a Cassian Medic and begin.  Like any well-written villain, the Dominion are clearly the heroes of their own story. They have divine provenance and are the caring rulers of a galaxy that would've destroyed itself if not for the Dominion's loving intervention.

My Aurin is now sitting forgotten in Celestia's forests, and I am a proud servant of the Vigilant Church.

Combat is the bread and butter of an MMO, and Wildstar is no exception. You're introduced to it slowly, so you can get accustomed to how different it is, but I don't know that it helped me. I'm very bad at Wildstar's combat. I feel like I need another set of hands to properly aim the blue cone of damage, avoid them from the enemy, turn the camera, and fire spells. Perhaps it would be best if the camera automatically followed the mouse cursor (there's a mod for that), but even without that, I've seen people who are very good at it. I'm just not one of those people. There's no auto-attack here, so you don't stand and swing at each other until one falls down. While that's a good thing, it's not easy to master. All abilities have some sort of area of effect, even the Warriors. It makes it very easy to dispatch a lot of enemies at once, but it also makes it very easy to accidentally pull that other enemy down the hall who I wasn't ready to battle. Luckily, my medic's healing abilities also have an AoE, or I'd die an embarrassing amount of times.

My medic's healing makes it easier to survive and keep my team alive in PvP, but it makes it easier for the enemy to do so, too. Half of the classes in the game have the ability to heal, and since focus (mana) drains very slowly, PvP feels like a fistfight where everyone's wearing big foam Hulk hands. For anyone to do any damage, it takes more effort than you're willing to put forth. Maybe that makes it more fun for other people, and I am very biased against PvP, but I don't even know what the goal on the battlegrounds are because everyone circles around like mosquitoes, buzzing and annoying but ultimately accomplishing nothing.

As much as I dislike the PvP, though, that's how much I enjoy the rest of WildStar. Questing is fairly basic "Kill 10 rats" style, but it's streamlined to make it easier and faster to flow from one area to another. The quests tend to be amusingly named (my favorite remains "What is Dead May Never Spy") and go places you don't expect. For example, I was once sent on a scavenger hunt to find the romance novels a woman left at different research posts in the woods. Another quest had me inspecting a member of the Vigilant Church who was under suspicion of breaking the church rules and having an affair. My job was to inspect his bookshelves for proof of purity-breaking. His books are all named like romance novels but are military studies: From Behind, a book on flanking techniques; and Rock Hard, a study on the physiology of the Granok (rock people). It makes the quests stand out instead of becoming a blur of same things over and over.

While questing, there are other things to do in each zone. Lore items, like journals and data cubes, add a lot of background story but are mostly exposition, as well as "Tales from Beyond the Fringe!" which is like a comic book or penny dreadful novel that you have to collect to unlock. Each map is full of this stuff, with sometimes 80 items to collect for full map completion. I'm a completionist, and I've never had a game make me work so hard for that 100%.

Paths are also part of that 100% completion, but they're the most fun part. I've gone into some detail on them previously, but the best part is how they interact with each other. As an Explorer, for example, I stake claims on new territories. When I do, it spawns items that other paths can collect to help them, like settler resources or soldier weapon lockers. When a soldier is doing a Holdout mission, more people coming to help means more enemies, which means more path exp for the soldier and leveling exp and loot for all participants. I went to one where there were eight of us and close to 20 enemies spawned in each wave.

No MMO is complete without a few group instances, and Wildstar has three types: Adventures, Dungeons, and Ship Hand Missions. They play like the instances in other MMOs, although the more challenging combat of the game can make them pretty damn difficult. The main difference between the three, besides setting, is availability. Ship Hand Missions can be done solo or in a group of up to five players and normally take 15 to 45 minutes, so they're the best options if you want to run something but don't have much time. Adventures have a theme or gimmick, making them a little less straightforward, and they require five players to do. Dungeons are also for five players but are of more basic "kill them all and divvy up the loot" variety. The bosses can have some really ridiculous mechanics, though.

When you're tired of dealing with other players, you can always go back to your palatial suite in the sky. Housing, which is unlocked at level 14, is awesome. The sheer amount of customization is mind-boggling, from the type of material your house is made of to how many floors it has to the lighting and kind of sky. There are thousands of pieces of housing decor, all of which you can place wherever you want to. The possibilities are endless; they are also very expensive, especially at the time that they're first unlocked. For perspective, at level 14, I had about five gold. One gold was spent on buying a beautiful but cozy Cassian mansion (the large mansion is three platinum), and after some very basic changes, I'm myself almost broke but only have a couch, a bed, and a table with a bottle of wine.

Customization is the name of the game in Wildstar. You unlock costume slots at a very early level, and you can put on a certain set of armor or uniform that displays instead of the standard armor. There's even a weapon slot in each costume set. Your costumes can be dyed, with dyes either unlocked or purchased throughout the world. Even the mounts are customizable. You can add spoilers, spinning rims and fuzzy dice — or whatever your heart desires. I once saw a raptor-type lizard mount with a spinning disco ball on its head.

A lot of the best customization is done through crafting. There are nine trade skills. Three of them — Mining, Relic Hunter and Survivalist — are for gathering materials you need to make stuff. The others are for making things and are pretty straightforward. Armorer, Outfitter and Tailor make heavy, medium and light armor, respectively. Architects make housing items, Technologists make healing syringes, and Weaponsmiths make weapons. There are also Cooking and Farming (and, sometime after release, Fishing), which are learnable by everyone in addition to their trade skills. Each crafting skill has a talent tree, where you can choose how you want to level your trade skill. Decide if you want to increase the XP you make while crafting or the likelihood of discovering new schematics. There's also a tech tree where you unlock new schematics by completing challenges that mostly consist of making a certain amount of a specific item.

I've been playing Wildstar since it came out in June, and every time I turn around, I find more things to do or see. In addition to the PvP and complicated combat, that may be the biggest problem I have with Wildstar. I love having lots to do, but sometimes, it can feel a little overwhelming. Instead of brainstorming about fun things and pulling a few ideas out of a hat, the developers seem to have taken the entire hat, created an MMO around it, and also given you the option to dye and customize the hat. I imagine this feeling will lessen when I reach the endgame, but that's a whole new kettle of worms.

Score: 9.0/10

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