Call of the WildStar.
WildStar slipped under my radar, due in no small part to our original preview by Jonathan Leack being written during the frenetic week of E3. I didn't hear anything from this debut title by NCSoft's Carbine Studios until a few weeks ago, surprisingly, during a session in the Elder Scrolls Online beta where I paid attention to the chat window and saw that several people where more impressed with something called "WildStar." I knew I heard the name before, but I couldn't place it. Then just a week a later, I find myself flying out to Orange County, California to attend an event for two full days of all things WildStar.
What separates WildStar from the rest of the pack is its full emphasis on the multiplayer and traditional components of MMOs, staying true to the features that the MMO crowd want while simultaneously evolving each of them in a new direction. The combat isn't a turn-based whacker, but full-on action comprised of free-aiming abilities and avoiding telegraphs. It also has an interesting free-to-play model where you consume C.R.E.E.D. for more subscription time, and purchase or sell it with real money or in-game gold.
Wildstar harkens back to an exaggerated sci-fi universe that will remind you of World of Warcraft with a healthy helping of Borderlands and Ratchet & Clank to round on the humor. But don't let its light-hearted epicness make you forget its hardcore offerings, including MOBA-styled arenas, battlegrounds, and Warplots, as well as a truly sadistic bullethell-inspired 40-man raids.
The lore of WildStar surrounds two extreme factions, the Dominion and the Exiles, both vying for dominance over the lone, newly discovered planet of Nexus. As the homeworld of the mysterious, technologically advanced Eldan race, Nexus has been left unexplored and its resources are ripe for the taking. The Dominion, as the name implies, represent the empire-building Cassians who believe they were chosen by the Eldan, the Mechari who were engineered by the Eldan themselves, the savage and horned Draken, and the sociopathic but adorable Chua. On the flipside is the resistance known as the Exiles, with humans who were once Cassians but found them haughty, the stone-giant Granok who serve as natural tanks, the forest-dwelling Aurin, and the mysterious undead-looking race called the Mordesh.
This storyworld serves as the foundation for most of the versus-multiplayer content, but it's also pivotal throughout the standard single-player exploration. A few races have restrictions on what class they can be—warrior, esper, spellslinger, stalker, medic, and engineer—so it's important to choose a role that you're best suited for whether that's DPS, tank, or healer right at the character creation screen. On top of that, you must also choose one of four paths for bonus quests: settler for creating stations that give buffs to other players, soldier for assassination missions, explorer for finding secrets, and scientist for examining objects and gaining lore. All of these must be determined right from the get-go as they are permanent.
Most of the quests will be familiar to any MMO player, as they generally follow the gamut of killing a certain number of monsters and finding a particular amount of resources. Luckily, Carbine Studios have thrown in a few twists where defeating tougher enemies can fill more on the progress bar for a quest than killing smaller but safer grunts. It's this play between risk and reward that can be found throughout the game. Earning experience is of course important for the accumulation of abilities, and reaching Level 50 is not only an accomplishment, but a requirement to unlock much of the endgame content.
The telegraph system cannot be understated in the combat of WildStar, as it creates a frenetic dance between making sure that you're aiming your abilities by anticipating your enemy's movements while in turn dodging the telegraphs of your opponent's abilities. So long as you stay out of reach, you won't even be scratched. By the time you reach Level 20 and beyond, you'll have a litany of skills to choose from, all with different telegraphs and effects, so it's important to explore all the possibilities and to create various sets to swap between when necessary. With a HUD interface that's reminiscent of a League of Legends' (it may change a bit with a patch), whatever abilities you choose have a clear recharging time. The more powerful skills require focus and actuators to activate, which is normally filled by using base abilities or through natural regeneration.
So at a certain point, it doesn't matter if you have the best weapon, the best armor, and the best resources, since combat boils down to skill with telegraphs, timing, and spacing. Grouping with a strong variety of classes will ensure survival, and a strong medic that can keep up with the action is key. This is relevant for all modes, but especially for PvP which includes arenas, battlegrounds, and Warplots. Matching teams via Elo rating, arenas come in 2v2, 3v3, and 5v5 versions, and are won by draining the limited number of respawns of the other team.
The battlegrounds begin at level 6 with the Walatiki Temple, which asks both sides to collect the most masks which spawn at the center of the arena and secure them back at their base. Of course, you can also attempt to steal masks from the other side, but any smart team will leave a few members behind for defense. Luckily, you'll be normalized by level until everyone's capped at Level 50 and you'll be matched by gear score.
But Warplots is where the action truly is. As a defensive 40v40 RTS, this mode centers around the core mechanic in housing, which is based on a system of customized plug-ins. Creating your own housing area is done easily by purchasing and putting in units like campfires and resource-gathering widgets. Similarly, Warplots are based around two leaders of a 40-man war party, which are like guilds that have officers and can be populated by mercenaries that are assigned to any war party, with the leaders able to create a plot of land with various plug-ins that will protect the core generators.
This home base can be guarded by things like creeper pens and, better yet, a holographic projection of actual bosses in the game. Apart from the default bosses available, you can earn boss coins by defeating the respective boss in raids and subsequently use them for defense, or if your war party accumulates enough energy to send the boss to the enemy's warplot. That said, you can view epic boss vs. boss battles that you can't find anywhere else in the game. But be warned that you can lose the Warplot match by either expending too much energy or by having your generators knocked out. So capturing and defending the central nodes on the map will help considerably in ensuring that neither of those happens.
For those more into co-operative ventures, Adventures presented by the game's Caretaker, a virtual construct that has gone slightly insane over time, are an experiment of team cohesiveness. Sometimes it's about defending a base from waves of enemies, where doing so will grant gold-medal rewards, but will force your group to another location if you fail the primary objective. The most ambitious Adventure is the Oregon Trail-inspired Malgrave Trail, where you must lead a caravan across a canyon full of dungeons, collecting food and water for the passengers. The strengths of the caravan depends on the paths chosen by the team members at the character selection, and should help direct the team choose which direction to go.
But in my humble opinion, the return of the classic 40-man raid will offer the best experience for hardcore fans. The designer for raids must have been punished somewhere in a dungeon and forced to beat Ikaruga, twice, for food, for his starving children. Bosses have ridiculous bullet-hellish telegraphs that have you bobbing and weaving between red danger zones. Environments are ridiculously brutal, with spiraling fire jets, eggs that explode on contact and disorient you by changing your WASD controls, and crafty platforms.
What do I mean by "crafty"? I mean, how about having to swing from platform to platform because the boss randomly destroys them? Or how about having one team member become the target of a bomb that eliminates any hexagonal platforms around him or her? How do you get passed this? Well, how about leaping to your death but then have the bomb propel you back to the platform? Whee!
WildStar, releasing on PC in June 3, will be a contender to grab the MMO genre by the horns and wrest it away from Elder Scrolls Online and World of Warcraft. It has the potential to wow the hardcore MMO community as the dark horse with sheer innovation and content, which they ambitiously plan to continue to deliver. Better yet, all of the extra modes have high replay value, introducing random factors every week for raids and Adventures. Don't make the same mistake that I made and forget about WildStar, because it could become the next household in name in quality MMOs.