Wildstar beta hands-on: Carbine and NCSoft head back to the future

Wildstar

By on March 18, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Nostalgia is not usually a quality that many MMORPGs tend to strive for when they set out to create a new universe. WildStar is unique in that it is one of the first Western MMOs in quite a long time that was designed by a small team on a limited budget, but with lofty ambitions to succeed where many others have failed. As a result, it has ended up much closer to the fold of traditional MMOs, such as World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online, in offering what is unabashedly a conservative play system geared significantly towards hardcore players.

From the beginning, WildStar pulls few punches, avoiding much of the fairly monotonous control and quest tutorials and instead offering tooltips during the first few starter missions that can easily and quickly be turned off. It doesn’t explain how armour and weapons work either, instead allowing you to run around and experiment without feeling like your hand is being held.

It’s a lot to take in at first; the environments are fairly large and detailed, brimming with NPC activity. Your UI is thick with various screens, bars and notifications — if you think it looks familiar, then I wasn’t the only one — from the quest guide to the minimap, much of WildStar‘s interface harks back to the early days of World of Warcraft. But there are improvements — finding specific quest objectives in what feels initially like an enormous maze of teleporters and corridors is simply thanks to a large arrow that appears on screen at the click of a button.

I can’t over-emphasise how much this game goes out of its way to simulate an active world – in one area, random strikes of lightning would hit both PC and NPCs alike, and in a another – search beams would highlight the player (if found) and draw mobs from all around to their position. In some areas, very tight path design finds you almost overwhelmed with large numbers of hard hitting mobs, quickly forcing you to get well acquainted with WildStar‘s take on a realtime battle system.

But it’s once you start the fight that things tend to unravel a little. Combat feels very jerky and unintuitive — your weapons have specific ranges, as do your enemies, and these are shown on screen in the style of red and blue squares. To do damage, an entity has to exist in that square. Simple, right? Well, not every attack offers an easy box to dodge — some enemies will simply throw heavy attacks at you with little warning, which made me wonder if everything could be blocked or if certain attacks were simply mandated to hit. Other MMOs with real time systems have employed “tells”, such as the red dot in FFXIV and the “build up” in TERA Online — but many mobs don’t have tells, or obvious ranges for attacks to hit.

There were many, many occasions when I would be well out of the radius of attack but the game still registered a hit. This is concerning primarily due to how heavy most attacks will land — I was playing as an Engineer (Settler), with around 1200 health. Standard attacks by mobs at my level ranged from 200-300 a pop, meaning that unless I killed them quickly, no amount of dodging, jumping and running would prevent an early death. Here’s some combat footage for you, so you can see what I mean:

Things are made worse by the combination of real time combat with a 0-9 key format — straight off the bat, this is a poor choice for key placement. Normally, assigning a light and heavy attack to the left and right mouse buttons allows the left hand to be freed up primarily for movement. WildStar‘s curious choice to avoid using the mouse buttons for anything but clicking on the UI means that unless you are using a MOBA/MMO mouse with numbered buttons on it (as I do, thankfully), you’ll be fumbling to hit the right keys as you attempt to dash, dodge and flip around enemy movements. It’s clear that the developers want you to move — there are little roadblocks to traversing the land as you like, and the same goes for interacting with enemies — so it was a curious choice to heavily restrain movement during the activity you will be doing most of the time.

Unfortunately, things don’t tend to improve once you start questing. As is now the norm, missions are provided via NPC hubs, pickups and via your communicator — a cool little addition that allows you to accept and complete quests remotely — as well as directly to your UI when you enter certain areas. But questing is a dull, repetitive and mind numbing affair. “Kill 5/5″ is now replaced with a percentage. Your “path”, which is designated at character creation and allows for a string of alternate missions, many of them with the option of non-combat — is probably one of the coolest functions of the game. But sadly, the concept is just not taken to an interesting place. As a “Settler”, I thought I could help to build new structures or elements that made a long standing difference to the game. Instead, I spent most of my time running around to find resources (random world drops), and converting them to publicly accessible buff machines. And herein lies the rub: regardless of the hype you have heard, what we have here with WildStar is Theme Park 2.0.

Straight off the bat, let me say that there is intrinsically nothing wrong with theme park MMOs — and while I have made my case fairly clear as to why they are detrimental to the genre as a whole, the continued success of WoW largely points to an enclave that adore them. NCSoft and Carbine are squarely aiming at that market without pulling a single punch — from the art to the music, from the PVP to raids and through to character and class creation to skill assignment, WildStar is creating a logical path of access for those wanting something new and easy to transition to.

The focus of the marketing spend so far has been on hefty, long 20-40 man raids, competitive PVP with customisable aspects and PVE that requires little more than kills and clicks. I do like that the “Path” system opens up a significantly large amount of varied content based on a playstyle, but its optionality and lack of long-term impact on other players and the world at large makes it less MMO and more like filler to complete in between story slogs or while you’re waiting for your raid to start.

The game does, however, feature an extortionate amount of lore, and voice acting is actually pretty damn good considering. I found the plot relatively convoluted at first, especially as it tries to balance a serious, world ending conundrum with fairly heavy, silly, doses of humour that tend to pull away from allowing you to make an established connection to any characters or events. But its in the presentation — a mixture of short cutscenes and standard quest info spliced with optional discovery of logs and other story tidbits – that WildStar elevates itself to the SWTOR style of communication. For those that actually pay attention to these elements, I would assume the back stories of the various antagonists would flesh out over time, but during my short beta weekend play I didn’t tend to feel enveloped or gripped by the proceedings.

It’s due to these and a host of other reasons that WildStar didn’t grab me as much as I wished it would. While it has built on top of the foundations created by its inspiration, adding player favourites like player housing and dynamic options during content, there is little new here in terms of mechanics. The combat system also needs a lot of work, as does the variety of quest content and how public quests work (the two or three I did in game seemed to be extraordinarily easy and didn’t offer a reward) but, over time, these things can be ironed out. WildStar is due for release in a few months, and its’ interesting monetisation strategy that allows hardcore players to “earn” paid time from casual players, could lure a lot of players looking for an updated experience. Time will tell.

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12 comments (Leave your own)

TBH my experience was something akin to WoW, lots of bright shiny stuff which is used to mask a very tedious and repetitive combat system. Definitely not on my list.

 

Are you seriously making the claim that an EQ/WoW style interface is bad?

I’m so sick of reviews where people say stupid shit like “i can’t personally influence the world enough”, why is it that we STILL have people with stupid, unrealistic expectations of what an MMO is about?

I just can’t agree with your “MMO’s need a revolution” spiel, it’s just flat out WRONG.

The genre doesn’t need some “revolutiuon”, what it needs is for ONE GAME to be released in a close to finished state that has basic features that people expect and enough content to last until a content update.

Time and time again i read “so and so MMO failed because it didnt do anything new” and that’s just flat out ignorance, not a single MMO in the last decade has released with all the basic features in a functional state and end game content ready to be played.

 

Six months ago this was a blind-purchase for me, but it’s just not sparking my excitement right now… probably will be a “wait-and-see”. I’m not a big fan of “action” combat in MMOs, particularly when there’s no local server.

 

thoroughmas,

I’ve been beta-ising it up. The netcode seems solid enough. only noticed the lag a few times.

 

been following this game for awhile and its fantastic, been able to play in three beta weekends so far and enjoyed it thoroughly
ill be pre ordering the fancy deluxe edition for sure
screw ESO

 

Loving the game so far. Will be a purchase from me.

 

This is pretty much my last ditch effort at the MMO genre. Outside of The Secret World (which seriously lacked end game) and RIFT, I haven’t been able to get into one since the early days of WoW, which from all accounts, this appears to resemble.

I also found the comment about changing the Kill X of X to a percentage bar and ‘generic’ quest hubs interesting, since this is basically what GW2 did and people herald it as some big revolution. Granted GW2′s event system definitely drove what would essentially become stale (at least for me), but none the less its still the same thing.

And I’ll have to agree with Nekosan’s post; which games really ‘revolutionised’, or did things differently enough, that are still successful? The Secret World had amazing atmosphere and story, and mixed up the way your character developed/obtained skills, but ultimately the game did not succeed, and the servers are ghost towns (kinda ironic?). GW2, while people still claim it is greatly successful, got rid of the holy triad and tied the skills you got directly to your weapons; definitely ‘different’, but also quite limiting.

Ultimately, despite the declining numbers, World of Warcraft is still the leader of the pack with its incredibly ‘standard’ MMO features, and was ridiculously successful with it’s insertion into the market. There are probably a number of reasons why, but its high production value is no doubt one of them. Again, as Nekosan pointed out, few recent MMOs come out complete and functional, with all the ‘basic features’ and enough content to last until the first content patch.

 

This game has my absolute interest at the moment in the terms that I too have not found a solid MMO to call home since WoW. It seems impossible to get into Beta to have a taste? Every time I try to sign up via the NC soft page it gives me an error “Unknown page” also the Preorders arn’t even listed for Australia? What is this blasphemy!

 

tribulus,

not looking hard enough mate
theres a few different sites now handing out keys

http://wildstarreport.com/2014/03/18/pre-ordering-can-still-play-wildstars-beta-weekend/

 

Thanks for the great review. I tried to get into the beta so I could have a go before release as I have no interest in plonking down $60 for another MMO without playing it first and this review has definitely turned my small interest in the game to no interest at all. It seems like its been a pretty poor year for MMOs so far this year. I found TESO to be extremely disappointing.

nekosan,
You couldn’t possibly be more wrong. Much like the FPS genre (fuck off Call of Battlefield: Halo of Honour 27), MMORPGs need a huge overhaul. Yes, its true that the vast majority of MMOs have been release in pathetic states, but everyone I’ve played MMOs with have become utterly bored of the genre as every game fails to deliver anything new. Punch/stab/blast 10 boars, repeat until level cap, have no interesting end game content, quit. GW2 was interesting for a bit, but it was still more of the same. After playing practically any MMORPG, its always in the back of my mind that I could be doing the same thing in WoW, with a larger playerbase and more content. I don’t even like WoW anymore, but its still a better game than any other MMO on the market.

 
James Pinnell

nekosan,

I couldn’t disagree with you more. What you are effectively claiming is that the model that became popular circa 2003 – heavily controlled and managed PVE questing, rudimentary and structured PVP battlefields – is fine and should stay the same forever?

Warhammer Online. Rift. Aion. Tabula Rasa. Star Trek Online. Age of Conan. SWTOR. TERA Online.

All of these games kept a command and control structure over content. All of the above involved some feigned aspect of freedom but instead stuck fairly strongly to the original system of structured levelling, generic questing and limited freedom to the player. All were dramatic failures, all now limping along in F2P purgatory, crowing about the couple of thousand players who are active but don’t pay a cent.

Why are you determined that games should stick to this system? You claim that none of them released in a “good enough” state to attract players, but this is hokum. While they all experienced some rocky first days or weeks, they all ended up running smooth and open to new players. The problem was that they didn’t EXCITE anyone *at all*.

I want a revolution because the genre is desperately crying out for one. The only developer that seems to be listening somewhat is SOE, ironically – EverQuest Next is the only MMO that genuinely seems to want to try something new. If it turns out they aren’t? I’ll savage them too. We shouldn’t be happy and content with the same thing.

 

James Pinnell:

Warhammer Online. Rift. Aion. Tabula Rasa. Star Trek Online. Age of Conan. SWTOR. TERA Online.

Every single one of those games claimed to do exactly what you wanted, they all claimed revolutionary aspects.

The problem is that they all went for “new and revolutionary” before they ironed out the basics. Before you can run you need to learn to walk and not a single MMO released in the last 15 years knew how to walk.

EQN isn’t trying something new, what they’re doing is promoting fluff content which should be just the icing on a well made cake. Who really gives a crap about housing, world destruction, building or any of that other stuff if the basics of the game arent there?

A game needs a decent size skill tree for each class that doesn’t pigeonhole people, it doesn’t need “you can do anything you want, whenever you want”. The “new”concepts like “you can learn every tradeskill/play every role on one character” just negatively mess with the game.

There’s no such thing as true freedom with leveling etc, MMO history shows that when you give people the ability to do EVERYTHING they inevitably choose to do NOTHING instead. All those game models do is ruin balance and leave people feeling like they don’t have a place in the world. The same applies to itemization, rather than let people make items look however they want, you need to just tell them how it is and give minimal options… otherwise the items cease to have meaning and just end up as a stat stick.

These games just fail one after the other because people buy in to all this fluff content and things like voice acting etc and they never worry about basic game play.

I probably have a post ranting about what’s wrong with every major MMO that’s been released since I’ve been on this forum and as far as i can remember I’ve been right every time, plenty of genre can scrape by with bullshit content rather than actual game play… the MMO is not one of them.

The other main screw up that devs have made lately is to allow duplicate names, when you stop being THE James P on your server and turn into James P#123523@yahoo then your identity vanishes and a servers sense of community vanishes…. and that’s the most important thing in the game.

Once names blur into a mess then a game is done, that’s why games like Neverwinter have a shitty community and play like a single player game. Once community goes then the whole thing goes to shit, the best times i’ve had in MMO’s usually just involved a group of regulars and grinding content/talking shit.

I’ve got international friends i still talk to 10+ years later who I met sitting on a dock waiting 10 minutes for a boat because there wasnt any fast travel yet. I don’t remember a single name from the last 2-3 games ive played, and i doubt anyone remembers me either.

 
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