Say hello to Wildstar! Here’s the best and worst of this me-too MMO.

, | Games

Wildstar is officially out today. It’s been available for the past several days for folks who bought into the headstart weekend. So how is it?

After the jump, glad you asked.

Based on the early hours, Wildstar is mostly awful in the way that something hardly worth playing is awful. The early hours of Wildstar can showcase the worst bits of it. It takes so long to start folding in the more intriguing systems, especially if you’re playing certain types of characters. You have to slog away through literally hours of a me-too MMO without an identity. I’m playing a nightelf, who has horns for some reason. My class is thief. I also choose settler as my path, which involves collecting a whole mess of stuff and then dropping it off for experience points, but only experience points that apply to my settler level. Unfortunately for Wildstar, I can look at the rewards I get for leveling up as a settler. There isn’t a single thing I want from that leveling process. Not one thing. I can get costume bits, doo-dads for housing, titles to go alongside the name I never have to look at, and extra inventory space so I can carry more junk. If I get high enough level, I can summon a mailbox out in the middle of the wilderness where I can send and receive mail, which I will probably never ever have to do. All the time I’m supposed to spend hoovering up junk, harvesting nodes, collecting things and running them back and forth, and that’s what I get? Honestly, I’d rather fish. What’s more, being a thief is a terrible way to introduce Wildstar. You know what a thief does? Pretty much the same thing a thief does in every other game with thieves.

At this point, you’d think Wildstar is a collection of things other MMOs do, mostly World of Warcraft, done in pretty much the same way they do them, but without any sense of vision or identity, without any selling point, without anything to distract you from the inevitable burning question, much less provide an answer: “Why am I playing this instead of an MMO I’m already invested in?” It is a collection of MMO systems in search of a game. It is unconnected and uninspired stuff.

This screen is Wildstar in a nutshell:

lvlup

That’s what you see when you level up in Wildstar, a game that has nothing to do with heavy metal or even rock n’ roll. The text pops up on screen and the narrator says something supposedly funny, like, “Holy shit, you’re going to fuck up the bad guys now!”, except the words “shit” and “fuck” are bleeped out. It’s as if someone played Brutal Legend and liked the font. Why does that font belong in Wildstar? It doesn’t.

When I was at a press event for the game, one of the developers explained that the Brutal Legend style level-up screen was placeholder in the beta. But some people liked it, so they left it in there. That’s Wildstar. Stuff that’s stirred into a game because some people liked it. Not because it’s good, or clever, or well made, or part of a distinct vision or coherent design. But because someone liked it and a bunch of other people shrugged and decided to leave it in there. What a terrible way to make a game, particularly an ambitious one like a subscription-based MMO.

And it has a narrator. “Double kill!” the narrator hollers, “Triple kill!” I think he even says “Killtastic!” or some dumb thing if I keep going. Who is he? Why is he talking to me? Is this a gladiatorial MMO? The narrator constantly calls out achievements that mean absolutely nothing (contrast this with Guild Wars 2, which eventually hooked actual rewards into their achievement system). A narrator is watching over my shoulder and commenting on my battles, on my achievements, on my leveling. Shouldn’t this be my adventure? Why is the idea that I’m entertaining spectators introduced into this game? Who puts a narrator in an MMO? Someone must have liked the narrator.

Why didn’t more people who decided what to leave in Wildstar like the stuff that makes a polished MMO? Why does Wildstar suffer from so many amateur interface problems? Why is the progression so slow, and so ponderous, which is even worse than slow? Why is so little explained about the combat system, about the crafting, and about the character progression, which are critical tiers of any good MMO? I have no idea what’s going on with the crafting, and based on a press demo a few months ago, it’s one of the main reasons I want to keep playing. In fact, if I hadn’t seen what I saw at the press demo, the crafting would make no sense to me even after reading the tutorial screen. It’s hard enough to understand with the benefit of one of the designers having given me a presentation about it; I can only imagine how it must look to everyone else. Why doesn’t Wildstar communicate better what few nice touches I’ve been able to find so far. For instance, how was I supposed to know that the orange roads on the map give me faster movement? That would have been good to know. That would have breathed a little gameplay and therefore personality into what frankly looks like Ratchet and Clank fan art. Instead, it’s something someone told me over chat that piqued my interest. Can I, as a settler, enable these roads? Are they always the same orange roads? Is there some in-game visual cue for the roads other than the tiny icon lined up alongside all those other buff icons?

But what Wildstar does have going for it is that just as I think I’ve taken all I can take, something intriguing will happen. Like the crafting system, or rolling up another character with another path as a member of the other faction. I really like the way a spellslinger plays. I like the exile starting area and even a couple of the quests. If a thief — okay, okay, he’s called a stalker — allows any similarly entertaining builds as the early hours with a spellslinger, I look forward to trying them. Most of all, I like that the soldier path allows for periodic horde mode challenges, and the promise of some later variations. So that’s what those terminals were. Soldier challenges. Speaking of which, I like that there are challenges scattered around. Maybe there is some reason to come back and visit earlier areas.

spaceminer

But where I really decided I can’t quite write off Wildstar yet is my first instanced mission, which I stumbled into at level 12. You (and I presume whatever group you’re playing with, if that’s the case) fly up to a moon and explore a mining colony that’s been taken over by alien mind-control bugs. It’s a short instance, with a sense of atmosphere that’s a combination of creepy and cute. It has none of the tonal problems of the rest of the game. You don’t have to read any text to figure out what’s going on. It’s a linear walk through a vividly created scenario, with a combination of cool vistas and close-in dungeon creeping. Along the way you fight gratifying battles holding back groups of little bugs and zombie miners, alternating with some tough but fair fights against bigger bugs. Then there’s a challenging boss battle that I had to replay several times because I kept dying. At which point I realized I probably wouldn’t have died if I’d bothered to figure out the crafting for buffs and healing that I was supposed to have figured out several levels ago, but didn’t because I didn’t realize I was supposed to have been punching plants to harvest them, so I passed a whole zone with the basic plant type I needed, and I wasn’t about to go back in there to wander around looking for plants to punch. I later did that anyway, because otherwise my crafting career would have been permanently stalled. But the battle against the big boss bug would have been the perfect time to appreciate the importance of buffs and healing.

So I finished the instance and then flew back down to whatever Planet Wildstar is called, at which point I was assailed by that column of about twenty quests running along the right side of my screen, each tagged with numbers that have nothing whatsover to do with the numbers on the map, where a completely different but non-interactive column of quest information appears on the right side of the screen. Can I just go straight to whatever the next mission is like that mining colony mission? Can I get to whatever the adventure modes are? Can I just try the warplots already? Why is Wildstar frontloaded with so much oppressive gametax? I want to like this game. I really do. Here’s hoping it won’t make itself so difficult to like now that I’ve paid it so much of that gametax.

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