What? I know what side of the bread my butter's on.
A bit of discussion with a friend the other night reminded me that I can't think of a single game over the past four and a half years that I really thought launched at the right time; either they launched a bit too early or a bit too late, at best. So today, with launch less than a month away, I'd like to talk about the things that make me most displeased about the game... and the bits that make me the most hopeful.
First of all, I've said this on the podcast before, but I'm really upset with where the game's path content wound up. All I can do is promise players enjoying the game at launch that it wasn't like this in the earliest versions we played, and it was in fact far more involved and vital. The decision to separate level progression and path progression into completely different tracks seems like a poor idea from the beginning, like a gift-wrapped package saying, "You don't need to care about this!" The original version of paths -- big chunks of content that could allow you to largely bypass the actual designed leveling experience if you wanted to -- was far more interesting and a great idea that unfortunately got put aside in favor of more straightforward progression.
I've written enough words at this point about the shadow being cast by the game's endgame at the moment, words I don't feel the need to repeat here. But I will note that as it stands, the game's PvP options are limited to one arena, two instanced maps, and Warplots. It's a thin offering right now. I wouldn't say players will suffer from a lack of options, but it remains to be seen how robust our options are.
The most recent patch added restrictions on where players can update costumes, which strikes me as unpleasant. Yes, I totally appreciate the option to have multiple costumes, and I do like that those costumes are not tied specifically to armor sets; at the same time, I liked the earlier implementation where you could do this literally anywhere in the game. It reduced the amount of time you spend hanging on to things and hoping they'll eventually fit your character concept, for instance.
If I had to put it in a single phrase, I would say that the game has lasted just long enough in intensive development that it came down with a strong case of "follow the leader" rather than stuck with some of the game's original and more heady concepts. A lot of it has to do with more perception than anything: The game still retains a lot of stuff you don't see in other games, but that's not what marketing has focused on in the past year. But there are great ideas that have been scaled back, seemingly out of fear that this isn't how the industry leader does things. That isn't good.
This is a game of customization. And I mean that in the best way; there's so much stuff here that you can't help but building some elements of the game you'd like to play.
Active combat ensures that two different classes really do play differently from one another; there's no way to mistake a Warrior's sweeping close-range strikes with the cannon patterns of the Engineer. More to the point, you can really tailor a lot of your class playstyle to the class you like the most. I decided during beta to try playing an Engineer totally devoid of pets, and while I wouldn't say it worked better than anything, it was doable. I had the tools to make it work. Nor was I permanently locked into that choice; more so even than in Guild Wars or Guild Wars 2 at launch, trying a build in WildStar was easy and painless.
I can complain about some aspects of implementation, I can complain about depth, and I can complain about intended endgame, but I can't complain about the fact that the game is launching with more stuff for diverse playstyles to do than basically any game in recent memory. For all I feel that the current use of Paths is weaker than it should be, the fact remains that they're there.
Moreover, I can give the designers props for the fact that the tradeskills do not seem to be an afterthought or a last-minute addition. Even the ability to make housing items originally struck me as a potentially useless skill past a point until it was made clear that you can also make those all-important Warplot defenses that don't come back after a match. Building guns for people is a hobby that never goes out of style.
And there's a development team in charge that seems genuinely interested in listening rather than telling. Oh, sure, there are things the devs have done that I disagree with vehemently (and have written whole columns about, even), but there's the sense that plans are a bit less fixed in stone. When a stink was raised about body types, the team actually did something about it. The new body types aren't perfect, but they're forward motion just the same.
Whether or not it's going to be a uniform stream of awesome remains to be seen, but you know, I hold out some hope.
Feedback, like always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to email@example.com. Next week, I want to chatter on about things to do before the launch, and the week after that I'm going to talk about the start of early access and how I feel about the game finally being live.
Here's how it is: The world of Nexus can be a dangerous place for a tourist or a resident. If you're going to venture into WildStar, you want to be prepared. That's why Eliot Lefebvre brings you a shiny new installment of The Nexus Telegraph every other Monday, giving you a good idea of what to expect from both the people and the environment. Keep your eyes peeled, and we'll get you where you need to go.