While I will be the first to admit I haven't exactly been plowing through leveling content with any speed, I've gotten enough of a look at Wildstar's features to get a feel for the game. I did finally get my hands on a mount, and got a look at some of the more intensive side-objectives and features as well as check out plenty of questing content. How does it hold up? It's a good game, at first glance and with just a short amount of time played. And there are a few things WoW could learn from this scrappy little title that makes its impact in a very big way.
Maybe this seems like the silliest thing to start out with, but let's just get down to it. In Wildstar, you press space to jump. If you press space while you are in midair, you will jump again. It's not a big thing. In fact, in the list of things the game has to offer, this one is very small. But when you're addicted to jumping and use your spacebar almost like a nervous tick in between fights or while running around or even while standing in one spot talking to your friends, double jump is the single most amazing thing ever created. Even your mounts can do it.
I very fondly remember the first time I hit space bar while playing a night elf and watching that elf execute a flip in midair. I remember thinking it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen, and promptly spending any time in which I should have been standing still, jumping and tapping that spacebar. Movement is cool. Being able to suddenly leap higher than high? Even cooler. It's a small thing, it's a very small, tiny, insignificant thing, but man I wish WoW had double jump.
When you make a character in Wildstar, you don't just choose a class -- you also choose a path for that class to follow. There are four paths to follow: Soldier, Settler, Scientist and Explorer. In addition to your usual run of the mill quests you get while leveling, the path system offers its own unique set of side quests and challenges that pop up fluidly while you're traveling the world. Each path has its own levels, it's own perks to earn, it's own set of challenges, and each embraces a different little quirk of gameplay.
Soldiers get missions involving killing stuff, blowing stuff up, defending stuff, rescuing stuff -- soldier duties. The Settler path has players gather resources as they travel, and build objects and settlements that provide useful buffs -- and these buffs aren't just for settlers, they're for everyone that happens across the objects in the world. Scientists study the world, gathering all kinds of information and lore on everything the world of Nexus has to offer. Explorers are sent to uncover maps and chart the highest heights and the lowest depths of Nexus through tracking missions, claim staking and even scavenger hunts.
What is its WoW counterpart? There isn't one. But this is a pretty cool way to allow players to do the things they enjoy doing on the side, without making any of it mandatory. Explorers are actively encouraged to scale buildings, mountains, wall jump, you name it to get where they need to be. Settlers get to be maniacs of gathering and building buff stuff, everyone loves a settler because a settler benefits everyone. Soldiers get to get down to what they like to do -- smashing things. And Scientists get to delve deep, deep into the world's lore and see what kind of stories there are to be found.
You don't have to excel at any of these paths, heck you don't even have to really follow them all that closely if you don't want to, but they're an interesting blend of a secondary profession like archaeology mixed with purpose. That's the kicker, here -- you don't deliberately go out and spend a few hours working on your path, like you would spending a few hours working on archaeology. Path missions just pop up while you're in the area. It's a seamless experience that is just fed to you as part of leveling. You absolutely get stuff from following a path, good stuff, and you can pick the path that sounds best to you.
While you're out there questing in the world, occasionally you'll have a Challenge window pop up out of nowhere. Challenges are unique timed events that have you do certain things in the world, whether it be killing a certain type of mob, gathering a certain resource, or scaling a certain peak. If you complete the task in the time allotted, you get a prize of some sort -- crafting materials, decor for your house, useful gear, unique currency for buying items, even achievements. That loot never changes, but the faster you complete the Challenge, the better your medal -- and the better roll bonus you get for getting exactly what you want out of the deal.
What's so cool about Challenges? They're optional. You don't have to complete them, you can ignore them entirely if you want to. But the rewards are cool and fun, the time limits are suitably challenging, and it adds a heck of a lot of variety to questing in the world. You never know when you're going to stumble upon a Challenge, and at this stage of the game, you don't really know what you're going to get if you succeed with that Challenge, either.
Let's be frank: the leveling experience in most MMOs has become a pretty stale experience. Players that are old hands at playing these types of games have seen the quest chain system a million different times, in a variety of different game titles. If we've seen it, it's kind of boring. The Challenge system in Wildstar has managed to shoot new life into that process by giving players a shot of excitement and a random race against the clock. It's fun, it's different, and it breaks up the usual questing doldrums. It's the kind of thing that would be fun to see in WoW -- or in any MMO, for that matter.
Armor dyes? Check. Costumes? Check. Sliders? Check. Mount pimping? Check. Wildstar has not so much jumped as flung itself into making customization a very, very big thing, and it shows. While character creation is limited to a handful of face types, body builds and hair styles, facial features are adjustable via the use of sliders, allowing not quite the amazing, all out customization of a single player game like Skyrim or Mass Effect, but enough to make your character look visibly different from other people. Oddly, you cannot change your hair color or style after creation -- I say oddly, because the game allows you to change and customize just about everything else.
Costumes are Wildstar's version of transmogrification, and work in a similar enough fashion that players won't get lost trying to navigate the feature. You can build and save costume sets, and swap between sets with the click of a button. But beyond costumes are the armor dyes -- I have no idea how many dyes exist in game, but you get them in a multitude of different ways. You can purchase them, you can get them as rewards from different missions and challenges, and you can dye your armor. Each piece of armor in Wildstar has two or three different sections, and each section can hold a different color dye.
If that weren't enough, you can customize your mount. Add bags, spoilers, stereos, a whole variety of different little additions that make your mounts look unique. Do you like PvP? How would you like to build your own battleground? Warplots allow parties to build their own base and place their own deadly bits of architecture around the battlefield, then pit their party and plot against another for an epic 40 vs 40 battle royale.
That doesn't even begin to touch on the depth of customization available in Wildstar, but it's a start. WoW may have some tweaks and customization options, but Wildstar has kicked it up several thousand notches, and it's time for WoW to catch up. Attempts have been made with the introduction of things like the Barber Shop and transmogrification, but that dial has yet to be cranked to its max potential, and it's amazing to see what giving players a little creative room to play can accomplish.
Which is where we get to housing, one of the all-star standouts that Wildstar has to offer. At level 14, you get your very own plot of land, floating in the sky. You can pick a house to put on that land, and then you can pick and choose between landscapes, decor, windows, doors, even the sky above your plot. Does it cost gold? You bet it does. But the sheer amount of creative play potential from just this one little plot of land is huge. Your character can log out in their home for rested XP -- and different pieces of decor add to that rested bonus. You can pick up items around the world called FABkits that allow you to customize plots around your house and plug in stuff that looks cool, or stuff that offers personal Challenges for you to complete on a daily basis.
But doesn't this cut people off from the rest of the game world, you ask? No. You obtain housing items like furnishings and FABkits all over the world, through quests, drops, and Challenges. You can add neighbors and visit their homes, complete the Challenges they have constructed on their land, and maybe borrow a few design ideas. Housing has its own zone chat, so players diligently working on their decor can socialize, get to know each other, offer trades of decor they don't want, open their plots to the public so people can come in and look around, complete challenges, and basically have a good time. Does it involve leveling? No. But it doesn't have to.
This is the single biggest thing that WoW could learn from Wildstar: It doesn't have to be about leveling all the time. It doesn't have to be about end game all the time. It doesn't even have to be about the story all the time. If you give your players a little plot of land and some stuff they can build in that plot of land, you will have happy players that will busily and joyfully create their own content for hours upon hours. It's like giving a kid a set of Lego bricks, the only limit that kid has is his or her own imagination. Kids build the most extraordinary things with Legos. Players build some pretty amazing things if they're given the tools to do so -- no guidance needed. In fact, the more hands-off, the better. You don't have to create content to amuse your players every second of every day, you can give them the tools to do it themselves, and they will happily do it.
Wildstar isn't a perfect game -- the UI isn't exceptionally intuitive, the chat system is incredibly confusing, and getting into combat with a ton of different players in one space has enough graphic effects to make my eyes bleed. But it feels in a way like WoW's counterpart to the opposite extreme. Where WoW has embraced streamlining and perfecting the leveling, story, and endgame experience, Wildstar seems, so far, to have kicked it all the way in the opposite direction. Are there cool things when you reach max level? I'm pretty sure there are, but I don't have a vested interest in racing to get there.
I don't think I'll be playing Wildstar with any intent to get to endgame at all, nor will I be investing giant chunks of time in getting things done. In all honesty, I may just pay for a month here and there, tinker quietly with housing, do a little leveling, and call it good. But there are some useful things WoW could learn from Wildstar in terms of opening up the world, removing limits, and giving its players a little room to breathe, explore, create, and have fun.