Postcards from WildStar: See you, space cowboy

Welcome to Postcards from WildStar, a look at Carbine's new MMO. This is our final set of impressions, so be sure to check up on our previous postcards, and we hope you enjoyed the series!
Well, here we are, friends. End of the Postcards from WildStar line. You've met my purple-haired, green-eyed defender of the forest, and tagged along as she fought her way through Dominion foes and savage beasts. You've been welcomed into her home and watched in horror as she died – often – in WildStar's PvP. Though to be fair, the "horror" part might just have been me. (I'm not very good at PvP!)

MMOs are monstrous beasts and massive undertakings. They require a significant time commitment and sometimes month-to-month monetary compensation. The goal with these postcards has been not to give a finalized review, but to offer thoughts and impressions on the many aspects of Carbine's entry in the genre. Having poked and probed around for nearly two months now, I'm ready to wrap things up and give a summary conclusion. Read on to see where I place WildStar in the annals of MMO history.
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WildStar (PAX East 2013)

As I said back in my very first postcard, WildStar has an artistic design that stands apart from much of its competition in modern gaming. While many developers have used the increased capabilities of today's PCs to produce more realistic graphics, Carbine takes WildStar in the opposite direction, focusing on smooth – but exaggerated – animations and environments bursting with so much saturated color you'll think you've died by drowning in a bowl of Fruity Pebbles.

The effect this has on players is two-fold: First, it makes the game stand out. While realistic graphics will impress for a time, graphics with style and personality will age much better; as an MMO, longevity is crucial to WildStar's success. Second, it allows for more users. Not everyone has a liquid-cooled tower capable of turning into Skynet while simultaneously running a dozen copies of Crysis 3 at max settings, so it's wise for Carbine to have a game that can scale well to hardware. I myself have run the game on a five-year-old laptop without any lag by turning the graphics down.

Now, neither of these things would matter much if WildStar didn't execute on them well. Thankfully, while the game is not without its bugs, I've not run into any issues regarding connection stability or performance issues. As for the animation, just watch any of the "WildStar Flicks" available on the WildStar YouTube channel to see how talented the team at Carbine is.

I could write an entire paragraph about how much I love the way the camera swings to the side when my character sprints forward and begins to turn. I won't, so fear not. Just be aware that, you know ... I could. From double-jumping and emoting to attacking and traversal, WildStar wears its comic book-inspired personality on its sleeve, and I admire the game for being so unabashedly fun.

It's not perfect, but the sense of purpose in each of its individual gameplay systems – housing, PvE, PvP, combat, classes, paths, and so forth – gives it an overarching sense of cohesion matched by few in the genre, and that's a strength not to be underestimated. When World of Warcraft, now thought of as the de facto MMORPG, entered the arena in 2004, its biggest strength wasn't in changing up the MMORPG formula, but in making that formula accessible, understandable and appealing. WildStar follows in those thoughtful footsteps.

Take, for instance, the player housing system; while many MMOs feature player housing, WildStar incorporates it in a way that makes it feel like a mainline feature, not an ancillary experiment or timesink. By decorating your house, you earn rest XP, which allows you to level up faster, thus allowing you to tackle quests and challenges all the sooner.

They in turn allow you to earn gold or loot rewards for more décor, turning housing into something as addictive as hunting down the next great piece of armor or weaponry. Player housing and gear acquisition both exist within the MMO space, but WildStar is the game that most expertly combines them and makes them exciting.

If you remain unconvinced, look to how WildStar handles questing. While most quests still amount to the same "go here, kill/fetch/interact with X" structure you've seen a hundred times, there are often challenges tied to them that encourage and reward skillful completion. Let's say I need to kill 10 of a certain monster for a quest – when I slay the first one, a challenge might begin that tasks me with killing 12, 15, 20 or some other number of that monster within a time limit. Succeed, and you'll earn extra rewards, like decor for your home or crafting supplies.

Suddenly, my mind switches from the tedious grind of "go here, do this" to "I have to hunt these things down fast!" Again, I'm not doing anything radically new or different from what other MMOs ask me to do, but I'm doing it in a way that it doesn't feel like a chore. The fact that there is an abundance of spaces to explore and things to do - I've been playing quite frequently for almost two months and have yet to hit level cap - is just icing on top of the carrot cake.

So here, at the end of our postcard series, you're wondering about the million-dollar question: Is WildStar the fabled "WoW-killer"? No. The only thing that will "kill" Blizzard's behemoth is time. However, based on what I've played of the game, I'm confident in calling WildStar a successor to WoW's throne.

To be sure, these are two different games with their own fans, and they should be judged on their own merits. Nevertheless, it's a comparison many are quick to make, and I'd like to address it. If you must view WildStar in relation to WoW, let me say this: WildStar does things differently enough, interestingly enough, and streamlined enough to make it feel like the game Blizzard would make in 2014. It is, in almost everything except name, World of Warcraft 2.

Hyperbole? Maybe a bit. But then, Carbine Studios is made up of many of the people who made WoW what it is. If anyone's going to outdo their previous work, might as well be themselves.

Honestly, I'm having too much fun to think about it too much.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.