A year ago, I was excited for WildStar's future. Now I'm sitting here wondering how things went so very, very wrong.
That's not true, though; I know exactly how things went wrong. I don't like thinking about it, but I do know. And so here I am, with a game I was hugely excited to play out and in the wild, and so much has gone wrong. It's easy to think that I've pretty much clocked out altogether.
But that's also not true. I'll be the first to point out that I've said some decidedly unkind things about the state of the game and the choices that have been made thus far in terms of fixing them. The last column I wrote even posited that it might be too late for several of the changes being proposed to make any sort of impact when it comes to the game's image.
This is why I really want the game to prove me wrong.
Back in February of last year, I predicted that if WildStar launched with a fleshed-out endgame that consisted solely of raiding and arena PvP, well, we'd be right where we are now. That's a thing that happened. And the obvious trajectory for the game now is to make a few attempts at fixing things, fall into maintenance mode, and wind up as a discarded husk on the side of the road, doomed to the same fate as Warhammer Online, another game that had every reason to be excellent and fell far short of the mark.
There are rumblings of changes on the horizon, yes. The first update of 2015 looks to be a good one, even if it's still trying to hedge far too many of its bets (there is zero reason to add another currency into the game for high-end gear when a currency already exists for that, and when using it for gear would actually be a unique form of leveling post-cap), but it's also the first step on a path that people have been clamoring for since before launch.
More will need to be done. Good enough simply isn't.
A year ago, I wrote that 2013 was a year of finding out about WildStar, and that was pretty true of 2014 as well. The difference was that players no longer have filtered views of the game; we got a clear and unabashed look at what the game had to offer beyond the first few levels. It's a game that makes a great first impression, but it failed utterly at the long game. Now it needs desperately to re-convince people who've already written it off to give it another shot.
How can it do that? Well, it can start by changing its current business model. There's no way around it. Rebrand as a buy-to-play title with a format akin to The Secret World, give the people who bought it at launch a reason to jump back in and try over again. Not everyone will jump back in, obviously, but not asking people for another month's subscription to check out what's changed is just a smart move.
Reducing the size of the top-end raids, which is already being done, does help, but reducing their importance is going to require a fair bit of eating crow. This is another reason to start opening the gates and getting rid of the subscription barrier: The players who reached the cap, got bored, and left are going to need some reason to come back. Some players just aren't coming back. Fixing some of the major issues that the game had with its launch endgame alone might not convince people to come back, but making it less of an investment to do so will go a long way in that direction.
But the big question isn't how, since I've talked about that time and again. The big question is if. Does Carbine Studios have the money, the remaining goodwill, and the willingness to do what is necessary to salvage the game?
I really hope so. Because in spite of all the critical things I've had to say about the game, I still love it. I love the combat. I love the personality. I love the races. I love the creativity possible in costumes, houses, and even mounts. I love the storytelling and the lore. I love Challenges, I love Paths, and I even love the things that the game tried to do and failed at.
Two months out from the game's launch, I mentioned that the game's big problem is that it's trying to serve two masters. On the one hand, it's trying to be a game that gleefully tells you to do what you want; on the other hand, it wants to cater to the crowd that's so hardcore it hurts. Based purely on the content available, if there were a game that could satisfy both, WildStar could have pulled it off. It's simply that the amount of intensity required for even the most straightforward stuff was tuned above and beyond reasonable levels, leaving too many players frustrated and ultimately giving them reason to leave.
People who read my stuff elsewhere know how much I want to love the game's small-group offerings. That stuff shouldn't feel tedious. But it does; it feels difficult to complete successfully and slog-worthy even when you do clear it. And that makes it really easy to look at the game's future and paint it in an unflattering light after the launch year.
It doesn't have to be that way.
No, the game is never going to be as big as it could be. But that promise of "play how you want" still rings true in many players' heads, and while it'll take some doing, the game can still pull this off. I want it to. I want to stop having to talk about WildStar as a game I want to love that doesn't want my affection. I don't want to watch the game diminish, wither, and evaporate.
Before launch, I predicted that the game's biggest enemy would be itself. What came next was a year proving my worst predictions right. I want the game to start proving me wrong.
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, 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.
The Nexus Telegraph: WildStar's past year and future
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