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WildStar's gameplay is all too familiar to MMO vets

Andrew Ross

WildStar has a lot going for it. I might tell you it is the new RIFT, which was the new World of Warcraft, which was the new EverQuest, and I'd almost feel done for the day. Now, I don't buy an MMO and subscribe to it unless I intend to play it regularly for at least three months, and I rarely subscribe to multiple MMOs. Since WildStar is coming out in a year already packed with solid MMO releases, I'd like to consider at the pros and cons of the game in relation to the rest of the industry through the eyes of an MMO veteran.

wildstar chair-actionLet's start with what I liked during my hands-on time with WildStar. I really do like that we've got a new AAA sci-fi MMO with cartoony graphics. Yes, I actually like the look because it holds up rather well and makes it easier for me to seduce my friends into trying new games (they like cute). The game's got style and immersion in some interesting areas, such as the Steady Traveler instance (more on that later). While the character customization is limited, it's one of the few games in which I can make a character uglier than I am. It's got most features of trendy MMOs, from housing to light-action combat a la Guild Wars 2 but faster-paced, though I like it less than TERA's take on combat. It has mentoring, random events, cutscenes... and thank the Eldan for chairs! They don't always work, but at least I don't have to buy an emote to use them. The world is unique, as are the lore and the characters. The narrative techniques are better than average but could use a little build up for making major characters stand out more, since if you haven't been reading the lore updates, you might think they were quest givers who would eventually disappear. Overall, I feel as if I'm playing WoW's original beta again.

But I didn't even intend to buy WoW. I was lured in post-beta by friends. Neither WoW nor WildStar as a game impressed me on its own. One big problem is that the game feels like old-school World of Warcraft while WoW is still around, and it suffers from similar design issues. There's junk loot but no "sell junk" button. There really isn't a choice with most quest rewards; you either pick the one right choice or you don't. Quests had me killing percentages, which mechanically is better than before, but it still feels like killing the proverbial 10 rats. There's a ton of stats, but I never feel as if much matters more than my health, shields, and the ability to aim and dodge.

While WS's combat is similar to GW2's, it's faster-paced and therefore more punishing. That's great if you love combat, but I have combat in every other game. It needs to be fun, not a formula, and while I've been told it gets harder around level 30, I was pushing content several levels higher than my Engineer and still using a rotation, quite successfully, even with adds. I wasn't a god by any stretch of the imagination, but I often felt that if I died, it was because there was too many adds and too few combat breaks in a small area, with one exception coming from a bugged scenario.

I tried grouping with other testers -- this is an MMO, after all! -- but I just never had time to type without getting killed, which felt anti-social. It's usually one of the big downsides for me in action-oriented MMOs. They're fun with friends, but not with strangers. Smaller games like Monster Hunter are more suitable for socializing and still manage to have better combat. In WildStar, I mainly talked to people when I was frustrated with the lack of "fun" while crafting or exploring and even questing.

Yes, questing. I've encountered some of the most boring starter quests I can recall in the past year. Yes, there's some button mashing and "click at the right time" stuff scattered around starting around level 10 or so, and I applaud Carbine for that. There are some good quests, like the Steady Traveler I mentioned above, but if I hadn't been writing an article on the game, I would have stopped at level 5. I played both factions, several classes, and a few zones until I found Levian Bay, the first zone that truly seemed different from the usual MMO fare. While there are some games that have cool weather/environmental effects other than magma, it's still rare. Levian Bay's random lighting strikes that also affect mobs is a small but greatly appreciated touch, as are the laser beams moving around the Star-Comm Station. Even then, it was the bay's environment and atmosphere, not its quests or combat, that kept me playing.

WildStar Steady
Perhaps the biggest personal disappointment during my playthrough has been the path system. Carbine's marketing team really did well in generating hype for paths, but I'm disappointed with the execution. I know the game's about combat, but half the time, I'm sleeping through it, killing things so I can do my path. It's usually underwhelming. For example, in the starter zone, my Settler powered up three medical stations that were in very close proximity, expecting something cool to happen, like unlocking a new NPC, a new building, or maybe even just some memorable voice acting. I'd seen it in some towns in later zones, but the starter zone where the fun factor matters the most had nothing.

Crafting was fun enough, and I liked that cooking had me mixing different ingredients, though most don't matter, unlike Elder Scrolls Online's alchemy skill, which lets you make items even if they have negative side effects. But in WildStar, you don't even get to try crafting until level 10. Why spread out the fun features such that the start of the game is just so tedious that only veteran MMO players will know to grit their teeth and suffer through the blandness to discover what comes later?

I love the characters and sci-fi world, but it's hard to stomach gameplay that's just too familiar for an MMORPG veteran. The game has a lot to offer, but for anyone not sold on WildStar already, the dull starting experience may prevent you from experiencing it.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

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