Feel free to either watch the review below or read it, the old fashioned way. I like to cater to all tastes.
Yes, I can hear you saying, ‘Didn’t Wildstar launch a year and a half ago?’ Yes it did, but last week it was launched in a free to play format. Now, many might see that move to free to play label it as a failure, but if that’s so then the majority of MMORPGs are failure because very few, save the big one that shall not be named, have been able to maintain a subscription only service. Like it or not, the industry has evolved and the fact is that free to play games can actually prove more lucrative than their subscription model counterparts.
That being said, Wildstar did suffer quite a catastrophic decline after its initial launch. Mainly due to bugs, unbalanced game play, overly complicated equipment stats system, and casual unfriendly end game gameplay. Oh, and let’s not mention the PvP. Some players are still steaming at the ears about that. But that’s all ancient history, so let’s move swiftly on.
For people who don’t know, Wildstar is a Sci-fi based MMORPG, a strange mix of Borderlands and, fine I’m going to say it, World of Warcraft. Like World of Warcraft, Wildstar has two factions to choose from, Exile and Dominion. Each faction has four races to choose from and two different starting zones. You can choose from one of six different classes to play, Warrior, Medic, Esper, Stalker, Spellslinger and Engineer which are to some degree limited by the race you choose. Each race cannot be all classes, so choose wisely.
With a free to play account, you will be limited at first to just two character slots, but more can be unlocked using the new in game currency of OmniBits or NCcoins. NCcoins can be bought for real money in the store and OmniBits will be picked up as you play the game. I’ve played not much more than ten hours since free to play launched and I’ve accumulated about 150 OmniBits, so they drop fairly regularly. Then again, I do have a subscription still running which would give me a slightly higher drop rate. The point is that they do drop for free to play players and you can use them to unlock just about everything in the game: additional character slots, costume slots, social abilities such as creating circles/guilds. They can also be used in place of gold in some instances, like for dyeing clothes in the holo-wardrobe which can get really expensive in the later part of the game if you use gold. You can also use them to buy mounts, pets and costumes from the game’s store.
Being a previously subbed player, when free to play hit, I got showered with goodies – about three mounts, three pets and two costumes along with some other bits and pieces. So free to play wasn’t a bad thing for the old crowd either. The queues to log on and server lag once you’re in, isn’t great at the moment. The population exploded when the game went free to play, but it will settle over the coming weeks. Launches for MMORPGs are always rough and if the giant Blizzard can’t get it right with their resources and man power then the smaller games really don’t stand much of a chance, but new servers were added pretty quickly to cope with the extra demand.
Gameplay wise, I really like the way the combat works here. In a lot of MMORPGs you can pretty much just plough through on auto pilot. Wildstar likes to keep you on your toes. Its real time combat tends to be quite fast paced, and while there is a telegraphing system to let you know when and where enemies are about to use their big attacks, if you’re not quick off the mark and out of the danger zone then the damage taken is not to be sniffed at. Take too many avoidable hits and you will struggle to get through a fight, so learning to dodge effectively is a must. Thankfully, the game is fairly forgiving to start with but the difficulty does ramp up. This is not a game for a lazy player.
Enemy distribution is quite tight in places which can lead to added difficulty, namely if you’re not careful dodging the blow from one enemy could put you in the agro range of a second. You really need to be mindful of your surroundings. In addition to the enemies, there are also environmental hazards in some areas such as spikes, traps, toxic gas, generally rather inconveniently placed near enemies just to catch you out. Some players have complained about the difficulty of the gameplay but I like it. I find it refreshing. There are plenty of MMORPGs out there which you could almost play through in your sleep. I like that this one keeps me on my toes and if the constant demands of the combat system is tiring you out and you need a break then there is plenty of other things to do like housing.
Yes housing – after the combat system this is my next favourite aspect of the game. Once you progress far enough you will be given a housing plot and will be able to build a house. You can choose a pre modelled building and fill it with stuff that you collect or you can build your own from scratch using the available basic building blocks or even combine the two systems.
Now, plenty of other games have housing these days but the sheer range of items available and the almost complete freedom of where you put them makes Wildstar’s housing system stand out from the crowd. In one of my character’s houses, I’ve built a bar area and a home cinema and that’s tame. I know people who have built fully themed housing plots, hotels, spaceship docks. I even saw one where they built a giant mecha on their plot complete with a hanger to store it in.
It’s very easy to lose many hours and all your gold to your housing plot, and I would honestly pay my subscription just for the housing element. Of course, if that’s not your thing then it is optional. Your housing plot will give you a rest bonus when you log off in it, but it also works if you log out in a friend’s house. So if you don’t want to devote hours and all your hard-earned gold on building your own house, then just make a friend who already has and crash at their place. Your own characters can also visit each other’s plots and get the rest bonus, so if you have multiple characters then you can just combine their resources into one housing plot rather than spreading it across several.
If your housing plot isn’t enough to keep you occupied then there is also a crafting system which works by professions. You can choose two main professions which usually consist of a harvesting profession and a crafting profession but it doesn’t have to. You can go for two crafting professions and rely on the auction house or alternate characters for supplies and then there are secondary professions or hobbies.
Some professions are easier than others. Architect is particularly tricky but if you are a dedicated house builder it’s also ultimately quite rewarding, as it allows you to craft items and furniture for your housing plot which you otherwise might struggle to get. Weapons and armour crafting is generally easier, but the game does provide a steady stream of upgrades, so I personally didn’t find those professions that useful. While the crafting system fulfils its purpose, I don’t think it’s one of the defining elements of the game. Other than the architect profession, they all pretty much ended up at the bottom of my priorities list, and I haven’t really spent much time progressing them. Not as much as I have in some other MMORPGs anyway.
If you like to adventure in style then customisation doesn’t stop at your house. You can use the holo- wardrobe to set a costume that will change the look of your character’s armour, also allowing you to dye your cloths in an increasingly wide array of colours. You can also buy mount customisation and add random things like disco balls to your mount. Can’t say I’ve ever done that but if it tickles your fancy then go ahead.
Holding the whole game together is Wildstar’s storyline. It starts off with a basic Exile against Dominion element and unfortunately the Exiles came out of it in the best light, leading to a quite significant unbalance in player population between the factions. That, I think, was a mistake in the storyline, as I found the Dominion faction ultimately unappealing. They kill and conquer and don’t seem to have any redeeming characteristics. Sure, there are always those who love playing the bad guys, but it’s quite easy to see why more players went for the Exiles. As well as being friendly and welcoming, the Exiles also hold the underdog card which doesn’t help the Dominions’ cause. The real storyline involving the strain doesn’t emerge until later on in the game, although, thankfully, it starts earlier now than it used to, around the late twenties. The middle section of the game did drag, with the quests feeling very grindy by that point; bringing the main quest line forward was certainly needed and it’s where the game gets truly interesting.
Graphics-wise the game has a cartoony style and it does look good. The different levelling zones all have a unique look and the two factions’ style of architecture reflects their characteristics, the exiles with haphazard, shanty style buildings and the Dominion with quite grand, regal buildings. Optimisation and performance was a real issue when the game was first released. It has been cleaned up significantly, but you’ll still need a pretty decent computer to get good performance. In my opinion, there is still room for improvement, but it’s generally now good enough.
At the end of the day, this game is now free to try and unless you are completely against MMORPGs, in which case I’m impressed you’ve read this far, then I can think of no reasons not to give it a try. It’s a solid MMORPG with some unique gameplay and a fantastic housing system.
So summing up:
Fun and challenging combat system.
Exceptional housing system
Well designed environments.
Costume design system makes for great character customisation
Plenty of added single player and end game content
Great sense of humour
It’s now free to play
Quests do get grindy in places
Optimisation could be better
Dominion faction isn’t appealing enough
The storyline is weaker in the middle of the game
Dungeons and Raids are not for casual players (only bad for casual players)