Choose My Adventure: Reconsidering WildStar, from pre-launch to now
In order to talk about WildStar, we kind of have to talk about Firefly. And no, not in the obvious way where we talk about how dearly the game wants to be able to claim the heritage of Firefly for its own.
There's a thing dubbed the Firefly Effect (I'm not linking TV Tropes here; y'all know where it is, look it up if you want to) that describes a kind of vicious cycle. You see something new and interesting previewed. However, you also see that it's on a network that is unlikely to allow that interesting thing enough run time to really finish working itself out. So, to spare yourself any heartache when it gets cancelled, you don't watch it. Later, it gets cancelled... because no one was watching it because everyone expected it would be cancelled.
The reason I bring that up is that WildStar is currently waist-deep in the Firefly Effect. Sure, it's not a show, but the same operating principles are at work. People are afraid to commit for fear that it'll be canned, and that makes any forward momentum for the game incredibly difficult.
When WildStar first hit the scene, it had a lot of people excited right out of the gate, including me, then went dark for years, causing a lot of gamers to write the studio off. Then the studio dropped a trailer for the game, followed by a few big early reveals about how the game would be designed. Players would choose not just between classes, but between paths, meaning that two characters of the same race, faction, and class could have wildly different experiences because one was a Scientist and the other was a Settler.
Through most of the pre-release demos, the game managed to keep delivering on that promise. People were still excited. It won multiple "most anticipated" awards. It was only when the game started to talk about its endgame model that eyebrows raised because rather than mirroring the innovation and the play-as-you-will attitude that the rest of the game had, the endgame setup was a resolutely joyless raiding trudge that everyone else had already begun walking away from in the years since vanilla World of Warcraft.
By the time the game was released, it seemed to be two games deeply at odds with one another. One game was a very innovative and fun sandpark experience with lots of different options about how to play, complete with housing, challenges, weird quests, quirky lore, fun design, and so forth. The other game was designed by the people who thought that 40-person raids didn't go far enough in their sheer brutality. And while it's easy to ignore that for a good chunk of time... well, realistically, you're going to spend most of your time at the level cap. When everything is weighted toward raiding, you will feel it.
It was reflected in the subscriptions and reviews, too. Reviews and first impressions of the game were positive, but people finished leveling and just... left. It wasn't even just the raiding; dungeons and other smaller activities were weighted toward brutal levels of difficulty, something most people weren't willing to put up with.
There are, of course, buckets to be written about why this didn't work at all, but none of that really matters right now. What's important is that having faced this problem, the game put off walking things back with the stubborn resistance of "no, you're just playing it wrong, play it our way and you'll see."
That has, I'm sad to say, been a recurring and regular issue within the game. As things finally started walking backward, it felt like too little too late, and the game has entered its current stage wherein... well, let's just roll the clip.
All of the various changes made to the game to make it better, like the free-to-play shift and the (remarkably few) patches, have failed to really reinvigorate the game. Instead, it's limping along, now getting rolled into a "generic" header for NCsoft's earnings report, and trying to still attract players to avoid writing it off now.
I consider this something a shame. Sure, there are catastrophically bad decisions in place here, but there's also a lot of stuff in the game that I actually liked when it launched. In fact, the only thing that caused me to stop playing the game in the first place was a need to save money at one point. After that, momentum took over, and thus it's been quite some time since I actually played.
There's a standing sentiment among those of us here on the writing staff that part of the game's problem right now is simply that everyone feels that it's in a limbo state created by a perpetual stay of execution, as if it could fold at any moment. If the game would just formally announce that it's funded through the next year no matter what, it might get more players right away. The fact that no such announcement is forthcoming just lends more weight to the idea that it isn't safe.
But rather than trying to go back to my old characters, I want to do something new. So here's where we can make the most use of the polls. I'm going to be making a new character and going through the game completely fresh, and I want to see if all of its various changes have made for a better game all around. Is the game better to play now than it was when it launched? Does it deserve your affection after all? Or is it the story of sadly wasted potential and what happens when you launch with a backward-looking endgame and business model that can't be solved by everything else in place?
More to the point, is anyone else sick of being called "cupcake?" It feels like an insult even when it really isn't. Cupcakes are delicious. Not as delicious as muffins, but... I'm getting-off track. Let's make with the polls.
CMA: Which faction should I play?
- Dominion (51%, 171 Votes)
- Exile (49%, 166 Votes)
Total Voters: 337
CMA: What should my path be?
- Settler (20%, 68 Votes)
- Explorer (38%, 126 Votes)
- Soldier (11%, 35 Votes)
- Scientist (31%, 104 Votes)
Total Voters: 333
CMA: Where should I focus my class choices?
- Heavy armor (Warrior or Engineer) (42%, 140 Votes)
- Medium armor (Medic or Stalker (58%, 193 Votes)
Total Voters: 333
Yes, I'm aware I left off the light options; that's intentional. I actually enjoy Spellslingers more than I usually enjoy caster-type characters (and even Espers, to a point), but I'm taking aim at the classes that I've generally enjoyed the most. You understand, I'm sure.
As always, the polls are up until Friday at noon, at which point I'll start playing and regale you all with stories both wondrous and astonishing. Until then, you can feel free to leave your opinions and thoughts down in the comments, or you can mail them along to email@example.com. I'll be over here hoping that each new announcement isn't a shutdown announcement.