Choose My Adventure: A high-level venture in WildStar
First and foremost, before I start talking about my last week of adventures in WildStar, I'd like to thank the developers for giving me an opportunity I rarely have in this column. Nine times out of ten the reality of the column means I don't get to actually see high-level play at all; I don't know that I'd classify this week's adventure as being indicative of the whole level cap experience, but it gives me a better picture of it than just sitting down at level 10 or whatever.
I'd also like to thank a friend for accompanying me up to the high-level portion of the game, since she was curious about it as well. Teamwork, people, that's what MMOs are all about.
When I originally played WildStar, I had in fact reached level cap and done a fair number of the initial crop of dailies during one of the earlier patches. Thus, my friend and I decided to unlock the Primal Matrix and head out to Arcterra, which was added too recently for either of us to have seen it in the past. Yes, that meant I wasn't going to be in an area going "oh, I remember this," but it meant that I'd have a good idea about that part of the endgame.
Of course, first we both needed to configure our character loadouts. I just went with my usual lifelong approach of flinging stuff together until I decided "yes, this looks basically adequate for these purposes." My companion went and looked up a build, one of the rather outre Engineer builds that allows you to completely ignore any sort of building abilities in favor of just passively generating resources. This is one of the things to the game's credit; as a combination of the limited builds, ability break points, and the general nature of the game, you can come up with some pretty crazy configurations when all is said and done.
Then we unlocked the Primal Matrix, which was an arduous process consisting of "go talk to Pantsless Ghost Lady." I had initially seen screenshots and thought the system looked almost exactly like the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, but having played around with it briefly, it's... exactly that. A simpler version, but still that.
In and of itself, this is what I consider a good thing. The Sphere Grid wasn't flawless, but as a method for advancement at the level cap, it's a good place to draw inspiration. So it's all a matter of how well the system is implemented and how access to further nodes is gated. Obviously, I didn't have a chance to test that over the long term; the analysis of it looks solid at a glance, but I'm reluctant to say that it's right without having tested at all. Let's just say that it's a good idea which seemed a touch underwhelming in practice.
From there, we were off to Arcterra, where I found myself (not for the first time) a bit unsure of what to say. Not because the zone is bad, but... well, let's put it this way. Remember how I noted that the game's zones got busy right after starting off? Arcterra has so many icons flying around that I had to double-check to make sure I wasn't playing an Ubisoft title.
Seriously, this was overwhelming. The game gives you a pointer quest to get to Arcterra, but once you're there you're kind of left to your own devices and told "go nuts." It's a big dose of sensory overload all over again, and even focusing in on one particular thing doesn't help simply because there's no indication of what you ought to focus on in the first place. "Just do one thing at a time" is slightly less helpful when everything seems equally important.
There's also some zone-wide mechanics in play and a lot of stuff pulling for concentrated, coordinated player efforts. I do like that; it's an ongoing challenge for players to work together toward a common goal, even if not everyone is taking part at the same time. Unfortunately, it feels like the game expects you to just learn all of that by doing, which I'm less over-the-moon about.
The actual daily quest mechanics are... well, they're daily quests. Straightforward. Similarly, the actual various two-person bosses scattered around are about what you'd expect. I didn't actually know the zone was full of two-person fights when we were heading out there, but it certainly made me feel oddly prescient.
Of course, the fights did have one problem that I notice is a bit persistent with WildStar's combat. I like the combat mechanics, and they make for fun one-on-one fights with challenging enemies. The problem is that you aren't in a one-on-one fight, you're in a large open area surrounded by enemies while trying to dodge hither and yon. The game has the enemy density of a more "standard" MMO with movement mechanics that really make me wish for a lot more space.
My friend playing an Engineer also noted that the combat feels like it lacks a certain degree of impact, that actions don't have spectacular feedback about "here's the effect you had on the battle" beyond numbers popping up. I've found this effect less present, myself, but there's definitely an element of hitting buttons and feeling as if you hope it had an effect rather than knowing.
All of these criticisms aside, though, this isn't exactly a bad zone. Heck, it's a great zone if you are, in fact, invested in the game. One of the points I harp on repeatedly when it comes to MMOs is the idea that you should be doing the same stuff at the level cap that you enjoyed doing for the rest of the game. While I may find myself a bit overwhelmed upon zoning into the area, that is, in fact, entirely in keeping with all of the previous parts of the game which I've seen. That is part of its appeal. You are getting exactly the experience you signed up for, and that's a good thing.
I do find that it's a bit subject to the quad damage problem, though. There was an observation many years ago that noted one of the brilliant bits of the original Quake's design was the fact that instead of having lots of little damage power-ups, you had exactly one, and it was for quadruple your damage. That meant that you had less to collect, but having that boost was notable. WildStar generally seems to offer you a lot of different things to do, but the whole thing blends into a bit of a soup by the time you're done, since you've got seven or eight bite-sized bits in the space where another game would give you one full-sized offering.
Is that a good thing? A bad thing? I suppose I'll have to evaluate that next week when I do my wrap-up, won't I? Until then, you can leave feedback in the comments or send them along to email@example.com. It's going to be an interesting wrap-up no matter what, I can promise you that, because there are a lot of conflicting feelings inside of me about this game.