Choose My Adventure: Wrapping up WildStar

Writing about WildStar at this point feels weird.

Obviously, I just finished up playing the game for this feature for four weeks. It feels fresh in my mind. And in many ways, it really has changed quite a bit from launch to its credit. In many other ways, it hasn’t changed much at all. And the ways in which it has changed would make a much bigger difference if those changes affected things that initially drove me away from the game.

So in many ways, when I write about WildStar now, I’m still writing about the launch version of the game. It’s just that we’re now several years out from that launch, and its potential to really be something no longer has the time to turn into reality. It’s still just a hope for what it could be, and there’s not much more to the game beyond what we see right now. So it’s the same state of the game, but it’s gone from promising opportunities to unrealized potential.

Let’s start with the positive: WildStar still has one of the most wildly inventive settings and premises in the MMO space. It’s an endearing and unique blend of fantasy, science fiction, and western aesthetics that still feels bracingly novel. The art and the zones are replete with personality, looking very distinctly like the sort of thing you’d only find in this specific game.

And boy, the game is clearly crafted with a lot of love. There is still a lot to like about the IP and all of the cool stuff therein. It’s the sort of game that could easily have supported itself as the first installment of a long-running franchise, or even just a successful MMO with a lot of development behind it.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem that it’ll ever be the case. And that’s for several reasons, starting with something that I noted right off of the bat: This is a game with one speed, and the speed is “go faster.” Which is, frankly, exhausting.

We all began with good intents.

It makes sense, of course; as the game tried so hard to sell itself as being very different from other MMOs, it also rolled in the idea that the more sedate options in MMOs were also part of the problem. Instead of letting you laze about or race along at top speed, the game really pushes the idea that you’re always doing something. There’s always more to see, more objectives to complete, more challenges to clear, and so forth.

More content is, in fact, a good thing. But there are people who play MMOs at all different intensity levels, and one of the joys of the games can be that you go back and forth between high-energy challenges and just quietly farming for herbs. A game that tells you a night of herb-farming can turn into enormous boss fights under your feet is discouraging you from ever being relaxed.

Part of the problem here is that the game is overloaded with Stuff To Do more than it has reasons to do all of it. You wind up getting overwhelmed in short order, and because the game isn’t great about labeling things as side objectives – or even just giving you a reason to ignore the main stuff to do – you frequently wind up with a forest of icons and no solid direction.

There’s far too much to do, far too much time to spend doing all of it, and far too little direction. When you’re pulled in every direction at once, you wind up going nowhere.

All of this was stuff that I also liked about the game when I first played it, of course. And I still think these elements are a mixed bag of positive and negative, but I think they also limit the game’s audience by definition. It winds up rather pushing the idea of the game as a dynamic sandpark with a lot of emergent experience, which… is not how the game’s designers wanted to tune the game. I was not among the people worried as soon as raids were discussed, but I certainly understood that worry.

In practice, that “harder is better” philosophy shows through everywhere. Yes, there are emergent experiences and sudden unexpected challenges, but frequently the game feels like it’s tuned just by fiat. I remember the game’s dungeons being rather brutal experiences that were tuned for a level of coordination that most people just don’t have with random strangers, which is really what 90% of your runs are going to be.

Explode everywhere.

This may have changed quite a bit, but what I found currently at the level cap were some rather unengaging dailies and a lot of big quests tuned around a thriving population that, as near as I could tell, was not there. And, I’m sure, those dungeon runs. Which are apparently not assembled by the dungeon finder, which indicates something kind of damaged about the structure to begin with.

But all of this stuff is old hat. What really cripples the game is that it hasn’t really adjusted any of this since launch. It has, continuously, lost more and more staff and heaps of players, and each time it has had an opportunity to really capitalize on new stuff, it’s wound up with little more than a whimper.

Most likely this is a result of lacking money, not lack of will. I truly believe that the people still working on the game genuinely believe in it and like what it’s doing. But there’s only so much you can do when you can’t actually afford any new staff to develop a patch, and I think WildStar passed that point quite some time ago.

The worst part is how many of these things could be changed or addressed. It feels like there are two games that are fighting for dominance, one of which discourages you from reading or paying attention or doing anything beyond playing the rushin’ spammer game writ large, the other of which celebrates doing weird things and exploring the world on your own terms. The housing, crafting, and expansive costuming system all point to a game that wants to play more like a more sedate MMO, but the fact that you can’t so much walk out of town without a half-dozen quests and exploding challenges all around you force you into playing at top velocity… or just opting out altogether.

And I think, at this point, the game has spent its last chances for relevance. We’re constantly wondering behind the scenes about when the final moment will come, when the game is going to be quietly shuttered, and that’s going to be a real loss. Because for all of the problems the game does have, for all of its issues with information overload and overtuning and pacing problems, there’s also some really clever work on display here. It’s the sort of game that could really benefit from a reboot, a pattern of taking it back out of the public eye, heavily adjusting it, and re-releasing it with a leaner and more elegant focus.

But then, at this point, I’m not entirely sure that wouldn’t be undercut as well.

WildStar is a game that should be played. It has a lot of really cool elements to it, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to jump back into it well before any sort of sunset. But we all sort of see the sunset coming around the corner, and the question becomes a matter of when. Which is a real shame, because it’s one of those games that rightly should be doing even better than the other big-name game released the same year. But that game has devoted time and money into improvement, refining systems, fixing things that didn’t work, and creating a better all-around game.

WildStar didn’t, and now that it really needs to, it looks like it’s just too late. And there’s a reason why I went back to that game and found myself roundly impressed, while going back to WildStar just left me sad about the lost potential.

This is really sort of my jam. Not the costuming, but the ideals.

Next target

For the second month, I’m going to be aiming my laser focus at a game rather than putting it up to a vote. The reason for this is mostly down to timing and personal preference, and I promise, the next round of games will be back to open polling. But first, I’m heading to the desert.

Despite winning our game of the year award, Black Desert Online is a title I have not actually played at all, separating it from all of the other titles I’ve highlighted since restarting this column. Plus, they did just add a new class that sounds like it’s kind of my jam, even if it’s subject to the same obnoxious gender locks as so much of the game. So that’s our destination.

There’s more to say, of course, but that’s for next week. For now, feel free to share your thoughts down in the comments, or mail them along to eliot@massivelyop.com. See you in a week, when we prepare for our next venture!

Welcome to Choose My Adventure, the column in which you join Eliot each week as he journeys through mystical lands on fantastic adventures — and you get to decide his fate. It’s fair to note here that he does not play a Dark Knight the way most games expect one to do so. Playing against stereotypes, and all of that. Very entertaining in roleplay.
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13 Comments on "Choose My Adventure: Wrapping up WildStar"

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NovaScotiaCitizen

Still playing W* and I really like it, (even bought the steelbox edition recently just to have it on my shelf!)but information overload is definitely an issue. Quest tracker is a laundry list it’s just hard to focus on anything in the open world when there are so many distractions. Can hardly read the texts of NPCs. Definitely needs some finetuning and at least 25% less mobs. Relaunch wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I just hope it doesn’t get axed by NC Soft, it would be a great loss. The production value is amazing, up there with the best.

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Nathan Aldana

Wildstar”s biggest flaw was it assumed that when you give casuals no choice but to become hardcore players, theyll learn to love being hardcore.

THis showed the developers, like most of humanity, dont understand how humans operate.

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Ken K

My impression of Wildstar when I played in Beta, was that it was geared to the “Hardcore” player. Someone who wants everything to be a knockdown dragout fight, that you barely win. Problem is, that audience is fairly limited. A good MMO design lets the player decide his/her own level of challenge.
I’m not one of those hardcore players, which is why I never tried it beyond beta.

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I wanted to love Wildstar, I really did. But the ‘hardcore’ and “rush rush rush’ mentality it liked to use drove me away from it. Admittedly the fact they limited some of the class/race combinations dampened my enthusiasm too, but that’s a minor issue there. Either way, what drove me away was going from the fun and energetic game to the more hardcore stuff, the latter of which I had zero interest in.

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Fair Mores

Wildstar is too good of a game for the stagnant and now old population that make up the fans of this genre. “Too much to do! To fast! Too many bright colors on my screen!”

The last great mmo made before the sun set on the entire genre.

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Bionicall

Hauntingly familiar with my own experiences with WildStar. Truly a shame, because the game could have been so much more. Oh well, on to other things. Back when Matt was writing the column on Black Desert, I had been chatting with him about writing a beginners guide/introduction to the story. Feel free to ask me any questions to you have on the game (Black Desert).

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Sally Bowls

Yeah two games:

  1. humor, personality, non-warrior paths, …
  2. HARDCORE!, action combat, more HARDCORE, frenetic

I really wanted the former and enjoyed that aspect of WS; they decided to listen to the forums & devs and emphasize the latter.

Hopefully, the missed potential of Wildstar will help us in the future. In some future product meeting, when some dev is saying all the testers & forum posters want more hardcore and challenging, the grizzled veteran next to them can go “dude, remember Wildstar?”

Mistakes from Despair

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Hit the nail on the head, Eliot. The impression I came away with from my few days playing the game was that I would never, ever have enough time to do everything the game wanted me to. And since I had no idea what was important and what wasn’t, what was an advancement and what a distraction, like many others, I put my mouse down and backed away slowly.

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Coldin Torrence

I think part of it is that everything is an advancement in some way. Doing dailies, getting plat and elder gems is all advancement. Running dungeons so you can get glory and gear drops. Or expeditions for the same.

It’s something they really should refine though. Cut down the currency. Have a clear gear progression. But actually implementing all that might be a bit much.

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MesaSage

I had similar objections way back when it launched. Meh, I guess I’m not their target audience.

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Robert Mann

Hmmm. I played a little last year, and just found many things to be pretty standard to me. I thought the main differences were that they went overboard on flashy telegraphs. Didn’t really feel overwhelmed (although there is a lot to do, that’s pretty common.)

That tons of stuff to do, are you really calling that and a handful of static condition events ‘sandpark?’ Really? If that’s the deciding line for sandpark, we might as well forget the term. It would be applicable to nearly all themeparks.

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Godson69

I enjoyed it when I played it, but the pacing is brutal. You are constantly assaulted with new objectives while trying to do others. It can get overwhelming really fast. I thought about going back because I loved the style and universe. But, with low populations and the ever present threat of it being closed, I’m afraid to get invested. I think a lot of people feel the same, it also doesn’t help that they have not really done any major improvements to the game since launch.

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Coldin Torrence

Well. That was depressing. I do agree that a reboot ala FF14 would help, but Wildstar also isn’t Final Fantasy, and NCsoft definitely isn’t Squarenix.

I still like the game, but it definitely suffers from a lack of pure content development in my eyes. Just not enough continuing on with the main story.

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