Back when WildStar first launched, there was a rapid evolution of the general community opinion over challenges. Initially there was excitement over these on-the-spot timed quests, as players added them into the list of all of the things to do at any given moment. But players swarming over the same areas and competing for the same challenge resources soon caused a backlash, giving challenges a negative reputation that has persisted to this day.
Honestly, I don’t even see people mentioning challenges any more. I guess that, like quests, they’re accepted background noise of the game, but hardly a noteworthy feature. I felt much the same for a while too, ignoring them as I dutifully checked off my quest log.
But it was the big drop from earlier this year that changed my perspective on challenges and gave me a new lease on fun in WildStar. What happened to get me to rethink challenges?
I don’t think that even Carbine really thought that the changes it made to challenges with the patch were all that interesting because I didn’t even see them mentioned in the drop round-up. Even so, several tweaks to the user interface caught my eye when I logged back in that day.
First of all, challenges had an improved on-screen meter that showed time remaining and objectives filled in an organized, easy-to-understand fashion. Up to two challenges can be running at a time, and with both you have these star meters in the top-center of the screen with the reward tiers clearly marked.
Then for challenges that I had already done, both the map and quest tracker included them when I was nearby, allowing me a handy way to restart a challenge (or to see how long I had left on my timer).
Small changes, to be sure, but they actually worked. I was questing in Wilderrun that day and saw that there were two challenges in the area on my tracker. I activated both, ran them, then hung around the ruins until I could do so again. It wasn’t that the challenges had changed; the way that I accessed and understood them did.
And I guess that was all it took to get over my negative early impressions of these as high-pressure, player-competitive tasks. I started seeking challenges out in zones, making notes of which ones I wanted to redo for specific rewards. The other week I saw that a challenge had a Lopp deputy vanity pet as one of its payouts, and you can better believe that I re-ran it (three times) until I snagged it!
Gaming in the moment
Like much of the game’s tone, especially on the Exile side, challenges make for an unassuming, working class system. They’re rarely something that you set out to do; they’re just something you pick up along the way.
For me, I think of it as gaming in the moment. If a challenge happens to start, then great, I’ll do it. Maybe in doing so the game will show me something neat, teach me a new trick, or tempt me with cool rewards. If it succeeds at any one of those factors, then I might stick around or come back for another shot.
I particularly enjoy how quests and challenges often overlap, offering a two-birds-with-one-stone return for effort expended. I’m already killing chompacabras for a quest; why not see how many I can off in four minutes for the challenge too?
While each challenge has the same three tiers of difficulty, not every challenge is created equal. Some are much, much tougher to score a gold on than others. I’ve had a couple housing challenges that are downright impossible to win even on the bronze tier (although I think that at least the medic one has been fixed). Hitting gold is particularly satisfying because then you get that 10x multiplier that you can tag on a reward to greatly increase your chance of getting it.
By far, the most compelling reason for me to intentionally, rather than incidentally, run a challenge is that I’m trying to get as much housing decor as possible for my pad. Quite a few challenges have various housing rewards, including decor and FABkits, and I deeply appreciate fellow players who make lists such as this one to help me track them down. I don’t complain about getting dyes from challenges either.
In fact, I usually begin each play session by logging onto a character that I’ve left parked in Thayd to run a quick three-challenge course in as many minutes. The city challenges each have the chance of coughing up a random dye or random decor item, and I’ve gotten some truly awesome stuff from doing these.
Also, I’m getting really, really good at doing these challenges as quickly and efficiently as possible. I can consistently do the sprint race from the north to south part of the city with three seconds to spare for the gold rating every time.
Still needs improvement
My newfound interest in challenges doesn’t mean that I’m not without criticism for the system. I think that there’s a lot that can be improved with them, although Carbine might have bigger tasks at hand these days.
First of all — and this is important — challenges need to be social, sharing activities instead of exclusive. Players should be able to team up and get the same mobs and click on the same glowies without issue. The rewards aren’t so incredible as to render any coordinated team-up an issue.
I also take slight umbrage with the fact that once you’re in a challenge area and doing that task, you can’t leave the area until the timer expires or you get a gold rating without forfeiting the challenge. This is silly when I only want, say, a silver rating and head back to a quest giver but have to sit around for three more minutes because otherwise I’d fail.
Finally, the randomness of the rewards (the slot machine) is fine for the first time I do a challenge, but it is a little irksome when you keep repeating a challenge for a specific reward but lose out to the RNG even with the bonuses. I’d like to see increased multipliers for successive attempts at a challenge, maybe x4/x8/x15 after the second or third try. Darn it, I really want that rowsdower plushie!
Maybe this all really is small potatoes, but it’s a part of my gaming experience in WildStar and I felt like talking about it this week. What do you think of challenges? Any favorites out there? What would you change about them if you could?