A eulogy for WildStar – a marvelous MMORPG and avoidable tragedy

    
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How do I start to say goodbye.

Friends, readers, genre fans, lend me your eyes; I come to bury WildStar, not to praise it. But just like Marc Antony, I’m going to be doing a lot of the latter even as I do the former.

It was just a short time ago that I took the bait and went on a lengthy rant about the history of WildStar and where it caused its own problems, so I’d rather not recount all of the the things I spent time talking about there. Especially since that was funny instead of kind of sad. But I still feel like it’s important to talk about the game and its shutdown, and perhaps even more importantly what its shutdown means.

Because for all of our joking about how the game has been in limbo for what seems like half of forever, the reality is that it hasn’t even been out for all that long. The game launched in 2014! It launched amidst massive amounts of affection and imitation! It had so many things that were going right with it! But so many things that were going wrong, too.

There was so much right here, how did so many things go wrong? Like this.Again, I don’t want to recount a rant I already made, but the simple reality is that WildStar launched in service to two different masters. It had one game that was a creative sandpark experience with tons to do, paths to explore, and lots of fun stuff to use to make your character and your space your own. It had another game that was just straight-up garbage that was the fever dream of every endgame vanilla World of Warcraft raider who decided that Molten Core didn’t go far enough.

That at least explains why the game suffered early on; as people got to the level cap, they found nothing but a bleak abyss that was made for basically no one attracted to the game’s sandpark nature. But that was launch. There was time to win back the crowd, plenty of time. Things could have been done right away to minimize those aspects.

Instead, they doubled down. It baffled me when the developers started talking about adding more raids when the top-end players were already upset that no one seemed to be playing the existing ones. This is the sort of thing that the aforementioned WoW has only gotten away with because it has a large enough population to paper over the issue.

Carbine was working on more titles, but none of them had confidence from NCsoft, and while I completely understand people neither trusting nor liking NCsoft, it’s hard to blame the Korean company on this point. If Carbine couldn’t manage its first game, would you trust it to make another? It’d have to demonstrate some wildly improved priorities, and it sounds plausible that this just didn’t happen.

Really, The Elder Scrolls Online is what we should have gotten from WildStar. That was another game that launched with some wildly bad ideas in place, and it still has some… but it also took those ideas, trimmed away the bad ones, and produced a game that’s actually a lot of fun to play now. The two games were contemporaries in launch, and no one is worried about ESO shutting down at this point.

When I returned to WildStar for Choose My Adventure, I recall being stunned that the game had put a bunch of effort into changing things that were not, in fact, the problems the game ever had. What little was done to address the issues waiting at the top end wasn’t enough to draw players back, and what had been changed on the bottom technically improved the experience but wasn’t really the problem in the first place. It was like sprucing up the upholstery on a car that still lacked a functional engine.

Of course, by that point there was already really little to no hope. There was already a dearth of players and budget. The game managed to bungle its free-to-play transition by failing to draw people back in, especially when the biggest thing the game needed to attract players back was proof that it had fixed its issues. “There’s more fun to be had now!” would have done journeyman work. So would “dungeons are no longer miserable slogs!”

This is without even getting into phenomenal ideas like Warplots that never actually worked. The less said about those good ideas that were oversold, the better.

There was something beautiful and wonderful and it destroyed itself.

But then, that’s kind of the legacy of WildStar right there. It’s not a game that suffered from a lack of ideas or inspiration or neat things it could have done. Warplots were a brilliant idea (even if former employees have described their actual implementation as slapdash). Things like challenges and paths were great ways to mix up the leveling path and exploration. Yes, some of the issue there was that the game walked back from its more sandpark features, but these are still good ideas.

No, its problem was that its original designers were too certain of their own brilliance, too certain of their paths and decisions to listen when people said that they didn’t work. The certainty seemed to be that if people just got to the hard stuff, they’d be hooked by the real challenge, never mind that a lot of the hard stuff was just too hard to be fun or relaxing or energizing.

That, at least, seems to be the general sentiment we see from former developers on the title: that there were good ideas and good people working on the game, but upper management had A Vision that was being pushed to the detriment of the actual game. It’s as plausible as any other explanation, although it’s grindingly depressing. It almost feels like a tacit expression that nothing could really be done.

Obviously, Reddit quotes like those all fall in the grain-of-salt zone, but I would believe lines about feedback being offered and ignored. There were people in positions of power who needed someone to tell them no, and the project never had someone with enough power and wisdom in the right places to put the skids on bad ideas.

Maybe I don't want to say goodbye.But let me tell you something: I still have a boxed copy of the game that I got when I flew out to get a preview of the free-to-play conversion. And very few weeks have gone by  when I didn’t have the urge to pick it up and start playing again.

And that’s because there was so much good stuff in there! The game nailed its aesthetic, created a rich and vibrant world I wanted to explore again and again. The story behind the game was top-notch and immersive and there were few to no characters I didn’t want to learn more about. More words have been devoted to the game’s music, which was excellent and set an atmosphere and a mood with aplomb. So many neat ideas were on display, so much fun stuff, so much that I wanted to love.

Enough that I did love it, for quite some time. Enough that I still love it, enough that my reaction to the game is still not “you did this so badly” but “why did you screw up so close to the end.”

There’s every reason for the game to have been a success story, to rack up expansions and improvements and new ideas. I still want to know more about the lore and the mysteries buried deep within Nexus. Instead, we’re just left with… nothing. A stillborn conclusion.

It didn’t need to happen this way. None of this was a foregone conclusion. It was a direct result of developer hubris and avoidable decisions, and now we’re losing a game with lots of creative and interesting ideas for good.

If there was ever a game that could benefit from private server projects, this would be one. There’s more to be done with the world and assets, new stuff that could be a lot of fun to tool around with. Sadly, I’m not sure if the passion is still there or if people were already done with the game too long ago for anyone to actually make a private server. Another tragedy in the litany, in other words.

And that’s what this is – a tragedy, a missed opportunity, a game that could have been big and had so many great ideas in place. I’m never going to stop being impressed by elements like its award-winning housing system or the fluidity of movement; it still deserves credit for ideas like paths and mount customization. But at the end of the day, it missed the mark by quashing all of that in service to an audience who was never jumping ship for it.

Goodbye, WildStar. You really had some amazing parts that deserved better. I never stopped wanting the best for you. I just wish you had wanted the best for yourself.

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Chosenxeno .

#Hardcore mentality killed Wildstar. I remember me and others kept fighting in the Forums for them to tone down the Attunment(I was cool but everyone is not ). The problem with it was you simply cannot have 40 man raids and a ridiculous Attunment in 2014. You needed 40 people for the Main Raids. That Attunment only served to hinder the bodies you needed to start End Game(which really wasn’t even complete that’s why WoW did these as well:P). The Attunment ran off more people than anything else early on). The Dungeons had “Raid Mechanics”. I personally loved them(ESO 300cp Vets level of Difficulty lol). People weren’t expecting that in Normal Modes. They could have ramped them up in Hardmodes. I have never encounter such a dead Queue in a Newly Released MMORPG. They just weren’t fun for most.

There’s a few things that Ended WildStar but this^ is the biggest. Heck, you had Raiders tapping out even though they could do the content because the raids were so demanding.

Off Topic. This is why I worry about Pantheon.

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kelathos .

The problem with trying to emulate the WoW experience, is that WoW still exists and WoW “does” WoW better than Wildstar. That missing hook people describe is the lack of distinctive qualities that would have stopped people from comparing Wildstar to its papa.

It would take a new experience, some award winning change in player’s daily in-game activities to truly stand apart and not merely fade in the shadow of a giant.

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Sleepy

I was never going to reach the endgame anyway, I’m an altaholic. For me the problem with Wildstar was that it seemed to have no soul, no passion behind what it was supposed to feel like, if that makes sense.

It felt like it was trying to be cool because that was a bullet point on the design document. I can imagine words like ‘wacky’ being thrown around the room while designers bit their tongues.

The right hand character in blue in the title picture says it all. I’ve been told by management to be rad and hip and do the thumbs up thing, but god help me, I’m dying inside.

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rafael12104

Well, I think it has all been covered, and it is important to remember what Wildstar did right. Nostalgia aside as there already seems to be some, the game had its moments.

But sadly, I would like to add another issue that led to its downfall. Something that hasn’t been mentioned yet (I don’t think).

Wildstar could have recovered from its awful start. Once the Vanilla WoW dreams were realized as a nightmare, the game changed as quickly as it could to get back on track. And NCsoft gave lots of runway. Hell, they built new runways given Wildstars fatal numbers early on and beyond We can’t say the game never had a chance.

The plain fact of the matter is this. The game could not sustain itself even after the F2P bump. It could of, it should of, but it did not. And remember, this is after the focus shifted away from raiding. The Sandpark experience was there, and Carbine held several events to get players to come back and stay. But nothing worked.

Players, like me, players who supported the game, who were there for launch, who cared but left, came back to the game played a bit and then left again. Why?

The best way I can explain it is that there was no hook, no reason to stay very long. It was fun, yes. I enjoyed the time I spent playing the game after the changes. But, it wasn’t enough and I can’t say that I know the exact reason why.

Maybe it was the IP. It might not have been strong enough to endear loyalty. Maybe it was because of all of the other MMOs available to play. Or maybe it was because not enough “friends” came back to establish a community. I don’t know.

But, let’s be frank. The elixir that makes a great MMORPG successful was gone and nothing they did could bring it back.

So, I’m sorry for all of it but the hardcore didn’t kill this game. Oh, they tried, but it wasn’t them. Apathy ended Wildstar’s run. Perhaps that is to strong a word for it, but many players (and I include myself) just didn’t care enough about the game to stick around.

I don’t play MMOs out of pity. And I don’t spend time in a game for the potential to have fun. And, I suppose that is the bottom line. Wildstar was fun in short bursts but it wasn’t enough.

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Sray

I’ve been saying it for years, all the talk about hardcore this”, or “action combat weirdness”, and “cupcake that” really didn’t mean anything to the common MMORPG player. The majority of players who tried the game out found a really bland game that also just happened to have a hybrid TPS/MMO combat system. Most people who tried out the game found a game that did everything well, but unremarkably so; but there was nothing that particularly stood out, and many things were done better elsewhere. Although housing was exceptional, it’s a feature for a minority, so ultimately that’s not a mass appeal feature that will drive a lot of traffic towards your game. It was a jack of all trades game, and master of none, that came into the world as most MMOs moved away from the “one size fits all” game and were carving out their own niches.

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Friend

I think there was a statement from the dev at that time along something like this:

” they asked us to make dungeon easier, hmm.. no”

I beta tested wildstar, I love their take on the world, those space wild western things, etc . I bought it on the dawn of their f2p conversion, a measly 10 bucks in a humble bundle, I love the idea of the agility and ranged tanks, but as I queued the first low level dungeon (as a tank) I got slaughtered right away, my party probably are surprised too, we wiped at the first boss many times before we defeated it and felt so exhausted that we left one by one after it. I tanked in other MMOs at that time for years and nothing prepared me for this, surprisingly nobody called me a bad tank at that encounter

I ended up never touched dungeons on wildstar again, I leveled up my toon to the max and love the last missions, as I’m maxing out I ponder should I do dungeons now? Those scenario things? Nah after hit the level cap I just uninstalled it.

If I learned one thing about wildstar it’s a cautionary tale about making progress as enjoyable as possible for a LARGER crowd, and NEVER EVER make default difficulty of dungeon HARD

Just look at Cataclysm

Also my that one-somewhat traumatic dungeon experience keep me away from dungeons in ESO for a long long time…
.. I’m good now

Can someone please make a good scifi fantasy MMO again? something like warframe and overwatch but in an MMORPG sense? I played SWTOR for a while and didn’t like it, nice story though, too much paywall sadly

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Blaaznar

This is what you get when listening to an echo chamber of ‘hardcore’ minority ‘knowing’ how a game should be made.

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James Crow

one of my favorite games in the genre.
played from the start until the last update and stop when i realise we not going to get any updates.

the game had all the things i love in pve mmo:
graphic was great
gameplay was a nice mix of action and target
the story was really intresting and full with humor

and about pve content?
housing
raids and dungeons
end game customs – for some reason a lot of games rid of this in the last years.
uniqe races

i dont know why but wildstar was for me like update version of wow that i liked too.
and also remind me of Crash Bendicot series.

i think Carbin\NcSoft done a big mistake when they go P2P in era when most of the games are F2P, maybe if they took the B2P+Expansion the game could survive.

also its one of the games that was F2P in the end with nothing P2W in it.
love the game when it start and also after the bad F2P launch :D

GoodBye Wildstar.
now you can rest in peace with other NCSOFT Games like CoH and Tabula Rasa.
i would say save some place for GW2 but i think i read somewhere that in this case arenanet can buy out the game.

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Roger Melly

And of course GW2 is still going strong . Dunno how Aion is doing these days .

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Dystopiq

Mismanagement and a terrible first impression will do that.

Alyn
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Alyn

Excellent article Eliot. I often frown when I see the words, “this game had so much potential”. In my mind I think as I see these words, nope actually it never had potential. Sadly, we gamers, (consumers), don’t own these games and I actually feel as though, in truth, have very little say in how a game evolves from beta onward.

The entire feel of Wildstar before it went commercial was sort of snarky, cute, so to say. I loved the many promotional “films” they developed to sell us on the idea of Nexus and Wildstar. Sadly though once you sort of revisit these videos this was, for me, a feeling of trolling us or maybe even the game itself. I’m not quite sure, but something was slightly off putting for me. It ALL became rather obvious with the last promotional video before release when they jammed “HARDCORE” at us. This was not a good feeling nor a great way to get started with the game at all! So I felt “trolled” by it all.

Toats McGoats brings it all home with that episode 298 warning that, somehow, this wasn’t going to be an enjoyable experience at end game. We, as consumers, do have some power of the pocketbook. It is magazines such as this one that give us an opportunity to delve a bit deeper into newer mmo’s and what they truly are as designed. We just have to do the research. As the Who once sang, “Don’t get fooled again!”

Does crowdfunding work? It does bring the game producer money. Does it promise a well thought out mmo? Sadly, not always. Yes, Wildstar, I suppose was the last of the mmo’s not dedicated to crowdfunding to complete its development. However this is a fair warning to myself and the rest of us to think carefully before “investing” in new “toys” like mmo’s. It take 5 to 7 years to truly get it right. We must be patient. We also truly need to research if future games are being supported by trusted game making corporations that understand the whole process of the grand design of mmo building. A great mmo is a work of art through and through, in my opinion. Wildstar was bright and pretty and snarky, cute, but in truth it had very little potential to grow.

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Totes McGoats

I still remember the old Podcast (episode 298) where Justin/Elliott interviews the Devs about raids. I was literally speechless listening to the delusion of the answers to their very probing questions. Here’s a summary of some of the answers – this should go on the death certificate of Wildstar as “cause of death”.

https://forums.wildstar-online.com/topic/49593-massively-speaking-episode-298-wildstars-raid-team-recap-highlights/