WildStar was a really neat game that was run by people who had no idea what was good about it. I’d apologize for that statement, but it’s true. Seriously, even the stuff that seemed like it was a neat idea for the game’s uber-hardcore endgame like Warplots may not have ever actually worked; Warplots were there but also not there? I don’t remember ever seeing any? They must have existed, right? If anyone here ever saw one, please say so in the comments.
But the point is that there were actually a lot of really neat things that were in the game and that did, in fact, deserve love and attention and frankly a better game. So since I was reminded of this (and the game’s enormous problems with its endgame) recently thanks to our editor-in-chief, and since the game would’ve turned six years old in a few weeks were it still alive, let’s take a look at the stuff WildStar did really well that deserved a lot of love – even if, in many cases, it didn’t get it.
What in the world else can be said about WildStar’s housing? It was powerful, fun, flexible, universal, and one of the best elements of the entire game. I loved having a house in this game. I loved having multiple houses on my characters. I loved being able to make use of several different things on my house, upgrading the main building, decorating, and so on. If there was one element of the game that people should be tripping over themselves to copy and/or just buy outright, this is it.
Seriously, I would bet good money that housing did more to actually sell this game to people than raiding ever did.
The game’s little flashpoint challenges had problems, definitely. They were tuned too hard, could burst out of nowhere, and were sometimes distracting or unfun, but the concept here is brilliant. Instead of having big dynamic things that spawn all over, you just stumbled upon a sudden new objective and had the option to clear or ignore as you see fit. There are rewards to be had, but they’re more flexible than just “clear this to get experience.” And they tie into another area in which WildStar excelled.
In many ways, they rewarded just momentary exploration of spaces you otherwise didn’t need to see. This, not coincidentally, ties in perfectly with another idea that sadly never found as much traction as it deserved…
So the simple reality is that Paths were always half-baked from their initial conception. The original idea was that Paths were, essentially, like an entirely different form of class that informed your gameplay; what they actually wound up being was side content. And yet what they still were was excellent, even if we were sadly not given the full glory of what Paths could have been and were originally meant to be.
Giving players ways of interacting with the world that weren’t strictly about combat acumen but rather general types of content was awesome. The four paths included – which allowed you to focus on combat challenges, exploring odd corners, building little settlements, or uncovering lore and puzzles – were clever and positive additions. While I’d have loved to see the whole class/path interface more developed, what we did get was good on its own, and resurrecting this idea would be welcome.
4. Factional conflict
The factions in WildStar were not arbitrary, but neither were they divided into something as simple as “good guys vs. bad guys.” It wouldn’t be entirely wrong to paint the conflict as Chaotic Good vs. Lawful Evil, but Chaotic vs. Lawful would be more broadly accurate; even the Dominion wanted to still remain true to its stated (generally noble) virtues, and the fact that the Exiles struggled to keep a coherent and unified government was definitely a recurring issue.
That was what made the factions fun, though. Rather than being handed a situation where one side kept doing awful things and the other side reacted, you had the feeling that this was a divide born of ideas, a chasm not easily bridged. It felt real.
5. Quest snippets
Yes, there were downsides to the fact that WildStar opted to deliver all of its quests in bite-sized formats. But restrictions breed creativity, and there’s something to be said for keeping stuff in a compact format for maximum impact. You know, like this line item.
Going places in WildStar was fun. You had mounts, many of which moved in very unique ways, and you had hoverboards, which were just mounts in practical terms but felt very different. You could double-jump, and it was glorious. You had low-gravity areas that let you reach insane heights. You could often get movement abilities letting you explore strange vistas as you were so inclined.
The simple push and pull of getting from place to place felt like a joy across Nexus in ways it rarely does elsewhere. Heck, the fact that your flight points were wisecracking cab drivers itself made even the flight from spot to spot worth listening to.
7. General minigames
Minigames are fun. Minigames give you a chance to do something other than just kill stuff or pick up other stuff. And WildStar did this better than most, partly by virtue of that movement, partly by the addition of Challenges, and partly by housing. But also partly just by leaning in on the idea that it was important to have stuff to do that didn’t always require leaning on the same major content types. I always felt that WildStar handled minigames well, and while these days another game seems to hold the title for best letting you step outside of the main game for a side distraction, Nexus was littered with those options.
Body types. Body sliders. Mount customization. Cosmetic armor. Housing. Dyes. Tree-style class enhancements. Ability enhancements. The whole late-game leveling system… look, while WildStar might have stumbled in providing an endgame that was rigid and bad, it certainly didn’t want for different things to play up until that point. It was astonishingly easy to make two characters of the same race, path, and class… and have them look wildly different and feel wildly different in play. That’s worthy and a good thing.
All of this means that you have to note one of the most strong points in WildStar’s favor, and that’s the fact that the game simply oozed style and personality. It still does. This is not a game that looks like anything else before or since. Between the music, the explosions on leveling up, the humor, the very direct approach… it’s a game awash in a distinct feel and placement. It sounds, looks, and feels distinct.
Do I want another game to copy that feel? Kind of, yes, but more than that I want other games to recognize why this worked. Because that was the really important point. It’s not that this was the only style you could take, and the “wild west in advanced space opera” is only one potential flavor. It’s the fact that there was a concerted and consistent effort to make the game distinct, even if the indistinct parts were what ultimately overwhelmed it.
10. Developer humor
Hey, it was really nice to have a development team making jokes, putting out videos that were willing to admit that these games could be silly, and so forth. It lost a lot of its charm when it became clear that those videos were in direct contradiction to the game actually being sold, and “the devs are listening” became much less endearing when we learned the followup was “but not actually acting on what people say,” but hey.