Vague Patch Notes: How WildStar’s first dungeon killed me


This is the story of a girl who ran a dungeon in WildStar’s world, and while it looks all right in photographs, I absolutely hated running that.

As much as I would like to be able to recruit Josh Hampton to write a new version of the song just for this column introduction, I am not the Daniels and not making an amazing film that won multiple well-deserved Oscars; I am, among other things, a columnist who writes about MMOs. And today, I want to talk about the first dungeon I ran in the game and why it was one of the absolutely worst dungeon experiences I’ve ever had.

Worse than the Blackrock Depths run that disintegrated into arguments an hour and a half into a full run. Worse than running Hellfire Ramparts with a Death Knight who provoked everything off of the tank despite wearing several pieces of leather armor. Worse than the Praetorium run where the two tanks were trying to kill one another and the rest of the party. This was the nadir.

Now, the dungeon in question was Stormtalon’s Lair, as I recall. It’s been many years, and I remember the trauma more than anything, but while searching for it I came across a video guide for the dungeon that said it reminded the creator of the coordination necessary for raids in World of Warcraft. Pay attention. This will be relevant later.

I was playing on my Dominion Warrior, and a friend who played a tanky Warrior (instead of my hack-and-murder Warrior) said, “Hey, let’s go do a dungeon!” Of course I was on board with this, and we had another friend who could fill in the healer role. Said healer had a friend who could fill in another DPS slot, and so we found a fifth person and set off for Stormtalon’s Lair.

The cantankerous bastard in me feels that the fact this group was manually assembled is relevant. The smarter part of me who knows that every argument about group finders making games less social is disingenuous at best also knows this is, in fact, wholly irrelevant. But it’s still a fact and should still be noted.

Materially, we all make our way to the dungeon and get killing. It’s worth noting that this was, at the time, the game’s first dungeon, and the game had not been out for very long. There was not a robust knowledge base to draw upon. But we figure out our skill setups, our healer makes sure he’s all-in on healing, and so forth. And in we charge like a wrecking ball!

Well… like some kind of ball, anyway. Maybe a bouncy ball.

Can't or won't?

See, we all notice pretty quickly that stuff is taking a while to die. Not a surprisingly long time to die, not “these should drop faster” levels, but just that enemies are hearty enough in dungeons that we really have to be careful about where we fight because there are patrols, and this is not a game where you can burn down groups like lightning or just keep pulling.

No, we aren’t on the fringe of death after each pull, but we have a good sense that we are equipped well enough to handle this but not so well-equipped that we can just fang it. It’s rough, we have to be careful, but at this point it’s just a bit annoying. Plus, you know – new game, no one is decked out in great gear and no one knows how to spec yet. It’s whatever.

Then we get to the first boss. And here we discover the Interrupt Armor mechanic, by which I mean “encounter it for the first time.”

WildStar decided that a cool idea for having bosses with abilities to interrupt was Interrupt Armor, which was functionally a “buffer” for interrupts. If you see the boss using an ability you want to not go off, Interrupt Armor meant that a certain number of interrupts all had to be used on the boss in order to successfully stop the ability. So two Interrupt Armor meant you needed to interrupt the boss three times to actually stop the cast.

The first boss had a couple of Interrupt Armor stacks, but none of his abilities needed to be interrupted. Aside from that, the tank and I could usually count on one of the other DPS to join in and interrupt his one big ability. We still wiped once because of his phase transition when you need to kill adds, but we laughed it off and went back to it. But that presaged worse things to come.

By the time we reached the second boss, it had been longer than any of us would have liked. But the second boss was where we discovered a new kind of hell. The second boss would get pounded on, then he would split into three. Then he would have two Interrupt Armor, fling the group to one side of the room, and force everyone to run what amounted to an obstacle course, then interrupt him before he killed the group.

He killed us something like five times.

Any Kill Bill references you want to make here may or may not be apropos. It's a fine line.

The problem wasn’t that people didn’t understand what was going on. The problem was that it was all too common for myself and one other person with an interrupt to reach the boss within the 30 second window before the cast finished… and then another interrupt was still lagging behind and we were forced to just wait it out. We finally cleared it because I realized I could slot two interrupts and we could just manage to get him down and cancel the cast in time. It was a near thing.

So now the dungeon had been going on for what felt like forever. And there was still one more boss. It’s called Stormtalon’s Lair; you know you have to face Stormtalon. And now… now it became a death march. Stormtalon had a similar “interrupt me or die” mechanic, but he also had a spell called Eye of the Storm. Not only could this not be interrupted, but it required grouping around one other player while dodging other attacks, and it was very easy for that one other player to not dodge (killing the group) or wind up dragging the safe spot away from others (also killing them). And do you want to guess how often that resulted in my being the only one left alive who could interrupt?

Spoiler: A bunch of times!

I do not remember how long that boss fight took. I do not remember the number of wipes. I remember losing count as they passed 10 or so. I remember hating every moment of the fight, hating the rest of the party, and being just generally exhausted. “Fun” had long since passed into the realm of memory; by this point I was just bound and determined Ahab-like to see this boss die.

I got no items from that dungeon and never, ever could be coerced into doing another one in that game.

Sure, the dungeons were challenging. I can appreciate the mechanics that were involved. I look at all of them and see a neat set of interlocking challenges that give each boss a unique character. But I also remember dying to the last boss over and over, and the fact that it was such an unpleasant experience I never wanted to set foot in another dungeon in the game under any circumstances. I remember that even if it was a skill issue, it wasn’t my skill that was the issue. And I remember that all of that didn’t even result in an upgrade.

Maybe, just maybe, providing all of that satisfying challenge didn’t actually work out very well for the game. Not that I need to tell you that because WildStar shut down because no one stuck with it. I wonder why that could be.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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