MMORPGs, with few exceptions, have all been following the same model in the past few years. Rarely does a game deviate from a few set rules, despite the fancy hats it might wear.
WildStar Online, the latest sci-fi action MMORPG from Carbine Studios, tries ever so hard to depart from the norm. With a unique style and pizzaz, WildStar sets itself apart… barely.
It’s difficult to be both unique and successful in the MMORPG genre. The dawn of WoW changed the landscape of it forever, after all. Apart from the oddballs like Planetside and a few smaller free-to-play games, the style of gameplay remains unchanging for fear of departing from established success.
WildStar has long hyped itself as an MMORPG that will shake up this landscape, although, so far, it falls short on this front. It highlighted action gameplay, a settlement system, class and path variances, and a unique PvP structure to make gameplay continuously fun and exciting. I was excited to see how different WildStar would be.
In general, I find recent MMORPGs boring, repetitive, and samey. You name it, it’s the same thing: a massive game with a narrative that fails to make a player care, with gameplay that consists of mashing the same couple keys over and over again until the numbers become larger numbers so I can mash keys against other things to get better numbers and sometimes a neat sword. Mashing keys is great, but these games typically fail to incentivize a player beyond becoming stronger.
Every game that claims to have action gameplay doesn’t. Every game that claims an immersive story doesn’t. With the notable exception of Vindictus (which is built on the Source engine and plays like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta), action gameplay in MMORPGs doesn’t really exist.
It doesn’t exist in WildStar either, despite their claims, but we’ll get to that in a second. Rewind to a period of time when my cynical butt thought WildStar would be different and that being a dual-gunslinging spell-flinging sorcerer would be fun (though I already was in Mabinogi).
WildStar begins like most MMORPGs with character creation. Trending towards WoW, everything is decided at the outset. I was given the choice of joining the Dominion, an empire with the “divine right” to rule, or the Exiles, a ragtag group of rebel-types. Selecting Dominion with a gleeful smirk, I proceeded to select my class and path.
WildStar operates on the traditional class/path system. A character’s class represents their talents and roles–spell-slinger, warrior, etc.–while paths are synonymous with professions, in this case. From explorer to settler, a character’s path represents the road they’ll travel in life. A spell-slinger on the soldier path made sense for my Dominion fanatic.
Of the many races, one of which being human and rest alien, my spell-slinger became a horned Draken who looked more like a representation of goat-Satan than anything else. And yes, like WoW, certain races are only available for each faction. Cautiously optimistic but already jaded, I entered the world of the game.
After a cutscene that singled me out as the most important character in the Dominion, a fact I found hard to believe given the millions of other players online, I was brought out of cryosleep and told to report for duty.
No, we weren’t on the planet of Nexus yet. The starting Dominion area was a humongous spaceship larger than some countries, and my little Draken soldier set about his training with no small amount of glee. That glee swiftly turned to apathetic drudgery by the second “kill/collect x/x y” quest. No matter how pretty everything was, put a fancy dress on unoriginal MMO gameplay and all you’ve got is a well-dressed clone.
But, of course, combat played a major role in training, and this was where WildStar was supposed to excite. For one there are absolutely no “normal” attacks, only skills. The basic skill for any class serves as a basic attack. It must be aimed, and with every use an area of effect appears showing where the skill will take effect.
Combat in WildStar should be fast-paced and involved. Instead it simply adds the need to keep an active hand on the mouse while you mash keys. And the major problem is that the monsters of the world do have normal attacks, and they will hit you no matter how much you dodge and jump and wonder when the game will actually start serving up “action gameplay.”
The PVP-style combat behaves exactly as advertised, but since a large part of any MMORPG is PVE the effect of dipping, ducking, and dodging has no effect. No matter how much my Draken sorcerer rolled about and fired his guns, he took as much damage as he would have by standing still from mobs in the field.
So after killing 7/7 holograms and 1/1 boss holograms I was allowed to partake in the beachhead landing of an Exile-controlled shore and start taking some land for the glorious Dominion. This leads into the major faction war that drives the PVP and base assault gameplay of WildStar. It is at the heart of the game, and drives player action.
But the sad truth is the game is too focused on the gameplay and not enough in immersion. Conversations are carried out via tiny text boxes with no voice-overs; only very few are given a cutscene. The quests themselves are forgettable, and the Path missions aren’t very interesting. Soldiers get to defend little circles on the ground from invaders, but my spell-slinging goat-man massacred his opponents with ease.
And so I stand on the shores of Nexus, the mysteries of the Eldan before me, and Sirion the spell-slinging Draken soldier of the Dominion really couldn’t care less. The tragedy of it all is compounded by the game’s hilarious style. A jazzy level-up notification, smart-talking NPCs (when you meet ’em), and an awesome soundtrack are all elements of a top-notch game. But they only make you want more, and there isn’t enough.
If you were looking forward to a new sci-fi MMO with the same old trappings wearing a different hat, WildStar should entertain you – so long as the price is right. If, however, like me, you believed the hype and were expecting something new, you might want to look elsewhere. Act fast if you want to try it: WildStar’s free open beta only goes until May 18th.