by Peter Fobian
WildStar is a trip in every sense of the word--definitely one of the more unique settings for an MMO. The game is an elaborate compilation of throwbacks to different eras of gaming. When you actually consider the design, it’s actually rather ingenious--containing ingredients which appeal to gamers of all ages on the highly addictive and profitable vehicle of an MMORPG, it is a meticulously designed nostalgia bomb set to destroy every moment of free time you will ever have.
If you grew up in the 90’s then this game aesthetic has been laser focused to appeal to your sensibilities. The entire artistic style is a massive throwback to the anthropomorphic age of the original PlayStation. The generation who have heard of games like Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper, and Spyro will instantly recognize the visuals. Anatomy is heavily stereotyped in classic Saturday morning cartoon fashion, the evil dominion races appearing distorted toward bestial shapes or tall and imposing builds while the Exiles have more approachable, average silhouettes.
Probably the bad guys
One issue with bringing these visuals into 3D, however, is the exaggerated cartoon anatomies are very awkward in motion. The walking animation of females from every race look like an hourglass repeatedly breaking in half and the some of the males look like barrels on stilts.
Even the odd, off-color humor is impressively tuned to appeal to all ages. In the masterful Disney style, the content can lean toward more mature themes but present them in a quirky way so that both parents and kids can laugh at the same jokes for different reasons. The inclusion of a narrator also brings an episodic feel to the game that really drives the cartoon stylings home. Strange humor is injected into many points in the game in a moderately successful attempt to break the monotony of the usual MMO grind. The inclusion of voice acting into even minor game interactions opens up a lot of opportunities for humor which just aren’t available in text dialogue.
You can really feel some influence from Borderlands in the games style and it is surprising how seamlessly into a setting more similar to Titan AE. The factions provide stylistic differences in this vein in addition to their obvious moral opposition. As a member of the Exiles you can play out an accelerated plot of Ferngully and save burning forests by aiding the Aurin queen who can commune with nature. As Dominion, you can play tongue-in-cheek through some rather twisted themes in the vein of the Oddworld series.
The humor scale ranges from TaleSpin to The Terminator
The two factions of the game present players with a unique opportunity among MMOs of playing as either good or evil. Typically, although the aesthetic of different factions may incline one side more toward villainous themes, the Dominion are out-and-out evil. One of their first missions involves combusting/freezing human test subjects. Meanwhile, the Exiles present the opportunity for forlorn Browncoats to finally live out their Firefly fantasies and stick it to the intergalactic man.
The story begins with the discovery of the planet Nexus, a “science project” by a lost race of scientifically advanced aliens known as the Elder. Fleeing the oppression of the Dominion, the Exiles discover the abandoned planet Nexus. On their last legs after centuries of pilgrimage, they make for the surface to escape a Dominion ambush. Set on eradicating the last of the Exiles and claiming the planet as the rightful property of their nation originally founded by the Elder, the Dominion fleet also lands on the planet.
This introduction presents the player with something that sets WildStar apart from other MMOs on the market. The story is dynamic and interacts with players on a level a step above that of competing titles on the market. Fans of Final Fantasy XIV and Guild Wars 2 may wish to argue that point, but bear with me. Older titles have periodic metaplot to which the player is regularly reintroduced and typically participate with in the form of quests and instances.
The plot moves both physically and chronologically
WildStar takes this to the next level. You begin the story as the two nations ships encounter Nexus and play a vital role in the ensuing Dominion ambush and subsequent landing on the planet. Your actions dynamically affect each event and, even though the outcomes may be scripted, show visible evidence of your influence.
Large story events such as the Exiles discovering an Elder weather manipulation tower which you use to stop a torrential blizzard in your landing zone causes the snow to melt and alters the landscape thereafter. Even side missions such as clearing out Yeti in a cave filled with valuable minerals allows the miners to move into the tunnels after you have completed the line of quests. This feature lends a lot of relevancy to your actions which is typically missing in MMOs. Battling the Dominion forces attempting to burn down a forest, sabotaging their machines, then leading a counterattack and ultimately restoring the zone to lush forest is a visual reminder of your personal agency.
This also comes in verdant green or ash black
The path system brings yet another unique feature to landscape of WildStar. In addition to your class, you choose one of four paths: Soldier, settler, scientist, and explorer. Each path changes how you interact with the environment and gives you access to different tasks, quests and abilities.
Soldiers are predictably asked for their aid in active battles and can participate in optional king of the hill or elimination quests. Settlers are surprisingly useful as they can gather material to build buff stations at towns which provide status effects such as increased maximum health, increased movement speed, and increased experience gains. Scientist is my personal favorite, providing you with a droid which you can use to analyze aspects of your environment which either give you a greater insight into the story of the game or provide you with perks based on your scientific observations. One example of this is you can scan the eggs on an area with large, angry bugs to use their pheromones to mask your presence. Finally, explorers serve a sort of scouting role for both factions. If you pick this then prepare yourself for a variety of jump puzzles and exploration quests which provide you with some interesting perks such as access to unique areas.
Combat is surprisingly refreshing for the MMO genre. The “Danger Zone” mechanic has been adapted from Final Fantasy XIV with a few twists. First, it is much faster paced, requiring you to dodge nearly constantly between attacks. The Danger Zones also come in a variety of shapes which change dynamically during combos. A circular zone might expand into a star-shaped AOE whose branches begin spin as a comb progresses from a shock wave into a sweeping attack. Even players generate these zones with their attacks, giving pvp the same bullet hell feel as you try to catch enemies in your line of fire without being caught yourself.
Like this, but by level 10 the ground is mostly red
For all its differences, however, WildStar still follows the classic MMO formula. You finish a never ending series of quests, battle a slot based inventory system limited by a number of bags, and clock in a huge amount of time simply running around.
On planet Nexus, you don't get your license until you’re level 25
While it is obvious a lot of effort was put into making these features more dynamic, it feels like NCSoft succeeding in expanding the box rather than breaking out of it.
+ Dynamic story and changing environments allow for meaningful interaction with the setting.
+ Path system lets you choose a role yourself in the society and how you interact with the world.
+ Game aesthetics are a huge nostalgia bomb for 90’s kids, and sufficient quirky for players who have no idea what that means.
+ ”Danger Zone” fighting mechanic makes for more dynamic combat by requiring players to evade while they attack.
- For all its differences, still a lot of the same old quests.
- Emphasis on exploring means a lot of running. Even in the distant future, you must wait until level 25 for a mount.