I'll admit I was a little skeptical about NCSoft's new MMO, Wildstar. "Action-based combat" is the new favorite buzz-phrase for MMOs, and the cartoony style led me to think Wildstar would err on the side of easy gameplay. In this case, I was glad to be wrong.
You can choose between two factions when creating a character: the good guys and the bad guys. There are no shades of gray here, friends. The Dominion, a faction every bit as friendly as it sounds, is trying to enslave the whole galaxy. Among your first quests for them, you torture civilians until you find a spy. Meanwhile, the Exiles are rebel space-cowboys who are trying to win back their planets from the Dominion, and your first quests for them are to help a man save his pregnant wife.
Each faction has four races. As a proud member of the
Galactic Empire Dominion, you can play as an evil human from the planet Cassia; an ancient evil robot called a Mechari; a Draken, a brutal warrior-caste lizard-person; or a sociopathic rat-thing called a Chua. Exiles, on the other hand, can be a Human; an ale-swilling rock creature called a Granok; the adorable Aurin bunny-people; or a Mordesh, which are space zombie robots.
Regardless of which faction you choose, your available classes are the same. There are six, covering all your basic space-RPG needs. Your three options for a tank are the giant sword-wielding warrior; the power-armored, bot-building engineer; and the clawed and stealthy stalker. Want to be a healer? You can choose between the psychic magics of the Esper, the dual pistols of the Spellslinger, or the Medic and its probes. All classes also offer the option to deal a lot of damage if you choose.
Most combat abilities have an area-of-effect aspect, allowing you the freedom to move around as you fight and still hit your enemies. In this way, Wildstar very much lives up to the advertised action-based combat. In the classes I tried (Medic and Esper, as I am always a wizard at heart), there was always a cast time involved, so you're rolling around and dodging while waiting for a bar to fill up, so it felt slow to me. This may be different for the melee-based classes; if it is, let me know in the comments; I'm genuinely curious.
In an attempt to remove the biggest issue in most MMOs — clutter — Wildstar has a limited action set. Instead of seven action bars on your screen full of abilities you'll never use, you can choose one bar's worth of skills that you use a lot and ignore the rest. This can mean a lot of in-game currency spent on spells that never see the light of day, but you can have multiple sets, switching easily between healing, DPS, and PvP skills in a blink. It seems a nice medium between WoW's endless action bars and Guild Wars 2's very limited options.
Outside of combat, it plays very much like a standard MMO. Walk up to a quest giver, kill 10 rats, and return to the quest giver. To change it up a little, Wildstar has paths, a secondary questing option based on how you prefer to play games. Chosen at character creation, there are four paths you can take: Explorer, Scientist, Settler and Soldier. Explorers love to see everything a world has to offer and get side missions that involve finding hidden caves or filling out their map. Scientists are for lore-nerds like myself. Find datacrons, complete puzzles, and scan rare plants and animals to fill out your codex with useless but interesting information. Settlers can build temporary structures that offer buffs to other players or build inns or merchant stalls in places that are far removed from civilization. Their buildings are all temporary, and build nodes are shared throughout the server, so if someone already built them, you have to wait until theirs goes away before you can complete that quest. The final option, Soldiers, simply love to kill things, and their path quests lean toward boss fights and timed kill challenges.
Combat and questing is all well and good, but to me, a good MMO has a good crafting system. I love to wear armor I made myself or hand out healing potions to friends, and in this way, Wildstar really shines. The crafting is ridiculously complicated and slow to level. I only got to the tip of the iceberg, and a lot of people seem to be frustrated with its complexity, but so many MMOs have simple, click-here-for-sword crafting that frustratingly intricate suits me just fine.
There are six crafting and three gathering trade skills to choose from, and you can choose any two. Armorer, Outfitter and Tailor create heavy, medium and light armor, respectively. Weaponsmiths make weapons. Technologist is Wildstar's version of an alchemist, and Architects make items to put in your house. Your gathering options are Miner (metals), Relic Hunter (scrapped technology) and Survivalist (leather, meat, wood). There are also two secondary trade skills, Cooking and Farming, which you can pick up in addition to the two primary skills. You can switch between crafting trade skills, though there's a cooldown on how often, so if you're an Architect, but you really need to upgrade your beat-up sword, switch to Weaponsmith for a while. Your progress will be saved, so when you switch back to Architect, you'll be right back where you were.
The crafting in Wildstar has both Talent trees, where you can increase the effectiveness of the items you craft, and Tech Trees, almost like a spec option inside the trade skill. You make a certain amount of one item to unlock new schematics, and you can build your skills in any direction. If you aren't interested in PvP armor, for example, you can skip the requirements for learning it and concentrate on using your materials to upgrade your PvE armor. You can come back to the PvP stuff later, if you wish. With this layout, though, it takes a long time before you unlock new things to make, so it can feel like you're not progressing or out-leveling the gear you can make.
Housing is always highly requested in MMOs, and happily, Wildstar joins the ranks of the handful with the option, which is unlocked at level 14. You buy and clear a plot of land, and then it's yours to use as you wish. You start with basic home options and can build bigger and more elaborate buildings as you gain levels (and gold). The decoration options are nearly endless, and there are no designated furniture spots, and I didn't encounter a limit on the amount of items you can include. Put whatever you want, wherever you want, whether inside your home, in your yard, or on the outside of the building. Build the sci-fi cartoon home of your dreams —eventually. You essentially start out in a tent in the middle of a field, and you have to work your way up. Like everything else in Wildstar, it's not an easy climb. To me, that makes the mad-scientist mansion I will one day own feel that much more fulfilling. They didn't just hand me a mansion; I earned it.
The graphical style can be a little off-putting. As other games are trying harder for realism, Wildstar went in the opposite direction. The characters have over-exaggerated proportions, the environments are saturated and colorful, and the whole experience looks like something I watched on Saturday mornings as a kid. It's still fairly graphically dense, however, with my computer barely reaching minimum specs.
Wildstar is a breath of sci-fi fresh air in a genre saturated by orcs and elves. Everything in the game is easy to learn and difficult to master, and the challenge is equally as refreshing as the setting.
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