I always get my hopes up when a new MMORPG is announced. They all promise a new and exciting experience that they can't really deliver. When I heard about Wildstar, I was determined to approach it as the jaded, disillusioned ex-raider that I am, and I am pleasantly and enthusiastically surprised.
Let's start at the beginning. A long time ago, the Eldan, a mysterious and powerful race, named the Cassians as the true rulers of the universe and formed the Dominion. The Eldan disappeared or ascended to godhood or were killed off; no one knows. The Cassians, humans from the planet Cassus, continued the path they were given, and the Dominion spread across the stars, taking or destroying every planet they came across. Others joined their cause. The Mechari, robotic beings created by the Eldan, were an obvious choice. The science-crazed Chua brought their passion for invention and destruction. The Draken, brutal and bloodthirsty lizard-like people, formed the militant arm of the Dominion.
Some of the Cassian people disagreed with the Dominion's ideas. They were driven out, took some ships, and left. Now known as the Exiles, these humans roamed the stars, holding their ships together by whatever means necessary. Over time, they were joined by others who were driven from their homes by the Dominion. The Aurin, rabbit-eared and nature-loving, took over the greenhouses. The Mordesh are an elf-like race infected with a deadly disease and kept "alive" by science, and the boisterous, tough, and usually inebriated Granok round out their forces. After centuries of traveling, they stumble across Nexus, a new planet outside of the Dominion that they plan to settle as their own. The Dominion also learns of it, and that is where our story begins.
At a glance, it's very obvious who's supposed to be the good guys and the bad guys. The Dominion talk with very posh English accents, their decor is very high tech, and everything is red and gold. The Exiles wear olive drab, speak with Southern accents, and their ships are held together with duct tape and hope. Playing as an Exile, the Dominion are clearly monsters that destroy anything that gets in their way and probably kick puppies. The Dominion see themselves as the heroes, they are deeply religious, and they worship the Eldan as gods. They feel they are just and compassionate rulers who are simply following the word of much more powerful beings. It's refreshing to play an "evil" faction that isn't just the villain because it's fun.
There are six classes available in Wildstar; all six are usable for both factions, but not for all races. The Aurin, for example, can't be any of the heavy-armored classes, and the Chua only want science-based ones. Each class can be either damage or support.
Three classes have the ability to tank: Engineers, Stalkers and Warriors. Engineers wear heavy armor, but they can layer an exo suit on top for extra protection. They prefer to stay at a distance, and they use bots so it stays that way. Stalker is a surprising addition to the tank classes. A stealth-based, medium-armored damage dealer, Stalkers tank by simply not getting hit. They like to fight up close and personal, and they use huge Wolverine-like claws to shred their enemies. Warriors are brutal, close-range fighters who wield a giant sword and arm-cannon and pack on the heavy armor.
The other three classes are our healers: Esper, Medic and Spellslinger. Espers are the closest to a wizard as we get. Lightly armored and long-range, they cast illusions to do their work, whether it's healing and buffing their party or sending horrifying monsters to scare the bad guys. Medics are the most obvious choice for a healer. They use probes and fields to heal friends and melt enemies, and with their medium armor, they can wade into the fray. Spellslingers are sci-fi gunmen. Lightly armored, they dual-wield pistols and somersault around the battlefield, using a combination of magic and bullets to keep their friends alive and their enemies dead.
Before you can start playing Wildstar, you must pick a Path to complement the way you like to play the game. Paths are separate from regular quests. I'm a completionist and need to explore and map every nook and cranny of every zone before I move to the next one. The Explorer could have been tailor-made for me. Scientists are for the lore-minded among us. With their trusty scanbot, they travel and learn everything they can. Soldiers like to kill things. They get extra missions to kill special things or hold an area against waves of enemies and kill them. Finally, Settlers try to tame Nexus's wilderness. They build bank kiosks, depots, inns and taxi services. They can also do little things, like plant flowers and hang banners, to pretty up a place.
The combat is fast-paced and action-packed; gone are the days of standing still and swinging a sword until one of you dies. Abilities show an area-of-effect marker — yours is blue and the enemy's is red — to show where an ability will hit. As such, attacks can be dodged, aimed, or interrupted easily. Every attack has the potential to hit more than one monster at a time, even for typically single-target classes like the Warrior. Double-clicking in a direction makes you roll that way, getting you out of the range of the enemy's attacks, and in most classes, get an interrupt or stun of some kind to completely stop the attack. It's hard to get used to; I tend to play caster classes in MMOs, and I keep forgetting I'm able to move while casting spells now. It's challenging, and the learning curve is higher than I expected, but once you figured it out, combat actually feels like a battle, even just one-on-one.
I've run into a couple of bugs so far, but nothing really game-breaking (these may have been fixed by the time this is posted). If you report spam, the game crashes to the desktop. Sometimes, my poor Aurin is naked on the login screen instead of clad in her awesome armor, though she's fully clothed once the game loads. I hear the more popular servers have some pretty horrendous queue times, though I haven't experienced those. Carbine Studios has been patching almost every day to iron these out, but as far as MMO releases go, Wildstar's has been surprisingly smooth.
There's so much to see in Wildstar that I've barely scratched the surface. Every corner I turn, there are three more things that require inspection. I'm excited to go around that corner, and I want to see what comes next. That's a feeling I'd almost forgotten I could get from an MMO. I'd forgotten what fun felt like. I've still got a lot to do before I can truly review the game, so we're not giving it a score just yet. Go watch the DevSpeak videos, have a sandwich, and I'll be back with the full review after E3. See you all in the game.
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