|Dev: Carbine Studios|
|Release: June 3, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol|
by Becky Cunningham
There's just something irresistible about the Space Western, so much so that I'm surprised we don't have more examples of the genre in the video gaming world. Carbine's new MMORPG WildStar hopes to correct that imbalance in the Force, and does so with a remarkable amount of panache. It nails its themes, but is it also worth the time, money and general dedication that a massively multiplayer online game demands? For many devotees of this style of game, that answer is yes.
WildStar has everything a traditional MMORPG fan could want. It's clearly an evolution of the Everquest and World of Warcraft formula, with a leveling experience based around quest hubs, group dungeons to encounter along the way, and large raids in the end-game (or Elder Game in WildStar dev-speak). There are numerous player versus player options including dueling, instanced Warplots, and full PvP servers. Add to this a wonderfully realized world, excellent customization options, and features like the Path and housing systems, and you've got one of the most fully-featured games to launch in a long time.
After choosing between the iron-fisted Dominion and scrappy Exile factions, then creating a character, the first thing you'll notice about WildStar is its excellent artistic and sound design. Although not everybody loves cartoon graphics, WildStar has done an amazing job with the style. Everything is bold and vibrant, with an impressive amount of diversity within a consistent graphical style. Players will find themselves drawn into the game's icy mountains, verdant forests, vast savannahs and mysterious ruins. Everything bursts with personality, from the creepy eyeball cameras of the Dominion to the scraped-together frontier look of Exile architecture to the funny little green clones who staff the Protostar Corporation.
WildStar also boasts the best and most diverse musical score I've heard in an online game. You can listen to a snippet of music and immediately guess the theme of the area in which it is played. While some MMOs attempt to stave off musical fatigue with pieces that are largely atmospheric, WildStar opted to simply have excellent musical pieces underscoring its action. Verdant forests, fierce battlefields, mysterious ruins and rollicking frontier areas are all appropriately scored with near movie-quality pieces. This score is supported by lively sound effects and often hilarious voice acting. Sure, every alien race in the game sports a particular vocal stereotype, but it works with the game's overall humorous theme, and the performances are just the right level of hammy.
That humor deserves a mention, because WildStar pulls it off very well. In turns goofy and dark, WildStar is sprinkled with amusing cultural references but is even funnier when it sticks to its original material. The pop culture reference as humor is becoming rather overused in entertainment and especially in massively multiplayer gaming. That's why it's nice to see WildStar using the conceit sparingly with smaller bits like “Galeorade” soda machines and a single off-world adventure that plays perfect homage to Aliens.
Most of Wildstar's humor comes from original comedic characters such as the maniacal scientist Mondo Zax, plucky adventurer Belle Walker and her combination of enthusiastic and sarcastic bot companions, and the insane artificial intelligences left behind to run the ruins of the vanished Eldan civilization. Though it has serious elements, WildStar is primarily comedic, which I believe is a first in the world of major MMOs. Thankfully, the humor works, making the game a delight to explore.
What is your place in this fun and vibrant world? WildStar truly shines when it comes to giving players the chance to express themselves. Anything that can be worn by a particular character can become a costume piece and displayed instead of the currently-equipped armor at any time. Mounts and robot companions can be customized with various pieces of bling. Every character gets his or her own plot of land which can be fully customized with a dizzying array of decor and upgraded with useful buildings, mini-games and even personal dungeons. This housing system alone will occupy much of the player base for more hours of their lives than they'll want to admit.
The one area in which WildStar falls short in terms of customization is oddly the one that many players feel is most important. Character creation is oddly limited, allowing only a handful of face and hair options and providing a small choice of pre-determined colors for skin/fur/scales, hair, etc. instead of the broader color palette used by most modern MMOs. No matter how original you think you've managed to get with the character creator, you're bound to run into multiple doppelgangers of yourself in the starter areas alone. Anybody playing a female character will notice that the physique options are sadly limited, and in fact the Picasso-esque hourglass shape strictly imposed of females of all races limits player choice, leads to awkward animations, and is at odds with the otherwise egalitarian gender vision presented by the game. It's a shame, really.
When you're done looking pretty and ready to get down to business, WildStar has a class and combat system that is a nice hybrid between old and new ideas. The traditional Holy Trinity of damage, tanking, and healing roles is in evidence, but every class has access to a damage-dealing role along with either tank or healer. This allows everyone to DPS up for random leveling and exploring, but be able to switch to tanking and healing roles for group content. Whether this will convince more of the player base to volunteer for tanking and healing duty is an open question, but the choice is much appreciated.
Customization is as available in gameplay as it is in aesthetics and housing, with good results. Every character, regardless of class, can choose a career path between soldier, scientist, explorer and settler. This gives the player access to themed side quests and unique abilities throughout the game. Main classes are very customizable as well, with almost too many ways to alter ability sets, AMPs (think talent trees), tweakable armor statistics, etc. Number crunching players are going to be in heaven with this system, while players who prefer to simply get down to business can look up an array of possible character builds on the Web.