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Wildstar: Reloaded, an Outrageously Polished, Feature-Rich, Free-to-Play MMO

 Should you play it? Yes. It’s free, it’s polished, it’s fun. End of story.

 

Pros:
Dungeon/Raid Complexity
Art Style
Customization
Player Housing!!!

Cons:
Terrible UI Decisions
Where is the option for multiple saved sets of gear?
PvP can feel unsatisfying at times.

Every major MMO with any semblance of polish gets touted as another WoW-killer, and yet with every release, WoW stands firm in its position; in fact, it seems the only thing capable of killing WoW is WoW itself, and through various updates and changes in direction, people—myself included—have decided it was time to move on.

The guys at Carbine know this and, as ex-WoW developers, they also know not to tinker too much with a winning formula. Wildstar isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, it just wants to make sure that wheel hauls ass. Everything in this game has been streamlined and modernized, aside from a few UI missteps; namely the quest log feeling extremely cluttered, and the chat window being difficult to see, especially given some of the eye-stabbing, head-scratching color choices for the text (damn you, account whisper…damn you). The combat is action heavy, emphasizing movement, aim, and timing, the quests come quickly and rarely require frequent backtracking, the music and whimsical voice-acting are wonderfully executed, and the lore is substantial if you put in the time to read it. Unfortunately, and this goes back to the issue of UI blunders, the story is, aside from incredibly polished cinematic scenes using in-game graphics, terribly presented through the use of unassuming-to-a-fault chat bubbles, and unless you go find your telescope from the attic, chances are you aren’t going to bother squinting through all the text. The good news is there are a plethora of add-ons for the game, thanks to the devs embracing an open-source approach to mod support. Alas, I seem to have wandered off course here, so let’s back up. Any MMO begins with the simple act of character creation, and that seems as good a place as any to get into specifics for the purpose of this review.

Character creation starts off with you deciding whether or not you want to skip the tutorial and jump straight to level 3, a feature that was just recently added with the launch of Wildstar: Reloaded, then picking one of two factions and choosing one of six varied classes, each of which is capable of filling two of three roles within the “holy trinity” found in MMOs: tanking, dealing damage, or healing. After this, you choose one of four paths: explorer, settler, scientist, or soldier. These paths dictate what sort of side objectives you’ll be doing while you level up. Just know that the most beneficial, in terms of unlockable perks, are scientist or settler: scientists unlock the ability to summon groups, which pairs especially well with the stealthy Stalker class, and open portals to capital cities, while settlers get access to buffs to experience gains while leveling, as well as a campfire (provides a slight bonus to HP) and the ability to summon a vendbot to sell junk and repair items while in a dungeon or raid. There are lots of options for appearance customization, including some sliders to finely tune some features, but don’t expect to be able to alter every little detail. Now you’re ready to run off and do the things that you do in MMOs, and those tropes and cliches are all largely unchanged here. You kill boars, you fetch items, you level up. There are challenges which appear every now and then to add some timed excitement to the mix, and other times they’re just more annoying fetch objectives with a timer, but thankfully they can skipped, as can this section where I go into details about questing and whatnot…So let’s talk combat and telegraphs.

Every ability in the game is accompanied by a colored shape on the ground, indicating its area of effect. The bulk of combat comes down to placing your telegraphs on enemies and avoiding the ones they try to place on you. It’s simple enough, and Carbine does a nice job of easing players into it all by slowly ramping up the difficulty. As you destroy hapless flora and fauna, you level up, unlocking new abilities, but you can only equip 8 abilities on your action bar, referred to as your LAS, or limited action set. It is up to you to decide which abilities you want to take with you, and which abilities you upgrade and enhance, providing them with new bonuses. You are also awarded talent points, or AMPs, for a separate system of character progression.

The real beauty of this game, aside from the gorgeously Pixar-esque art style, lies in the raids, dungeons, expeditions, and adventures. If complex raid mechanics and strategies are at all appealing, just know they come by the boatload in Wildstar, and there’s no need to wait until you hit the level cap to experience them: the first real dungeon at level 20 provides ample taste of things to come with lots of dodge-rolling, cast interruptions, and a fight that even contains a tornado and lightning obstacle course. The use of telegraphs, both helpful and harmful, means the developers are able to design some insanely involved mechanics without worrying about them feeling too convoluted. It’s all incredibly fun, and those are just the dungeons. Adventures are choose-your-path dungeons with branching content to explore, adding an innovative reason to replay them, aside from new loot. Speaking of replay, all of this content can also be played on veteran difficulty at the level cap, or on normal difficulty with friends with your level scaled down to match the intended level, providing experience gains and enjoyment for someone simply trying to help out a lower level friend. Not to mention you just get a new costume or maybe even a piece of furniture for your house…

Yes, that’s right. Player Effing Housing, and it’s EXTRAORDINARY. Not only do some items provide special bonuses to your rested experience—which in turn provides a bonus to experience gains for your accumulated rest—they offer unexpected amounts of customization options, so much so that some people dedicate the majority of their time to pimping out the pad and inviting players to check them out; some even go so far as to charge people for visits with a chance to win money if they can complete puzzles, mazes, or platforming obstacle courses that they designed. Furthermore, you can place crafting stations, resources, portals to cities, and even unique dungeons, with unique items, on your land. Each new update and content drop offers more options for customization, including the most recent update for halloween, offering costumes and décor with a spooky twist.

An example of a Wildstar housing plot.

If you don’t feel like playing house and dress-up, there’s always the option to slay your foes in combat. The game offers a slew of instanced PvP options like capture the flag or king of the hill, warplot PvP with up to 80 players duking it out in customized territories, and 2v2, 3v3, and 5v5 arena matches. PvP doesn’t only happen in these instances, however. Unlike some other polished MMOs that launched recently, Wildstar offers world PvP in contested territories while leveling (assuming you play on the PvP servers), so if you don’t like the way that bunny-eared Aurin Stalker just stole your last quest mob, discipline him by unleashing the fury of a thousand gods on his cute face. Destroy something beautiful.

As much as I love PvP, there are a few minor gripes in this category. Early on, the time to kill seems ridiculously long, leading to a lot of moments where you swing away viciously with little consequence only to have your opponent saunter off and receive some heals and steamroll over you with more help. It can feel very anti-climactic, a problem exacerbated by the lack of weighty, visceral combat feedback. Yes, critical hits are accentuated by bold numbers, but where the hell is the meaty crunch on impact? Where is the rending sound effect of a blade tearing through flesh? Another problem is with a bunch of people in one area, it tends to feel like some sort of weird version of twister with telegraphs flashing every which way and people just spamming abilities. These, as I said, are minor gripes, but one unforgivable oversight on the part of the developers is the obvious absence of any sort of gear-switching system built in. For a game that stresses experimenting with different LAS loadouts and the ability to fulfill multiple roles, it makes absolutely no sense there to be no way to fluidly switch between sets of gear on the fly.

With the release of its free-to-play update, Wildstar: Reloaded has opened up its doors to anyone who may have been too apprehensive or miserly to take the plunge during its initial release, and those of you who cringe at free-to-play and all the shenanigans that come with gratuitous money-grabs will be happy to know that Wildstar: Reloaded does it the right way: nothing in the game is locked behind the cash shop, and basically every item can be purchased with real money or in-game currency. However, there are some nice perks that come with purchasing the game, so I highly recommend doing so after you mess around with it for a bit, and boxes can be found for less than 25 bucks, well worth the price for a game with so much to offer. Even if you hate everything about MMOs and associate the genre with basement-dwelling troglodytes, Wildstar might change your mind. It is an incredibly polished love-letter to the genre from the guys at Carbine, and it deserves far more recognition than it has received. Oh, and it’s FREE. There is no excuse not to give it whirl.

For those of you only interested in a number:

4.5/5

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