The MMORPG market is one that seems impenetrable, World of Warcraft sitting atop an endless pile of gold while most other entries quickly ditch their subscription model. We recently caught a glimpse of the latest contender, Carbine Studios’ WildStar, in a beta that shows two very disparate directions: One headed to contend for this shining throne, the other headed into the valley of free-to-play.
The most promising aspect of WildStar is its combat; a greater freedom of movement and aiming offering a more fast-paced and dynamic variation of the standard. Our class of choice was the Spellslinger, a vocation that combined gunplay with magic that culminates in the most fun we’ve had in a game of this sort thanks to the way the game handles abilities: Rather than simply targeting an enemy and tapping a key, you activate the ability and aim the indicator wherever you so please.
The sense of freedom granted by this is quite the rush after so many games have either copied the standard or gotten it wrong. It could be compared to Guild Wars 2’s combat, only with more adherence to the dynamic vision and without the limited choice of abilities.
During the course of creating our Spellslinger we were given a choice of paths, a mechanic that allows the definition of the character’s aspirations (from a choice of soldier, settler, scientist, and our choice: explorer). While it can come across as little more than an additional chain of quests, other MMORPGs can sometimes give you so many tasks that veer away from your interests that you just get bogged down by them, the carrot on the stick leading you from quest to quest without stopping to just go and explore the world. A mechanic that tailors your experience to you is a fantastic and thoughtful addition, one that can hopefully be developed beyond climbing an obscure hill.
Another aspect headed in the right direction is the handling of lore. Each location offers up a series of collectibles that grant you pages of a comic – the name of which escapes our memory now that the beta has ended, typically – that holds small chunks of the world’s history written with both charm and detail. WildStar is obviously being built with a lot of back-story in mind – adopting The Elder Scrolls’ method of dishing that out is an inspired move that will hopefully keep players enthralled in the world.
It’s shaping up to be quite the intriguing world, too – at least initially. The artwork used is an endearing take on sci-fi and fantasy that genuinely looks like it was ripped straight from a comic book, a welcome sight after the recent influx of more realistic games in the genre. Story hooks are also delivered relatively early on, a massive twist regarding the Dominion faction coming at the end of their starting zone.
All these provide the ingredients needed for a core component of any MMORPG, an engaging atmosphere, so it’s mind-boggling that Carbine Studios seem to be filling the game with ruthlessly immersion-shattering elements. The game features a combo system where killing more than one enemy within a certain amount of time grants a bonus, but signalling this with an announcer who booms the words “triple kill” just utterly nullifies any immersion.
The game’s humour only exacerbates this issue: An early quest has players chasing a rabbit-monster to the most obnoxious Benny Hill Theme knock-off we’ve had the great displeasure of hearing. Using jokes that aren’t grounded within the game’s fiction itself is not only tacky and inconsistent, but a reminder that you’re playing a videogame. This is entirely the wrong thing to do in a game that will live or die by its ability to draw players in for hours at a time over the course of years, not for the thirty minute-long rounds of a MOBA or FPS.
WildStar is showing the most potential a game of its type has shown for nearly a decade; it’s just getting the most important aspect woefully wrong. Should Carbine Studios turn some of their more self-destructive decisions around, World of Warcraft will face its toughest challenge yet.