Sunday, April 27, 2014

WildStar: An Uninformed, Unexpected, Unfair Review

A long, long time go I was interested in WildStar. There's written evidence that I thought it might be "the new EQ2". Embarrassing to admit it now, even if whatever caused that rush of blood to the head did very soon wear off.

WildStar went on to become one of those odd MMOs where every new piece of information, every press release, every livestream, every blogger's hands-on, every news-site item chipped a little off the gloss. I found myself becoming less and less interested to the point where I'd gone beyond no longer caring about the game to arrive at a place where I actively avoiding reading anything about it at all. Consequently and to the best of my knowledge I never even bothered to apply for beta, which made it something of a surprise to come home from work a few days ago to open my email and find an invitation from Carbine to this week's unscheduled beta weekend sitting in my inbox.   

Tobold, sufficiently taken with WildStar to break his self-imposed MMO fast, interprets the bonus access as a sign that Carbine need more bodies on the ground to test their still-buggy new UI. I smelled fear. Possibly desperation.

Pre-orders not hitting targets? Cast the net wider. He didn't even apply? So what? We have his info on file from some other game , don't we? Just set the hook. Maybe he'll bite. Either that or I did apply, late one night, after a bottle of red, months ago. Always possible.

Whatever, I had a key so I used it and here are my unformed early thoughts and reactions:

It's ugly. That's my overriding impression. If I had to sum up the entire game in two words those would be the two words that I'd use. It isn't the choice of cartoony graphics per se - I like cartoony graphics because I love cartoons.Tex Avery, AAP, Ub Iwerks, 1960s Hanna Barbera, Rocko's Modern Life... I used to take all that stuff pretty darn seriously.

It's not the aesthetic - the aesthetic is fine. It's not the detail either, although compared to some, most,  other recent MMOs the detail is less detailed than perhaps we've come to expect. No, it's the miserable camera that just won't settle on anything for a second or find an angle it finds comfortable. It's next to impossible to get a good look at anything. And the flat, featureless backgrounds that make your eyes ache just to look at them. I just felt so tired. 

That leads me on to my second major complaint, one that I've seen raised elsewhere, much though I've tried to avoid reading about the game: it's visualy frenetic, exhausting, enervating, just altogether too much. It literally gave me a headache.

The font is wearing to read. Thin. Not characterless (if only it were that) but full of the passive-aggressive threat of an overly self-controlled stranger in a bus terminal. The color palate is reminiscent of uncomfortable institutions; hospitals, perhaps, or the kind of correctional facilities you might envisage in a mass-market dystopian fantasy for "young adults".

The much vaunted "telegraphs" feel like trying to read with talk radio playing in the background. They don't seem very relevant to what you're doing and you can almost but not quite ignore them. The 140 character twitteresque quest texts are surprisingly effective -  terse and to the point - but any benefit of brevity they might have offered is undermined by the never-ending verbose gibbering that fills the screen.

NPCs jabber in hideous, angular speech blocks (you can't in good conscience call them bubbles), while blocks of text pop up from anywhere and everywhere at any time. I have never seen a busier screen and most of the business is text. The audio is busy, too, with stock phrases rattling out like a documentary on Tourrette's or some failed Steve Reich experiment.

The tutorial goes on forever. Forever and forever and forever. I made my character last night and played for a loooong time and then the server crashed and I went to bed. I picked up where i left off tonight and finally, after about an hour and a half, I shook free of the introduction and stepped out onto Nexus. Which was not as much of a relief as I'd hoped and expected it would be.

Claustrophobic. That's another word for WildStar. Short draw distances, tight horizons, limited perspective. It's a very controlled, tight game. Limited color palette too. After "exploring" for a while I ended up stuck in some kind of instance (flashback? projection? simulation? No idea), gave up and logged out.

So, I hated it, right? Nope. I quite liked it. I'm not about to pay a sub but if it was F2P or even B2P I'd be in. Why? I fell instantly in love with my character, for one thing. I haven't followed anything about WildStar's lore so I don't even know the name of the race but just look at those screenshots (which, by the way , look far better than anything looked in the actual game). Isn't he adorable? More to the point, doesn't he look like Benny the Ball's very slightly smarter cousin? And if there was a Top Cat MMO would you really ever want to play anything else?

The there's the gameplay. It's hardly intellectually challenging but then neither are most MMOs. What it is is familiar, comfortable and satisfying. They've sprayed a new-game sheen on top but underneath it's every hotbar combat MMO you ever played and that works for me. As for those heavily-hyped Paths - I have no idea. I took scientist, almost at random. You get a drone you can name, it scans stuff and you get books and titles. It's TSW and EQ2 and Rift and every other "collect the shiny" MMO. Works for me.

So, that's my 5 hour Eurogamer review.  I realize It's like reviewing a 500 page novel after reading the first page. I'm currently around three thousand five hundred hours into GW2 and I don't feel qualified to give any kind of definitive summation there, after all. It's not likely I'll get much further into WildStar to unravel its subtleties, assuming it has any, but it was nice to get a glimpse behind the veil.

I'd be surprised if this turns out to be a success even on the scale of FFXIV:ARR or Rift, let alone the long-mooted  WoW-killer, but I wish WildStar well. If it ever goes free-to-play I'll be happy to give it a decent run. Providing I have enough ibuprofen on hand.


  1. It's a really weird game that I'm not sure whether I really loath or could enjoy either. Everything just seems to assault your sense at each and every moment in writing, environment and sound that I'm not sure what I should be focusing. MMO one night a week had that title wherein he feels it doesn't take itself seriously and I think that's the issue, it's trying to hard to be wacky and zane at each moment and it leaves you unsettled and Unsure... Is this a serious game for me or a quick burn title.

    After all that though it has oh so many shinies to collect. Housing .. an ACTUAL WARDROBE system and so many other elements. I am a Skritt at heart so it just might get me later on too... maybe.

    1. I think a strong indicator for me is just how little I played the beta this weekend. I enjoyed it while I was playing but it felt like something I could only consume in short sessions. It's just so busy! There's also a weird disconnect between the constant barrage of sound/text/action in the foreground and the disturbingly bland, almost unfinished aesthetic of the background graphics. When you get up close to things the detail is there but as a backdrop it feels like its all taking place in some kind of vague fog. Really unsettling.

      There's no chance I'd pay a sub to play it but if it ends up Freemium of some description I might be tempted. I strongly like the characters and races I've seen so far and very surprisingly I found the storyline quite involving too.

  2. "That leads me on to my second major complaint, one that I've seen raised elsewhere, much though I've tried to avoid reading about the game: it's visualy frenetic, exhausting, enervating, just altogether too much. It literally gave me a headache. "

    Hehe, that was my EXACT impression of Wildstar too. Especially if you played Elder Scrolls Online with it's rather calming classic fantasy settings (rolling hills, deserts with dusty winds blowing). You would log into Wildstar and it's BAM!!! POW!!! WTF!!! Oh look a cute bunny....

    I think this is what a baby feels like when all the adults are shaking colorful toys at them to attract their attention....

    I also just felt the game is noisy too, too many intrusive (and it's on repeat too) explosion type of sounds everywhere.


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