Saturday, 22 August 2015

Eat That Frog : WildStar

WildStar has always seemed to me to be an MMORPG built on contradictory principles. Right from the opening salvo the game announced itself as some kind of happy-go-lucky, cowboys in space romp, all bright colors, amusing banter and cartoon antics.

Half the discussions I remember, following that breezy first video, seemed to center on whether the game was going to be too fluffy to take seriously, what with the bunny ears and all. The video for housing that followed seemed to push things even further in the direction of light, amusing, harmless fun.

As I mentioned in an enthusiastic response three years ago it all put me in mind of an updated version of EQ2. (In that piece I also wrote "I have WildStar pencilled in as my next "big" MMO after GW2." That prediction could still come true).

Of course, that was so early in the PR process we didn't yet know about Carbine's hardcore pretensions or at least I didn't. As more detail on that gradually trickled into public consciousness the cognitive dissonance at the heart of the project began to come into focus. A lot of questions were asked over whether there was an audience for this kind of thing. Not a few wondered whether, even if there was, it was an audience that wanted a game that looked quite so...silly.

What a delightful collection of shamanic masks. However did you find them all?

A brief year was all it took for the hardcore dream to fade. A lot less than that, really. Now, with the game undergoing a revamp for a different payment model, the direction of travel is all towards congruence. At last Carbine is bringing the gameplay into line with the look and feel, creating a more casual-friendly experience for this charming, quirky, cheerful MMORPG.

Only... just how charming and cheerful is WildStar anyway? Not all that, as it turns out. Really, not all that at all.

WildStar is the Crunchy Frog of MMOs. Sweet as you like on the outside but break the sugared shell and you'll find something deeply unpleasant within. When it comes to genuinely disturbing storylines and NPCs who make your skin crawl WildStar can give even The Secret World a run for its money.

What's in here then? Wild animals?
During my brief time in beta I played a Chua, one of the Dominion races. Some, make that most, of the things he was tasked with doing seemed a tad... off. Back then I took the louche moral tone that often verged on outright sadism to be indicative of The Dominion's status as the game's Bad Guy Collective. Little did I know.

WildStar has two player factions, Exile and Dominion. The temptation, largely encouraged by the background lore information available before you actually get in and play, would lead you to believe these approximate to what might be known as "Good" and "Evil" in other games.

Um, these guys can talk...
Do not be fooled. They're both evil. In WildStar your choice is between one set of psychotics or the other. That's problematic. It's one thing to be given instructions to trick, manipulate, bully and enslave entire indigenous species by one of the supposed villains of the piece but I find it somewhat hard to adjust to getting the same from the "good guys".

In some ways it's even worse from an Exile perspective. At least The Dominion dress up their antics with a sheen of PR that allows you to pretend what you're doing isn't quite as bad as you know it really is. The Exiles just come right out with it: see that creature there, the one that's native to this planet we just landed on, the one that has its own culture and way of life? That's a resource, that is! Go subvert it and control it and subsume it to our will.

It wouldn't be quite so bad if it was just the ends but look at the means! Here, just go grab a bunch of these locals, shove them in an electrified cage, then in you go with these horrific devices I've just handed you - burn, freeze, electrify and cut them for me and let's see how much pain they can stand. It's all in the name of Science!

"Protectors of Celestion". Did I read that right?
It is, I stress, the Exiles doing this, the faction described on the official website as 

"A gutsy group of outcasts and mercenaries who have come to Nexus to find a new home."

A new home alright. Shame it's someone else's but hey, let's not worry our pretty little bunny
ears about that. Not when we've got all this handy concentration camp fencing just lying around unused. "Gutsy"? I'd call them a bunch of solipsistic psychopaths with about as much empathy as a ball of snakes.

Playing MMORPGs pretty much demands you pack your morals in your hold luggage for the duration of the journey. You aren't going to be needing them. They're just going to get in the way of all the gratuitous, mindless killing. Even so, the sheer amorality of WildStar takes some swallowing.

Just as well it comes all wrapped up in a milk chocolate envelope, lovingly frosted with glucose, then. Otherwise we'd never be able to choke it down.

4 comments:

  1. What interesting observations. Seeing such contrast between the morality (or lack thereof) and initial presentation of Wildstar is, in a way, beautifully offsetting. I'm almost wondering if that is a statement on society in and of itself...

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    1. My feeling is that the contrast is intentional and I hope it's leading to some kind of climax or conclusion. Hard to tell at this early stage though.

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  2. You're in rare form these days. Your posts this month have been particularly entertaining. I did find the Dominion to be into torture and torment right I the tutorial, but don't recall anything like that on the Exile side. I'm eager to give it another try this fall and we'll see if those bunnies are also evil.

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    1. Thanks! Posting every day has been an interesting experience but not one I plan to repeat in a hurry.

      The Aurin seem to be have rose-tinted specs permaglued to their soft-toy faces. It's the Mordesh who seem to have no scruples. Or possibly, since they are undead, literally no empathy. Haven't really encountered many humans or Granoks yet. I'm very curious to see if this all goes anywhere or if it's just a lot of developer self-indulgence.

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