Phase One : Wrestling with the UI.
WildStar's UI is, in many ways, quite atrocious. It's aesthetically harsh, ferociously over-complicated and missing some key options. It needs a makeover and some serious simplification to be ready for F2P.
If you dig hard enough it does have plenty of options but not always the ones I wanted. Almost the very first thing I do in any - every - MMO is locate the Screenshot and Hide UI functions and rebind them to the Minus key on the numpad and F10 respectively. Those are the defaults in Everquest and I have muscle memory.
WildStar doesn't even have bindable keys for those functions. It uses PrtSc for taking shots and Alt-Z to hide the UI. Both are awkward. Neither is documented in-game. I had to google.
All the screenshots in this post were taken with FRAPS because I am not faffing around with PrtSc especially when it sends the shots to a folder buried somewhere no-one would ever think to look for it. Alt-Z is a really annoying combination to use but so far I haven't found a workaround. Given that, in the course of my first extended session, I took just short of a hundred screenies, I'd be very grateful for any clue how to get the UI out of shot without having to perform hand yoga every time.
That done, the next task was switching off almost all of the insane amount of visual clutter or cruft, as my new favorite word would have it. All those miscellaneous names and messages I could not care less about. If I'm not targeting something I don't want to see text telling me what it is. I want to see the scenery and nothing but the scenery.
It was at this point that I came across the option to switch off all of the telegraphs WildStar is infamous for. I knew it was there. I saw it in beta. I'd toyed then with the idea of switching them off but in the end I erred on the side of caution (and self-preservation).
This time I had a thought. Surely, if the developers believed the game couldn't be played without these visual cues, they would never have put in an option to remove them? So I switched them off. All of them.
After that the world of Nexus began to show its true beauty. And it is gorgeous. The design ethos is coherent and superbly executed throughout. Yes, it's a highly stylized look, high concept even, but brilliantly conceived and carried through to perfection. It may not look as "realistic" as other virtual worlds but it has that ineffable sense of place that convinces the mind. And I love the color palette.
Phase Two: Off The Map
It was only when I took off to explore that I began to appreciate what a huge and diverse place Nexus is. MMOs vary enormously in their explorability. Some, like Vanguard, make a big issue of it, claiming anywhere you can see, you can go. Others, like the original Guild Wars, go to the opposite extreme, constraining the character to specific paths, where a six inch kerb presents an insurmountable obstacle.
Nexus, to my considerable surprise, is closer to the Vanguard end of that scale. Indeed in one way it surpasses it: you can, quite literally, go exploring off the map.
Rather than throw myself straight into questing in the starting zone, Everstar, I decided to go for a wander. In very short order I found myself at the edge of either a lake or the sea. There was a cliff blocking the way so I swam round it and found myself in an undiscovered land.
Undiscovered that is by Exile, Dominion, indigenous wildlife or cartographers. WildStar appears to have a very significant area of geographically complete landmass that hasn't been prepared for gameplay. An explorer's dream come true.
I spent the next hour making my way along the coast, untroubled by mobs, NPCs or content, heading all the time roughly East and a little South. The arrow representing me on the map edged out into blackness and then disappeared altogether. At one point I cut across a populated corner of Celestion but until I eventually ended up in Whitevale, a mid-20s ice zone, I was in uncharted territory. I had no idea where I was or where I was going. It was wonderful.
Arriving in the snowlands as a Level 4, surrounded on all sides by aggressive deep red cons, I discovered the second factor that makes WildStar a true explorer's MMO. Level neutral aggro.
Some devs clearly feel players should stick to the defined level ranges and not go poking their noses into places they have no right to see without first paying their foozle-killing dues. In those games, as you move further from your intended level range, so the wildlife picks you out as easy prey and comes bounding across the map to rip your fool explorer's head off.
Not so in Nexus. Everything I encountered had a small agro range that seemed consistent with what I'd experienced in the starting zone. What with that, the mini-map showing little radar dots for all mobs and the roads and pathways being relatively safe, it was excellent exploring all round. In two hours continual traveling I was never attacked once.
Even better there was stuff I could do. Other than take endless screenshots that is. I spent a few minutes digging up Lopp shinies and I could have handed them in if I hadn't spotted shinies of my own and wandered off somewhere. I found books to read and datacrons to listen to. I opened more Soldier missions than I could count although obviously I couldn't actually do any of them. Still, they're all in my book for later. I wasn't making any xp but who cares?
Eventually I got to some valley in Galeras that positively teemed with elementals or something very like them. I couldn't find a way around them and by this stage I was getting a bit tired. What's the worst that could happen? It might not be so bad to get sent back to spawn for a rest, at that. I tried running through them.
It went about as expected although, even though they were all twenty levels above me, it was no one-shot and done. If I hadn't managed to gather about a dozen of them as I twisted and turned I might even have made it. But I didn't and so began
Phase 3: Doing What I Was Supposed To Do
Namely finding a map intended for my level and getting down to some questing. I wandered around Thayd for a while, seeing as how I'd respawned right next to the gate. It's probably just some hick town but after what seemed like (and was) hours in the wilderness the bustle of the big city was a bit too much so I got in a taxi and took a ride to the Western end of Celerion, where the mobs were level six and every second NPC had a ! over his head.
Even then I was slightly getting ahead of myself. I hadn't done any questing in the official starting zone and I was still only level four, two levels two low for Celerion.
How did I get to Level 4 without questing? I killed stuff. Old school I know but it still works. I'd wanted to test the No Telegraphs thing so I killed a bunch of innocent wildlife. Following the trail of soon-to-be-dead was how I ended up at that shoreline in the first place.
And it seemed to work just fine. I stood toe-to-toe with whatever i wanted to kill, or whatever some NPC told me I ought to want to kill, swung my huge two-handed sword and everything fell over. (Why do I have a sword, by the way? Is this the middle ages in space?).
Not only did I not die, at all, even once, on the way from Level 4 to Level 7, fighting multiple mobs that began at two or even three levels above me and ended up even, I didn't often even come close to dying.
The Shiphand mission I soloed took the longest. Maybe the best part of an hour. I was so immersed in it I forgot the time. Didn't even take many screenshots. That was the hardest fighting I did and there were one or two low-health moments that had me backing off but since my Warrior has no heals whatsoever there was no real choice but to fight on through the pain. Which she did. And prevailed.
I found most of the quests entertaining and amusing. There were a couple of great set pieces, particularly the part where all the Greenbough Guardians emerge from the ground and stomp all over the Dominion position. And the bit after that, which I won't spoil.
How long leveling up as though telegraphs and dodging aren't even in the game is going to go on working remains to be seen. In beta, playing a Chua Engineer, I had the telegraphs on but ignored them and he got to the low teens with no trouble at all. We'll see.
And see we definitely will because so far I like WildStar. A lot. If I end up having to dodge like a demented flea then that may change but for now I'm having fun.