Welcome to the Free-to-Play Report! This is a series where I download a free-to-play game and play enough to get the gist of it. I’ll relay my adventures and misadventures to you, the reader. Hopefully by the end of the report, you’ll be able to tell if the game is worth the free download or not.
WildStar and its developer Carbine Studios have had a rocky first year. When WildStar launched on June 3rd, 2014, it was supposed to be the game to replace World of Warcraft. It touted complex, difficult combat and a return to what made World of Warcraft originally great, including the monthly subscription. However, a popular complaint was that WildStar forgot why WoW changed in the first place. Content in WildStar lacked modernization and was too archaic to attract a large audience. Lots of people bought WildStar and quit after the first free month, myself included. WildStar, at launch anyway, catered too much to a hardcore audience that didn’t have the numbers to support the game, leading to its recent conversion to free-to-play.
So How Was It?
When I first logged into Wildstar, I was told to choose between two factions, the rebel Exiles, and the empirical Dominion. The factions are reminiscent of the rebels and Empire from Star Wars, and I’m sure that’s on purpose. The Exiles and Dominion are fighting over the planet of Nexus and its ancient and powerful technology left behind by a lost alien race called the Eldan.
WildStar features eight unique races (four to a faction) to go along with six different classes. I personally chose the Dominion’s robotic Mechari for my race, which was a hard choice over the furry, rodent-like Chua. I also chose the Medic class because I wanted to be able to heal any buddies that I might find along the way.
Another feature that makes WildStar unique are the four independently-leveled subclasses: The Soldier, Settler, Scientist, and Explorer. My personal choice was the Settler. I gathered materials in the world and used them to construct small stations around the map that aided fellow players in their adventures.
Another plus for WildStar is how great it looks. It has a cartoon-style aesthetic that will make sure it looks fresh for years to come. The game’s art style pulls off spaceships and exotic terrain of Nexus splendidly. What sets WildStar apart from other games is its atmosphere. This game doesn’t take itself very seriously at all, and will take any opportunity to make a joke. The graveyard NPC who revives you will constantly mock you, and he’s pretty mean about it. The game’s narrator will call you a badass when you level up, and will yell things like “triple kill!” often. WildStar’s whimsical and pop culture focused humor definitely makes the game feel fresh.
WildStar’s combat is some of the most engaging combat that I’ve seen in an MMORPG. We don’t usually expect games in this genre to require fast reflexes, but WildStar makes sure the player is on his or her toes at all times. Red area-of-effect cones project where an enemy’s attack will land, giving you an opportunity to recognize the threat and dodge out of the way. This sounds simple, but it’s way more complicated when there’s six red cones aiming at you. The player’s combat is controlled with a normal action hotbar mapped to the number keys, but mostly all the abilities are area-of-effect spells. This means you’ll have to aim each attack, which come in a variety of cones, rectangles, and circles. WildStar’s combat system kept me engaged like I was playing an action game, due to how often I was wildly aiming my mouse and jamming the movement keys.
One of my major gripes with WildStar is its questing system. Sure, the dialogue and text surrounding the quests are all amusing, but the quest content is usually run-of-the-mill kill or fetch quests. WildStar does little to innovate on the genre’s tired questing tropes. The only thing that saves these monotonous quests is how fun the combat is, but time will tell which one will outlast the other. I also experienced a few bugs. There were expected bugs, like server issues, that come with a massive free-to-play launch like WildStar’s, but there were also bugs that shouldn’t be present in a game that is already over a year old. There were times where quests would bug out and would leave me confused about if I was making any progress. Bugs like these are minor annoyances in an otherwise technically stellar game, but they are annoyances nonetheless.
I only got to experience one group scenario in my time with Wildstar, which was the first one available called “Fragment Zero”. It wasn’t considered a traditional “dungeon”, but more like a quick warm-up for the group content later in the game. What I liked about “Fragment Zero” was how well it fit its story into the experience. I actually wanted to watch the cutscenes, and was engaged the entire time I was in the instance. “Fragment Zero” was a cakewalk, but I’ve been told by other players that it gets way more challenging from there.
My experience in Wildstar’s player-vs-player combat can be summed up in two words: organized chaos. It was definitely one of the most hectic experiences I’ve had in an MMORPG. The PvP mode I played was a variant of capture the flag where you can steal the enemy’s points from them. I was constantly moving my character around and trying to react to dodging enemies, while trying to dodge attacks myself. As a Medic, I was constantly switching from healing my allies to dealing some damage to the other team. WildStar’s PvP dances on the fine line between “this is exhilarating” and “this is way too crazy”, but I liked it, and I don’t usually like PvP.
How Free Is It?
Free-to-play games live and die in the cash shop. A game with a cash shop that is viewed as “pay-to-win” by the community will risk severely damaging its reputation. On the other hand, the studio needs to make money. They need to have items that players will want to buy. WildStar plays this dangerous game quite well. Nothing in the cash shop is clearly pay-to-win, and none of it is vital in order to have fun. There have been some concerns with some items in the cash shop having the potential to damage the player economy, but it remains to be seen if this will have any significant impact. There is an option to pay a subscription, which lets you enjoy the game like it never went free-to-play, along a nice experience boost and some other bonuses.
Worth The Download?
In my opinion, WildStar is definitely worth the download. The quality shines through WildStar’s free-to-play shell, and you can get hours of enjoyment out it without spending a penny. I know I’m going to keep playing it, and I’m excited to see what high-level content is like. There are a lot of free-to-play games out there, but not many have the level of polish and shine that WildStar has. Even with its small problems, there is still tons of fun to be had with WildStar. Give it a go, you won’t regret it.