Monday, 24 March 2014

Wildstar: A Beta Weekend

Good Monday everyone!

So how's your weekend been? Mine was spent in a beta weekend trying out the game Wildstar!

Ok first things first, there are a few things that I don't think I can really discuss and that is down to a general NDA thing that I agreed to. Also part of the NDA said I wasn't allowed to take screenshots for public consumption. So for this post I've done what I always do and delved the internet for already publicly available images! - Go Team Google!

What is Wildstar?
Good question! Wildstar is an online adventure game where hundreds of other players co exist with others, sometimes working together, other times in competition. Also known as a Massively Multiplayer Online game, or MMO for short.

For those familiar with the genre, it's like World of a Warcraft only in space... Sorta like World of Starcraft if you will...

So what's different about Wildstar compared to 'X' other MMOs?
Ok, well Wildstar is a game developed by Carbine studios, made up by ex MMO designers, people who worked on Old World WoW, City of Heroes etc. Apparently the story goes that they grew tired of their games and went searching for something new, got bought by NCSoft but retain creative control, so NCSoft count only as publishers nothing more.

What this gives us is a game that feels much like every other MMO out there, in no way is it trying to reinvent the wheel, because the team who are making it are part of the same teams who created the wheels we're all currently running around on - per se.

What makes Wildstar different is the setting, which is two fold; a). Sci Fi and b). SMC (Saturday Morning Cartoon.

As you can see from these characters above:
Generic dopey looking steam/future-punk human? Check!
Large brutish looking rock man? Check!
Cultish animal girl who probably has psychic powers? Check!

This game, while being sci if at it's core holds very true to it's SMC theme throughout... Hell, it even has the generic 'blind in one eye Gunslinger' trope as a quest giver; who by the way is awesome!

This is what Wildstar brings to the table, and while I've only delved about 12 levels into the beta, it's a world I've fallen in love with!

Ok, but it can't be all good? What could they improve?
Right, now I need to say that we're still looking at Beta here, so some of these complaints may be ironed out, and some I know for sure will.

First we have the UI. It's clunky and un eloquent.

As you can see everything is centred around this 'pyramid' in the middle, blocking off vital parts of the screen and just looking a bit shit.

That said however, this is referred to as UI1.0 and it has been made public that as of a soon to come (the next?) beta weekend that same UI will be replaced with v2.0:

I think we can all agree that's much nicer.

Then there's the frames per second (how quickly the game renders on your screen). The smooth ride we're all striving for is around 60fps, the higher you increase your prettiness the lower your FPS goes and you need better hardware to render.

Now there have been a LOT of people talking about an I optimised graphic engine causing many players to be stuck at a FPS around 5-10, aka unplayable even on high end machines. As some of you know in December I upgraded my GPU to a Radeon HD8000 series (8700 if i remember correctly) and this will run most games like a beast, so this may account for this, but in nearly all but a very few areas I had next to no framerate drop off meaning the game ran and played very smooth. That said, even though I did not experience the low frame rate problems, due to the sheer volume of people reporting it, I feel it needs to be mentioned.

That said, I can not argue the graphics are certainly in need of work as there are certain bits which are crazy wrong! Like the ground detail slider which works backwards! The higher you move the slider the less ground detail you show! (It's supposed to work the other way around).

Also there's the issue of the wheel itself.

Like I said earlier, the team have not tried to reinvent the wheel, only apply that wheel to a new setting. The problem here; and this really comes down to personal taste, some people are tired of the wheel! They want something new and fresh and not the usual 'run around pressing 1124431' to win a fight. But like I said, this is personal preference.

Then there's the setting itself. Like I said, the game has a very SMC feel to it's looks, and I'll be honest, this isn't for everyone. Even in my own home we're split between saying the game looks kiddie vs awesome!

If you don't like the style, then there's no getting over that. They've taken the cartoony look of World of Warcraft and cranked it up to 11 so a lot of the characters look like a modern day Disney version of what other games would have.

Now the thing with style and taste, there's no right or wrong answer, some will like it, others won't. But it must be kept in mind that by splitting the demographic in such a way it will never be a game that will grab both group's attentions.

It sounds like Wildstar has an uphill struggle on their hands, but there must be some good points... Right?
Damn right there are some good points!

For starters some of the game's weak points are also it's strengths!

Yes it doesn't reinvent the wheel, but personally I like that wheel! And in doing so it allows the dev team to focus on the world they are creating, the character of it's inhabitants and the tone of the missions and conversation.

You see there is no denying it, visual tastes aside Wildstar is very dynamic in it's appearance with characters choc-full of personality, which in turn is further heightened by it's use if contrasting accents; the Exiles with their Southern Belle accents compared to the Imperial English of the Cassians.

The combat is fast and fluid with lots of interesting interactions between your own abilities but also those of others.

Questing, while sometimes a little grindy (we are talking about The Wheel here remember) is made more dynamic by allowing for assisted kills. With a plethora of 'Kill X of Y' missions available there are lots of situations where you will be competing with other players over the same kills. Rather than lock the monsters down, if you are attacking one, and another player joins in, then both players get credit for the kill! This method of kill recognition allowing for players to work together for a brief space of time without actually forming a team and feeling the need to share that awkward "I don't know you, but feel obliged to talk anyway" chat that such forced teamups result in.

As with many MMOs there are moments that stand out as memorable, the picture above being one such OMG moment where you and a group of other players need to bring down a Titan sized mech-man.

Ok, enough of the official stuff. How was your personal experience?
Ok, ok. So the thing that really got me into this game was the whole 'space cowboy' thing. I've always loved Weird West themes be it horror, steampunk or sci fi (after all as a kid my favourite tv show was Brave Starr) and it was that side of this game which grabbed me in.

After a brief bit of research I soon found out that out of the two factions available; The Exiles (rogue colonies searching for a new home) and The Dominion (The Empire) only the Exiles gave me the space cowboy feel I was going after, and the class I needed was the Spellslinger, a dimension jumping gunslinger. The race was a harder option until I saw the Mordeth, a group of humanoids suffering from a plague that ravaged their bodies into an almost decomposes state. In other words I could play an undead cowboy! Hells yeah!!

Personally I really enjoyed my experience I found the animation smooth and full of character however felt that certain aspects of the game could have done with better tutorials such as the crafting system. I was able to figure out most of it, but a couple of issues really got to me. Namely that I wanted to craft my own gear, which requires being a farmer to gather materials to make cloth, however no matter how hard I tried I could not find the trainer for being a farmer. This has been reported and I hope that the problem is either me being an idiot (for which there is no cure) or if it's a problem with more people reporting that it is looked at.

Final Thoughts
So I played this game for roughly 3 nights. I told myself at the start that if I grew tired I would drop it and not look back.

The end result? I'm loving it! It is more of the same, but the setting and style is enough to make it a fun alternative!

On that note, stay safe and I'll see you Cryptside!

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

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