I jumped on the nostalgia bus the other night with a few good gaming friends talking about some of the best MMO memories we have: the truth is I would never have met these fine people if not for MMO gaming. These type of games are usually the most padded out and dumbed down of all genres because of the very nature of the design and yet during conversations like the one I have mentioned above it's clear the time we spend in these persistent digital worlds mean a great deal to us. Wildstar will always have a special place in my memories for a few reasons, one in particular is that it is the only game I have ever launched into as Guild Master: a job that seemed intrinsically linked to the fate of vanilla Wildstar.
Gamescom 2013 acted as a catalyst for my own personal excitement for this game, thanks to a kind friend myself and a few other guild members were able to attend the VIP party for Wildstar in Germany - Cologne. These were exciting times where we got to meet the developers, play the game and I walked the halls of Gamecom for the first time. It was also a great way to finally put some faces to the voices I'd come to know so well through being a member of Exterminatus: an awesome gaming community I've been a part of since Guild Wars 2. All this coupled with some very positive beta testing, we were hyped for the new and exciting MMO from Carbine Studios.
Wildstar was set to shake up the MMO scene offering old school concepts like forty man raiding, epic loot tables and content that would take serious commitment to conquer. Combat was fast and punchy with telegraphs (basically visual templates showing danger) making large fights easy to attempt but devilishly hardcore to master. The lead content developer Stephan Frost had also very successfully pushed the game into the mainstream with some hilarious and well designed promotional videos. Even game mods would be baked right into the game's main UI and this kind of forward thinking made Wildstar seem unstoppable: then the bubble burst.
Only a few weeks after launch server numbers were dwindling, many casual players had already labelled the game's endgame content inaccessible due to a super tough attunement phase and even the process of levelling through the game was seen as weak. Just as servers were becoming ghost towns, the Director (Jeremy Gaffney) decided to jump ship and eventually Stephan Frost also left the game, which for me was a clear sign the game was in trouble. With so many problems facing it and then staff being laid off Wildstar seemed all but doomed. So I was thrilled then to hear that the remaining team have since been licking their wounds and working flat out to relaunch Wildstar within a new free to play model. So without further ado let's dive back into Wildstar (reloaded) and see what is new.
The first thing that jumps out at you is the introduction area has been refined and reworked, cutting out a lot of fluff in the process. There are some nice little touches, I am trying Dominion this time around and there is now an actual Aurin Exile running around the Ark Ship, this was alluded to in the original design but never given a visual story. The library has now been scrapped and the combat training area improved with a better boss fight. What is also great is you are now given the option to skip this entire section of the game and start planetside, a good sign the team have been listening to the fans. Just before I left the game one problem that had crippled it was the low (and isolated) server populations on many 'satellite' servers that had been spun up to take the demand in the first few weeks but were now dead as door nails: 'mega servers' were then implemented and both regions got a huge PVP and PVE mega server each.
Now I'm no expert and don't know a great deal about server architecture so please remember that while I give my opinion, but I did think the idea of a mega server was that it would grow or shrink with demand and therefore eliminate the server population problems. It's a real shame then that since the games relaunched all servers have seen huge lag issues, constant restarts along with an assortment of other bugs such as being trapped in the character screen. This seems to have been mainly due to Carbine not being able to take the sheer weight of people trying to play the game, this is good and bad. It's great that people are now taking a serious look at playing this game but then if you put most of them off in the first week you're already eating into that stable player base these games desperately need to survive the long haul. I really feel for Carbine, it must be an incredibly stressful time for them and from what I can see they are all hugely passionate about making this game fly but in my opinion this should have been one problem that they were ready for. There are an army of MMO players that have seen they way previous games have fared and now actually wait until games for onto a free-to-play model: in their eyes this move is always inevitable and so worth the wait. Due to 'reasons' I have been subbed to the game since launch and as I was super excited to support the game so I signed up for a 12 month subscription, two months ago I paid for another twelve months subscription because I'd forgotten to un-sub.. like I said 'reasons'. However the mount I have received for being continuously subscribed may just about be worth the money: because it's a frickin spider tank!
So there have been plenty of small additions in term of content, a new ship hand here or training instance there. The game has definitely been made more accessible with statistics and rune crafting now a doddle. It's clear the team that have risen from the ashes of terrible first year have come out fighting and are putting their hearts and souls into making this game work. With all the changes that have happened I have to say that at its core it still feels like the old Wildstar I played twelve months ago, pretty much all of the base content is the same and this could be good or bad depending on your point of view. Obviously the major change to the formula is that the game is now free to play. When you do play for free you do get access to all the content and here I'm glad Carbine have been wise: while you don't get as many character slots or access to some systems the core game is there. The cash shop also seems well thought out with plenty to entice players to part with real money from cool mounts, cosmetic pets (always a crowd pleaser) equipment skins and of course housing decor items. Even before we left beta I had said if they ever did go free to play the housing system was pretty much perfect for it and would allow players to really go wild.
So the big question is this, will the free to play model get the crowds turning up but more importantly will they stay this time? The honest answer is nobody knows. On an individual basis it depends on the player and how they take to core game play systems, yes combat is super fun but the questing is about as generic as it comes 'kill this, press that, kill the other thing.. done'. Where Wildstar shines like a newborn star is the group content and the bigger boss fights, even in this more accessible state Wildstar will kick your arse if you don't learn the ropes and know your role. The good thing for players is that very quickly they will know if the game is right for them, not only in terms of game play but the over the top visuals (which I personally love).
There is a huge game here for people to pick up and put down whenever they wish, as far as I can see there is nothing stopping it becoming one of the main players in the MMO scene, especially when there is very little going on right now unless you count Heart of Thorns. As we have seen the transition to free to play has not only saved some games like Lord of the Rings online but made them thumping success stories and of course Guild Wars 2 has been chugging along nicely like this for years. Let's hope these server problems get put to bed sooner rather than later because I think Wildstar has yet to have its day in the sun.