WildStar: Black Focus Press Preview
It’s difficult to know how exactly the Defile update will pan out for WildStar. When you and 4 others are the only individuals in the entire zone, it isn’t possible to establish how exactly a zone will function or feel when it’s filled with players. It’s also fair to say that a lot hinges on Drop 3’s success because not only has the existing playerbase been waiting a long time for it, but players potentially waiting to purchase the game are also paying close attention. We’ve been waiting almost 3 months for this update and while I’ve continued to subscribe, I have ventured back into Nexus in nearly a month. Can The Defile claw me back in?
The new Defile zone is still Strain orientated and this is immediately going to be welcomed by some and loathed by others. In many ways the Grimvault series of maps draws parallels with Guild Wars 2’s Ruins of Orr where the entire location and its appearance revolves around a continuous theme (Risen in the case of Guild Wars 2 and Corrupted creatures in the case of WildStar). I’ve always loved the Strain and it’s partly why I’ve found this update and its newest zone so visually appealing. The previously added zone, Blighthaven, remains one of the most beautiful zones in any MMO I’ve ever played and despite similarities and shared assets here, I don’t think it matters. To use the Guild Wars 2 example once more, complaining about the Strain when it’s a central theme to the story would be like complaining about how Straits of Devastation, Malchior’s Leap and Cursed Shore look the same. They don’t, though they share thematic elements. It would be doing WildStar and Carbine a great disservice to simply state “Oh no, it’s more of the Strain” when clearly a great deal of love and care has gone into this new zone. There’s a real foreboding, a grimness never seen before and as you head further south it becomes saturated in grim and moody lighting. I love the fact the landscape is a twisted mess of industry, Strain and what was likely a once beautiful landscape. You only have to look at the screenshots I have taken on these pages to see that.
The Black Focus is set in the northernmost part of the zone and similarly to the Eldan facilities in Grimvault, its corruption has spread far. As a large and expansive area, it’s surrounded by locations with opposing elemental themes. Intended to be suitable for a five-man team and considered an open air dungeon, the main draw of the Black Focus is Koral the Defiler who stands atop a huge floating platform. The way leading to Koral is a cluster of enemies and it’s difficult to simply walk your way to him without interference from the large quantity of corrupted creatures that litter the area. They respawn quickly, hit hard and if you’re running anything other than a DPS specialisation you’ll struggle to cut your way through. If you manage to get past them, their numbers fortunately thin out towards the middle of the zone.
My groups experience of WildStar was mixed with some of us highly experience. I was provided with a support Warrior in Raid quality gear and I’ll freely admit that I’ve rarely played a Warrior at this level. I did however find tanking Koral the Defiler and most of the enemy encounters incredibly easy. For a centrepiece encounter, Koral falls below the standard I’d expect from Carbine. As a boss he’s absolutely fine but he’s lacking impact and felt lesser than some of the World Bosses. To reach Koral you have to leap on a series of winding platforms that are rigged with traps. It’s relatively easy to bypass the platforms that are intended to harm you, though the climb to the top takes a fair bit of time. Will players want to do this every time? I’m not so sure.
Koral has two mechanics: the first is that his pool of skills is randomised so that those fighting him won’t always know what he’s going to do. The second and more predictable is where he’ll run to one side of the platform to obtain an Elemental empowerment. It’s your parties role to run to the the opposite side of the platform, away from the direction of Koral, in order to collect the opposing Element. If he picks up Fire, you need to collect Water. If you manage to collect the opposing buff you’ll receive less damage when struck. While the mechanic is functional it’s incredibly simplistic. The Elements and their locations aren’t randomised and there’s no attack from Koral to make your movement across the platform, when he runs for an Element, any more difficult. Instead it simply becomes a case of “Oh look, he’s running - quick, let’s run the opposite way!”. Outside of the Element grabbing, it’s a tank and spank encounter that even a Warrior noob like me can overcome -- that includes being healed by players in my party that had never healed. Simply put, Koral is far too easy.
What surprised me the most about the Koral fight is the loot he dropped (or didn't drop). For a World Boss and one intended for 5 players he dropped two Rune Fragments. Two Rune Fragments! I honestly laughed at this stage because if that’s designed as an incentive for players to fight through hordes of corrupted creatures and jump dozens of platforms that are rigged to explode, all for two Rune Fragments, no one will do it. Considering Koral is a boss out in the open air you can also guarantee more than five players will be attacking him, making the loot he provides even worse. Carbine need to quickly address his loot table and while they're at it they should crank up the damage he deals.
After we’d killed Koral I decided to leave most of my fellow Journalists and head to the base of the platform before heading further south. Interestingly and something I wasn't aware of is that you can’t proceed through the zone until a series of events have been completed. I’d originally sought to reach the Lightspire but the path is blocked by Strain toxins. If you attempt to move through the area by scaling the barrier you’ll die in a matter of seconds. It turns out my party and I needed to destroy a series of Giant Grimworms and their eggs. To do this you hop into a bomber and as the ship autopilots around the Grimworms you’re free to fire. The concept I imagine works on paper and the Giant Grimworms look incredible my issue here however is that it isn’t particularly engaging or exciting to be flown. When you’re faced with killing four giant worms that are raining down toxins on the area, I want to scale their backs and kill them head on. I don’t want to fly in an automated craft at a snails pace slowly pew-pewing from the air.
It’s currently too early to tell after a very brief hour as to how the Defile patch will shape up. Coming in at 140 pages of patch notes, Carbine have hammered out the fixes and improvements in a game that desperately needs them. There’s cracks appearing here already and that concerns me greatly but there are also positives. The zone is huge, the quests I played were good (though not earth shattering) and it looks fantastic. I also think that if Koral’s difficulty is intentionally pitched at a more casual playerbase, then it has to be a good thing. Those seeking a hardcore challenge are free to pursue Dungeons, Raids or Adventures. Alternatively they can also await for the zone progression and take part in the Siege of Lightspire when it’s ready.
The biggest obstacle that Carbine face with the Defile update isn’t just pulling people back but also retaining them when Warlords of Draenor arrives and when Guild Wars 2 releases its Episode 6. Having recently played through Guild Wars 2’s episode 5, it’s frighteningly apparent just how static Nexus feels without creatures that roam with purpose. Its world doesn’t feel alive because it desperately needs something similar to Guild Wars 2’s event system so that the waves of creatures you see before you aren’t static, irrelevant objects. To then also factor in the polish and grandeur that Blizzard are providing in Draenor, it leaves me worried.
For now I’m going to place a big question mark over the Defile update. I’ll be keeping a close eye on its launch and when it does arrive on the 11th, my full review will be waiting.