Having been playing WildStar for a while now, Ten Ton Hammer were fortunate to be one of the limited press sites to play the game as freely as we wished. Luckily for me, not only could I play WildStar, but today I'm able to talk about it. If that wasn't good enough, I'll be covering the Beta in a diary from here on out so if you've any burning questions, let me know.
One of the main things I really care about during an early play of a games Beta is to establish how well the game performs. It's always a good benchmark to see how well your system will cope at launch and thankfully, I can honestly say the game runs exceptionally well. My current system is the following:
- i5 2500k Sandy Bridge Overclocked to 4.3ghz
- Geforce GTX 560 Ti
- 8gb DDR3 (1333mhz)
- 120gb SSD (to which WildStar is installed)
With the exception of the starting zones (notably the Dominion Ark Ship) where my frame rate dropped to around 40, the rest of my entire experience has been fixed at 60fps and never budged, even at maximum detail. That's a really great sign at this stage in the games development. Although the starting zone is a concern, I suspect much of the frame rate issues there are as a result of the sheer enormity of the area and the number of players flooding in.
Both starting locations are great at allowing you to learn the ropes, while involving you in early lore and storylines. Admittedly it's all relatively easy but I think the game needs that level of accessibility in order to capture peoples attention. Dependent on whether you choose Dominion or Exile also offers a different approach to your early levels. The Dominion area is relatively leisurely and involves you undertaking training against Holograms as an early recruit, whereas the Exiles is much more frantic in its pacing as you and Deadeye Brightland try to help survivors. It's an interesting choice to differentiate them both as Carbine have, but one which works. There is an element of repetition if you want to choose an alternative character, as you're forced to replay the same starting area again and again, but I can forgive that based on how polished and well presented it all is. On a speed run through, it only takes around 15 minutes from start to finish, so you're out in the game world in no time at all.
Talking of polish, have I mentioned how bloody polished WildStar is? With the exception of a few missing sounds or images here and there, the game is in such a good state I often forgot I was playing a Beta. Spells look fantastic, the UI and menus are all loaded with everything you could ever possibly need and the game just works. I haven't had a single crash since playing or experience any lag. I'm still not sure how, but Carbine have either got their fingers on the pulse or I've just been very bloody lucky.
With the exception of the Warrior, I've dabbled in all the classes that WildStar has to offer. I must admit, they all play absolutely fantastic. Originally I was convinced I'd be playing an Esper at launch because they not only look brilliant but offer a play-style I'm akin to. It turns out that the Spellslinger has caught all my attention based on the fact it's bloody amazing to play. Fast, agile and capable of dealing massive damage, it really has surprised me how much I love playing the class. Gate (where you teleport through enemies to stun them) followed by Wild Barrage (imagine machine-pistols) is an exceptional combo against huge groups of enemies. Surprisingly, I've actually taken Charged Shot off my bar as I found it too restrictive against the fast pace the game offers. I've had some success with Charged Shot and it's wonderful to turn enemies to chopped meat when you blast through them, but I like to keep my enemies on their toes.
Speaking of skills and classes, I really should take a moment to rant and rave about how fantastic the skill system is in WildStar. Without a doubt, it's the best I've ever seen in an MMOG and one which is already causing me massive headaches. I'm not sure where to even begin with my load-out having experimented heavily already, but the fact it's a limited action set and also free-form (unlike Guild Wars 2 that sets your skills based on the weapon you wield) is music to my ears. Deciding on which Assault, Support or Utility skills to use when there are 30 to choose from in total and only 10 spaces on your bar has caused many sleepless nights. I haven't even discussed AMP's which wormed their way into the game on yesterdays patch (though I'd like to discuss those in another diary entry.)
Supporting all of this is the combat system, which is hands-down the best there is on the market. Following the likes of Guild Wars 2 (comparisons here are inevitable) it improves upon it dramatically by its use of telegraphs, movement and combat “oomph!”. There's still some minor improvements to be made in the sound department for physical attacks and spells, but combat feels challenging and slick. There's no standing still here for any lengths of time, it's all about keeping moving and rounding up enemies when you can. My Spellslinger and Esper builds excelled here and I was more than capable of taking on 6 or 7 enemies at a time. Admittedly if I miss timed a dodge or clumsily aimed my attacks I'd be in a whole world of pain, but have your game face on and the satisfaction from defeating such numbers is immense.
So what else is good in WildStar? Well, for me, it has to be the questing and the delivery of content. It's traditional in many ways and still involves a great deal of quests littering your to-do list, but you know what? I'm back to absolutely loving it. I've stated in the past I couldn't imagine ever going back to a quest based method of play and yet here I am hoovering up all the quests on offer in order to absorb the world I'm playing in. I think a large part of my enjoyment of the quests in WildStar is the fact they're fun, but also incredibly well written. Not only that, but Carbine have made minor changes to how you cash your quests in (which you can do via a cell-phone) and it's the first time in a long time that I've actually read quest text. One in particular during the early levels sees you have to escort cute little vegetables to a greenhouse while fending off Chua. How can that not be fun? Other notable quests have been to avenge a Chua that's burning at a stake (I won't spoil the dialogue but it's hilarious) or destroying some Artillery cannons.
This brings me nicely onto my two favorite things about WildStar: the game world and the soundtrack. Honestly, the game world looks incredible. Visually unique and bursting with life (though I can forgive people for seeing similarities to WoW) it's eager to be explored and enjoyed. Accompanying all of it is the best soundtrack to an MMOG I've ever heard. Jeremy Soule has always produced excellent pieces for ArenaNet and the Guild Wars series and I never thought he could be surpassed, but I think he has. I have genuinely found myself listening to just the soundtrack while standing still for great lengths at a time. It really is that good.
Just to recap:
1. It runs amazingly well
2. The starting zones are fantastic
3. Classes are brilliant and lovingly made (though I've not yet played Warrior – sorry!)
4. The game world looks and feels incredible
5. The accompanying soundtrack is one of the best I've ever heard
6. The combat and skill system is exceptional and has no rival
7. Questing is a joy and made even more enjoyable by slight changes Carbine have made to streamline them
All sounding too perfect? Well there are a couple of niggles...
If there's anything “bad” about WildStar, I'm struggling to find it. There are some niggles though and I would hope that Carbine can remedy them before launch. The first is the fact that there are no sounds when you jump or land. It might sound like a small thing, but it's a little odd for nothing to be there. I'm not expecting a huge “thud”, just a similar sound to that which already exists in the game when I'm moving. Better still, I'd really like to hear my character “humph” every now and then when he or she jumps. I'm not talking every time, but intermittently would be nice. As for other bad things, it would have to be the fact that as an Aurin or Chua Esper my Psyblade goes through the back of my head. Hardly game breaking, but annoying all the same.
Before I finish this 'Beta Preview' I wanted to talk about animations. There's been a lot of talk regarding them and for the most part, they're all great. The Medic's are a little lacklustre and need sexing up, while I'd welcome some more variety on Spellslinger (admittedly there's only so many ways you can fire pistols) but what bothers me the most is the sexualisation of all female animations. Somewhere between a lady of the night and a fem-bot, all female movement animations are agony to watch. As someone who has always played female characters in massively multiplayer games, this might actually be the first where I switch to a male.
Using the Aurin as an example, the males squat down and sprint when they run whereas the females skip along like a prancing pony. Why? Why must we differentiate so heavily when they're both killing machines. Worse still are the Mechari females that left me shaking my head in disapproval. I'm all for femininity where it's needed, but it's just inappropriate here when I'm playing a hulking robot armed to the teeth. I don't want to play a Medic or Engineer that prances into battle, I want to play one which bounds in and melts faces.
Lastly before I dive back into the game, the Aurin faces and ears really need some work. The males and female variants all look pretty terrible and lack cohesive art direction. How did we go from butterfly ears, to bat ears, to bunny ears, in a single race? I struggled to find any that I particularly liked from a limited set, so am dreading launch when I have to bite the bullet on them if Carbine don't expand the selection set.
All in all then, WildStar is shaping up to be the MMOG of 2014 and is already leagues ahead of all other competition, especially The Elder Scrolls Online. If Carbine continue down the path they're treading, they'll surely attract all the players they need. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a date with an Esper in preparation for my next Beta diary update. Stay tuned!