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[Wildstar] Beta Happened – Tiny Waists and Atmosphere

I was fortunate enough to get to play in 2 of the recent Wildstar beta weekends. The NDA has now been lifted, but I find that unsurprisingly a lot of my thoughts and feelings about the game have already been articulated elsewhere (such as this post by To Boldly Nerd). My notes weren’t quite as comprehensive, so I’m going to cover some things I did like, and some odd things I didn’t. While I rolled a number of alts, my main ‘play’ was a female draken spellslinger with a scientist path. That’s right, the long time Alliance player went Dominion!

The overall art style and designs of the environments

Absolutely beautiful, and blew me away (despite my innate dislike of the female character design). The tutorial zones are a little odd in terms of story concept, but I really enjoyed the grandiosity of the spaces my character was travelling through. The team have taken the best from a lot of other games, and made a style very much of their own. Be warned though, this game feels massive to me. The city I went to was absolutely sprawling, and if it wasn’t for the bonus pink hoverboard, I’d have spent the majority of my experience running (more on this later).

Great character animations

For a long time I’ve found it difficult to truly get into new MMOs because for years I have been spoiled by the polish and brilliance of Blizzard animations. Guild Wars 2 came very close, but ultimately never felt right. While I might not be a huge fan of the female character models as a whole, I absolutely adore the way they were animated. The female draken felt nimble but with a sense of weight – especially in the jump animation!

Speaking of jump animations, double jumping is pretty fabulous and some how made me feel that bit more awesome and ninja like. More MMOs should add this in.

Telegraphs & Limited Action Set

I always sort of enjoyed the combat in Guild Wars 2, and since playing GW2 and Neverwinter Online, have really struggled with the combat in World of Warcraft. Not struggled in the sense of ‘unable’, but struggled in the sense that ‘stand and nuke’ didn’t really do it for me any more. I’ve never been great at tab targetting and multi-dotting etc, and all those spells used to make an elemental shaman more mobile have always been a bit ‘odd’ as a concept.

So the telegraphs system, forcing you to keep moving and to direct your spells, works really well and intuitively. You can still have a traditional target, but the directional nature of combat and having a limited action set is really fun. I didn’t really get to the point where I was trying out different action sets for different situations, but I can see the potential (and have experienced it as a Warrior in GW2).

Initially I did expect to find telegraphs disorientating and a difficult way to fight, but muscle memory catches up quickly as you learn to double tap to get out of the way, and your mouse is still king for directing the force of doom that you roll down onto your enemy.

I Feel Let Down By Character Customisation

Like many other a player, I’m not happy with the one size fits all approach that Carbine took to their female character design. Even World of Warcraft, a game with it’s own unique art style, and races that clearly do cater to the ‘hyper sexy’ market (whether that’s a woman who wants her character to look sexy while she does badass things, or a man who wants to do bad ass things and look at dat ass), even WoW manages to represent the female bodies in a variety of thick, thin, hourglass and pear-shaped. I think it’s a shame that Carbine didn’t take a few more risks and present us with a greater variety of looks for the female races that didn’t sit on a variation of ‘big boobs and big booty with THE tiniest waist ever’. (Something we should have as an option, but I don’t get why it has to be the only options – and no, ‘art style’ is not a good enough excuse.)

Not only do we have the traditional ultra-hourglass shape, but the human forms on both faction are, to put it bluntly, mostly coded as white. There are a variety of skintones, but the darkest tones were not there when I tried to find them, and the face designs and hair options are white coded for the most part (perhaps with a hint of middle-eastern or east asian aesthetic). I think this is a point that many MMOs still strike out on – if you want hair styles that are coded as black, you have play an alien. In fact many of the granok styles in particular could be viewed as sourced from black/kinky hairstyles.

I don’t except it was deliberate, but it’s still pretty problematic and undermines, for me, the fun of the rest of the game. I fully intend to do a separate post on the female character models that puts out my likes/dislikes more fully (yes, there are things I like!)

On a more mundane note – more hairstyles, hair colours etc etc for ALL the races please!

Questing Is What It Is

Questing was very traditional MMO, but I definitely enjoyed Carbine’s method of combining Guild Wars 2’s progress bar with the traditional quest log. I do wish questing was a bit more dynamic/reactive. Carbine also throw in some variations on the ‘interact with a hot spot’ style quests. Instead of ‘pick up 10 objects from the floor’, you get tiny rhythm or ‘Simon Says’ games. That’s definitely a mechanic/idea that I think could be implemented better – I found the ‘mash F at the right time/speed/length’ part a bit tedious, but I enjoyed the occasional actual puzzle.

I enjoyed the use of the datacron/phone to deliver quests, based on your level or your arrival at a new location. The size of the quest text is a bit small, and the tweet style box sometimes disappears too fast, but the questlog is extremely comprehensive. If you are able to pay attention, there’s a lot more story out there than you’d expect.

Granted, at the end of the day it still your traditional ‘have 30 quests, complete some, move on to next up’ style of levelling, but if you’re end-game focused, I doubt that will bother you. And for me, it’s the old game play I enjoyed in WOTLK/TBC, with much more fun questing and quality of life, so I’m sort of looking forward to it. Guild Wars 2 left me feeling a bit directionless.

Sometimes I did feel that the questlog and tracker were bizarrely organised. It automatically divides itself in to ‘tasks’ vs quests (which can then have sub-tasks). I much prefer just a ‘region’ based list, but there are plenty of addons in development so that is something I can remedy myself.

In Conclusion

Yes, I will probably be pre-ordering, but not without due consideration. I think there is a lot to love about this game, enough that I can get past the thoughtlessness of the female character designs, and the love of the designers for their work clearly shines through overall.

Next time – more on character customisation, and WHY all MMO developers need to do better. I’ll tackle housing, the implementation of paths, and whether AMPs need to be rethought.


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