With WildStar, NCSoft-division Carbine Studios' new MMO) having some problems during head-start, but having completed one of the smoother MMO launches to date, its clear the Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney and his team have experienced one of the rarest events in the MMO business – a launch with only a few hiccups, and no game-breaking, server-crashing, downtime-inducing nightmares. With a large beta pool to test with, top-notch talent designing the game (including many World of Warcraft veterans), and tier-one technology backing their product, WildStar dodged the traditional launch woes. A successful MMO not only launches well, but has staying power when players reach the maximum level. Herein are six of the major things that this nascent MMO hits a home run with, and one that they fall short on, for level 50 players to do at the so-called “elder-game”, also known as “end-game”.
1. Reputation grinds
Continuing quests to gain the favor of different non-player groups within the game opens up new quest lines, and sometimes new equipment, vanity items (like pets, cosmetic gear, etc.) and other content unlocks. While the mechanic is both a common MMO mechanic and also a simple mechanic in that one does quests to gain reputation points, reputation is tied into other elder-game features (particularly the imbuements system), making it a staple feature that doesn't feel like a separate task to undertake, but rather gives the impression of continuing to be part of a living, breathing world.
2. Player vs. Player
WildStar provides player vs player action n the form of arenas for small groups and entire zones called battlegrounds for large groups. The top-level of PvP is cordoned off from lower-level players and given additional gear to earn by participation. Battlegrounds and arenas are each available in two modes – practice and rated. Practice gives players a great chance to skill up and earn rewards, while rated PvP is tracked via leaderboards and gives better rewards. At the very top is a feature called Warplots. Warplots are large (40 vs 40) instances wherein players build floating sky fortresses and then drop them down onto the planet below to duke it out in siege warfare.
3. Max-level instanced PvE content
Much like PvP, there instanced content for groups of max-level players - one dungeon and veteran modes of existing dungeons. The additional difficulty levels added by veteran mode to existing content makes old content relevant and rewarding. WildStar ups the ante here by tying performance in max-level content to the unlocking of special powers, called imbuements, attached to equipment.
4. Elder Gems and Elder Points
Instead of experience points, you gain “Elder Points”. When the number of elder points reaches a milestone (shown on the screen just like an XP bar), you gain Elder Gems, which can be used to add points to your abilities in a manner similar to “leveling up” pre-50. You can also buy items with Elder Gems as well.
5. The “Real Story”
Scattered throughout the game are multiple storylines, from simple quest chains to massive interlocking webs of plot and narrative worthy of the best fantasy writers. At level 50, however, there is simply a massive amount of new story content, and it is the same story that permeates the world – the storyline that begins when a player first lands on Nexus.
6. Raids (large-group content)
In WildStar, like many games, these are called raids. Raids take the traditional small-group dungeon and turn up the challenge level for larger groups of twenty and forty players. Two raids exist at launch – Genetic Archives (for 20 players), and Datascape (for 40). To even access these challenging instances requires collecting elder gems and completing max-level PvE content in order to become “attuned”, and thus enter the raid zone.
All is not perfect is WildStar's end-game however – WildStar gets one thing severely wrong, which can become a bigger and bigger issue as more and more people level:
1. Disparity of gear.
There is extreme disparity between PvP and raiding feature sets. Gear in PvP scales to the traditional “Purple”, which is to say, epic level of loot. Gear in PvE scales to “Pink”, which is two levels higher, as seen here:
Grey: Trash. Even at level one this is trash.
White: Entry-level. Trash.
Green: General drops with stats, good for leveling up in.
Blue: Great for leveling up, minimally useful at elder-game until you get Purples.
Purple: So-called “Epic” loot which can be earned via various currency systems (PvP and PvE), crafted by top-level crafters, or as boss drops.
Orange: Legendary and available only from the 40-person Datascape raid, and more powerful than purple
Pink: Legendary. That one word describes it all.
While limiting the power of PvP gear to the epic level can be seen as a way to keep balance in PvP insofar as gear doesn't become more of a determining factor in a PvP match, there are other ways of gearing gear that could make Orange and Pink gear perfectly viable (such as only awarding one piece of Orange gear to the top 10% of all ranked players, and only one piece of Legendary to the top three players in each class in a season). Not giving PVP-ers “color parity” creates the appearance of loot-disparity.
On the other side of the coin, imbuements for PvP-ers are much, much easier to obtain – simply keep playing PvP matches and the imbuements will unlock. For PVE-ers, they must complete PvE events, including veteran level dungeons that need to be completed with distinction (silver medals). Imbuements, which are added powers earned over time and by completing tasks, are important goals if a player wished to truly unlock all of the powers in their top-level gear.
While not perfect, WildStar does an outstanding job of providing elder-game players with content and activities. The informal seventh thing WildStar is appearing to get right is the new content push – seen already in the release of the Drusera content, Carbine Studios is planning on releasing content at an aggressive pace. Coupled with the other many interesting things to do on planet Nexus, WildStar will surely be a great place to stay busy for some time to come.