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Feature Article

WildStar Review in Progress

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Gazelles gone wild.

WildStar makes a striking first impression. It's an absolutely gorgeous game, saturated with bright, inviting colors, and loaded with ornate details that bring this massively multiplayer role-playing game to life. 20 hours in, and the most striking sight must still be the herds of gazelle-like grazers that elegantly leap across the screen. With such a rich-looking world, I'm drawn to explore it because I might find something unexpected. The mix of fantasy, science fiction, Saturday morning cartoon, and comic book makes WildStar stand out. You might be tempted to compare WildStar's aesthetic to World of Warcraft's, given the exaggerated shapes and hand-drawn textures, but on a whole, WildStar's art design is very much its own, in spite of its obvious inspirations.

I still love the way WildStar looks, though I've spent enough time with my level 20 Mordesh spellslinger that the visuals have lost some of their vibrant appeal. The same art style that makes the game attractive at certain times makes it look cluttered at others. Every object and feature draws your eyes to it--the swirling grass textures, the sprouting flowers, the hanging lamps, the smoking fires, the bubbling lava, the dust motes and the twinkles and the dreamcatchers and all the colors of the rainbow. One moment, WildStar is overwhelmingly attractive. The next, it's just overwhelming.

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With E3 almost here, it will probably be a few weeks before I am ready to pen my full WildStar review. But in advance of the review, I wanted to share a few impressions of my time on the planet of Nexus. And honestly, most of that time has been positive. WildStar is not breaking new ground; its fundamentals are firmly entrenched in the formula we've come to expect in online RPGs, in which you take quests, kill monsters, team up with others, and go looking for treasure out in a big, unknown world. But WildStar delivers the expected with huge doses of character and glee. The brief character quips are charmingly delivered, the quest-givers aren't averse to cracking a few jokes, and some of the adventuring circumstances are adorable. I've played a lot of games featuring races that can't use pronouns and verbs properly. "Go, clock ticking. Wait… may be bomb. Have to check," says one member of a rodentlike race called the Chua. But this odd sentence structure belies a chua's tendencies towards gleeful evil. As a Mordesh, I may not like the Chua, but I sure do respect their dedication. There are dark moments too, however, many of them involving my own character's race, which suffers from a contagion that threatens our future.

The overarching story is typical where MMOGs are concerned, focusing primarily on the conflict between the game's two factions: The Exiles and the Dominion. It's a simple narrative, but I am invested, in part because I witnessed the Dominion bomb a giant tree called the Elderoot. The Elderoot was kindly when we spoke, and his biomechanical design made him stand out from all those other giant world-trees that show up in games. The broad voice acting and intriguing visual design made me care more about that tree than I ever cared about any of The Elder Scrolls Online's bland, talkative characters. I am ready for vengeance against the Dominion.

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There are eight races to choose from and six total classes. I'm a spellslinger, which is a bit of a misleading title, since pistols are my primary weapons. The extensive skill trees make me equally adept at being a damage-heavy class or a healer, and while I usually stick to damage, I've found some fun in healing my teammates in the insanely chaotic player versus player matches. Attacks and skills are primarily cone-based, so I never need to specifically target enemies; whatever lands in my damage area is unlucky enough to get hit. This system keeps me mobile, since enemies also signal their most powerful attacks with visible cones and damage arcs as well. That's particularly true in the two competitive arenas I've unlocked so far, which keep me scurrying around so that I can avoid incoming attacks while staying in range of my team's healers. It's terrific fun, though I admit that the game's hypercommunicative visuals can make for muddled battles.

One of my favorite aspects of WildStar thus far is the path system, which has you selecting one of four professions (of a sort). I chose to be a settler; I collect resources as I move through the world and then deposit them in predesignated areas in order to build machines that provide bonuses to you and everyone else. I can also reanimate plants, repair broken items, and the such, and it's fun to feel like I'm bringing life to the world. Every so often, I feel stuck in an endless loop, constantly interacting with objects only to have my work wiped away minutes later. As a result, these interactions become needless busywork, but I still greatly enjoy how I can contribute to other players' enjoyment and success by frequently stopping and collecting vital resources.

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Look for a review in a few weeks' time, but if you're on the fence so far and are curious about what I think, I must say, WildStar isn't overflowing with brand-new ideas. Nevertheless, the game possesses a strong identity and uses its abundant charms to draw you in. From there, it executes on its potential, offering solid fundamentals, and then freshening them up by looking at them from new angles. The group adventures are a good example of such an angle. They may seem at the outset to be more or less like a standard group dungeon, but the open areas and the chance for group members to vote on which objectives to accomplish make adventures a treat even beyond your first run. And honestly, WildStar makes it fun to move about its world, giving you a lot to look at, and a lot of ways to cooperate and compete with others. Aside from some long queue times you might face when first logging in, it's mostly stable and feels feature complete. It's a game I could see myself sticking with if the endgame content is compelling enough, if only because I like uncovering its sights, sounds, and adventures.

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