As games approach, so do the rapidly gelling opinions of those looking at them, both in the pro and con camp (what, wait until a game is released to form an opinion? What madness is this of which you speak?). A lot of confirmation bias goes on — if you are inclined to like a game, you’re going to look for aspects that back that up, and if you don’t like it, you’re going to root out evidence that proves your viewpoint. We all do this. I’m inclined to like WildStar for many reasons, including having actually played a nice bit of it, but if you can’t acknowledge both the ups and downs then it’s going to be harder in the long run as a fan of the game.
So here’s the big question-slash-attack that I’ve seen levied at WildStar quite often — and I only expect it to be mentioned more once the release date comes out and we ramp up for launch.
Is WildStar really just “World of Warcraft in space?”
I’m not a fan of this question, not because I don’t think that there’s merit in it (as we’ll examine in a second) but because most people asking it or stating it aren’t looking for an answer, they’re just spitting out a good-sounding quip that allows them to be as dismissive as possible using an economy of words. Compare game A to game B while the context takes the job of insulting it (as in “Anything World of Warcraft-like is derivative and undesirable and unoriginal,” which is what is really being implied), and there you go. You’ve delivered a crushing blow to its fans! So amazing.
Even so, it’s a topic that needs to be addressed because, like it or not, WildStar is going to get those comparisons. The biggest reason is that it bears more than a striking resemblance to WoW’s well-known look: WildStar has a very colorful palette and cartoonish, stylized art. I think that WS is perhaps even more stylized and colorful than WoW, but it’s a fair observation.
Pressing the point of similarities, WildStar is a theme park MMO with many familiar elements that, yes, World of Warcraft has as well: leveling, dungeons, raids, talents, PvP, quest hubs, achievements, and a transition between a leveling game and the “elder” game.
Sometimes people ask that question because the comparison to WoW is very unfavorable due to burnout — they’ve been there, they’ve done that, and they don’t want to do it again “just in space.” I think it’s important to note two additional factors, however: Carbine hasn’t made any direct comparisons or claims to WoW, and that for others, similarities to WoW might be very desirable.
For example, ever since seeing the first WildStar screenshots, I was in love with the visual world. I love bright colors and stylized designs — much the way I was initially attracted to WoW when I first saw it in 2003. It’s a matter of personal taste, and so here it’s a plus for me, not a minus.
As for theme park elements, well, again it depends on what you like. I’m not against sandbox design by any means, but I vastly prefer theme park MMOs. They’re comfortable, fun, and enjoyable to me. That WildStar is about 80% familiar design with 20% different ideas is a good mix (asking for 100% new is something players love to do but is completely unfeasible).
So there are three ways that you can make something really entertaining, in my opinion. The first is to come up with a new idea. The second is to combine two previous ideas to form a hybrid that functions as a new idea or to give a new take on an old idea. And the third is to take an old idea but do it very, very well. This goes for books, games, movies, etc., and as long as the end product is engaging, then I am not picky. There are very boring ways to charge players with quests and really exciting ones, and a world of difference can lie between them — even though they’re both quests doing more or less the same thing. One thing that WoW did teach us is the lesson of “polish” — taking a working idea but making it elegant, attractive, and far more user-friendly is a huge boon for a game and gets a lot more respect from players. This is what I feel WildStar is doing.
Is that wrong? Should WildStar have been trying very hard to divorce itself from any hint of WoW-ness? I honestly can’t make that call. We’ve seen games similar to WoW do well and ones do poorly. We’ve seen MMOs that try hard to differentiate themselves from WoW fare both good and bad. It could indeed push potential players away, but it could also attrack new ones (and even ones tired of WoW but not looking to make a huge change).
Maybe it’s even time we get past constantly comparing games to other games as equally or more important as examining the game on its own merit. Easier said than done, of course.
For me, no, WildStar is not “just” WoW in space. It has similarities, but it’s also shaping up to be more. The other thing that irritates me about that question is that it’s very dismissive of anything that WS is doing different from WoW, which there is. The path system isn’t just a frill, it’s a genuine sub-class that offers a lot of replayability and interesting combinations. WS’ “limited action set” is more like GW2/RIFT in space than WoW. Its housing system is really stunning and is not what WoW is looking to do with garrisons in any case. Then there are adventures, challenges, shiphand missions, mount customization, PvP customized bases, hoverboards, and an attitude from the game and devs that feels far more fresh to me that what I’ve experienced from Blizzard. Ths isn’t even to mention the unique world setting with its own races, lore, culture, and backstory. Now, is it doing *enough* for those that don’t like WoW to be happy? Probably not.
And maybe, just maybe, the “in space” part of that question matters too. We moan about fantasy taking over the genre but are so quick to dismiss a scifi alternative when it comes? Not I. Scifi > fantasy any day of the week for me.
My advice is to check the game out to see for yourself without buying into the “just” comparisons. I’ve seen people who weren’t on board fall in love with it, and I’ve seen people grow lukewarm or cold to it who were originally nuts about it.
Y’know, like all MMOs.