Is WildStar really just “World of Warcraft in space?”

wildAs 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.

12 thoughts on “Is WildStar really just “World of Warcraft in space?”

  1. brogarn February 28, 2014 / 9:52 am

    Beyond all mechanics they’ve bolted on, it’s still just another theme park quest hub treadmill. While directly comparing it to WoW might have some inconsistencies, I don’t think it’s an outlandish claim. At the very least, someone who currently enjoys WoW but is looking for a change of scenery would find this game a very comfortable fit. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Millions of players like it. It’s just no longer for me.

  2. Syp February 28, 2014 / 10:32 am

    Fair enough! As I said, it’s going to be futile to say “don’t compare it” — after all, we compare EVERY new MMO to WoW (especially in the first few days of launch in general chat). Just that if we’re going to compare it, be fair about it instead of wielding it as a shutdown criticism.

  3. Pasduil February 28, 2014 / 11:23 am

    I don’t play WoW but I recognize that many games are loosely WoW-like. That doesn’t make them inherently bad, but it does mean that any new game that is also WoW-like is going to have a hard time being different enough to things that I already play to really be worth my time and money.

    That’s true about most industries, if you make a product similar to something that is already hugely successful, it has to not only be better than the existing product but far far better if it going to have a chance of gaining much traction.

    That said, from what little I know about Wildstar it certainly looks to be trying out some new ideas that look promising.

  4. bhagpuss February 28, 2014 / 1:01 pm

    The real question isn’t whether WildStar can fairly be described as “WoW in Space” but whether it can successfully pitch its tent on WoW’s lawn at all.

    Everyone and their dog has been trying to make the New WoW for a decade now. No-one’s even got close. I thought that 2012, when the big MMO releases finally stopped looking like all that much like WoW, marked a watershed for the genre. We seemed to be heading towards open-access MMOs like GW2 or niches like TSW. Indeed, with one of those being a fairly major success, the final nail seemed to have been driven into the WoW-alike coffin.

    If WildStar gets painted and succeeds (choose your measure of success but I would guess with a sub game it needs to get and hold subs measured in millions not hundreds of thousands if it’s to be treated as a serious rival to WoW) then will the whole cycle start over again? There must be a whole lot of game developers and gaming company executives who are really hoping it flops just so they don’t ever have to go down that particular road all over again.

    Personally I don’t much cotton to “WoW In Space”, but it’s not the “WoW” part that turns me off. I much, MUCH prefer a fantasy setting to SF (mainly because I love Science Fiction but SF in video games bears virtually no resemblance to any SF I’ve ever read).

  5. bhagpuss February 28, 2014 / 1:04 pm

    Oops! “…get painted” should continue “…gets painted as WoW in Space…”

  6. Tyler F.M. Edwards February 28, 2014 / 1:41 pm

    I haven’t played WildStar myself, so I’ll reserve final judgment until I have, but I do somewhat get the “WoW in space” vibe from it. I don’t think it’ll be a complete carbon copy of WoW to the extent that, say, Rift is, and certainly there are some noteworthy differences between it and WoW, but a lot of what I’ve seen and heard about the game and its devs leaves me with the impression that they’re trying to be WoW 2: Science Fantasy Boogaloo.

    I’m willing to grant that may be an inaccurate impression, but I think that if one legitimate criticism can be leveled towards them at this point, it’s that they’ve done a poor job of dispelling the “WoW in space” impression.

    Also, WoW has hoverboards. 😛

  7. Dynaform February 28, 2014 / 1:57 pm

    I enjoyed wow and I enjoyed rift which is a big time clone.

    This game however I couldn’t get past level 8 in beta it was so boring.

    It’s hard to put a finger on why I disliked it so much. I think the attempt to make quests interesting or engaging just made them tedious.

    The ui. Crap was popping up all over my screen to the point I ignored it.

    Combat. Aoe spam fest. I can’t even imagine how horrible the pvp is with this system.

  8. Warsyde February 28, 2014 / 3:57 pm

    “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.”

    This is a fair point, except most of us can’t just go out and do that. Most of us don’t have beta access, so the only way we can determine for ourselves is to wait until it comes out and plunk down $60. I think people wanting to know before they spend $60 makes it a legitimate question for many, even if some people are just using it as an attack.

  9. brannagar March 1, 2014 / 3:49 am

    I have checked it out and totally disliked it. Not because it isn’t well done, it is, but because its a psychedelic nightmare of neon colors with really poor combat. If the cartoony art-style wasn’t bad enough, the neon DANGER box telegraphs for EVERY. SINGLE. ATTACK. create a flashing nightmare that is enough to give seizures. I literally was ready to gouge my eyes out after a PvP match.

    The PvE is not a whole lot of fun and I summed it up on my blog, if you wish to check it out.

  10. Syp March 1, 2014 / 12:13 pm

    There will be an open beta.

  11. j3w3l March 2, 2014 / 4:45 am

    the answer to your title question is yes.. =p

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