Does WildStar have a chance?

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about WildStar. It’s been a while since I’ve THOUGHT about WildStar. That’s not willful ignorance; WildStar simply doesn’t come up much these days in the news or among MMO bloggers. I think the game got out two or three patches last year and keeps faithfully turning on and off events, but it’s relatively quiet for a relatively newer MMORPG.

If WildStar comes up in conversation, honestly, it’s because everyone is collectively amazed it’s still running. NCsoft is not known for its long patience with underperforming western MMOs, and yet it’s kept the lights on at Carbine far longer than we would have assumed. Free-to-play helped, but it wasn’t that much of a sustained bump to really send it rocketing up in the charts… and it’s been trailing downward ever since. Quarter after quarter, it was bringing less money, which no doubt meant fewer players, until NCsoft finally lumped WildStar in with their “other games” category and stopped reporting on it separately.

So what’s going on behind the scenes? Carbine had a lot of layoffs, and that coupled with the much slower patch cadence, I think it’s safe to assume that WildStar is operating with a skeletal crew at the helm. Maybe small enough operating costs that it keeps Carbine in the black, somewhat justifies the game’s existence. But why NCsoft doesn’t just kill it? I have a few theories, but nothing strong. Maybe the studio is waiting for a specific time, maybe there’s a license or agreement or timed something involved. Maybe NCsoft doesn’t want the PR black eye of shutting down a game right now. Maybe WildStar is actually doing better than what we assume. Maybe there are secret plans to bring the game to a new region or NCsoft is looking to sell it. All of that seems flimsy to me.

But the net result is there’s a real lack of gamer confidence in WildStar. If I’ve seen this conversation on Reddit once, I’ve seen it a hundred times — someone asking about the game, if it’s good, if it’s still worth playing, and others responding that it’s surprisingly solid and entertaining but has a diminished population and an irreperably tarnished reputation among the MMORPG community. F2P or no, it doesn’t seem like people are flocking back, and WildStar doesn’t have the luxury of a large pool of nostalgic veterans primed for a return one day.

It pains me to think of this. It pains me to write it. There are so many wonderful things about WildStar that it’s a shame that it ended up so disgraced and ignored. It’s brimming with personality, with an original setting, with great music, with some of the best player housing that this genre has ever seen, with some terrific alien races. But the failure in overall design and mismanagement from the studio during its development and first two years of operation pummeled any hope this game had.

I’d love to say that I was tempted to go back, but I’m not. I’m just too worried about WildStar’s continued existence to divest my time and effort into playing a character. If I think its likely that a game could get its plug pulled any day now, then it really hampers my interest.

I don’t know what could happen to bring WildStar back from the brink. If it has the luxury of time — and who really knows right now — then solid patches, positive word-of-mouth recommendations, and maybe a splashy event or expansion in the future might be the long-term path to survival and to flourish. But if Steam and F2P couldn’t really change the course, I don’t know what will. Only the fact that NCsoft hasn’t canned it yet makes me think that there’s a glimmer of a chance that there’s something in the works for its future.

I wish it hadn’t gone down this way. I had a great time in WildStar and if it ever went under, it will be a blow. I also wish it had been better managed from the start and that it erred to be more casual than hardcore, but here we are. And there it is.

7 MMO cosmetic wardrobe systems, ranked

Here’s a little thought exercise I’ve been going through lately after having a discussion about cosmetic systems on the MOP podcast. We had been asked which was the best MMO wardrobe system, which I initially thought was an easy answer… and then, long after the podcast was done, started to revise my response. Ultimately, I asked myself how I would rank the systems present in the MMOs I’ve played the most in the last, oh, five years or so, and this is what I came up with going from best to worst.

WildStar

There’s a lot of factors that go into a truly great cosmetic wardrobe system, and believe it or not, WildStar checks off most of those boxes. It’s got great armor design, plenty of cosmetic pieces, a system that remembers loot you’ve collected, multiple outfit slots, two dye channels, fun dyes, and an accessible system (which is a change from launch, which required you to talk to a specific NPC). I adored being able to create and wear different outfits based on my mood, and I was often torn on which one I liked the best because they were all pretty awesome. WildStar usually get a lot of props for its housing, but I think its wardrobe deserves praise too.

Guild Wars 2

Initially I had put Guild Wars 2 at the top, but upon further reflection, I had to acknowledge that there are two big flaws with its wardrobe system: It makes you pay to change individual slots (via transmutation charges) and it doesn’t allow for multiple saved outfits. Apart from that, it’s pretty brilliant, with several dye channels, loads of colors, expressive pieces, and all the buttflaps you can stomach. Finding and obtaining skins is an enjoyable metagame for GW2, that’s for sure.

RIFT

On paper, RIFT has almost the full package. It remembers skins, has multiple outfit slots, is ridiculously easy to use, involves weird cosmetics, and so on. Other than the dye cash shop and the smaller color range, I’d say it was almost perfect… except that I just don’t like about 90% of RIFT’s armor designs. They’re not bad, per se, just not what I want to be trouncing around in, and there are strangely few store outfits that even slightly tempt me to purchase. Probably shouldn’t complain; better armor art and I might have gone broke.

The Secret World

TSW’s strength in cosmetics is that it’s a rare MMO that uses modern outfits rather than fantasy/sci-fi ones (for the most part) and is thus a fashion that is more identifiable to players. People in TSW just adore dressing up their characters, sometimes the more outrageous, the better. Wonderful array of choices are offset only by a lack of dyeable outfits (although some pieces come in multiple colors) and no multiple outfit saves. It’s nice that there is a convoluted fashion to even equip cosmetic weapons, but it really should’ve been more like the regular outfits in accessibility.

Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO sits squat in the middle of this list with plenty of strengths but plenty of weaknesses as well. On the plus side, it’s another MMO with a community that does a lot of dressing up, and the game has done a lot to make this as robust as possible. Dyes, multiple outfits, varied designs, cosmetic weapons, etc. But on the minus side, the wardrobe itself is a little creaky and unfriendly, especially when compared to how many MMOs these days are saving EVERY new design whereas LOTRO has a hard limit. And you have to manage it by hand. Plus, the dyes aren’t that great, with only one color channel for (most) pieces and the dyeable area often being small.

World of Warcraft

For a major MMORPG, World of Warcraft suffers from a kind of lackluster system. Admittedly, the fact that it has one and it’s gradually improved is far better than launch, but seriously, transmog is pretty sad when you compare it to the field. No dyes, no multiple outfits (I’m not really that keen on just changing gear’s appearance rather than having a separate and toggleable cosmetic outfit), no way to do it on the fly, new gear overriding older transmog looks and requiring more money for new transmogs, and no quick check boxes to turn off helms and capes is all in dire need of addressing. To its credit, WoW has fabulous and fun armor design, which goes a long way to smoothing over the issues presented here.

Star Trek Online

Let’s throw in a couple of Cryptic efforts to be well-rounded. STO never really impressed me with its outfits. Sure, you could mix-and-match uniform elements, there were some (but not many) colors, and you had a small handful of outfit slots. But generally you aren’t collecting new looks while you play (most uniforms are simply bought through the store), and the interface is a little unwieldy. Sometimes it’s just more interesting to let your gear do the visuals for you, since they can be more detailed and futuristic.

Neverwinter

At the bottom of the barrel, Neverwinter does the absolute bare minimum to qualify as an MMO with a cosmetic system while making it as unfun as possible. Two cosmetic-only slots for specific items, no thank you. It’s a system that you learn about in the tutorial and then promptly forget going forward.

Now I know that there are plenty of other MMOs out there with great wardrobe systems, like EverQuest II, but I wanted to rank ones from games that I was most familiar.

6 major MMORPG launch days revisited

wildstar plans

One of the neat things about having a long-running blog is that it inadvertently turns into a historical document chronicling major events. In this case, Bio Break has been around since 2008, and I’ve gone through several major MMO launches since then. I thought it might be fun to look up the day one (or day two) posts talking about those experiences to reshare them with you.

Guild Wars 2 (August 2012)

“Guild Wars 2.  Is incredible.

“Playing it live feels so much different than beta, and I’m so glad I have a character to actually invest in.  But even more than that, this is just a game that exists to wow you left and right.  I’m sure that there are those who have become immune to in-game beauty and details, and only see the numbers and min-maxing, but that’s missing the point here.  It’s a game where I felt fully justified to spend the first hour just gawking around like a tourist instead of killing things, and I’m forever going off the beaten track to explore.”

WildStar (June 2014)

“As you may have heard/experienced, it was anything but a smooth beginning.  Due to a purported DDoS attack and a kajillion people trying to cram through the login servers at the same time, we simply could not log into the game.  We got to know the little running hamster, the theme music, and our account passwords very well, however.  It was 4:15 before I could log in, and by then going back to sleep wasn’t much of an option.”

RIFT (February 2011)

“All in all, I’m pretty impressed with the game performance.  No crashes for me, and everything flowed just smoothly.  I did roll a Dwarf Bard, and I’m pretty pleased with the choice.  I’m a Medieval Guitar Hero and proud of it, baby!  I splashed in a bit of Riftstalker for the teleportation spell — being able to jump ahead 25 feet every so often is a ton of fun, as well as a helpful escape button if I got over my head.”

Star Wars: The Old Republic (December 2011)

“On a lark I tried to see if I could log in at 6:30, and lo and behold I could.  Servers were up about ten minutes after that, and I began the process of reserving the eight character names I picked out.  When I finally logged in, it was to a ghost town — not a single soul in the zone, not a single voice on the chat screen, nothing.  I’m not saying I was the first in game, but it almost felt like it.”

Champions Online (September 2009)

“Framerate issues notwithstanding, I had a great time last night.  It was fun to see a lot of friends in the game (and the @name system is growing on me, for sure).  I even spent a bit of time learning the ropes of the crafting system, which is pretty useful — you can make your own inventory bags, which is certainly useful.”

Neverwinter (April 2013)

“While the character creator is really skimpy and the Foundry reportedly in shambles, the core game itself looks fantastic and is pretty fun to play.  It’s more action/arcade-like than a traditional MMO, but for some reason it works here.”

WildStar and the Art of Movement

movement

Sorry WildStar fans, I don’t have a huge return-to-WildStar post for you today. I’m still sort of in the process of reloading all of my stable of MMOs and chortling with glee that they actually run right on this computer. But I do have plans to explore Arcterra with my Engineer, so stay tuned on that front.

What I did want to comment on today that even spending a few minutes with my character here reminded me of one of my hands-down favorite aspects of WildStar: Its freedom of movement. Character just handle so great in this game, from the double-jumps to the tight controls while you’re making course corrections in mid-air. Even the running animations are spot-on. Little things, but when you go from game to game, you do notice how one MMO handles like a truck and another like a sports car.

WildStar, you be the sports car.

WildStar: Taking internal temperature

yy1

Sir! Corporal Yeti Yesterday, reporting for duty, sir!

My gradual plan to create a wide body of MMOs to dip in and out of according to whim while concentrating on my two main ones is coming along, although it’s been slowed by my recent computer problems. Until that gets fixed, I’ve given up the comfort of my cushy computer chair for a hard kitchen bench — and a wonderfully wide, spacious table — as I use my laptop. Got to say, for a machine that’s pushing four years now, this laptop has held up admirably well not only as a work device, but as an occasional gaming platform. I think I spent $600 or less on it, and it came with an AMD card in it and enough specs to keep most MMOs operating rather smoothly.

Anyway, one of the games that won’t run well at all on this rig is The Secret World, so as I patched up FFXIV’s 3.2, I looked at what else I had installed here. WildStar came to attention, so I logged in and made a new character over on the Dominion side. Might as well see what life is like on the other side of the fence, eh?

I don’t think I was quite prepared for the deluge of stuff that was due my new character. Between the pre-order and deluxe edition stuff, all of the daily rewards that I had been faithfully getting for the last few months, the first anniversary rewards, the subscriber rewards, and now the $1 Humble Bundle package, it took me a full ten minutes just to get everything squared away.

I have to say, that Humble Bundle pack is awesome for the price. The extra money and bag space is great for right out the gate, the hoverboard is sweet (and has flair!), and I will never say no to housing decor. But perhaps the best part was getting teleportation to my housing plot right from the start instead of having to wait until level 14.

yy2

Dance! Dance to the giant taco! Dance, I say!

While I spent time setting up my character and a basic house, I didn’t get too far in my adventures through Levian Bay. I think I was doing that thing where you’ve previously burned (or browned) out on a game and was taking some sort of internal temperature to see if enough time has gone by to renew my interest. Alas, it wasn’t quite. I think I’m going to leave WildStar alone for a bit — at least until the next urge strikes me.

After all, where else will I be able to make a house with giant tacos?