WildStar: Waving goodbye to Wilderrun

robot1When giant robot corpses litter the landscape, perhaps it’s time to question why you want to colonize a planet that’s killed them. Just a thought.

robot2Last night I put my final touches on exploring and questing through Wilderrun in WildStar. It’s been a long trip through it, although not an entirely unpleasant one. I fully expected to be annoyed by the jungley biome, but apart from the lack of several taxi paths, it was actually quite fun to traverse and especially explore. I don’t think any in-game mount is going to top scooting around on WildStar’s hoverboard, especially when I launch off a high point and do that double-kick move in mid-air.

I haven’t felt particularly rushed to get through this zone, either. I think I’m at 42 or 43, so level 50 is definitely in sight, but the endgame for me will probably be doing contracts, working on my house, and maybe doing dailies while I ponder an alt — so no hurry to get there. Actually, with the last big patch’s change to challenges, I’ve kind of gotten hooked on doing those. There were a few spots in Wilderrun where I’d come across two or three good challenges in an area with desirable rewards, so I’d just hang around there, do those, and grind mobs while I waited for the timer on them to reset. And that, boys and girls, is the story of how Syp got a fish pump for his zen pond.

I do kind of wish I had been faithful in leveling up my cooking skill, which still sits at 1. Most fights I come out pretty OK, with my bots and shields taking most of the damage, but once in a while I’ll get thumped and then have to watch my health slowly regenerate. Sure, I could buy food from the vendors, but it’s kind of expensive and I’m a penny-pincher in this game. There is SO MUCH to spend money on in WildStar: Housing items, outfit dyes, resurrecting on the spot, etc. I don’t think I’ll ever have enough plat to get a single CREDD — at least not any time soon.

Maybe if I ever do level up my Esper, I’ll focus more on crafting and cooking with her. I’ve always meant to get back to being an architect and designing a truly awesome housing plot, instead of a ramshackle collection of the junk I’ve found.

One other thing I’ve been doing is working on tweaking a nice shotgun build. I really like what I have now, but sometimes I want a more mobile fighting style that uses bolt caster to great effect. Let me tell you, I’ve fallen in love with the repairbot as one of my two (assaultbot is usually my other). It not only does a bit of nice damage, but its constant shield regen on me is a literal lifesaver.

WildStar: The latest in my long career of virtual corpse disposal

corpse1We’re all familiar with the standard categories of MMO quests: FedEx, kill ten rats, escort, click the glowies, and so on. But there are also many quest themes that pop up almost as often across the swath of online games, including ones like “take care of the fledgling animal until it’s strong enough to go out into the wild on its own” and “burn all of the corpses.”

Last night I was going into yet another Elden facility in WildStar, where scientific horrors always seem to await. This one had the expected constructs stomping around, but it also had a room full of posed corpses that I was tasked with disposing via flamethrower. As I started up the burning, I reflected on just how many times I’ve been called to burn dead bodies in MMOs — and how honestly disturbing that is when you think about it.

Why is this the job and duty of an adventurer? It’s got to be a highly traumatic event, to burn or otherwise dispose of dead bodies, and well outside of a normal soldier and/or explorer’s training. Usually when I’ve encountered such a quest, it’s couched in language to give me the impression that I’m honoring the dead by cremating their remains instead of leaving them on the battlefield to rot and be desecrated by the enemy.

But still. Still.

Still I’m taking a torch, or a flamethrower, or a fireball spell and setting a dead thing on fire. Over and over and over again. You can’t tell me that my character doesn’t have those sights and sounds and especially smells haunt her dreams at night.

Seriously, I’ve seen this from City of Heroes to Lord of the Rings Online to The Secret World to SWTOR. Sooner or later, the game is going to be all like, “Okay, you just saved the ten Hoojibs from their evil master, so now it’s time to go corpse burning!” And we don’t even question it, because we’re so deep into the questing routine and just see these as a bunch of clickies anyway.

I’m not saying that doing this is immoral, even in-game, but it is disturbing and I don’t quite know why so many developers feel that they have to put us in this position. To appreciate the sacrifice of NPCs who came before us? To attempt to introduce a little bit of fridge horror? To grow us up?

Or, is it more likely that there’s some giant master list of weird quest themes that is passed around the industry, and all quest designers pull from it when they’re lacking inspiration?

Personally, I’d be fine with leaving the corpses as is. They don’t really care much one way or the other.

WildStar: Profits down, hopes up, eyes ahead

w1Business model shift? BRING IT ON.

It’s a weird time to be a WildStar fan and player, let me tell you. I maintain that it’s a good game — a great one, even, particularly after the additions of this last patch — for some there’s no seeing past Carbine’s bungling and posturing, not to mention the undoubtedly grim financials. Yes, it’s time for free-to-play to happen. The stubborn minds in the WildStar community need to see that it’s this or NCsoft pulling the plug and embrace the option that will give the game the best chance it can to find legs and become more financially viable.

Me, I’m pretty psyched about F2P. I’d rather be playing sans subscription, and I’d much rather see WildStar’s ranks swell. I just hope it’s not too late. I hope that 2015’s rather dead release schedule will give extra attention to this business model shift when it happens.

Eh, this is stressful to think about, so I’m going to talk about what I’ve been playing in the game instead, okay?

w2Strain time

Between adventuring in Wilderrun and progressing through the world story, I’ve finally started to encounter the virulent Strain — and I love it. The Strain is this purple-themed virus that spreads like wildfire, changes the landscape and organisms, and turns everyone into old timey sci-fi horrors. Oh, and it’s apparently got some sort of intelligent hive mind that’s not my biggest fan. Tough.

A week or so ago, I used a tried-and-true player build for DPS Engineers, found it to my liking, and then tweaked it more so that it worked with my playstyle. The result is combat encounters that go incredibly quickly and are a lot of fun to engage in. I have several synergies working together to provide various effects, and I feel like I’ve gotten back to the better part of the earlier game’s combat, where it was quick and grinding out mobs was pretty enjoyable.

With the changes to challenges on the UI, I find that I’m doing those a lot more often now too, especially now that I can see which ones are in the area and are easy to do. They’re a pretty good source of cash, on top of dyes and housing items.

An explorer at heart

Currently I’ve been progressing through Wilderrun. I’m not generally a fan of jungle zones — they’re usually visually too busy and a little frustrating to navigate — but I actually like the beauty of this one. And I find that I’m not rushing through the quests, but have taken a lot of time just to explore and see where I can get on my hoverboard. Finding clickies and challenges and science mission stuff are bonuses to fooling about.

Plus, big points to having a whole Lopp quest line. Love the Lopp. I was doing these and my kids were giggling so hard at every Lopp quote. Really wish someone would take all of those quotes out of the game and make them into sound files.

w4Home sweet home

My housing plot is coming along, even though I haven’t been pouring a lot of energy into making anything specific. I did get a couple of neat fabkit drops — a Granok trailer and a zen pond. I put these next together and I like the look. Kind of Flinstoney.

I’m tempted to replace my spaceship with one of the underground bunkers, more for ease of decorating than anything else. Then again, my spaceship home actually looks pretty cool and that would be a sizable chunk of plat that I don’t have right now.

With the recent patch changes, I’ve become insanely happy any time a new piece of armor or weapon drops, just to see if I can add that skin to my wardrobe. I have four costumes that I like, although my standard one (at the top of this post) is my favorite. Nothing fancy, but I like the look and especially her gun.

At level 41, I’m starting to think I might actually see 50 in my lifetime! Maybe not by the anniversary, but still sometime soon.

WildStar: A new drop, a new frontier

patch1Because I didn’t have enough new stuff to plow through this week, WildStar went and quietly (and suddenly) released the new drop, Invasion Nexus, on Tuesday morning.

While this drop doesn’t contain my #1 most desired feature — a new business model — it does contain several quality-of-life improvements that make the game a lot more enjoyable to play. Here are the three biggies that impact pre-endgame me:

The Holo-Wardrobe

After evaluating RIFT and SWTOR’s cosmetic wardrobes, how does WildStar’s hold up? It’s actually really good, perhaps right below RIFT for reasons I’ll get into below but well above Star Wars’.

Meshing with the current costume interface, the holo-wardrobe allows players to save weapon (!) and armor skins, create new outfits of any combination, dye them, and equip them. While it’s a bit of a money sink — saving pieces to the wardrobe and dying outfits cost a chunk of change — the trade-off of having the skins available account-wide is definitely worth it. And as far as I can tell, there are no armor restrictions either!

After saving skins of gear that I’ve been lugging around for weeks in anticipation of this patch, I whipped up a couple of new outfits and improved older ones. Dyeing is expensive, but it’s way more functional than it the costumes used to be at launch, and the end result felt worth the cost. I had to go back to Thayd to grab those Firefly Jayne hats for a goofy new getup, as well as nabbing several of the cheaper dyes to go into my wardrobe.

So big thumbs-up for this system — it’s making good on WildStar’s promise of customization, and it’s going to make finding new loot so much more exciting.

patch2Vanity Pets

At least WildStar wasn’t taking the LOTRO “dipping toes in water” approach to adding cosmetic pets; Carbine went all-in with 50 or so pets for this update, and seriously, I want them all. Some are available from vendors (reputation, etc.) and a lot are apparently drops.

I was happy enough to go back to Algaroc and pick up a rowsdowser pet that now happily bounces behind me. The pets are easy to summon, and you can drag their icon down to a hotbar to have them available on command. I really liked that while they disappeared while I was mounted, they automatically came back when I dismounted (which my bots now do as well — thanks patch!).

Yay for pets and more interesting loot options in the game. Gamer Girl Confessions has a partial guide as to where to buy some of them, so check that out.

User Interface Improvements

While I was aware of the holo-wardrobe and pets, the UI improvements caught me off-guard (in a nice way).

For starters, the quest tracker on the right is more organized and robust, automatically sorting through zone quests, showing challenges in the area (and easily allowing you to replay them), and so on. Apparently I had missed looting a few challenges a while back, and the quest tracker displayed icons that allowed me to get that loot with minimal difficulty.

But what I really like is the new challege UI, which throws a mid-top screen overlay that’s a bit more informative and visually more flashy. You can see the gold/silver/bronze star that you’re shooting for, the timers, and the objectives a lot more clearly than before. Challenges aren’t my main focus for the game, but I do kind of like doing them, and so this improvement is welcome.

A new frontier

While the new endgame zone and contracts system aren’t of current interest to me, it is really nice to know that they’re out there waiting and that WildStar is adding more content for my future. I won’t ever be a dedicated dungeon runner, raider, or PvPer in this game, so at least now I have a path to better gear through my playstyle.

So far, a really good drop. Now go buy-to-play already, WildStar, and make me completely happy!

WildStar: The first MMO quest that almost made me throw up

ugh1After a decade-plus in MMOs, I feel like I’ve seen and experienced it all (of course, The Secret World likes to stomp all over that notion). But for all of my adventures to date, I’ve never had a quest that provoked such a physical reaction that I (seriously) nearly threw up. But now thanks to WildStar, I’ve had my barf reflex tested… TO THE MAX.

Carbine Studios, you have my permission to use the above quote in any promotional efforts.

This stomach-churning moment was sparked by doing the shiphand mission Deep Space Exploration. I had just arrived in Wilderrun and noticed the shiphand in the very first quest hub. Might as well knock it out of the way, ya?

The quest was billed as a multi-year scientific venture into deep space, so why they wanted a trigger-happy engineer to tag along is anyone’s guess. I had a vision of the game refusing to let players who take this quest to go back to Nexus until three real life years had elapsed. It’d be like a prison sentence. I’d laugh so hard.

Of course, bad stuff had to go down almost immediately — in this case, a shipwide abduction by the fish aliens. From there it was a prison break, a mass rescue, and a showdown with the alien captain. A little tough, but no sweat.

ugh2But then the mission refused to end. Like Return of the King’s ending, just when you thought it was over it kept going on… and on… and on. I started to get a little nervous, an hour into this mission, that somehow I’d fail, or the server would go down, or something would happen to reset my progress. I did not want to have to run this mission again, even though it was interesting.

It was during one of those fake-out endings that I was told to take the controls of a drone to navigate our life support-lacking ship and reboot everything. Now first, props to the idea and the floating debris/corpses. It looked hecka cool and I was all for flying around.

The problem — and the nausea — kicked in the second I started moving. Every time I moved the drone or the camera, the visuals would wildly careen left and right. There is no way during this portion to stabilize the camera, which was definitely intended to up the difficulty. But the effect is somewhat akin to being in the old Batman TV series where everything is at such extreme angles that vertigo is shoved right into your eyeballs.

By the time I was moving down the hallway, watching the camera shift back and forth, up and down, I felt my gorge rising. I had to stop, repeatedly, to let my innards settle before moving again.

Different? Sure. But different good? No. No it was not. And I’m not alone in getting a major motion sickness attack from this. Call me old fashioned, but MMO quests should not want to make the player bazooka-barf all over his or her keyboard.

WildStar: Drusera needs pants

dru3Drusera, honey, I know that you’re supposed to be a… what? Some sort of techno-god? Fine, we’ll go with that. But even all of the powers of randomly appearing, being vague and mysterious, and floating some three feet off of the ground aren’t a good substitute for a sturdy pair of pants.

Seriously, I feel a little bad for you. The draft situation in your undercarriage has to be terrible. And all of those boy players who are getting a free looky-loo must not be encouraging, especially as you’re trying to deliver crucial mission information. If you want, you can have one of my pants. I have plenty. They have tons of pockets too!

dru1Me dead, but this time it’s not my fault. Mostly.

Since last I talked about my return-to-WildStar adventures, I reconnected with my level 36 Engineer in a big way. I kind of missed her huge gun and bots, and so I logged in to say hi. Before I knew it, I had finished up Farside’s missions and scientist path missions, pushing further in the game than I have ever been before.

The last bit on Farside was neat, all dark and squirgy. I’ll tell you what, I’m going to miss that zone with its low gravity — it made for some awesome hang time while hoverboarding. Plus, if nothing else it wasn’t visually cluttered, which isn’t something I can say for Wilderrun (I am not the biggest fan of jungle zones).

I have been working on my skill build, tweaking my combat rotation to unload a lot of alpha strike damage and conditions. Last night I fooled around with Thresher as a resource consumer and ended up liking it an awful lot — strong AoE damage with a buff that lowers the cost of subsequent casts.

dru2I can’t believe that I had left the game several months ago right when I was on the verge of starting the world story arc. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but when I came back this past week I was informed that I could begin sorting out the secrets of Genesis Prime.

So far I’ve done two solo instances in this arc, one surrounding Drusera (which was slightly but not fully revealing) and one concerting the Strain. I love the Strain aesthetic, kind of like The Secret World’s filth just more purple and with more eyeball accessories. Even though it’s supposed to be super-deadly and all that, it’s so stylized and cute that I can’t muster up the proper fear for what it represents.

I did subscribe for a month following my free trial, because I really want to see the patch and I’m enjoying questing through these new areas. However, I hope we hear something official about the business model change within the month!

It’s high time for a WildStar business model shift

Signs and portents are starting to swirl around a shift in business model for WildStar. Over the night we heard that Australian retailers were told to pull the boxes off of the shelves, a move very similar to what happened to ESO a couple of months ago before ZeniMax announced the buy-to-play change.

I’ve been musing to guildies that I think there’s another sign, albeit one more subtle, with the upcoming patch. The focus on character customization and the addition of vanity pets feels like a path leading in and out of a cash shop.

No matter what these might indicate, it is time that WildStar ditches the sub-only (plus CREDD) model. Heck, it’s been time since about the second month of beta when many reasonable people were worried that this new IP title was going to have a heck of a time sticking to subscription guns against ESO, WoW, and a huge field of F2P/B2P titles. I honestly don’t know why NCsoft allowed it, nor that the publisher allowed the subscription-only model to go on as long as it has after WildStar started tanking in numbers.

There’s a core of players that have and will continue to hold on to the sub-only model as the only way that WildStar can remain “pure” and be the game that it needs to be. That mindset does not get a lot of sympathy from me these days, especially in light of a vastly diminished population and the abandonment of the monthly update schedule after a whopping two months. Like it or not, remaining sub-only will almost certainly doom WildStar to either extreme niche status or outright death (again, this is NCsoft we’re talking about — a studio that isn’t particularly attached to Western titles and has few compunctions against shutting down what it views as underperforming games).

And the “subscription is good, all else is bad” is a black-and-white argument that dismisses any possibility that business models can be mismatched with games, all business models have examples of games that have implimented them well and poorly, and that there are legitimate criticisms of the sub-only model (such as it repulsing players who don’t want to be locked down with a monthly payment). For those who continue to shout, “Well, we don’t want those players anyway!” I have to respond, yes you do. You do want those players if you want more revenue to come into your game, if you want your game’s potential lifespan to lengthen, and if you want to generate buzz and cultivate a larger community.

Anyway, back-and-forth with the sub-only crowd aside, I’m very excited about a business model shift, especially if the studio does it right (i.e., not SWTOR) by keeping the core content free and making money on optional subs, cosmetics, vanity pets, and housing purchases. Seriously, WildStar has one of the absolute best housing systems on the market that is ripe for monetizing.

Plus, as a gamer who’s recently returned to WildStar, I very much would welcome a drop of the subscription. I shuttle back and forth between several titles and won’t always be playing WildStar enough to justify the cost.

We’ll see. It could well be that Carbine is still a ways out from any such announcement, but the studio has the official go-ahead from me if nobody else. Let’s do it, WildStar.