A diary of sorts, wherein I moonlight as a games writer. Under haphazard construction.
A Wild and Starry Weekend, First Part: Me and MMORPGs
April 27, 2014Posted by on
I read up on how to take screenshots in Wildstar before writing this post and spent the better part of the afternoon running around mashing the Print Screen key only to find that it had done nothing and that no screenshots were being saved. So there aren’t any! Or, at least, only some boring ones I quickly grabbed by other means.
After signing up in the aftermath of Rezzed over a year ago, I finally got an invite to join the beta of Wildstar this weekend. I’d come away from my 30-minute demo with mixed impressions at the time, and was eager to play more to see how the classes and progression paths that actually interested me held up. The promise of plenty of stuff to do besides combat including the construction of settlements, interdependent crafting and other interesting social gubbins caught my attention, as did the apparent step away from some conventional MMO tropes. After maybe… 15 hours or so over the past three days, though, I’m still not entirely sure I know whether I like it. Part of this is a sense that perhaps I’m over MMOs. That I’ve changed enough over the past decade that nothing’s ever going to capture my attention like Ryzom, or Final Fantasy XI, or Star Wars Galaxies did back when I was a teenager. I mean, I bounced off Guild Wars 2, and that was excellent, wasn’t it? Surely that’s gotta be me? Returning to the glory days of Galaxies last year using the fantastic SWG Emulator was a wonderful bit of nostalgia, but I’m not still playing it now.
Just saying that’s got me feeling tempted to go back again (and find a nice Tatooinian guild in need of a Tailor), but I doubt I’d stay particularly long.
Something’s definitely up, and I can’t tell whether it’s really with Wildstar or just me.
I was gonna just sit and try to give my impressions of the game, from the perspective of a lapsed MMO player looking for something new, but whilst writing this I realised it was taking me a long while to actually get to the point.
So, two parts, then!
I’m gonna get all the gas about why I’m not sure whether I like it or not out the way here, then go on to talk in a bit more depth about the game another time.
Since getting over the initial buzz of creating a character, completing the tutorial stages aboard a massive starship, and then beginning to explore the bright and beautiful world of Nexus, I’ve not felt particularly compelled to keep going with Wildstar. I’ve checked out the start of the game for both factions, exploring a couple of different classes and paths in the process, and have wanted to hit level 15, which is apparently where the game really takes off, but this has been more out of a sense of curiosity of the game itself than of desire to get more deeply involved in it.
I’ve been trying to work out what the problem is for me, and it’s not, as some people have complained, that Wildstar feels too much like World of Warcraft. Most of the complaints to this effect that I’ve seen being flung around in the global chat channel ingame centre around stagnant things. Things which have simply become the MMO genre’s staples in wake of WoW’s success: the basic rhythmns of the game, which all the other more unique systems and mechanics fit within. The flow of conversation, combat, exploration and inventory-housekeeping, which swings you alternatively between periods of active and passive play whilst keeping you persistently (permanently?) wrapped up in the world. These might just as well be a similarity to any MMO of the past decade as to the enduring King of them all. I can accept this, and I’d probably tell you it doesn’t much bother me, but I don’t honestly know whether that’d be true. Does the transparency of the numbers, the mechanical nature of the treadmill you’re running on, not bother me? Kinda?
There is definitely somethingabout the feel of the characters’ movements, though. In the animation, and the artwork, which is definitely evocative of WoW’s chunky, rubbery, stylisation of trad-fantasy themes and imagery. Despite the sci-fi setting, the mixed high-and-low-scavenger-tech of the frontier ensures that there are swords and sworceries and swuits of leather armour everywhere, in addition to the shields (energy-based!) and lasers and grenades. Come to think of it, WoW sorta has those things too, thanks to those steampunky Goblins, Gnomes and Dwarves. The fragments of nanomachinery which you collect from salvaged weaponry in Wildstar may just as well be scrap metal. My psychic-powered supersoldier may just as well be a slightly funny flavour of Mage. The camps and areas belonging to the Draken, Wildstar’s race of savage reptilian hunters, give a similar feel to the Horde’s (particularly in their abundance of ragged hide tents with bones hanging off them), and in the Aurin’s opening areas there’s natural energy and tree magic (being monitored and harnessed by peculiarly shamanistic scientists).
These similarities are largely skin-deep, and don’t bother me as much as some might expect. I only played WoW cursorily for four or five months in 2011 (in an attempt to better connect with my mad girlfriend at the time, no less), so despite generally disliking Blizzard’s appropriation of the fantasy MMO genre I still maintain a degree of tolerance to it. There’s a novelty to be found there: of having never experienced something which is just so big and influential. Like I found in Mario as a kid, having grown up only playing Sonic. Isn’t it still a bit boring and played-out, though, even if it’s got a gun instead of a wand and a spacesuit instead of a robe? Yes? Kinda?
I’m just wandering through thought processes now. This must be super informative for the rest of you.
Assuming for the sake of sanity and conclusions, that it’s not the MMO tropes, and not the similarities to World of Warcraft, why can’t I escape the feeling that I want to enjoy Wildstar in spite of something. Is something about Wildstar itself getting in the way? Do I not like the ideas behind the world and the setting? The style of writing and the nature of the story? The artwork of the characters and environments?
I’ll have a rummage around through my thoughts on these things in the second part, and hopefully come to some sort of closure. The simple fact that I get hung up on this stuff may itself prove to be the issue, though, so you have been warned!