A Comedy of Errors: Reviewing WildStar

I really wanted to like WildStar. I also really wanted WildStar to be a good MMO, but you can’t always get what you want. The promise of a fun, cartoony sci-fi game drew me in, and while Carbine Studios delivered on two out of three of those promises, I was still let down in the end. That’s the trouble with following a major game from its early stages of development—the finished product will never exactly align with your expectations. Even so, I never imagined WildStar would turn out as badly as it did.

But before I start picking at the game’s current scabrous state, let’s jump back to 2013 when my hopes were still high. I enjoy role-playing in MMORPGs in spite of years of finding myself amongst characters with dark pasts and eyes that changed color with mood, so I was excited when Carbine’s staff actually seemed to give a shit about WildStar’s nascent role-playing community.

Adventure awaits! And so does disappointment.

The game’s lore, bits and pieces of which were dropped like breadcrumbs by the devs, made me confident that WildStar would be fun. I told myself that even if the game itself was mediocre, I could make my own fun with other role-players. Here’s the point where I pause for audience laughter.

As I write this, the state of WildStar’s role-playing community is about what you’d expect for a half-dead game, with a few diehards desperately holding together what little remains. A good portion of the staff members I knew are gone now, and the rest are just as desperately trying to keep the game itself afloat.

Body Types: A Tall Order

One thing that intrigued me early on—long before expectation collided with reality in a fiery wreck—was the Aurin race’s matriarchal, arguably polyamorous society. In alpha, female Aurin were even a full head taller than males, a trait that was changed after numerous complaints on the forums.

This wouldn’t last, though the talking animations still make everyone look perpetually astounded.

The devs didn’t fight the unhappy testers (mostly men) on that issue nearly as hard as they fought complaints from the unhappy testers (mostly women) about the proportions of every race’s female model. Note the… top heaviness of the female Aurin in the above screenshot. They insisted that female characters all had large breasts and narrow waists because that was simply part of the art style, same for the male characters and their barrel chests.

It was late in beta before they relented and added different body types, giving male characters the option to be lanky and female characters the option to not be chesty. Like the new hairstyles added late in development, they were just slapdash edits made to existing models, with stockier builds experiencing very noticeable clipping issues. “Slapdash” would prove to be an accurate description for most of Carbine’s solutions to any problem that arose. And oh, there were (and are) so very many problems.

The Name Reservation Situation

One of the perks of pre-ordering WildStar was the option to reserve one character and one guild name per account. The way it worked was the name, once successfully reserved, would be locked across all servers until you created a character or guild using it. After that, the name would be unlocked on every other server. If, after a month, your reservation had not been used, it was automatically unlocked. Sounds easy enough, right? Ha.

Hello, Welcome, Name Card, Identification
Oops. Your name is Oops now.

No one was terribly surprised when the name reservation webpage got hammered the moment it went live. Once you successfully snagged your desired name, probably after a lot of refreshing, a 24 hour countdown started. As long as the countdown was running, you could edit your reservation. The trouble was some people found their timer said 00:00:00, which turned out to mean your chosen name hadn’t actually been reserved.

Many who went back to make sure they got their name found it had already been claimed by someone else. In some cases a character name would save, but a guild name wouldn’t, and vice versa. Carbine’s solution to this increasingly widespread problem was to discontinue name reservations after less than 48 hours. Anyone who had yet to reserve a name, or who pre-ordered after the shut-down, was SOL in regards to that perk.

But the problems with name reservations didn’t stop there. Come launch, players found there was a good possibility the game simply wouldn’t recognize you as a reservation holder. The name remained reserved, but it couldn’t be claimed by you or anyone else. I was in a guild that ran across that problem. The guild leader filed a support ticket requesting a GM change the name, and the ticket sat for a month until his broken reservation was released by default. Instead of changing the guild name to the now free one, a GM told to our guild leader to reform the guild with the desired name.

The saddest part of the name debacle came in October. Though it’s common for fledgling MMOs to merge overflow servers after the initial post-launch rush dies down, WildStar went a step further to create megaservers. Each region was reduced to one PvP and one PvE server, a move that didn’t inspire much confidence in the game’s future prospects. Last names were added to make up for any duplicate character names, while guilds … were given a simple option to change their name upon log-in. Where was that option before, with my guild?

Endgame Raids: The Attempt to Travel Back in Time to 2004

One of WildStar’s big selling points early on was the promise of the return to classic hardcore raiding—like back in the early days World of Warcraft, but (not really) better! The attunement process present at launch was certainly as challenging as the old days, but it was made even more difficult by the fact that a bug existed that could either reset your progress in the middle of attuning, or completely invalidate it if you had already finished. As for Carbine’s solution to this game-breaking bug: It told those afflicted to make a new character. Notice a pattern here?

Not shown: The raid leader screaming at the people standing in the lasers.

Another problem arose when WildStar began to hemorrhage subscribers. I, like many players who quit, paid for a month past the 30 free days in the vain hope that the many issues the plaguing the game (like the drop rate for a key Spellslinger AMP being so low it was virtually impossible to acquire) would be solved by the next major patch.

MMO launches are always rocky, right? It would get better, yeah? It didn’t. In fact, each major patch that’s dropped—which, I might add, keep happening around the same time as World of Warcraft updates—has only introduced new bugs on top of the old ones that have yet to be resolved. With players leaving in droves, just getting 40 attuned players together to fill a raid was even more difficult than it was in the first place.

cat fight
A close approximation of what the average WildStar forum thread is like.

Raid numbers were reduced and the attunement requirements were simplified, much to the chagrin of the players who came to WildStar specifically for the circa 2004 raiding experience. Such hardcore types were very vocal on the forums, making the atmosphere even more toxic than you’d find on other official MMO forums. Any post made on the forums that complained about a feature, or pointed out something fundamentality, was met by the hardcore set who insisted everything was fine and the person who raised the issue was a scrub.

Hearing them talk, there were no game-breaking bugs, merely features that added to the game’s difficulty. For example, Warrior threat generation had been utterly broken since beta, and remained so until roughly a month after launch. The thread on this issue raged for page after page, the argument being it was actually a refreshing change in traditional MMO roles when only Stalkers (a stealth class) and Engineers (a pet class) could effectively tank.

Any time a change—or rather, a fix—happened, hardcore players decried it as another case of crybaby casual scrubs ruining the game for everyone else. It’s still happening even now, but at this point it’s a lot like standing on a sinking ship, screaming at the people escaping on life boats that their lack of dedication is why it’s sinking in the first place. Carbine has since cracked down to try and make the forums less of a cesspit, but aggressively locking topics where heated discussion erupts only does so much.

One Gold Exploit Leads to Another

MMO economies are fragile things, and nothing destroys them faster than exploits. When WildStar launched, architects were able to sell certain crafted items to NPC vendors for a profit, while every other profession’s items sold for the usual trifling amount. Architects quickly made several platinum selling steel platforms to vendors, and in some cases quickly lost it again buying items from the housing store. The graphics representing platinum and gold appeared very similar at launch, making it hard to tell if the item you were purchasing was a steal at 1 gold or actually 1 platinum.

Since the ability to make a profit off NPC vendors was an oversight rather than an exploit, no one was punished for taking advantage of it. There was still the problem of teleporting bots snatching up every gathering node that appeared in the world, but that wasn’t going to change unless the game was re-coded to no longer rely on client-side data for things like a character’s position in the world. It took a player-made add-on just to make it easier to catch and report a bot’s name before it teleported to the next node.

Add-ons were necessary for a lot of issues that weren’t debilitating enough to be addressed by patches—like the fact the chat never saved your settings, or that anything spoken in /say could be heard halfway across the map. Carbine had more important things to focus on, as the forums faithful were quick to point out. The cancellation of the year’s Halloween and Christmas events (called “Shade’s End” and “Never Announced,” respectively) became the biggest punch line in the game’s continuing comedy of errors, but it was all for the sake of focusing entirely on the next major content drop in November.

Shade’s End? It never even started! Ohohoho!

The patch, which landed around the same time Warcraft’s Warlords of Draenor expansion went live, introduced a bug that allowed seeds to be endlessly duplicated via home gardening plots. Carbine responded by disabling gardening entirely, then issuing a warning to players who duped their way to wealth: If they came clean by admitting it in a support ticket, their punishment would be reduced. So that’s minor fixes, guild name changes, attunement lock-outs, and culpability left for players to handle themselves.

Those who didn’t fess up were hit with lifetime bans, though “lifetime” was soon changed to “one week” without much explanation. Their mercy perhaps had something to do with the fact they would otherwise be banning a good portion of the remaining player base. Any money gained through selling duplicated seeds was confiscated, but the items bought with it were untouched.

Without any rollbacks to undo the damage, WildStar’s economy is pretty well fucked (that is, for anyone who didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage of the duping bug), but that’s not to say the game as itself is beyond all hope. After all, other MMOs recovered from disastrous first years. Maybe the next big patch will fix everything, or the next one, or maybe the one after that. But no matter how bad thing get, I know there will always be players keeping the faith. I’ve got to admire that level of dedication. I’m not joining them, but I admire it.


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