[We'll be reviewing WildStar over an extended period of time. For more details, check out our Reviews in Progress program.]
As we all know, MMOs can drastically change not only over the course of months of updates, but even from level to level. We have already given you an early look at the first 20 hours or so of the game, but as I climb the ladder of leveling more and more starts to open up.
Let's take a look at levels 14-30.
After slowly making my way through the very traditional quest system, I found myself at the first big milestone in WildStar at level 14 -- instanced player housing. Although it's not quite as exciting as Ultima Online's open-world placement, this is easily one of the best housing systems ever created in an MMO, and fans of housing in general will be more than pleased.
First off, getting your instanced house in the sky is as easy as accepting the quest in your capital city, and entering the area by way of a teleporter -- which grants you a recall spell for your housing plot that you can use at any time after that. You'll start off with an empty plot, but WildStar gives you enough to set down a small house and furnish it with a few pieces. You'll earn more by purchasing them or by way of enemy drops.
The house editor is simple to use, and follows a grid-like pattern for placing and removing objects. I spent a few hours just re-arranging furniture and trinkets and actually had a good time, as the bright and vibrant visuals make everything come to life in its own way. You can also create crafting tables in your home, as well as resource nodes and even daily quest hubs -- it's awesome. The floating motif is a perfect way to explain the instanced design, and it looks beautiful.
Here's where it gets interesting beyond the aesthetic level -- if you rest at your home area, you'll get an increased amount of rested XP as a bonus to your leveling process. Also, extra furniture can contribute to an extra bonus depending on the parameters. It's by no means required at all to level-up at a decent pace, but it's a nice way to reward players for pimping out their house. Getting around is as easy as ever with taxi waypoints, teleportation points in major quest hubs, a capital city recall and your housing recall spell.
The next milestone is mounts, which are obtained at level 15 for 10 gold -- roughly the amount you'll earn by selling vendor trash items from the start of the game. It's a completely fair price and one most players will earn even without trying that hard. Whereas a lot of other MMOs gate off mounts until later in the game or make them extremely difficult to purchase, WildStar does it right by letting relatively low levels enjoy themselves with a few big milestones.
Having said that, there definitely is a gating process, as advanced mounts and better riding skills aren't unlocked until level 25, for a heftier sum. Although WildStar is quick to hand out some perks and bonuses early, it smartly withholds a lot of good rewards as well so you have to work to unlock them. This is particularly true of the attunement quests for endgame raids, which we'll get to later down the line.
Ok, so all of that ancillary stuff sounds great, so let's talk about the meat of the game. In terms of questing, I have to say WildStar is fairly consistent. Although it never really transcends the genre in terms of "kill this" or "gather that," it manages to present said quests in fun ways due to the cartoony nature of the game, and some wacky out-of-the-box thinking. For instance, one quest will task you with gathering berries on a farm -- but with a jetpack as the catalyst, leaping 50 feet into the air to scrub the berries off trees.
So beyond normal world map leveling, what else can you do as you work towards 50? Most notably at level 15, the instanced path begins to really open up, leading to Adventures, which are essentially WildStar's take on dynamic dungeons. Rather than have players grind out the same dungeon over and over to level-up, Carbine Studios has crafted a "choose your own adventure" of sorts, plopping players into a scripted, but unique mini-sandbox to complete. On the Dominion side one of them is a prison assault, tasking you with dodging snipers at the start -- but that's the only real static event.
From there, you'll get to choose a series of events within roughly five waves, all of which can offer something different, and up to three unique bosses to fight. It really is just a wheeled dungeon with a lot of little spokes, but with objectives such as "defend the point" or "complete the puzzle," to break up just killing enemies over and over.
Level 25 has another Adventure, as does level 30. All of these have ranks, the top of which can be achieved by not wiping once and completing the Adventure in a certain amount of time -- so there's something extra for high-level players to shoot for. I didn't have any desire to repeat these Adventures more than five or so times each, but the fact that Carbine was able to pull them off and cram multiple instances into one is impressive.
At level 20, you'll unlock another dungeon (which differs depending on your alliance). These are the typical PVE MMO experience -- trash mob pulls, then bosses, rinse and repeat. The good news is WildStar's telegraph system really shines in big encounters, so even if they are fairly paint-by-numbers affairs, they're still fun to play with a group of friends. Carbine has done a good job of providing guides to said dungeons for new players, so they don't have to seek out information elsewhere.
At level 15 you'll get a new PVP battleground called Halls of the Bloodsworn. It's a 10v10 map that involves control points, much like Domination in Call of Duty, but with set "attack and defend" teams at any given moment. I found this mode to be more engaging than the first PVP location (Walatiki Temple), which often had a decent amount of downtime when the talismans weren't in play or near your person. Now in Bloodsworn you're constantly fighting for points, and at any given moment each team has a concrete role and an idea of what to do. It leads to more intense group fights, and given the great combat system it's a ton of fun.
Level 30 hosts an arena mode, which should placate a lot of competitive PVP fans. Just like World of Warcraft and many other MMOs, there are 2v2, 3v3, and 5v5 options -- but with a twist -- the arena uses the "Life Pool" system unique to WildStar. Instead of ending the fight immediately after everyone dies on a team, WildStar allows people to come back if they have a life pool available -- in other words, you can immediately respawn and kill enemies that were hanging on for dear life with little to no HP left. It's not mind-blowingly different, but it's an option for those of you who enjoy the always classic arena play.
So let's take a hard look at levels 1-30 in terms of instanced content outside of the inherently diverse PVP that feels new every round -- you have two adventures and two dungeons. While an adventure does technically count as multiple dungeons, the fact remains that the actual location remains the same, and it's easy to get bored of entering the same place over and over. All in all if you don't enjoy PVP, you're stuck with four instances until you reach level 35, which unlocks your next location.
It's not the most ideal situation for those of you who prefer leveling in dungeons outside of the confines of traditional world leveling, but the fact remains that WildStar offers more options to level up than pretty much every other game out there. Odds are you're going to find something you like and stick with it, and the best part is -- all of these avenues are viable.
WildStar is very much a traditional MMO, but it does a lot of things right and I am enjoying myself overall. Whereas many MMOs launch these days with very little to do outside of questing, Carbine Studios has done right by its fans, ensuring that people won't quickly unsubscribe as they approach the level cap. It's a noble effort, and shows that the developer isn't willing to half-ass its game just to make a quick buck. Stay tuned as I make my way up to the level cap and see how the game fares beyond the first month of a subscription.