Last month saw the release of WildStar, a T-rated massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) created by the Carbine Studio and published by NCSoft for Windows PC. In WildStar, players and their friends explore the planet of Nexus in a fantasy sci-fi Western setting, defeating enemies, finding long-lost ruins, and rescuing adorable root vegetables along the way. The game is fairly easy to play with a little practice, but still has options that manage to challenge even the most seasoned MMORPG veterans. With these diverse gameplay options and a focus on encouraging group play, WildStar shows a great deal of promise for families looking to game together.
WildStar is an entirely new game (often called intellectual property—or IP), which is unusual in today’s game industry with its focus on established franchises. This isn’t to say that WildStar is unlike any game before it. The tasks within the game are easily recognizable as variations on typical MMORPG gameplay. Despite the similarities to other games, WildStar developers manage to add enough of their unique twists on the MMORPG genre to create a game that is both familiar and engaging.
Players start by choosing between the Exile and Dominion factions. The Dominion’s leaders have been chosen by an advanced species called the Eldan to rule the universe—or so the Dominion believes. The Eldan are now extinct and the newly rediscovered planet of Nexus is their legacy. The Dominion humans, along with their loyal vassal species, see Nexus as the Dominion’s divine inheritance. The Exiles are people who do not accept the Dominion’s claims to the divine right to rule. They include humans who rebelled against the Dominion long ago, as well as species ejected from their home planets by the Dominion. While the Exiles are a diverse bunch, the different species seem genuinely concerned for each other. Even the nature-focused Aurin and the undead science-obsessed Mordesh work well together.
The nature versus technology conflict comes up often for Exile players in WildStar, but the advocates for each side usually find a way to compromise. It’s refreshing to see a game that presents conflicts resolved through collaboration rather than force.
Not all conflict in WildStar is resolved peaceably, though. The Exile and Dominion factions are caught in a conflict with no resolution in sight. The Exiles see the planet of Nexus as their last chance to establish a home for themselves away from the Dominion’s control, and the Dominion sees Nexus their ultimate birthright. The storyline for both factions includes exploring Nexus and discovering what the Eldan were doing on the planet, but both storylines also involve stopping the opposing faction from doing the same.
Gameplay and the Paths
Gameplay in WildStar is fast, active, and focused on fun. Characters are in constant motion, dodging their enemies or lining up their own attacks. The game gives players somewhat spontaneous challenges to do within a set amount of time. While it is possible to accomplish these challenges without the help of other players, teams definitely have an edge. This is where teaming up with family members comes in handy. Working together pays off for WildStar players with better rewards and more content.
WildStar is not solely focused on combat. The game designers have provided players a variety of activities to keep WildStar feeling fresh. At character creation, players choose a “path” in addition to their class. These “paths” provide bonus missions meant to cater to a player’s preferred playstyle. The Soldier path, for example, is mostly focused on combat, while the Explorer path is focused on finding hard-to-reach places and filling out maps. Exploration and learning about the planet is a large part of gameplay, regardless of your chosen path, but it becomes an even larger part of the game when you choose the exploration or science paths. The Settler path allows players to build stations that provide bonuses to all players in the area.
Family-Appropriate Fun and Learning
Another popular feature of WildStar is the ability to design and build houses. Players start off with basic elements to create their homes on Nexus, but exploring the planet and defeating enemies provide players new choices for home decor. Rather than questing to get better equipment to fight with, WildStar characters may find themselves on a mission whose reward is a nice rug or sculpture.
While it is impossible to avoid combat in WildStar entirely, fighting doesn’t necessarily have to define who the player’s character is. WildStar is as much about the discovery of the planet Nexus as it is about the conflict between the Dominion and Exiles.
The game has a light-hearted sense of humor that makes it approachable and family-friendly. It was rated “T” for teen by the ESRB for “Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol.” The description by the ESRB is accurate. The game is safe for teenage players and probably for younger players too, with some parental participation. The violence is very mild, as is the offensive language and crude humor.
The ESRB assessment also mentions some of the sexist issues that we have also discussed here on Pixelkin. While the game features strong female characters, sexist art style choices at various points in the game—most notably at character creation—warrant discussion. The mildness of the T-rated content (language, sexual themes, and drug use) actually makes WildStar an excellent starting point for these topics with teen and tween kids. For example, there are references to drinking beer, and unattended hookahs can be found in some areas, but you’ll find nothing any more alarming than what might be seen in an age-appropriate TV show or movie. Because these portrayals are mild and inoffensive, they present a low-stakes chance to start discussing topics like drug use.
The variety WildStar offers is definitely the game’s strongest suit. While MMOs may not be a parent or child’s particular cup of tea, WildStar provides many avenues for players to explore before deciding if the game is the right fit. The game touches on issues like sexism, drug use, and violence, but in mild ways that are excellent discussion openers. WildStar does not always portray ideal behavior, but it does offer narratives of people working together to find common ground. With so many playstyle options to choose from, the light-hearted setting, and the myriad chances to talk about heavy subjects within an accessible narrative, WildStar could be a great new adventure for families to embark on together.