Friday, May 23, 2014

Mamas Don't Let Yer Babies Grow up to be Space Cowboys

The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.
--From Unforgiven (1992)

The Wildstar open beta ended on May 18th, spawning plenty of blog posts about various aspects of the game. Given that I finally caved and tried out Wildstar over the open beta, I figured I ought to pen my own thoughts.

Others have mentioned the bugs (it is a beta, so they're to be expected) or the gameplay, but I figured I'd mention the story for a change. As in, how the story meshes with the rest of the game.

Or, perhaps, it doesn't.


If I had to describe Wildstar in one sentence two sentences, it would be "Texas crashes an MMO, causing widespread chaos. Film at eleven."

Got that, Cupcake?

The loading screen gave no indication of this. Sure, there was the cartoony aspect of it all, kind of like WoW's but amped up to eleven, and borrowing heavily from such classic SF films as Metropolis (for the Mechari) or comic books such as Guardians of the Galaxy (using Drax as a template for the Granok, with a bit of Ben Grimm thrown in for good measure).*  But that initial cutscene for each faction? It was pretty obvious we were going heavily toward a black and white storyline that made Yin and Yang look tame.

When a faction thaws you out of cryosleep because they want you to interrogate potential traitors, you know you're playing a not-exactly-nice faction.**

You could argue that the Dominion and the Exiles are best understood through the lens of a traditional Texas-sized Western movie, and you'd not be so far off the mark.

The Dominion: The bad dudes. They've got secret police, a two timing religious church that has a penchant for occasional forays into Inquisition, bloodthirsty warriors, and crazed mad scientist-types who think nothing of slaughtering so-called "traitors" in the name of "science".  All you'd need to do is throw in the occasional racist or "Federales" and you've got the long line of bad guys that Hedley Lamarr is looking to hire in Blazing Saddles.

The Exiles: the good guys. They've got Western movie style gunslingers, Ben Grimm types, Tree Huggers/Nature Lovers, and Space Zombies(tm). There's been more than one time that as I wandered the first zone after the planetfall zone and I thought that this place could fit into Cowboys vs. Aliens wholesale. Or maybe Pale Rider with aliens. Whatever.

I suppose the cartoony space western genre needed some representation, and really, the game isn't too bad on that part. But the game also spends a lot of time trying to act too hip, too cool, with some of the ways that the game is handled.

Take the leveling up graphic. You're in a serious questline, you turn in a quest about something such as saving a settlement, and you level up.

But you don't level up.  You...


No, really.

This is so jarring that it drops you completely out of the game experience.*** And even though the two aren't even in the same ballpark, I kept thinking of a really really bad cartoon from my youth, Romie-O and Julie-8, as an equivalent. (NO! Don't go looking for it on YouTube! Just... trust me.)


I'm not sure what Wildstar wants to be. It could be strictly a space western and go full frontal campiness, or it could go with the Sci-Fi genre and veer occasionally into grimdark territory (which the quests go from time to time). Or it could go all hipster and try to act like it's playing you for playing the game. But trying to do all things at once ends up in a mishmash.

Perhaps a little focus is needed. Got it, pardner?

*And the Aurin? Furries. Definitely furry influenced.

**The Dominion. Need I say more?

***Which, to be honest, reminds me more than a bit of Guild Wars 2.

(EtA: I just HAD to add a Blazing Saddles clip. The post was CALLING FOR EEET.)


  1. I haven't tried the game myself but your write-up matches the impression I got from reading and watching promotional materials about it. Play a fluffy bunny girl... to RAID HARDCORE. Get engaged in a carefully written stor-DOUBLE KILL, BABY! It comes across as quite schizophrenic.

    1. Yes, very.

      I think it makes sense only when you view the game through a "Space Western -yeehaw, baby!" lens.

      Even then, it just seems, well, off. Maybe I've been spoiled by SWTOR's fully voiced interactions, but Wildstar seems just old fashioned that way. Even Neverwinter had some partially voiced NPC interactions, and it is F2P from the get go.