After four years on the MMO scene, WildStar is finally closing its doors. The game, made by a team of former Blizzard Entertainment employees determined to break away from World of Warcraft, started with noble aspirations, but had a rough, short life. Only one year after launch, the game had dropped its entry fee and gone free to play, and two years later was desperately trying to attract more players through a move to Steam. WildStar spent its last few years coasting by in maintenance mode, with few or no updates for its loyal remaining players. Now that Carbine Studios is officially shutting down, WildStar is going down with it.
As WildStar ends, though, I find myself reflecting less on why it failed (as most MMOs do, after all) and more on the parts of the crazy, colorful, two-parts-sci-fi, one-part-fantasy, one-part-Space–Western game that captured my attention for a few months back in 2015 and 2016. I started playing the game after its swap to free-to-play, and though I didn’t spend long at the endgame (even then, there weren’t many other players around), I still find myself nostalgic for a lot of what WildStar did right—and three of its most standout systems I wish all other MMOs would copy.
Holy cow, the combat. I’ve played my decent share of MMOs, and combat in WildStar is still head and shoulders over all of them. Many games have enemies that project their attacks, warning players with a big red circle on the ground where a giant fist is going to smash down in a moment and telling them to get out. Attacks in WildStar work the same way, but this “projection” of attacks works for everyone—including the player.
Every ability you use in WildStar takes up a different amount of physical space, which is projected in front of you on the ground in the form of a long straight line, a huge frontal square, an AOE circle, branching rays, or whatever shape is appropriate. In order to hit anything, though, you have to actually get enemies into your line of fire. On the flip side, this means that you can miss. If the person you’re fighting is leaping and dodging, if you’re firing a long narrow attack a long distance away and twitch at the last second, if you’re trying to heal a friend but they’re too far away? Well, you’re going to have to git gud. You need actual skill and positioning, and combat is a constant dance of dodging out of enemy attacks while simultaneously trying to trap the enemy in your own. There’s no tab-targeting or misses due to RNG or armor class—it’s all action and skill, and it’s insanely fun.
Tied into the combat is the sense of freedom and movement that WildStar offers. Sprinting, double jumping, hoverboarding all make simply existing in the world a joy. The total freedom of movement is essential to the game’s fast-paced combat, of course, but WildStar takes advantage of it in other ways. You’ll find jumping puzzles all over the world (there’s an entire Path, Explorer, one of the four occupations that you can choose for your character, dedicated to ferreting into strange and hard to reach places), hoverboard tracks that run down rivers and offer racing minigames, and crazy stunts you can pull (certain classes being able to yoink other players straight off cliffs, for example). When it’s entertaining just to run around and jump and flip, the MMO grind feels less important.
If there’s one feature that I’m going to miss the most, it’s WildStar‘s incredibly crazy and versatile housing system. Every player gets their own little patch of land up in the sky. The game gives you a few cute prebuilt houses, set for your in-game race, and you can choose to populate the land around your house with minigames, areas to give you buffs, gardens for added profession materials, and random decorations you pick up around the world.
Step outside that box of practicality for a second, though, and the housing system becomes incredibly versatile. Some of the creations I saw players make were nothing short of astonishing. One of my in-game neighbors pieced together an entire city from the ground up, complete with a harbor, docks, shops, restaurants, a town square, high-rises, and an extensive secret underground sewer system with jumping puzzles that led to a vault full of gold. None of that was pre-made, either—each building was cobbled together from separate, non-matching, walls and items, hand-sized and placed by that player, with shrunken bits and ends of other items acting as door knobs, window shutters, mailboxes, cobblestones, anything else that could be made with a little fiddling and a ton of ingenuity. (Resizing tools plus items clipping through one another go a long way.) Another house I toured was a brewery, built from the ground up with casks and puzzles, while another was modeled on a multilayered space station, complete with hangar and ships. Simply seeing what other players had created and how much time and effort had gone into some of the houses was awe-inspiring, and the level of creativity, customization, and flexibility WildStar provided is something I wish other game designers would allow.
There’s no word yet on when WildStar will officially end, but as Carbine Studios shuts its doors, the day must be drawing near. While the game didn’t have the life its developers wished for it, I have a lot of fondness for the time I spent playing it, and I hope that its best parts won’t be forgotten. May my Aurin Stalker rest in peace in her flaming meteor junkyard of a house.