Wildstar knows it's an MMO. That'll put some people off, I imagine: almost ten years after the release of World of Warcraft, the genre has attracted a chorus of detractors who feel that its hour has been and gone.
That doesn't feel deserved, in this case. Wildstar is bright, cheerful and gamey – a Saturday morning cartoon writ large that promises to occupy a great many Saturday mornings with a constant stream of quests to hand in, challenges to complete, areas to explore, bases to build, guilds to battle and so on. It breezily ignores the notion that MMOs have a mandate to change the world – and even as someone who used to cling to that idea, I can appreciate the game's confident acceptance of the fact that it's entertainment. It's OK to be entertained, sometimes.
Combat relies heavily on positioning and twitch skill, reminding me more of League of Legends or Dota than World of Warcraft – despite sharing the latter's action bar, and many of its designers. The Medic class 'paints' areas of healing, damage and debuff onto the battlefield, while assigning drones to apply further effects to specific targets. These AoEs are represented by huge coloured squares and cones that keep players' eyes on the action, rather than on their cooldowns.
Defeated monsters explode in a shower of chunky coins and crates of loot that are hoovered up into the inventory with a single button-press. Kill enough enemies and you trigger a timed challenge to defeat more: beat that and you get an additional reward from a roulette wheel of options. In the nine months since I first played the game these systems have started to cohere Carbine's art direction has resulted in some beautiful sci-fi landscapes into an experience that combines the compulsiveness of a mobile game with the long-term draw of a persistent world.
What gives the game hardcore credibility is how skill-based it ultimately is. During a preview event I duelled former PC Gamer editor Graham Smith playing an identical Spellslinger character. I defeated him utterly, demonstrating that (a) I have played a lot of Dota, (b) Wildstar has serious PvP chops, and (c) I am a better person than Graham.
There's also the world itself. Carbine's excellent art direction has resulted in some beautiful sci-fi landscapes: icy wastes crisscrossed with ancient energy lines, fractured badlands where gravity is inconsistent and glowing crystals hang in the air. Top calibre execution deserves to win the game a dedicated audience, and I'm hopeful that it'll find one – the MMO needs another solid, well-built game that doesn't lean on its famous licence to find fans. Wildstar risks slipping under the radar, but don't let it – it might just remind you why you liked MMOs in the first place.