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Game Review

Putting together a brand new sprawling massively multiplayer online role-playing game is no easy task. There are a lot of serious creative questions to answer with a project this big. Not the least of which is, How do you get anybody to sit up and take notice once it arrives in stores? For the developers at Carbine Studios, the answer involved quite a few kitchen sinks, it seems. They apparently decided to whip up something that would appeal to every gamer they could think of—from young to old, seasoned to newbie, hard core to casual.

Rabbits, Robots and Range Riders
They call their one-game-to-win-them-all Wildstar. And after buying it and signing up for a 15-buck-a-month subscription plan, players are whisked away to the glittering sci-fi wonders of the planet Nexus. This land of brightly colored flora and fauna is the long-lost home world of a missing super-race called the Eldan. And it's also a wide-open sandbox full of hidden technological secrets and mysteries that the ever present warring parties believe might be the key to cosmic victory.

The game's cowboy space opera story line centers around two alien race factions. There's the pompous, iron-fisted Dominion group, with serious superiority issues and haughty faux-British intonations. And the opposition is the ever-scrappy Exile assemblage, a gaggle of ragtag spit-and-scratch types, most of whom sound like they just swung down from a long ride in a dusty saddle. Depending on which clique—er, cliché—you ally yourself with, you then get to pick from some typical classes and eight different races—including humans, rock-skinned Granoks, rabbit-like Aurins, robots called Mechari, an immortal zombie breed known as the Mordesh, etcetera.

From there it's on to playing through a fairly typical MMO formula of methodical quests, level-up battles, treasure trove raids and piece by piece story reveals. But Wildstar still has a number of twists left in its lasso.

Combat, Crafting and Cartoons
First of all, the game features a "telegraphing" combat system that changes things up a bit from the norm. Each applied battle skill has a specific range and pattern of attack. And that range pattern is shaded out on the ground in front of the characters before an attack is delivered. This style of battling adds just enough variety to the equation to make skirmishes more strategic and less like a series of mashed buttons.

There's also an extensive crafting/housing element in play. Building a home base for yourself or crafting tools and weapons isn't a new concept in a game like this, but Wildstar takes things a step further. This side of the game can encompass days of decision making, if you so choose, and almost feels like you're leaving the main story and stepping into a Sims scenario.

Wildstar does attempt to make all the typically grinding hours of an MMO a bit easier to trudge through by packing lots of broad personality and humorous voice acting into its saddlebags. These aren't your usual World of Warcraft warriors, engineers and magicians. If anything, they feel like Saturday morning cartoon characters, goofy personas trekking and battling through alluring lands colored in bright purples, greens, yellows and blues.

Leers, Lasers and Lingo
Now, on the face of things, that colorful comic change might appear to be a plus. Why not break out of the typical seriousness of this genre? But the problem is, Wildstar has a let-the-little-kids-play look while still packing some not-so-kid-friendly content.

Some of those flamboyant Ratchet & Clank-like characters, for instance, can be pretty sexy for the cartoons-during-breakfast set. Female avatars are curvy and busty. And in the case of the Aurin race, they end up looking very much like the cleavage-flaunting "bunnies" of a certain real-life "adult" club.

Then there's the battling side of things. This T-rater isn't a gore-splashed drudgery, but deadly conflict is a constant. Enemies meet their maker at the receiving end of everything from magic attacks and swords to guns and laser blasts. Dominion heavies interrogate (read: torture) Exiles with cattle prods. And even though the Exiles come off as the good guys, they're hardly squeaky clean. One of their missions, for instance, involves the poisoning of medical supplies.

Foul language pops up 'round the campfire too. Western characters may tend toward saying "dang" and "doggone," but they're certainly not above uses of "d--n," "a--," "h---," and "b--tard." There are discussions of one race's heavy drinking foibles and another's brutality.

Add all that to an MMO's way-too-much-time-consuming ways and you've got a game that has that clever universal appeal the gamemakers were shooting for, but with some dangerous dance, pardner bullets to the boot to boot.

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June 3, 2014

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Bob Hoose

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