The uniformity of WildStar’s aesthetic necessarily encroaches on whatever potential it had for diversity – and diversity of factions, player personalities, and races is what gives an MMO longevity further than its engine. It’s not a bad game because it looks like a Pixar animation, but it’s one that a very specific albeit large group will love, and another very large group will feel alienated by.
“I think it’ll grow on you” said Tom, our resident WildStar enthusiast, as I went through character creation resembling something out of a Pixar film. I’m not a fan of Pixar, or Disney, or cutesy MMOs and their characters. That’s personal choice, and WildStar isn’t a bad game because I’m not into those things. It’s not even a bad game because I don’t happen to enjoy the aesthetic. It’s flat out not a bad game, but I can’t play it – and I think that’s a problem a great deal of people are going to have.
Whether it’s Rift, Final Fantasy 14, Guild Wars 2, or World of Warcraft, none can argue that each of these games don’t have a style. They have an aesthetic. In writing, we call it ‘tone of voice’. Rift is dark, serious, and detailed. Guild Wars 2 is whimsical, fantasmic, and resembles a water-colour painting. World of Warcraft is increasingly cartoony in its own style. WildStar is similarly cartoony. So what’s the difference? The difference is that each of the aforementioned have room for personal preference other than lore. WoW’s Undead are a much more serious than the Gnomes, and Final Fantasy 14′s Highland Hyur are clearly very different to Miqo’te. These changes don’t break the ‘tone of voice’, but they offer something very important: room for the player to pick something more suited to his personal taste, regardless of whether or not he enjoys or agrees with the games over-all aesthetic. Final Fantasy 14 is relatively sweet toothed, but if you really want to get into it, you can play as the Highlander Hyur, or the Roegadyn.
The same goes for almost every other major MMO, even Tera, which is basically a digital sexy-party. Even Tera has Aman or the Baraka. These ‘misfit races’, whilst seemingly very different from those more suited to the games aesthetic, are hugely important to the population rates of an MMO. They appeal to certain kinds of people, avoiding necessarily appealing to only one type of person.
This carried across into PVP, it wasn’t lore against lore, it was personality against personality.
Things are no so lenient in WildStar, which is so heavily stylized that it almost seems arrogant, as though Carbine Studios either overlooked that not everyone likes Ratchet and Clank, or that MMOs are supposed to appeal to mass-audiences, and people of many different backgrounds. Blizzard illustrated this perfectly in their ad campaigns featuring people like William Shatner and Aubrey Plaza – two completely different people compelled to two different races. Compare that to what WildStar offers:
Granted, these are sketches rather than the actual models, but the point is that every race is a caricature following the same wacky aesthetic. This isn’t about whether or not I like it, so much as the idea that comparing this to other MMOs, WildStar could perhaps suffer considerably due to leaving out the one thing most MMOs actually get right: the ability to appeal through races and factions to different and opposing personalities. In the case of WildStar, it appeals to different personalities who share a common acceptance of the aesthetic across the board — and that’s not the same thing.
Because there’s no room for people who want to change their experience in tone or aesthetic as in other MMOs, that must necessarily mean that it appeals to less people, which is a shame given it seems like a good offering. Yes, it will probably draw in millions of players who love the aesthetic, and I’d even go so far as to say that the majority will find it fresh and exciting. I would even agree that the design is fantastic, and objectively they’ve done a good job at creating a world under this style; the issue is that, unlike the most successful MMOs lasting 5 years or more, WildStar has it their way, and although cookie-cutter factions and races were never going to appeal to everyone on any real depth, they created a real sense of ‘us’ vs ‘them’, where a player playing the Undead was probably very different to a player playing the Night Elf. In WildStar, however popular it may be, I believe it will suffer from its uniformity, because diversity is what makes an MMO last, beyond its engine.