Of course it would happen. Why would it not? Naturally, a few days after I get a subscription for Star Wars: The Old Republic and work up some sort of hype for the coming expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, Wildstar goes free to play. So after a few days of banging my head against the brick wall that is Galactic Starfighter and mourning the loss of basically every pilot who wasn’t afraid to have fun, replaced by win at all costs pre-made group abominations from galactic hell (I’m calling out both sides of the conflict here, both Republic and Empire on the Progenitor EU server), as well as debating which character to actually play, I decided to hop into Wildstar and see how the game has shaped up over the past year.
The immediate conclusion? I think I wasted £9. Maybe.
The new free to play iteration of Wildstar certainly isn’t anywhere near perfect. As expected, lag and queue times run rampant with the massive influx of new blood spilling into the game and at peak hours it can be almost unplayable. There were some serious log in issues as well, which meant that I could not access either of my characters for a long time, instead hopping over to play some Counter Strike: Global Offensive or Team Fortress 2 while I waited for fixes. Even today, I sit here writing this with some scepticism, the problem with lag at peak hours is still very present, but I equally know in the back of my mind how hard the developers at Carbine are working to iron out these kinks; the folks at wildstar-roleplay.com bought them pizza as a thank you for the hard work and long hours they put in around the launch of free-to-play.
After cleaning out my laptop of all the dust that had built up over an undisclosed number of months of neglect that I am too ashamed to announce, I finally hopped onto Nexus, ready to carve out my little slice of heaven and stick it to the Dominion or Exiles, depending on which character I was playing. It was nice to see my old characters still around on Entity, the North American PvE superserver, with the only necessary change being that names are now first and last name, rather than just one blanket name (super awesome for RPers such as myself!). I first logged in to my two existing characters to find that the gear and crafting system had been overhauled. To what extent, I was unsure of and still don’t quite know, but I had to spend a good half an hour sifting through my mail box on each character due to items I owned no longer existing, which was particularly painful for Caecilia, my Cassian, who I logged on to completely naked as all her crafted PvP gear had disappeared.
Since then, combined with the important fact that I now have a job that doesn’t allow me to stay up to ludicrous hours to roleplay with the North American crowd (I am in the UK. 5 – 8 hour time difference is no joke!), I have moved over to Jabbit, the EU PvE superserver. I created both Linna Dawnleaf and Caecilia Helvetius, amazed that my names were still available but less so when I realised that matching both first and last names would be improbable, and logged in. As I said previously, there were large problems with lag and queues at peak times, usually around 7pm onwards UK time, and the RP community apparently comprises of about 95% Aurin, the constant “why does everyone play Aurin?” “We need less Aurin around,” style comments grating on my nerves every day. However, the game is still very solid.
As a free player, you can very easily play the game with no issues whatsoever. Unlike Star Wars: The Old Republic, the free to play option in Wildstar doesn’t throttle you. There’s no XP debuff, subscribers (known as signature players) instead gaining a healthy +25% increase to XP gained, allowing them to skip some quests if they wish, there are still plenty of costume and decoration slots for you to use, you don’t get limited to a handful of battlegrounds and dungeons per week; the approach that Carbine have taken with the free to play update is giving the game as a whole with negligible limitations (less buy and sell orders on the commodities exchange and auction house) to free players, whilst offering some nice boosts to signature players, such as increased XP and gold gains, without breaking the game. Also, if you purchase the box, you get a really nice host of additional bonuses that last forever, such as an additional 10 character slots (so, box purchasers get 12 characters instead of 2) or an additional 1000 on the décor cap. Full details about specific bonuses for box purchasers and subscribers can be found here.
So, do I think that it’s a good direction for Wildstar to go in? Honestly, yes. I always knew that free to play would come eventually and Wildstar lasted longer than I originally anticipated on a subscription model, originally guessing that it would make the jump 6 months after launch as opposed to the 16 months it ended up running for. I believe that it will introduce a lot of new players to the game, but my only concern is whether Carbine is sufficiently prepared for the massive influx of players. I do not believe that masses will leave, as the free to play implementation is well done and very accessible for new players, though the initial rush will certainly die down somewhat in the near future and of course not everyone will stay. They have opened up new servers and offered free character transfers to the new servers while they try to find a solution, which is all well and good assuming people actually transfer. However, I’ve heard that there is still a massive imbalance between the old servers and the new ones, as a lot of people either have settled into a community on their current servers (such as myself and the roleplaying community), or they simply can’t be bothered to move.
Final conclusion: I don’t think I totally wasted £9 and will be checking the new expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic, however I think that I will settle on Wildstar over the new expansion.