Exploring the defiantly cheesy expanses of Wildstar

I don’t really play MMORPGs, but they’ve always been there to flirt with. When I was younger I daydreamed about World of Warcraft, and its millions of customization options, and of being a beautiful and deadly elf maiden with powers untold. What young girl obsessed with fantasy novels didn’t have that dream? But I never committed, and Wildstar, too, flew way under my radar.

So far under, in fact, that I had no idea it was even a thing. Imagine my surprise when an angry chinchilla-like furball wielding a pistol popped out of my browser and was telling me to join the fight for Nexus. I was curious. I now had the time and resources. I read through Carbine Studios’ entire website and I followed the appropriate Twitter accounts to keep myself updated. I then spent a day watching the dev videos while the game downloaded to our PC. There seemed to be a sense of cleverness and enthusiasm about this. I watched videos on all of the classes and paths, and weighed the pros and cons of the Exiles versus the Dominion. If I was gonna do this MMORPG thing, I was going to be ready, damn it.

An angry chinchilla-like furball popped out of my browser and told me to join the fight. 

And so when I sat down in front of the character creation screen, I already knew what I wanted. I was going to be a Space Zombie, and not even that adorable rabbit/cat race could convince me otherwise. I would be a Mordesh, who are wasting away from a degenerative disease that has forced them to become cyborg aliens. And it would be rad as hell. The old familiar desire to build my beautiful but deadly killing machine came bubbling back up, and I welcomed it with open arms. But I found the character customization oddly thwarting. The options are there, there just aren’t very many of them. Want to change your skin color? Well here are some shades of blue-green you can choose from. And please pick one of five hairstyles. It was a less robust system than quite a few of the RPGs I’ve spent time with.

And, like some of those games, Wildstar seems to also think that the appearance and composition of its female aliens ought to be built to be spectacularly easy on the eyes and overly humanoid. No matter what race or faction, you’ll be tiny around the waist, with hips rounder than that planet you’re headed to and breasts far too large for any rock-skinned she-hulk, let alone a robot. Breasts, at their very basic function, are mammary glands. Is there a reason a robot needs mammary glands? Probably the most infuriating discovery was that even the Granok females, the rock-skinned aliens I mentioned above, were subjected to this same sexualized design. Their gentler features and slender waists were downright absurd in comparison to their larger male counterparts, who bore more of a resemblance to living boulders. Their attributes are there for pure aesthetics, to make them more appealing. Your size options for both breasts and hips range from “Abnormally Huge” to “Slightly Less Abnormally Huge.”

But not all is bad on planet Nexus. In fact, much of it is fantastic, and fantastical. After a blissfully short tutorial area, you have a choice of either heading to the Northern Wilds or to Everstar Grove. I wound up in Everstar Grove, in Celestion, mostly by accident. Oh the places you’ll go when you aren’t paying attention to your quests! It paid off in spades though: Celestion, and most of Nexus, as it turns out, is gorgeous, a Disney Neverland of greens and blues and filtered light.

It’s easy to wander for ages and get lost in this dreamy, atmospheric place, winding up in an area where you are vastly over your head. I spent an hour following quest markers and ended up fighting off vicious tribal women who could kill me with two whacks from their spears. I found myself surrounded by enormous hills and nestled into a river bed full of extremely volatile crocodiles from which I could not escape. But the scenery is so pretty that you don’t even mind. Celestion felt like Ferngully, complete with the whole “Save the Rainforest!” message. I half-yearned to re-watch Titan A.E., to visit another animated otherworld and see clearly defined underdogs conquering evil in spaceships again.

Nexus is a Disney Neverland of greens and blues and filtered light. 

Indeed, Wildstar puts a lot into this sense of the cinematic. An announcer shouts out your greatness you are when you take out a horde of enemies or level up, which does miracles for your self esteem when you have never played a MMORPG before. At the beginning of each new “chapter” in your story, he sweeps in to make playing Wildstar feel more episodic. You’re one step closer to your goal, one city nearer to the end. It’s a heady, nostalgic throwback to older cartoons, with heroes left in peril and announcers speculating “Will they live to see another day? Tune in next week!”

Wildstar, then, is gratuitously good-feeling. Last night, I spent another five hours in the game. I went to a village where I licked bugs that made me feel like I was tripping on acid. There were giant rabbits dancing in happy circles and chanting. Why would I leave this? A lot of Wildstar’s content draws from all of the MMOs that have come before it, but this outlandish dedication to fun is its own. It’s unashamed to be a delightfully cheesy animated space adventure.