Tracking back to Tuesday night (9/29), both Arwyn and I were at our computers dialed into a live Twitch stream hosted by the Carbine crew. As is standard before a release, they talked about different elements that they were excited for, ones that needed the most re-working, answered questions (a pitiful three or four) and gave away some prizes as well. One of the main things that they harped on was keeping the experience the same for those previous purchasers of the game. I was hopeful on this topic but could only cross my fingers so hard. When games go free to play, sometimes nothing is sacred.
At about 10:45pm they announced that 1,000 people would be able to enter the game a hour early...but once again they didn't let anyone know how that was going to pan out. When it hit 11pm, Arwyn and I just figured it was smart to hammer the login to see if we could slip through somehow. It actually worked! The next hour wasn't really spent playing the game, but was more of a, “Where the hell is that keybinding?” session. One major thing that would be flooding the various chats, though when everyone else got in was, “where the hell is my gear?!?!?” Since they did an overhaul to the stats (no more each class having to rely on a different attribute for damage and other logical changes), if your gear was greatly changed you were either mailed a new piece or given an item voucher to redeem.
Going back to the gear related re-roll issues, from what I've read on the forums and seen in chat, this has been extremely hit or miss for people. A lot of the end-game set pieces were changed but it wasn't just the stats, it was the rune slots as well. With runes adding greatly to the power of said pieces, if the slot was changed you pretty much had a different piece of gear. I don't know how much of this process was done manually or was just left to be computer generated, but this ties directly into the money/in game shop implemented in this F2P version of WildStar. You can re-roll the type of slot that a piece of gear has but it comes at a cost. You can just do a random re-roll for gold or actually pick the one you want by using your Service Tokens. In the in-game shop you can use your N-Coin (what you exchange your real money for) to purchase these. Thankfully, I wasn't one of those playing end game content with 3 full sets, only to come back to them being ruined, no pun intended.
(Update: Since starting this article there was a post on the forums on 10/9/2015 stating that the cost of gold to re-roll a rune slot will be reduced. The re-roll is still going to be random, though.)
To put things in perspective, I am working on completing my Artisan WeaponSmithing tier (4 of 6 total tiers). Overall, I need to craft 72 weapons to clear this tier out requiring 144 pieces a specific gem (each item requires ore, crystals, gems and a crafting material). If I spend 4-5hrs gaming I can find about 8-10 of these gems (sometimes only half that) if I'm extremely lucky, utilizing both the open world and the mine on my housing plot. With this being the case, they aren't cheap on the auction house either. I already had 75% of this tier completed before it went F2P and I don't remember it being like this. If I'm just being unlucky please let me know. This crafting paralysis also extends out to the crafting dailies which reward you with Crafting Vouchers. There are many blueprints and crafting related items (higher level harvesting tools etc) that you can now only get by using these vouchers, so it all becomes a vicious cycle. The sentiment on the forums seems to echo my own in that they really didn't map out how much of a domino effect things would have – aka crafting (especially those involving runes in some way) was borked in the F2P transition.
As far as my general account experience being the same as before, this is not 100% true. I understand having to make things “pay only” but not if I already had it when I paid for the original game. The two main things that were nerfed on my account are the number items I can have listed on the Commodities Exchange/Auction House and being able to utilize Warplots. You used to be able to have 30 listings but right now I can only put up 13 listings (which is quite aggravating when you like to play the market a bit like I do). The Warplots are now only available to monthly subscribers (Signature members or C.R.E.D.D. Users) but you can buy more auction/commodity slots utilizing their in game store (and not subscribe), using N-Coin or Omnibits which drop off mobs as well. Besides that, all of the social abilities are intact and fully functional.
Technically, you can play the game without crafting and just wait until you loot enough Omnibits (like I did) to unlock more Commodities Exchange/Auction House slots but that doesn't mean Carbine did things correctly. Even with all of the above being said, the base game is still great. I love the environments, the combat is awesome in its “everything is a skill shot” method and I am having a lot of fun in the dungeons (barely touched them before). Their group finding tool works great and gives you access to everything as long as you meet the level requirement. I've found myself going through all of the instanced content (dungeons, adventures etc) since you are always scaled down as to not overpower the mobs and still provide a challenge. I have not done any PVP yet (besides open world) but Arwyn and a friend of ours are getting addicted to it. The overall sentiment is that things are better balanced this time around. I'm going to wait until I hit the level cap of 50 (45 right now) so I'm not just wasting my resources on lower level PVP gear. Baptism by Fire, Wooooo!
TLDR: The base game is still great and very enjoyable. They need to work on their money making formula and what they attach it to. Should old players come back? Yes, but wait on making any purchases to fix your gear. Should new players start? I can only assume this is “yes” as well. Once I hit the level cap I planned on making an alt to at least go through the newb stages again and see what has changed. I will also check out how much they have added to keep those at end game status occupied.