I don't typically review games or issue scores on this site, so I'm not going to try and figure out how many stars or what percentage I'd award Rift's new expansion, Storm Legion. Instead, I'll say this: of all the MMORPGs out there right now, the one I'm most enjoying right now is Rift: Storm Legion.
I like the streamlined quest system a lot. It really addresses my biggest complaint about the "quest grind" which is the travel time players spend going from hub to hub. Rift's new quest system provides a single meaningful "breadcrumb" story quest which both carries you through the zone and is provided in sufficiently sparse chunks that it's actually worth reading through. I can't remember the last time I actually read the quest text. I guess the trick wasn't to make the text better, or even to voice it a-la SWOTR.
Along the way (following the breadcrumbs) you come across other quests you can do at your leisure. The key thing here is that you can do them without prerequisites. That means there's the risk of missing them, but I think Trion's come to the realization that this particular risk actually makes the quests a little bit more worth seeking out and doing. More importantly, it means you don't have to do them if you want to skip past an area and you can jump ahead and do them if you find yourself deep in a quest zone after chasing a world invasion.
Switching gears entirely from quests, I also wanted to comment on some of the changes to the class (calling / soul) system. In sharp contrast to the seemingly overwhelming tide of simplification (read: dumbing-down) that is sweeping any form of meaningful engagement with games, Storm Legion takes the risk of adding extra complexity and leaving it tucked away for players to discover. Take, for example, the Elementalist.
Rift's first expansion, Storm Legion, is finally here! In this special report blog entry, I'll be updating with my first impressions as they come. As always, you can click here for a free trial if you want to try out Rift for yourself. Be sure to join me on Faeblight!
First impression so far: cool new patcher theme! I like the purple and red! I'm glad I could be such an artistic influence for you, Trion ;)
Server just came down for a fix, so it seems like a good time to update. So far it still very much feels like Rift, which is a good thing. The patch process was quite painless: I risked trying out that "download while you play" mode I'm always so wary of and had no problems or negative experiences at all. Bravo Trion! There was a bit of lag, but nothing out of the ordinary for a bajillion players all shoving their way into the opening area of new content.
Well, I called it. It's time for an expansion for Rift and Trion just announced it wouldn't disappoint. A vertical jump of 10 levels, just like I said was needed, has been confirmed, along with the full press release for the Storm Legion expansion. Along with new levels, a new soul for each class, a new tier of crafting, two new continents to explore, and two new raids to, erm, raid.
Of unexpected interest was the announcement of Dimensions, described by Trion as "customizable spaces that allow players and guilds to own a sliver of Telara." Seems to be their answer to instanced housing, except instead of just a house, you get a whole pocket dimension with who knows what inside. I'm really looking forward to them though, as personal and guild housing was a feature I particularly enjoyed in Everquest II.
I just hope there isn't a giant grind for Air resist gear.
Last time I blogged about Rift I complained a bit about having a hard time "finding" the fun in the game anymore. After talking more about the topic with my guildmates in Infernal Dawn last night, I think most of us agreed that Rift is ready for more than just flat content: we want an expansion.
We've done what there is to do with the current character options, we've cast our spells or wielded our abilities ad nauseum. My role, Archon, has become bitterly depressing to play, as I simply cast 10 spells every 5 minutes, then push one button until they come up for renewal. I often just afk in trash because my 1 button attack is so meaningless and trivial that the 5 Archon auras are all that really matter. I used to enjoy casting Illuminate, at least, until Coda of Jeopardy came along and utterly trivialized that.
I'm also really disappointed with the trend towards more and more resists. I was annoyed at having to spend time grinding to build a water resist core for Hammerknell Fortress. I'm downright furious at having to build both fire and earth resist cores for ID. It's time consuming, it's not fun, and I don't want to have to do it. This isn't what playing a game is supposed to be about.
I think there's an interesting ebb and flow in MMORPG design, what I call the "vertical" stages and the "horizontal" stages. The vertical stages come in big jumps: when you produce new content that overwrites old content. Expansions that boost player level by 10, for example, and introduce new skills or abilities. The horizontal stages are the content additions that stretch out the periods between vertical additions: the extra dungeons, raids, and what-not that keep people entertained with the same set of tools they're already using.
It seems to me that modern MMORPGs are based on Achievements. You grind to level up, you grind to get gear, you grind grind grind to achieve goals set forth for you by the developers. The problem is, with all the focus on carefully balancing those grinds to take as long as possible, MMO developers seem to have forgotten to make the games fun.
The thing is, I'm not that driven by achievement-based gameplay. I've never cared for the most blatant form of that: achievement points. But the grinds past that don't really interest me either: questing to level up is a bore, grinding Instant Action for PA levels or Inscribed Sourcestones to unlock a useful ability or buy a useful piece of equipment is a pain, and sitting around week after week to do one raid run is downright upsetting.
Another thing that's bugging me in Rift is the lack of gear inheritance to a number of key game facets. For example, if you play a Warrior, your HP goes up as your gear gets better. But if you play a Mage, while your HP also goes up, the HP for your pets remains unchanged. So when monsters get tougher to provide challenges to the other three classes, Mages can't stay relevant. And in raids, I play an Archon, and many of my abilities provide fixed bonuses. +360 damage was cool when people were hitting for 360, but now that people hit for 1360 my ability feels lame. Trion needs to incorporate gear scaling to ALL abilities, including pets and buffs/debuffs.
I think what I really want to see in Rift is the PvE equivalent of Planetside: trying to conquer territory for no reason other than the pure fun of it. Fight off invasions to defend wardstones, take out enemy strongholds: basically, their world invasions on a much more meaningful scale. Crucially, I don't want it to ever stop. I want to be able to log in any time and instantly jump into that action. So, yeah, combine instant action and world invasions and produce something that focuses on the fun of the gameplay experience, rather than the rewards you obtain for participating.
So Trion, the folks behind Rift, are merging some of their less populated servers into the more populated ones. Or, rather, "not merging" those servers, but simply "suggesting" that everyone on the underpopulated servers transfer to the populated servers so the underpopulated ones can be converted into trial servers for upcoming promotions.
Population consolidation does make a lot of sense. MMORPGs are more fun when the populations are "massive" so leaving players spread thin across a number of servers isn't as good as having everyone clustered together. I suppose, in an ideal world, you'd only ever have one server (EVE Online), if the technology made it viable. In the case of Rift, as with most "classical" MMORPGs, multiple servers are a necessity. However, unlike most of those other MMORPGs, Rift offers free server transfers to its players, so they can already (and often already do) solve low population issues by transferring to more populated servers on their own.
From a technical standpoint, this is why Rift doesn't have to do a server merger. The whole point of a server merger is to merge players who cannot transfer on their own. In fact, despite the hint of "mergers", players still don't have to do a transfer, they can technically keep playing on the trial server. As Trion explains, Trial Servers are like normal servers, so subscribers with characters on trial servers can technically keep playing and leveling up and all that, they just can't create new characters on the trial server or transfer characters to the trial server.
Of course, news of converting underpopulated servers coming at the same time as even deeper subscription price slashes with service offered for as little as $8.25 a month, all the MMO doom-sayers are coming out of the wood-works (again) to, well, say that Rift is doomed. I disagree. Want to know why?
There were two big design elements that attracted me to Rift originally: the make-your-own-class system and the Rifts-and-Invasions dynamic content. I'm a big fan of dynamic content. I would like nothing more for MMORPGs to do away with "quest grinding leveling" and "end game raiding" and just have one continuous dynamic playfield. Rifts and invasions didn't quite live up to that... but Instant Adventure takes MMORPG design one step closer to fulfilling that dream.
The premise is simple: a new UI element lets you click "join now" to join an Instant Adventure team. There can be several going on at once, but currently they're limited to two high-level zones, Shimmersand and Stillmoor, and only available to players level 45+. But no matter where you are you can join, get teleported right to where you need to be, and start participating.
The Instant Adventure quests themselves lead you around the zone, killing monsters, interacting with the environment, and completing a number of quests that are actually quite interesting. For example, you might find yourself defending a fortress in Stillmoor against a flood of hundreds of undead skeletons, armed with temporary bombs to blast them away as you deal with a few larger abominations. With wardstone defense and boss fights tossed into the mix, Instant Adventure has a pretty good variety of elements to throw at players.
Just like Scott Hartsman hinted at in Episode 1 of the Soulrift Podcast, the 1.6 update for Rift added a bunch of great content in the form of Ember Isle. The premise is simple: produce a zone full of content tuned for level 50 characters who have cleared out most of the "old continent" content and probably done a bunch of expert dungeons and collected a set of epic gear. The result? It's awesome.
Rift felt, by and large, a little undertuned; it was too easy. Getting to 50 meant coasting through content, killing mobs you can basically trip over and loot. Ember Isle is a refreshing change of pace: those monsters will kill you if you get overconfident. It strongly encourages grouping up instead of soloing. But it's just the right balance, in my opinion, just the right level of challenge without being obnoxiously treacherous.
Ember Isle also expands on two core mechanics: questing and dynamic content. As far as questing is concerned, the isle sports the typical set of quest hubs, but there's also quests scattered all over the place. Tons of extra quests that you only find while you're exploring around the world. It breaks up the tedium of questing by allowing players to pick up new tasks all over the place instead of always trekking from hub to hub. Even better? All these scattered quests either turn in instantly upon completion or turn in at single central quest hub. So even though you go all over getting quests, you don't have to re-trek all over turning them again again. Brilliant!
The dynamic content has also improved considerably. Throughout Ember Isle are sourcewells at the center of little adventuring hubs. These wells and surrounding turrets can be upgraded and defended by players. Instead of having to wait for a zone-wide invasion, each sourcewell comes under intermittent attack, so players can engage in the "defense against invasions" game all the time. The invasions themselves are also much more dramatic, with more stages, more interaction throughout the world, and even bigger and more exciting foes. Brilliant!