Thursday, February 9, 2012

Getting On At The Ground Floor: Rift

TAGN has a post up about Rift's recent decision to add preset builds. I'm not really playing Rift at the moment. I haven't even moved from Shadefallen yet so my characters are still under house arrest in Meridian. I keep up with the news, though, so I knew about these changes. They didn't really come as much of a surprise.

It's been very interesting to watch Rift change since launch, like watching an MMO on fast-forward. I understand why Trion decided to add the preset option but like most of the changes they've made it takes the game further than ever away from what made it so exciting and intriguing in beta. More than that, it chips away at one of Rift's USPs (if you can have more than one unique selling point).

Nice to have the place to myself for once

Rift's Soul Tree system has often been praised for its flexibility and originality even by commentators who otherwise didn't find much to like about the game. Similarly well-received was the frenzied pace of zone invasions and rifts during beta and around launch, when quest hubs were often overrun and had to be reclaimed by bands of players and system messages to "Find somewhere safe to camp" when the server was about to come down drew catcalls of derision as everyone yelled back that nowhere was safe.

An apocalypse is no reason to ignore personal hygiene
The fangs and claws were drawn from zone invasions early on and throughout the year incremental changes conspired to make Rift a lot more like other, familiar MMOs than had ever seemed likely in those heady beta days. It's hardly surprising, then, that Trion have finally gotten around to making the Soul Tree more plug and play than sit and ponder.

Most MMOs follow this path, from complexity to simplicity but I'm used to it taking five years not ten months and it makes me very glad I was there for the beta and jumped in with both feet at launch. I'm sure that if I came fresh to Rift now, never having played the game before, I'd have a great time for two or three months, just like I did in WoW when I joined it after it'd already been running for more than five years but I'm also pretty sure that, just like back then in WoW, I'd find myself reading about how things used to be and thinking "y'know, that really sounds like it would have been more fun than how it is now..."

Which isn't to say that MMOs shouldn't adapt to make it easier for latecomers to join in. I think they should. MMOs can bloat and become unmanageable for newcomers after a time and things that are fun when you're all in it together can seem frustrating when there's only you doing them. In the good old days that took years. Now it seems it just takes a few months.

One scoop or two?

What it It emphasizes for me is how worthwhile it is to jump on MMOs at the earliest opportunity. Get into the beta if you can, even if you plan on playing when the game goes Live. Maybe especially then. I've heard many people say that the most fun they ever had in certain MMOs was in beta and it's been my experience too, at least on occasion. Often that's just the excitement and the camaraderie but not infrequently it's because whatever was fresh and new about the game just doesn't survive the commercial realities post-launch.

Beta aside, If you know you're going to play at some point then play at launch. If it's not polished enough for your taste you can come back later and maybe it'll be better for you then with the corners smoothed off, but if you do like it you'll be getting a shot at something that will only be available for a limited period. And if Trion's example is anything to go by, that period could be lot more limited than it used to be.


  1. Well, there is a long history of things that were interesting in beta, where you tend to get enthusiasts who trend towards more hardcore and where everybody is clumped together in levels, but which are not so good when pointed at a more general audience or when the population is weighted heavily towards level cap.

    The soul tree system is a perfect example. I heard lots of praise for the ability to roll your own semi-unique build. This came from people who all seem to have moved on from the game, so clearly it wasn't really a big selling point after all. But for a short moment, they loved it.

    Meanwhile, some people don't want to play the soul tree game in order to play the actual game. Our regular group is a perfect example. Three of us rarely play other than on guild night, and when any of us play outside of that time, we usually play other characters. So "how good is this build?" becomes a group ordeal played out over weeks. Presets, as a baseline, work well for us. I am happy to have them.

    And the soul tree system is still there. Nobody has to use the presets. And the presets do not even begin to cover the possible soul combos.

    I have to admit I am leaning away from your suggestion of when to play. I used to be a day one kind of player. But I found Rift tiring in beta and walked away from it. Now that it has time to mature a bit, it has become a fine place for our group to settle in for the long term.

  2. What I'm thinking is, if an MMO is successful and sticks around for a few years, the "mature" gameplay will be around for a good, long time and can be experienced at leisure. It will become more polished, more accessible and generally better-suited to players whose interest is somewhat less than fanatical. I'm not really interested in playing SW:TOR at all and never have been, and I'm certain that if I do get round to it in a year or three I won't feel I missed anything by waiting.

    On the other hand, if it's a game I've already decided I'm very interested in (that would currently be GW2 and WildStar) then there's a strong chance that I'd end up kicking myself if I skipped the beta or waited a few months after launch for the dust to settle.

    I was of the opinion until quite recently that it was a bad idea to play betas of MMOs I intended to buy but I'm veering the other way now. There definitely is a risk of becoming jaded or falling out of love with the game even before it releases, but if that happened then at least I'd save the price of the box!

  3. I am opposed to beta on general principles, but I must admit it did save me the price of the SWTOR box.

    Day one is a different issue. It used to be a rare thing, and it is the one time when the whole population on a server is leveling up together. I miss that aspect of it. I think Blizz and SOE should open up a new, no transfers server once a year or so just to try to recreate that everybody is a lowbie feel. (And let the hardcore guilds race for server firsts... okay, that is the EQ progression server, but that was great for the first few months.)

    And while I wouldn't trade away my first day play of EQ or EQ2 and the associated memories, I am not sure I missed much beyond a pile of server firsts (and three world-wide firsts) dealing with the original crafting system and such. It is one of those things that is a laugh in hindsight, but living it wasn't so much fun at the time.

  4. I think the soul tree side of the game was great, but not great enough to save Rift from its other failings. The lore was lacklustre, the setting visually stimulating but not altogether appealing, and the post-50 game a big slap in the face in terms of novelty/grind.

    Trion have done a lot since it came out to remedy issues and make it more appealing for some. But for me it really was just a chip off the ol' block and not something I could get onboard long-term for.

  5. I'll keep watching Rift to see if Trion move back towards what made the game great at launch. The open world public content was such fun with plenty of players and a real buzz.

    Granted that moved on with the zerg anyway but if Trion hadn't opted for the obvious raid-grind endgame for PVE they might have avoided the 'empty-world' syndrome that hits so many theme-park games.

    Granted Trion have been releasing content at a fair pace since (some of which is serious copy-paste sameness!) but why devalue the core public / open world systems that actually made the game unique by focusing on raids and instances so much?


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