Saturday, January 20, 2018

Be Careful What You Wish For : Rift

 "...I'll take a Rift Classic server, please. I really miss those Sunday afternoons in Stillmoor."

Me - at the start of the week

 "In the Spring of 2018, we will launch a new server, RIFT Prime...We plan to present RIFT at its roots as much as is possible to do."

 Rift Producer's Letter - three days later

Thanks, Trion! I think.... 

Although I guess no-one should really be surprised at anything Trion does any more, this move does seem to have taken most people unawares. The MassivelyOP thread cuts the company a little slack but posts at Bio Break and TAGN take a more skeptical position, one which I share and then some.

The immediate assumption appears to be that Rift is getting some form of "Progression" server of the kind long-established, now perfected, first by SOE and latterly by Daybreak, for the EverQuest franchise. As yet there's not a whole lot of detailed information on how this might work and what there is does little to encourage any expectations of a true progression server, far less anything that could reasonably considered a return to the Golden Age of Rift as we knew it.

It took SOE/DBG many years to iron the wrinkles out of the Progression concept. Reverting a long-running MMORPG to the status quo ante turns out to be a major undertaking that requires the diversion of considerable time and resources, as Blizzard are no doubt very well aware. Practical considerations mean that even with the best of intentions some infrastructure changes just can't be rolled back. The final result is an approximation, a reminder, of how things used to be, not an archival reconstruction.

That doesn't appear to be an issue for Trion because they don't seem to be interested in taking the time, trouble or expense even to get within hailing distance of the authentic 2011 Rift experience. The Producer's letter makes that abundantly clear to anyone whose rose-tinted glasses haven't steamed up entirely with excitement.

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the new server will both be time-limited and set on fast-forward ("The PRIME server will progress at a faster pace than the original launch and will eventually come to an end in spectacular fashion") there remains a much bigger roadblock to any fleeting sense of authenticity: "Many upcoming live content changes that apply to existing servers will also apply to the new PRIME server".

Added to that there's some not-so-nostalgic fiddling under the hood in the planning stage, with the Prime server "dynamically matching characters to their current zone’s level [and] dungeons dropping loot specific to your character’s true level". It's clear from the outset that the goal is not to create any kind of long-term home for players longing for the Olden Days, the way Blizzard plans to do for WoW Vanillaheads and Jagex already did for Runescape purists.

In addition to the aforementioned preset demise of the server, almost inevitably there's also the incentive of "participation awards that carry over to your characters on existing servers." I think that makes it clear that the target audience is existing Rift players out on a jolly.

On closer examination, what this appears to be is a version of another of SOE/DBG's popular and successful money-making tropes, the Limited Time Event Server. Trion did float this balloon sometime last year, in the relatively downbeat Producer's Letter of March 2017. There the talk was of bringing the "challenge" back to Rift with a series of special ruleset servers, possibly beginning with a Hard Mode version.

That went out to consultation and Rift Prime would appear to be the first practical result, its style and direction taking cues form the forum discussions that followed the original announcement. Trion, in their inimitable fashion, have managed to spin a year's worth of complaints about lockboxes, aggressive cash shops and other similarly unpopular business practices as "suggestions on how to make the business model more appealing".

Apparently that means no lockboxes, "a significantly reduced store" and a non-optional subscription. Pardon me for not being impressed. Or grateful.

The one significant, positive effect this announcement has had on me is to make me re-consider my nostalgia for the game. I loved Rift in beta and I liked it a lot at launch but when I take a step back and look at the overall experience more analytically I have to admit that it was a short love affair that came to an unpleasant end.

My time in Rift overlapped the beginning of this blog and it's easy to see my growing impatience and disillusionment in posts like this one from December 2011, some nine months after launch. Soon after that I went back to playing EQ2, then the GW2 beta weekends started, the The Secret World filled a gap before GW2's official launch and by summer 2012 I was a full-time resident of Tyria. 

In February 2012 Trion made the first 20 levels free with Rift-Lite and I enjoyed a fair amount of casual, drop-in low-level play when the whim took me. When they announced the first expansion, Storm Legion, for November 2012, I made the big mistake of buying two copies, lured in by its deal of a year's subscription bundled in. At that point GW2 was suffering considerable issues with bots and we were uncertain whether we would hang around much longer. The expectation was that that Mrs Bhagpuss and I would make a triumphant return to Rift and our short run in GW2 would be at an end. 

Instead, ANet banished the bots, Tyria felt clean again and Storm Legion turned out to be dour and dull. I think I played for about a week and Mrs Bhagpuss for maybe a day or two. In nearly twenty years those two copies of Storm Legion are the MMO purchases I most regret. I consider the $150 we spent on Landmark alpha access to be far, far better value.

After that I soured on Rift. I still dropped in and out once in a while in desultory fashion but neither of us played again until the game went free-to-play. At that point Mrs Bhagpuss had a brief fling with Dimensions until she'd spent all the free currency we got as ex-subscribers whose subs still had months to run.

It's a patchy history at best. I had very good times in beta, a good run after launch and a few odd moments after that. If I'm analytical about it, the main thing I really enjoyed were the Invasions and some of the Rifts. I liked the questing in a few of the original zones and I enjoyed the crafting to a degree. I liked some of the PvP and I also always found Telon to be a visually rewarding world to explore.

The actual gameplay, however, was always labored and clunky and crucially I never developed a close-enough affinity for any of my characters, although some of them had their moments. Leveling was grindy, especially on the second or third character and from Ember Isle onwards that grind became unbearable. Apart from those addictive and occasionally thrilling afternoons in Stillmoor, there's not an awful lot for me to be nostalgic about.

All of which, ironically, means that if anything induces me to give Rift Prime a try it will be the extent to which the experience doesn't accurately replicate the original. I would positively welcome faster leveling, better loot, less grind and the ability to vary the journey (via zone or level matching) from the very limited options available back at launch. When I stop to think about it, it very much appears I never wanted a "Classic" server after all.

Then there's the question of whether I want to pay a subscription for the privilege of playing (most probably in a half-assed, half-interested fashion) through content I've already played through several times already (much of which wasn't that great to begin with). I guess that will depend on what else I'm doing when it arrives and how much spare time I have on hand. Also on whether Mrs Bhagpuss is interested, which I'm willing to bet she won't be. She doesn't really do nostalgia.

One thing I never did first time round, which might justify subbing for a month or two, was dungeons. I saw a couple, briefly, but almost everything I know about them comes from the stories Wilhelm told about his adventures there with the instance group. That might be a diversion worth a few dollars.

Then again, I really feel like I've already given Trion more money than I want to. Last time didn't turn out well at all and there's such a thing as learning from your mistakes.

Anyway, there's no need to make any decisions yet. That time will come when Trion post some hard details, I guess. I'm not holding my breath.


  1. While I think the phrase "The PRIME server will progress at a faster pace than the original launch..." really applies to the pace at which they release expansions, which would make it the same as the Daybreak model, the fact that all recent changes apply does blunt my enthusiasm a bit. At least Daybreak made an effort to simulate something akin to the "good old days" and so on. I get wanting to keep this cheap, but I am not sure they get what works.

    And then there is the Storm Legion expansion. The original game was a marvel of tight, well designed zones while Storm Legion seemed to have been created with an eye to holding onto subscribers by making them walk forever to get anywhere. So, effectively I really only want the first stage of any nostalgia server.

    Still, I will probably play it for a bit if only to see how well the initial game has held up... or been wrecked... over the years.

    1. It literally didn't occur to me that they were talking about the time between expansions being activated. Nor, judging by some of the commentary I've been reading, did it occur a few other people. I took it to refer to the rate of xp gain set for the server but re-reading it I think it's clear that your interpretation is the correct one.

      That does make a difference although based on what I was saying in the post not necessarily a positive difference. Leveling in vanilla Rift wasn't all that slow. As I recall, because the two factions were segregated to the point of having to play on different servers, I had a Level 50 on each side after about three months. Still, I wouldn't have minded a faster pace.

      Of course SOE/DBG always went to the other extreme and slowed leveling on Prog servers to a crawl to replicate the torpid pace we all thought was normal back in 1999, so I guess I shouldn't complain too much if Trion leave it at the original 2011 baseline.

      However it turns out I imagine I won't be able to resist at least giving it a go. The new server rush in itself should be worth $9.99 (assuming that's the cost of a sub these days). I wonder if anyone's thinking of starting a blogosphere guild for it? I'd be in although I'm not offering to organize anything. Like you, though, I really have zero interest in anything after Vanilla. Horrible game after that from the little I've seen.

  2. Your experience with Rift mirrors my own pretty strongly. I greatly enjoyed the beta, gradually dropped off as time passed, hoped the expansion would bring my excitement back... and rapidly discovered that no, it didn't.

    Unlike you I do think I can resist giving it a second (third? fifth?) shot, but I look forward to your posts on the matter.

    1. Of all the MMOs I've played regularly I think Rift is probably the one that least lived up to its initial promise. Possibly a tie with Warhammer Online. Still fun to run around in once in a while though and the new server should be lively. I hope so, anyway.

    2. From my point of view there's one big difference between the two: the PvP part of WAR actually was fun. It kept me in that game for almost two years. Only when PvP got completely dominated by bugs which were not fixed for months, i left it behind. (So for me the actual reason for leaving was that the developers gave up on it.)

      For Rift in contrast, i liked it for a limited while, till i realized that i could just make one or two macros and by just pressing those buttons the game would do things much better than i ever could. After that, the game outbored me.

      In either case, i guess my point of view is more "neutral", as i didn't really care for all the hype for either of them. I guess i already was jaded enough on marketing and hyping at that time.

  3. I wonder if they'll close off the Prime server? In the modern game your character can visit any server with a menu click, the mentioning of level-appropriate loot makes me think this may still be on the cards. But isn't the big draw of progression servers to reroll and experience leveling nostalgia? Playing a down-sync'ed character will *not* replicate any of the possible difficulty from that first glorious playthrough I think...

    1. Oh, good point! I had completely forgotten that aspect of Rift, which is a core part of the game design. I can't now recall whether it was always that way from launch or whether it was added at the first server closures but either way it's been like that for most of the life of the game.

      Surely they can't be meaning to allow it? It would wreck the entire concept, which is fragile enough already.

  4. Very good points. I think they're on the right track with this idea, but something still feels a little off and I think it's just because I lost faith in the current Rift team a while ago. They have said this will be a trial run for this idea, though that doesn't entirely give me hope either. I mean, it could mean that they'll take folk's critiques onboard and do it differently next time, but I just feel like the idea will be scrapped following community outrage. Perhaps I've become jaded as the years have passed.

    1. I share your loss of faith. It's both disappointing and surprising that Scott Hartsman, who was responsible both for the miraculous transformation of EQ2 and the original, inspiring design of Rift should have ended up running what sometimes feels like one of the sketchiest regimes in mainstream MMOs. Even more bizarre is that Brasse, once the very exemplar of authenticity, should end up fronting the whole thing.

      Maybe RiftPrime will work out but nothing in the last five years or so of Trion's portfolio gives me confidence.

  5. I think I'm in a similar mind. Rift never really grabbed me, and the expansions failed to keep me interested. That and Trion customer support have been utterly useless in resolving a guild issue.

    On the other hand, I find it encouraging for a company to follow the gamer sentiment and ease off the lootbox kool-aid. Cynicism is perfectly reasonable, but it's an encouraging move and I'm happy to give Trion a begrudging nod for it.

    But, on the gripping hand, there's a whole bunch of MMOs that are tugging me forward, or haven't had a fair crack of the whip. Does Rift deserve a slice of precious gaming time? At the moment, I'm unconvinced.

    1. That's really the key. Is it worth going back for lukewarm leftovers? Probably going to dip a finger for a taste but not likely to clean my plate.

  6. "All of which, ironically, means that if anything induces me to give Rift Prime a try it will be the extent to which the experience doesn't accurately replicate the original. I would positively welcome faster leveling, better loot, less grind and the ability to vary the journey (via zone or level matching) from the very limited options available back at launch. When I stop to think about it, it very much appears I never wanted a "Classic" server after all."

    This alone puts you miles ahead of many other gamers. You openly state that you were wrong. Many players would never be able to do that, but would rather find some "fault" in the game and how things were done, than ever admitting a mistake.

    1. Thanks. I don't think there's much to be said for entrenched positions on any of this, really. So much depends on mood and timing. We could all benefit from a little more flexibility - it's only entertainment after all...isn't it?

  7. Well I don't play Rift but thx for the heads up on the EQ2 progression server. Joined the other day and am loving it. ��

    1. Yay! DBG have pretty much got it down to a fine art now. Let's hope Trion have at least been paying attention.


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