Happy Friday and welcome to the second part of my “MMOs Worth Playing” series where at the end of the week I try and talk about an MMO that I think is very much worth playing. I thought this morning I would go into some of my thought processes as to why I am doing this. Lately there has been a lot of angst floating around about various games and the state of them, and while I can very much get riled up just like the next person there is a thought that goes through my head. Life is far too short to spend your leisure time playing something that makes you unhappy. There was a time when if you wanted to play an MMO you were pretty much shackled to one of a handful of games in order to get your fix. However now there are tons of really fun games out there, so it quite honestly would serve most people well to pop around and play several of them to see if any are a better fit. The other part of this is the fact that we really have no major new AAA MMOs looming on the horizon. It feels like the era of big releases is over, and instead we have a bunch of existing MMOs that are continuing to make awesome content. Popping back into an existing MMO to see how it has progressed is a great experience, because there is almost always a huge mountain of content waiting for you to explore.
For the Ascended
Rift holds a special place in my heart because it was the the game that first truly pulled me away from World of Warcraft. There were a lot of games that were heralded as the “WoW Killer” and for a time for me at least, it absolutely was. If there is a feature you have always wanted in an MMO, chances are Rift has it. But it was more than just cloning features of other games, it also finally figured out how to do public events in a manner that felt both epic and beneficial in the form of Rifts and Invasions that spawn from them. For a bit about the game setting I am going to draw directly from an early tidbit from the lore team.
Of all the worlds in the universe, only Telara was constructed entirely of sourcestone at an unprecedented nexus of the elemental planes. Elemental energies that come into contact with sourcestone become tangible, and Telara, so heavily influenced by every element, boasts incredible diversity and wealth. Telara’s resources are capable of providing its people endless prosperity, if only they could share the wealth and keep the world safe from those who would plunder it. Though Telara always knew its share of strife, the Blood Storm and the rifts brought entire new plateaus of horror, leading to the edge of oblivion.
Telara is a world that is constantly sieged by forces outside of itself. Over the years this has taken the form of the elemental dragons, and even gone so far as to seeing parts of these planes of existence merging into Telara itself as the various denizens of these alternate realities set up footholds like that of Hammerknell. The storytelling gets a little esoteric at times, but essentially you are thrust into this conflict on the brink of destruction. Most games set up an artificial narrative of good versus evil, and this has pretty much become the standard trope for MMOs. Rift however does something slightly different and gives you a conflict that feels very real and tangible to us… considering we too are constantly seeing the clash of Technology and Religion. The Defiant faction relies on very steampunk feeling technology to tame the wilds of Telara. The Guardian faction instead relies on the Vigil, a pantheon of gods that have long forsaken Telara but are now choosing to make their power known. You the player takes the role of an ascended, which essentially is vessel for the souls of past warriors that ultimately end up giving you your abilities. The opening scenes of the game take place on the eve of a final showdown with Regulos the Death Aspect, and you are sent back through time with the mission of trying to stop these events from unfolding.
The most central game play mechanic is that of the souls that you have access to. There were originally four callings in the game, and recently they added a firth. These callings provide the basic feel for what would ultimately be your “class” in another game. Until the release of the Primalist these all had a clear division based on the armor type… Warrior was Heavy, Cleric was Chain, Rogue was Leather, and Mage was Cloth. The Primalist blends the lines a bit and uses Warrior like two handed weapons, but is a leather based calling. Inside of each of these callings is a number of souls, for the original Callings they each have 11 total souls… with 9 of them available for free and 1 each coming from the two expansions to the game. The Primalist class launched with 7 souls with more supposedly coming over the coming months. Souls are essentially what “WoW like” games would refer to as a Talent tree. The enjoyment of this game for me at least has always been that I get to mix and match any combination of these souls to craft a very personal feeling class out of it. Traditionally in Talent tree based games, there is a lot of “illusion of choice”, meaning that while you have lots of options there are really only a handful that are ever viable at a given time. While there are definitely flavor of the month builds in Rift, it seems like if you are dedicated enough to any given play style you can figure out a way to develop a character that has that feel.
The game has all sorts of trope that simply don’t exist in other games. Want to play a Mage Tank… Sure you can do that. Want to play a Warrior Healer… sure you can do that too. Want to play a brutal Smite Cleric… yup that is a thing too. The game gives you a template that allows you to carve out your own class. Any given “class” is a combination of three Soul trees, and when you slot a given soul it gives you certain abilities by default. You unlock additional abilities through spending points in that tree. You could quickly see how this might become tedious, especially given all of the options you have at your finger tips. It is absolutely possible to create a character with little to no synergy, and that does not play terribly well. To solve this the game gives you a series of templates that essentially direct you down a path that should be good for this or that… and as you hover over these pre-built templates they tell you the skill level of the class and what sorts of roles they can fill. Additionally the game has an extremely active player community, and unlike most games… there forums are actually a great place to find help and information. There are class guide forums that are an awesome place to start for looking at different specs and builds. I am not sure what the maximum is… but I have 8 different “roles” or specs that I can swap back and forth between freely allowing me to get super granular and create specific builds for very specific conditions.
Calling this game feature rich is a bit of an understatement. Essentially if you can think of a feature that exists in any game… there is likely a version of this fine tuned and available inside of Rift. For the things that don’t exist the game has a fairly robust mod system… though honestly not quite as complete as say World of Warcraft or Wildstar. To keep players from “breaking” the game, you cannot override default features of the original game client. This means that a lot of things don’t integrate fully, but if you really want to use it… the mods are available. The game has quite possibly the best cosmetic gear system called “Wardrobes”. This allows the players to save up to fourty different outfits and change between them freely. Additionally the game uses an appearance collection system, freeing you from having to keep old gear just for the purpose of appearances. Additionally the dye system allows you to collect certain dyes and then apply them at will to any of your wardrobes, allowing you to change things up whenever the mood suits you without an additional cash sink. Similarly the game has an amazingly rich housing system in the form of pocket dimenions, allowing the players to customize area of the world. For example our guild house is the Stone Flask Tavern at Granite Falls in Stonefield, and Rae did some crazy stuff even making a hidden path up the waterfall with a little temple area up there. Essentially if you can dream it up, there are the tools inside of Rift to be able to create it, and the sorts of dimensions that are available are extremely wide and varied. The only negative is that there is no way to put resources in your dimension like you can in other games… so you can’t bank, auction, or craft there… which I realize is an effort to keep the capitol cities feeling vibrant.
The game also has one of the more robust mentoring systems allowing you to drop your level at will while wandering the world. This allows you to vary the difficulty level of a lot of the encounters, but more importantly allows you to hang out freely with your lower level friends without simply steamrolling the content for them. This mentoring system is also the core of one of the coolest features the game has called Instant Adventures. I talked a bit about this concept yesterday in my blog post, but essentially you can pop into game… join the Instant Adventure queue and you will be fed a series of objectives for you and a group of players to complete. What is awesome about this is it is a revisiting of a lot of quest objectives from a given area, but each sequence of objectives generally reaches a crescendo in the form of some sort of mini boss. While doing this you are racking up planar currency and loot bags that usually contain nice relevant level gear. When one sequence finishes you are teleported to a new area and the process begins again. If an area becomes active with a planar invasion, then the instant adventure suddenly shifts purpose to defeating that. It has been one of my favorite leveling means to go through early content, because you are constantly doing something… and at any point you can hop off the train and go do something a little less frantic. It does a great job of breaking up the monotony of following quest chains, and like dungeons just gives you another way to mix things up a bit.
This is always the specter looming over a free to play game, is how exactly is it itemized and is it honestly playable for free… or do you really need to subscribe to enjoy it. This is always a difficult question for me to answer since I never actually play these games in free to play mode. From what I understand… if you play this game for free you get access to all 65 levels worth of content, the original four callings, and nine souls per calling. Instead of penalizing the players… Rift took the path of rewarding them for becoming “patrons” because once a game goes free to play.. that is after all what it becomes… a patronage system. As a Patron you get all sorts of perks, and don’t have to worry about any limitations to the number of dungeons you can run a day or anything of the sort. You also get a number of extremely generous boosts to experience, gold gain, as well as daily and weekly rewards that guarantee you at least one cash shop lockbox for free. The only thing that keeps it from being a perfect free to play implementation however is that you gain no monthly stipend of shop currency like you do in other games. With no way of gaining the shop currency in game, it ends up actually making the prices on items feel more reasonable since the game is not having to dilute the price to make up for the fact that players can grind out the currency in game.
Like most cash shops, there are tons of chase items that offer rare and limited time things that you can only acquire through lockboxes. Having these items that you want appear only in lockboxes can be an extremely frustrating proposition, especially if RNGesus is not on your side. To combat this not they offer these super limited time sales that allow you to buy the various mounts outright, and if you regularly watch the Friday twitch stream they often times give away these goodies as well there. So while there are a lot of trappings of the normal insidiousness of a cash shop… I feel like for the most part it is fair, and in truth you can largely ignore it completely. Honestly I would say this is one of the few games that you can literally play without spending a dime and be completely happy doing so. I’ve been subscribed off and on since the release of Rift in 2011… but there are also times where I have played this game for free here and there before picking back up my patronage. I can say I noticed zero difference in the game other than the fact that I was obviously missing my experience boost buffs. The game felt the same, and played the same… and that is just about as high of praise as I can give for a free to play experience. If you’ve never played Rift, you owe it to yourself to give it a try… especially since it can be played completely for free. It is either going to click with you or not, but in any case there is a lot to experience… and I have to say I really enjoy the early leveling experience especially. Storm Legion and Nightmare Tides… is admittedly a bit of a slog, but I keep thinking I must be missing some path that I should be taking there. In any case… I said a bunch of stuff about Rift, and I still definitely burn a candle for this game. Join me next Friday as I talk about another game.