A Rift Too Far

Since Trion and Raptr were kind enough to provide me with a retail code for Rift, it’s been my more-or-less main game this week. A lot of others have come back as well in the wake of the announcement of a very substantial-sounding expansion.

Having played through all of Silverwood back in the beta before opting to pass on the game, I chose to go the Defiant route this time. The game is about as good as it was back in beta — meaning very well-done. The rift events seem better tuned and the pet and mob pathing seems less flaky, and there’s some quests and stuff that appear to be new. And you no longer have to unlock souls — you have your pick from all those available to your Calling (archetype) from the get-go. I’m not sure how you get PvP souls now, but I’ve no inkling that that’s changed.

And Trion has done a great job supporting Rift over the sixteen months since its release — such a good job, in fact, that even SynCaine, that whirlpool of scorn for all things WoW-like, has expressed his admiration for Trion’s management of the property.

I’m now level 21 and well into the second Defiant zone, Stonefield. I’m playing a Mage centered on the Pyromancer soul and am very happy with the way the character plays. Despite that, I am probably only good for another ten levels or so; I’d like to see the next couple of zones, but unless they somehow blow me away I will not be plunking down the $15 to keep playing, and indeed will probably have lost interest before the 30 days are up — as I predicted would happen before launch and which was my big reason for not buying the game in the first place.

I once wrote a post about Warhammer Online not having a soul. By that I meant that it was a sterile, by the numbers design which while well-executed in some ways ultimately lacked the creative spirit that belongs in an MMO. It played like a game and not a world. There’s a lot of titles out there like that now, and a big one (WoW) that has moved farther and farther in that direction as time has gone on. Rift is another. In fact, as I have pointed out in the recent Ardwulf Presents, Rift plays a lot like Warhammer Online, except that everything actually works. That it does is to Trion’s great credit, but ultimately there is a “something” missing despite the game clearly firing on all cylinders. It’s a terrific game in so many ways and the upcoming expansion sounds like gangbusters, and I went out of my way to start a trial even (just) before the Raptr giveaway — and I’m glad to be able to try it out without the level 20 cap and whatever other limits are on trial accounts. Yet I am strongly disinclined — at this point and I don’t see the next ten levels and two zones changing this — toward paying a subscription fee for it.

This isn’t just a resistance to subscriptions in the face of a field increasingly dominated by free to play titles, either. I’ve been paying monthly for Vanguard for a while now and just upped that to a three-month SOE All Access pass for a summer (hopefully) loaded with Vanguard and EQ2 and maybe even a whirl in Planetside since the sequel is looking more impressive every day. Would I play it if it were fully free to play, inasmuch as much games are? Yeah, probably. In fact, while I respect Trion’s decision to go all in on the sub model, in this respect it’s a game I would compare not to WAR but to LotRO, which was a title I couldn’t stick to until it switched over, and have since spent a couple of hundred hours in. And LotRO is in many ways not as well-designed as Rift. In basic handling and combat feel it’s not even close. But soul… now that it’s got.

I figure by the end of next week I’ll be done. And there’s probably another video ahead where I talk about this and relate it to some other factors and other games.

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11 responses to “A Rift Too Far

  1. When reading youre post it struck me and sums up my feelings when playing these games ALONE, i played warhammer, rift, swtor etc and all liked to play them because of the guild, by the time everyone left it was boring and i left too. these games arent ment to be played alone. i didnt care if the quests were boring because i wanted to level to keep up with guildies to do higher bracket pvp and dungeons etc. when you are playing alone it HAS to be fun. dont know it that makes sense but ok…. ;-)

    • Good point, J. Anyone trying to find the “soul” of a MMORPG solo is surely missing the point.

      • I strongly disagree. The soul of a game world is independent of how well it plays with others, or even, how well it *plays* at all. It’s fair to say that the soul *of multiplayer play* requires other players, but MMOs aren’t just about grouping or even other players. They are oddball creations that are just as much about selling the sense of another *place* as anything else. That hinges on presentation, lore and worldbuilding.

  2. Bah. Any MMO is more fun with a guild. I had a very strong guild in WAR and that game still had this exact same problem. It doesn’t even have anything to do with fun – Rift is plenty fun, more so than a couple of titles that I have gone back to many times and will again. It’s way more fun than EVE, a game I’ve left many times but will return to again some day.

    Now, the group play in Rift may be fantastic, for all I know — I’d expect it to be at least very good, and I’ve heard that it is. But it also caters heavily to dynamic, antisocial groups as well, so the idea that one might suddenly “get it” simply by doing more group stuff is a rather odd position to take.

  3. I wanted to love Rift, since mechanics-wise it’s such a good game and Trion are a developer I respect, but it does lack something. SWTOR despite the lore also is lacking something as well. I’m left with LoTRO as a very flawed game yet one which has so much to offer players and Vanguard, a game so full of bugs but one that has so much promise.

  4. Where I think I was going but perhaps did not quite land is that while Rift does everything it does very well, it lacks the depth that I demand these days from a subscription. It is the type of game I would pay for but not commit to, if you know what I mean.

    WAR, which was badly broken in a number of critical respects, was really a whole ‘nother kettle of fish in the end. I do admire the sheer bullheaded masochism of those who were able to stick with it, but I wasn’t, and neither was anyone in my guild, save stalwart holdout Werit who continues to blog about it to this day.

    • I agree with you on the surface as I also am not currently subscribed or playing Rift, but I have to question what you mean by depth. Surely you don’t mean content? At the rate they are pushing out content and features, Rift could be outstripping MMO’s with quite a few years headstart on them pretty soon.

      Also, I sadly did not feel the same way about LoTRO as you did. I so very much want to, if you can’t tell by my nom de internet, but I cannot.

      • Oh, no, there’s enough content in the traditional sense of questing, plus rifts and PvP. There is enough to keep players busy, and Trion has done a bangup job of providing new content for players at the dreaded level cap, insofar as that can be done. I mean, in part, that it’s relatively feature-light; there’s no meaningful economy, rudimentary WoW-type crafting inferior even to LotRO’s and vastly narrower than EQ2’s or Vanguard’s, a very linear world layout and linear progression, even with the Rift events, most of which tend to play pretty much the same within the same level range. Unless you want to grind Rifts or PvP there is little variation in the questing and the soul system partly disincentivizes alts. Mechanically it’s simplistic and overfamiliar; if you know WoW there is literally nothing you need to learn to play Rift efficiently.

        The lore has a great central hook but I find it wholly unengaging; it’s just weird enough to weaken traditional fantasy buy-in but not offbeat enough to be really novel. Rift, like SWTOR, took the WoW highlights reel and added a single new element (SWTOR technically has space combat as well, but that’s a box of ass.)

        LotRO has a number of these flaws too, by the way, and it’s also much grindier and now is kind of bloated in several areas. But it’s got mechanical depth, a ton of quality-of-life features, and it’s got the hook.

        Now we’re starting to veer into “Ardwulf ripping on Rift” territory, which is not my intention. In every concrete measure it’s a well-designed, even airtight game. The intangibles are where it falls short.

        Plus, as you suggest, MMOs tend to grow in features as they mature, and Rift is on what might be an industry-leading pace. Something resembling housing and a really huge world expansion is coming, and there are hints of a new type of dynamic content that just might be something like GW2’s dynamic events (there is little reason for so much new landmass with only ten new levels unless there’s something more than they’re letting on right now.) More so than any MMO developer save maybe CCP, Trion seems to know what it is doing. When Rift is as old as EQ2 and WoW it might be blowing everything else in the hobby out of the water.

  5. Rift’s main focus has been and will continue to be raiding. To fully experience Rift in all its glory, one really has to be in a raiding guild. Perhaps with the introduction of the 3 faction world PVP map that may change, but as it stands it’s really about the 20-man content.

  6. I beg to differ on Rift being “about as good as it was back in beta”. Having played all the beta weekends and for over six months from launch my considered feeling is that Rift was at it’s peak in the final two beta weekends and just about held a plateau for the first week or two after launch.

    From then on, the trend was towards greater ease-of-use and less inconvenience, a series of changes which incrementally removed what was unusual and different about the game, which became increasingly bland as a result. I didn’t feel Rift was entirely without soul in beta but I agree that it is now.

    Other than that I pretty much agree with your assessment. I like Rift and i will very probably always dabble with it, but I can’t see myself ever loving it or making it my main MMO again.