Now That's New

Leveling in Rift takes a while.  I think there were more 90s after day 1 than there are level 60s after nearly a week, in terms of proportion.  I’m 51 and 3/4 or so, after about 2 hours.

I started in Cape Jule and moving to the next zone everything is level 53.  So I hoped by into my magic gate and tried the second zone.  I modified my soul (for what seems like the 20th time in 4 days) to something that allows me to do some AE killing more effectively and you know, survive those darn attacks.  Working out pretty well.

I mentioned in an earlier post about the quest breakdown in SL.  Everything that isn’t a story quest seems to reward either cash or a new type of currency.  This currency is used to buy Adventurer gear.  This stuff is upgradeable with tokens you buy with more of that currency.  I’ve been a fan of interlinked systems for some time, especially when you have multiple paths to achieve a given goal.  You can get these currencies from pretty much any PvE activity, outside of crafting.  It fits solo players, group players, rift hunters or guilds.

At this pace, I don’t think I’ll be hitting 60 for another few weeks, maybe not until the 1 month mark.  Think about that for a second.  When is the last time you played an MMO where you didn’t hit max level before your first month was over?

Hats off Trion.

Rift Take 2

Yesterday was working against me for some MMO time.  I got home exhausted, took care of the squirts and when I finally had a chance to get into Rift, I got a message that the servers were coming down for some maintenance.  Argh.  I was able to log back in near midnight while the youngest one needed a drink.

A few important notes though.  There are two new continents that are each as big, or bigger, than the original world.  The original world had a good pace of content from 1-50, with no real “dead” zones.  Compare this to WoW and quite a few useless zones (Blasted Lands, Azshara, Thousand Needles, Desolace and quite a few more), Rift seems to have a knack of putting in relevant content for their zones.  I would say the time to get to 50 back then was decent – a couple weeks of effort.  TOR took me under 24 hours of play time.  My WoW monk did 1-90 in under 2 days played (albeit with heirlooms).

I’m a few hours in now, less than 50% into the first level (of 10) and have just had piles of experience from different sources jump in.  Let’s count the ways of getting experience:

  • Complete a quest-giver quest
  • Complete an item pick up quest
  • Complete a loot pick up quest
  • Complete a “wild” quest based on kills
  • Complete a Rift
  • Complete an Invasion
  • Complete an Instant Adventure
  • Complete a dungeon
  • Complete world PvP
  • Complete a battleground
  • Kill something

All of these items assume from the start that you’re in a cooperative game.  Where Wilhelm talks about the problems of questing in EQ2, they pretty much do not exist in Rift.  I’ve rarely seen a time where I was not grouped and didn’t have the “join group” button above the screen.  Doing so has tremendous advantages.

Most enemies are of the Ember Isle difficulty, meaning that if you have a fresh 50, you’re going to have trouble here.  Grouping makes that easy.  Some quests need you to kill 20 or more enemies.  Grouping cuts that number down really fast and you’re getting experience for those kills even if you aren’t swinging the club.  Invasions are all over the place and are likely to kill you alone, groups help.  Groups aren’t silent either – there always seems to be some chat going on in a relatively friendly place.

I missed this place.

It's a Storm Alright

A few gigs of download and Storm Legion is up and running.

Rift Storm Legion

Now, you might not like the art style of Rift and that’s cool but you have to admit that being able to see a vista and actually visit  the places you can see is cool.

As with all expansion launches, there are service issues.  What there isn’t is server queues, which is awesome.  What there is, is lag, which is sad.

I tried dimensions quickly and I think I’m going to be spending a lot of time tweaking mine.  It’s nice that you have a selection of dimensions rather than a single setting for everyone.  Good call.  The toolset is solid as well.

The third nicest part is the auto-looting of cash.  Drops are typically garbage and unless you want to harvest a creature (skin, herbs, whatever) there isn’t much need to loot.  What is awesome is killing and getting the cash deposited directly into your bags.  Great!

The second nicest part, for me, is the organic questing.   You still see ! around but you only get 1-2 quests at a time.  Otherwise, you need to actually go out in the world and pick up the quests naturally.  Either by killing an enemy and unlocking the quest or picking up a specific item.  This is such a different model than WoW/EQ that I’m quite taken aback.

The nicest is the open tagging system.  Now, imagine your typical tagging system where the first person gets the loot.  Imagine that being the only thing the first attacker gets.  Everyone else gets exp and quest credit, even if not grouped.  You need to kill 20 beasts?  Kill anything that you see, along with the random people around you.  Even better, press the auto-group button on the top of your screen to keep moving along.

I’m only a couple hours in but dang if I’m not having a blast.

Imagine That

One of my favorite things in Rift is Instant Adventures.  You can start these practically at level 10 and they throw you into random quests with a group of people, up to 40 I think.  Could be escorting someone, could be protecting a specific area, could be killing a boss, could just be random attacks.  The point is, that in a small timeframe (well under a minute) you can join a group of people and have fun.  You can continue to do this all the way to 50.  Probably all the way to 60 with the expansion pack around the corner.  Rift is certainly defined by the ease of grouping.

WoW this expansion re-introduced group quests, called them scenarios, only allows 3 players in one group and locked them to level 90 only players.  It takes about a minute to start one and to complete one can take 5 minutes like it can take 20.  Plus, if you slack for 30 seconds, you could kill everyone around you.  No /afk for you!

The metric for short adventures is the “fun” stick.  Do I have fun?  In Rift, the answer is yes.  Each is different and the people make it fun to boot.  In WoW, the answer is yes, for now.  While the Rift rewards are always relevant, the WoW rewards stop being relevant once you have dungeon/faction equipment.  Since scenarios are fixed stories, once you’ve run each a few times, you know exactly how they will work out the next time.  Small groups made of players from different servers doesn’t make for community either.  Mind you, the people who DO select scenarios in the first place are people who aren’t necessarily gear hunting but looking for something different.

I do wish they were available before level 90 though.  They are such a nice addition to the game but they are put in such a place that people have to make a conscious decision to partake in the fun.  Do you run dailies for 15 minutes?  Do you run a dungeon for 45?  Do you run a scenario that only rewards cash (and story) for 15 minutes?  Or Raid, or pets, or god knows what else.

I’ll keep giving them a shot.

When Wrong Enough is Good Enough

Storm Legion comes out soon (2 weeks!) and a common question that I see is how Trion is able to balance all the souls.  The answer is simple, they don’t.  Rift has quite a few quirky mechanics that beg to be balanced but aren’t.  It won’t ever be an e-sport or try to (*cough*WoW*cough*).  It won’t have heroic raids.  It doesn’t put an arbitrary line in the sand and say “only the best of the best can do this”.

WoW’s largest flaw is also its largest pull – the generic homogenization of everything.  The outliers who specialize, Rogues and Warlocks namely, are massively shunned by the gaming populace.  I remember reading a population breakdown and with 10 classes, both combined were under 5%.  The generic classes (Druids and Paladins) took over the largest chunk by far.  WoW took the design decision to balance everything and so doing, made everything taste like Vanilla.  WoW gives you two talent sets because that’s enough.  I could give you 6 others, they’d be the same as the first two.

Rift is like the Harry Potter Jelly Beans.  You really don’t know exactly what you’re going to get.  Might be great, might be earwax.  It’s the reason they give you 6 talent builds and a very easy way to swap between them.  I’ve played a Bard with pets.  I’ve done a ranged tank warrior.  I’ve done melee mage (and will formally in the expansion).  I’ve DPS healed (before Monks made it cool).

I love Lego.  So does my daughter.  You can pick and choose what you want to use to build what you want.  Rift almost gets that but being a themepark, comes as close as possible.  It’s the possibility of failure, of spectacular and gut wrenching mistakes that makes the success so much more tasty.  When you can’t fail, you can’t really succeed.

WoW and Rift Targets, Over Time

Using the Casual Hardcore argument, let’s take a look at two PvE MMOs:  WoW and Rift.  They are in direct competition with each other as they are both fantasy, themepark, PvE-primary MMOs.  WoW certainly has the massive lead with close to 10x the population levels but also 6+ years of a head start.

WoW Rift Compare

WoW Vanilla was built with old EQ gamers in mind.  They wanted the hardcore activities with a bit of the casual stuff thrown in.  Raids and PvP (other than world PvP) weren’t even in the launch client.  It was ambitious but at the time, they provided the only casual friendly fantasy themepark.  I don’t think we’d call it casual by today’s standards mind you, but back then it was certainly true.  Anyone who remembers the consumables-dance and resist gear-shuffle can attest to this.  Vanilla saw the largest player growth in terms of percentages.

WoW TBC focused heavily on the hardcore playstyle and activity set.  The gating system, factions, lots of raids, outdoor and inside along with a steep learning curve made it that if you wanted any level of success, you needed to play the game their way.  It provided some casual aspects of dungeon running for rep and rewards but even that gate was fairly difficult to traverse.  TBC saw decent player growth.

WoW LK flipped that around.  There were certainly raids but they removed the gating system, added tabards, hundreds of faction items, daily quest explosions and most glaringly, the LFD tool.  Every hardcore item, except for PvE raids (which added a heroic difficulty) was given a casual system.  Even the stat system was simplified.  LK saw the final player growth and cap at 12 million subs.  The sub drop was massive when Blizzard took a year between the final patch and the next expansion though.

WoW Cataclysm again flipped the target.  There were some casual aspects in the levelling game (which prevented you from grouping most often) but once you hit level cap, there was near nothing to do.  Only a couple factions actually had reasonable dailies and casual rewards (Ram’haken for one).  The focus was on the hardcore crowd up until patch 4.3 and the LFR tool.  Before that tool launched, less than 1% of the playerbase had completed a heroic raid, less than 20% had completed an at-level raid.  Subs peaked on launch but dropped continually until MoP.  The last numbers had the game at a 25% loss from their peak in LK – even with the year sub option for D3.  Which starts expiring this week.

WoW Pandaria is a casual approach, once more – plenty of dailies, a very good levelling system, a low gate of entry for dungeons, factions all over and the pet battle system.  The hardcore players have to navigate through this casual playground to get to their stuff though, making for some mad hardcore players.  Let’s see how that turns out.  I personally predict another 2-3 million player drop from now until March (when the D3 offer expired).

Clearly, WoW has been all over the map.  From a centrist idea to the outsides and back in either says that the market has changed drastically every 2 years or Blizzard’s strategic direction team doesn’t look farther than 2 years down the road.

RIFT now.  Rift launched with a mixed approach to casual and hardcore players.  Plenty of dailies, lots of rewards (pets and collections), factions, rifts, LFD and zone quests helped the casual folks.  A consistent approach to raiding and dungeons that required attention helped the hardcore crowd, though noticeably less than the casuals.  We’re 11 patches in though, which is where WoW was at the end of Lich King.  Many casual options have been sent out now; fishing, instant adventures, personal raids, LFGuild tool, mentoring, free character transfers, wardrobes, pre-built characters.  Hardcores have a new PvP setup, a new raid every other patch with quality content.

The Storm Legion expansion pack is certainly aimed at the most casual crowd though with player housing, triple land mass, new towns, new collectables.  Hardcore players will get more raids and a stat increase but no real new systems.

Though Rift only has one expansion pack on the graph, the 11 content patches all fit into the same general quadrant.  This shows consistent strategic direction, though certainly this is over a smaller time frame.  Rift has fit nearly 5 year’s worth of WoW content into 18 months.  We’ll see how the game does in a few more months.

RIFT Readies for its Expansion

We’re a couple weeks away from Storm Legion, RIFT’s first expansion.  Patch 1.11 (yes, 11 content patches since the launch, WoW rarely got past 3) is out and is prepping all the souls for the new expansion.

I have a 50 Cleric as a main, a 50 Warrior as well, a mid range Mage and a low level Rogue.  I had a decent set of builds for the first 2, opting for a healing/tanking set for the Cleric.  I really liked the flow of tanking with a Cleric but there were some rather serious limitations at launch – namely spell resist.  There have been a lot of balancing patches, a few with rather large re-writes to skills but the overall balance between everyone is pretty good, considering the thousands of combinations possible.

1.11 is pretty much re-writing every skill tree though.  You still spend 51 points (until the cap is lifted in the expansion) but there are plenty of new things to pick from.  As a general rule, the game is moving away from the RNG issues it had before, into a more streamlined stacking buff mechanic.  The changes for classes are so large, that each class has it’s own post,  typically 5-6 pages long of changes.  Wilhelm goes over some of the player perspective points.

Let me contrast this with WoW for a second.  My Rogue has the exact same playstyle as before.  Poison the daggers, build CP to keep Slice and Dice running, finish with Envenom/Rupture.  My Shaman has the same priority.  Flame Shock on, Lava Burst, Shock Burst at 7+ stacks, Lightning Bolt.  The only class with a real change is Warlocks.  There’s just a distinct lack of choice now.

Back to RIFT.  I like how the devs are taking their builds to task. I like how they listen to player feedback and promote players to moderate positions.  I like the forums as they generally are not cess-pools of vitriol.  Players seem to do a great job of self-moderating and the bad apples are rooted out fairly quickly.  I like the feature set for the next expansion – especially player housing.

I think the thing I like the most about RIFT is the clear amount of fun you can have when a system is made by people who genuinely understand their market and aren’t hopping on some hype train.

Back Into the Rift

I logged back into Rift last night and found my 4 characters just as I had left them.  Max Cleric and Warrior, mid range Mage and a started Rogue.   I hadn’t logged in for about 3 months and most of the characters had at least 1 soul build that was refunded.  This puts me in an interesting spot – the massive skill choices.

Most MMO games put you down a single path and you’re pretty much stuck in it until the game retires or you spend hours/days respecing to another role.  I don’t consider WoW’s 4 new skill talent trees as choice.  EvE has choice.  UO has choice.  Anyhoot, back to Rift.  With 66 points to spend across 8 trees, you have about 20 spots to put points each and 25 skills to unlock each.  You’re looking at hundreds of options per class, which to my knowledge, isn’t replicated in any other non-sandbox game.

I spent nearly 2 hours just fooling around, trying out new builds, reading about it and it got me thinking.  As high a the wall is to enter with a good build, you really have a lot of mid-range options for each class.  Sure, you’re going to find the super cleric build for solo work but you’re also able to find a variant that will work in 95% of the cases.  This is something that I miss from my games, the value of interesting and practical choices and a barrier of skill rather than builds.

Now the obvious argument here is that there are no baseline skills for classes and that will hundreds of options, casual players won’t be able to make heads or tails.  Trion has a nifty template system for players to get into the groove for advanced builds and it’s rather straightforward.  The templates are not optimal, in fact I would say they are middle of the pack but in their simplicity, you have access to all the skills you need to succeed.  If your class can perform “x role” then there’s a template that will give you the skills to do that and playing that template will teach you the actual role through the limited skills.  In that I mean that you won’t get a healing template with lots of DPS skill.  If you want that hybrid role, you have to make it yourself once you understand the core mechanics.

I plan on spending the majority of my time with my mage leveling up and trying different combinations of skills.  I made it there with a Necro pet but as I play I realize I can deal more damage and still heal with some other skills.  Tinkering is so much fun in Rift and I realize now how much I missed it.

Back Into the Fray

I have an ever insatiable itch to scratch when it comes to gaming.  It is my way of decompressing.  Well, next to hockey, working out, golf and family time that is.  Finishing the day with a game has just been a part of my routine for so long, it feels weird not to have it.

As I mentioned a few times now, Diablo 3 is no longer my back scratcher.  In fact, I’ve gone down quite a few paths that temporarily filled that hole.  TOR (which I might go back to in the fall), Grimrock (which is amazing and worth the price), Quest for Glory Anthology (I still get some sessions in, lots of fun) and D3 (just…disappointing).  Rift has always been on my map and I played it on and off for the first year.  I had unsubbed when I saw a good run of games coming down the pipe.

Time has come to jump back in!  On Greybriar on the Guardian side with the typical Asmiroth and alternate names if you want to give it a shot.  I am really looking forward to the expansion and getting ready for patch 1.9 with some cool new features.  I praise Trion for their ability to provide quality content at a very good pace so I might as well put my money where my mouth is.

I honestly think that they will be the gold standard for MMOs once MoP comes out and underwhelms the masses.  The kicker is that because of the D3/WoW 1 year deal, the sub numbers will be static but the actual servers will start merging in the fall.  Fingers crossed that when that happens, Blizzard can get back to making quality games for gamers rather than games for profit.  Trion has that part down solid.

Trion is Leading the Pack

Rift is slightly over a year old now and they’ve had 8 content patches so far.  8.  WoW has had 3 in 1.5 years.  TOR has had 2 in 6 months.  How is it that these other games keep players?  Where is your 15$ going?

A new expansion was announced recently, Storm Legion, due out in the fall.  So what are they adding?

  • triple the landmass
  • a more integrated story
  • more instant adventures
  • a new dual faction capital city
  • 4 new souls, 1 per class
  • 10 more levels (cap of 60)
  • 2 raids
  • 1 chronicle (solo dungeon)
  • zone events (rifts, invasions)
  • colossus battles
  • capes!
  • player housing!!
  • more flavor (pets, achievements, artifacts, mounts, costumes, etc…)

Holy crapola, that’s one heck of a laundry list of content and new features.  Rift is already more feature rich  than WoW, it launched with more than TOR and is raising the bar to an absurd height with even more player customization options.  I have personally played Rift more in the past year than any other game, it is simply one of the most solid MMO experiences I have ever encountered.

I am extremely excited to see what Trion will continue to bring to the table while at the same time looking back at Blizzard and BioWare wondering “what is wrong with you people?”.