RIFT vs. World of Warcraft: Upgraded skills and the RNG factor

unifight

I don’t know if it’s been pointed out, but the other day I realized that both World of Warcraft and RIFT introduced a sort-of similar feature in each of their respective recent expansions. The feature in question is skill upgrades — that is, taking a standard skill and created a much-improved version that is so good it actually alters a player’s build.

Yet how each of these expansions is doing it is miles apart in execution, and I think it bears looking at because it highlights one of the ongoing struggles of game design: RNG versus a known quantity.

World of Warcraft is introducing these upgraded skills through its legendary items. I haven’t been playing WoW that hard over the past half-decade, but to my knowledge this is the first time that legendaries are featured so heavily in an expansion, to the point where it’s expected that a player might accumulate and equip four at once after a while. Legendaries have skill-defining traits attached, such as the one that I got last week that buffs my anti-magic shell. Before, it was a skill I hardly ever used on my Death Knight. Now that it heals me and is far stronger, it’s part of my standard defensive array.

Of course, there’s no assured way to get a legendary in this expansion; it’s all random number generator. You have to engage in certain activities — opening emissary quests, do mythic dungeons, etc. — and then cross your fingers for one. The devs said that they didn’t want a grind, so they chose the all-RNG route which makes players grind these activities over and over anyway. The only change from, say, a token grind is that the end goal isn’t defined and could happen any time (or not).

Plus, there’s the downside of not being able to get the legendary you want or need for your current build, so you could just be attempting to get the right one until the next expansion arrives.

RIFT, on the other hand, simply gives players one legendary skill point per level from 66 through 70. You know they’re coming, you can choose the upgraded skill you want, and that is that. There’s absolutely no chance to it — and no stress either. It’s exciting to ding because I want to see how my builds will change with these new skills. I can’t imagine how frustrating it’d be if these skill points were tacked on to gear and locked behind an RNG wall.

I’m OK with RNG to dole out fun rewards, and even World of Warcraft has made regular looting fun through the RNG titanforge system. Every so often I get a piece of gear that’s just a little bit better than what I had before thanks to this. But it was a dire mistake to gate all legendaries behind RNG.

A much better suggestion and in line with the expansion design as it is would be to have legendary item quest lines, a la class order hall and class quest lines. At the end of each, you get to pick a legendary of your choice and then have the option to start the quest all over again if you wanted to get a second. That would keep it from looking too grindy, keep it fun, and give players choice.

WoW might be the more popular and successful game in most respects, but dang if RIFT doesn’t actually do design better in so many small and important ways.

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3 thoughts on “RIFT vs. World of Warcraft: Upgraded skills and the RNG factor

  1. Helistar December 1, 2016 / 4:32 am

    You must have missed the part of the explanations of the “RNG” behind legendaries. It’s actually not as much as random as you think, and it’s probably the best solution they could come up with to cover all the player types.
    You talk about tokens: ok, so what’s to stop someone to continuously farm and get all legendaries in one week, completely burning himself out as well as losing any reason to stop playing? Of course you can use dailies, which are the classic grind, but they suffer from predictability. Do 100 dailies -> get legendary. Not particularly exciting and completely at odds with all the recent research on the psychology of rewards. Also gives you the standard stream of complaints of fixed power gaps (you miss one day, you have lost one step forever).

    The current solution is very elegant. My completely unsubstantiated assumption is that the RNG formula for the legendary drops is actually a lot more complex than just a dice roll and ensures a given number of legendary drops over time, flattening out above a specific threshold of engagement. Translation: an average player gets 1 legendary / month. Ultra-hardcore? A bit more than one per month. Very casual? A bit less than one per month. This has the same advantages as the daily grind, but is very effective at hiding the grind. It also leverages the advantages of random loot (which is known to outperform known one in player satisfaction).

    Compare it to your Rift method, where you just rush levels, get everything and then move on to the next MMO and it’s no chance that Rift is F2P while WoW’s unofficial numbers went above 10M again…..

  2. JThelen December 2, 2016 / 8:42 pm

    Legendaries in wow are, with an exception for the bleeding edge, not needed and are pretty much a nice bonus if you get one. Further, they’re capped at only two being equipped.

    From the sound of things, the better comparison is probably artifact weapons, and that’s a progression mechanic that is automatic.

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