RIFT: The casualty of build-your-own-character MMOs

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Gedlo Badlands continues to abide in RIFT. It’s half encouraging, half a buzzkill to quest through, so my progress has slowed considerably. The boring desert landscape does nothing for me and the mob density is out-of-control in spots. Fortunately, there have been a few weird and interesting quests (the ones to admire — usually with combat — kobold statues littered around the place was pretty out-there), and the chatter from my companions has been quite entertaining and informative.

But let’s go back to the mob density thing, because it actually is a pretty serious issue tied to another problem with this expansion. Mobs are simply too tough to kill quickly and hit you too hard — and I think I know why.

This is reminding me of The Secret World, and the one thing both of these games share in common is the ability to create your own build that isn’t always perfectly balanced. There’s bound to be some builds that are better, some worse, and some that are theory-crafted to be the most ideal for serious players. So if you were a dev, what would you aim for with mob health and power when you created a new expansion? If you make it too easy, the whole thing becomes a challenge-free cakewalk. It’s probably easier to assume that most players are using the theorycrafted optimal builds with an above-average set of gear, and create enemies around that level.

As Hive Leader pointed out, the high time-to-kill (TTK) for most builds is putting the experimental, personal approach to class creation out of business in Starfall Prophecy. With my Rogue, a Tactician build takes just shy of forever to kill anything, the Blademaster has limited success (whereas it used to be a powerhouse), and if I want to get anything done quickly, I need my Ranger going. It’s frustrating to feel like I have to play just one thing to quest, but my other options have far too high of a TTK on mobs to stay interesting.

That’s a shame, because I love being able to create my own builds. But if in the end, there’s only one or two builds that are superior to the rest, is it really a choice any more? It’s just “play with or without extreme aggravation.”

I also kind of wonder if gear carries a fair share of blame here. I have serious doubts that the new planar fragments are doing anything to de-complexify gear; if anything, it’s making me twitch to think that I’m missing something with my outfit and running around with sub-par stats.

My recommendation? Don’t nerf mobs into the ground, but they do need to be tweaked down a bit to allow for more build diversity, especially when it comes to the baseline questing experience. Also, quests really should be doling out more gear upgrades instead of just currency, PA, and XP.

y1

On a different note, our guildies were oohing and ahhing over the Fae Yule-decorated dimension that one of our officers put together. I think it’s all in preparation for a party, but we couldn’t help getting a sneak peek at it all. I’m absolutely envious.

y2

There was even a giant waterslide up top. Not a facsimile of a waterslide — one that actually works. You take an elevator up and then sliiiiiide your way down into a pool. It’s pretty awesome.

y3

I love this lounge area. I kind of want to live in this dimension forever now.

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11 thoughts on “RIFT: The casualty of build-your-own-character MMOs

  1. Aldristavan (@aldristavan) December 8, 2016 / 9:11 am

    Justin, you really nailed all of my feelings about this expansion. My gear, PAs, etc., are average/above average and sometimes single mobs take upwards of 45-60 seconds to kill. That is an ETERNITY in a game where you literally have dozens of “kill ___ rats” Carnage quests alongside story quests. Leveling is a total mind-numbing slog: unrewarding, demoralizing, and maddening.

    And mob density. Wow. It’s totally out of control. One quest in particular in Gedlo has us going in to get banners & artifacts (later on in the story line), and the camps are literally crawling with mobs, so many that you’re literally incapable of pulling anything less than 4-5 mobs at a time (a/k/a the Kiss of Death in Rift).

    As for gear, I simply gave up on getting anything useful outside of the end-of-story reward. I found myself constantly checking the auction house to see if I could gain *any* advantage at all, and wound up spending a mountain of platinum.

    Planar Assault Adventures are also incredibly lackluster. So far, I’ve only seen two maps, and you literally ride around to the four corners of the map to tackle objectives. Compared to IAs, it’s really supbar. And how long could this have possibly taken to design? An afternoon?

    I’ve never seriously considered asking for a refund on an expansion before, but I’m thoroughly disappointed with my experience in SFP so far. 😦

  2. Forrestra December 8, 2016 / 11:20 am

    Games need something to differentiate them. I remember when RIFT first came out, the talent trees felt like a nod to Wrath of the Lich King era talent trees. Keeping it old school. Path of Exile took Diablo 2 customization and turned it up to 11. Made old school look tame.

    Games like RIFT have to decide if they are going to continue to keep it old school, or buckle to the casuals and make it simpler (like D3 and WoW did). I think being ultimate BYOC MMO is not a bad niche. As long as they give players the tools to play the latest meta, it gives the tinkerers an MMO to play, but the players who like the REST of RIFT don’t feel like they are punched in the gut wandering in the latest content. Hopefully Trion will adjust. Making the leveling too difficult for too large of a section of your player base doesn’t always end well. Ask Wildstar.

  3. Sylow December 8, 2016 / 11:22 am

    My whole comment on this thread bases on this part:

    “It’s probably easier to assume that most players are using the theorycrafted optimal builds with an above-average set of gear, and create enemies around that level.”

    Mind you, i do not play Rift any more since several years. I left it behind when i realized that by making three in-game macros and placing them on three buttons my character was much more effective and efficient than if i’d try to mimic the perfect rotation by using the abilities manually. So, take this with the grain of salt that i don’t play Rift any more and consider its combat to be badly designed.

    But the paragraph i took the quote from also refers to TSW, which i played a lot and still play. And there i dare to say that your statement is over the top.

    I mean yes, if your setup is terrible, you will run into problems. In the run of the years i have helped out many players, including some who ran with all tank talismans, so all health and no attack rating, and complaining that killing anything takes too long. So yes, there are those outliers, who have no understanding of the mechanics and also are not willing or able to invest even the the tiniest bit of time to learn about what they are doing and what could be wrong. Just by telling those people to get out of the mindset of “health has bigger numbers, so 500 health must be more valuable than 100 attack rating” but to find a balance sometimes goes a long way. So long that for example one person who when i picked him up to just tell him about that in Blue Mountains some months later was in a random group for elite dungeons and did acceptably well.

    But such cases are the extreme. I can also say for myself, that i for a long time used a “ragtag” setup. My talismans were not bad, but also just based on random drops and mission rewards. My setups were not utterly bad, but also just based around one or another synergy, and far from perfect. So despite all these flaws in my setup, i fared well enough for most of the game. (Only one area in the Shadowy Forest gave me hell for a long time, till i finally understood what the “nightmare effect” of one of the mobs there actually did and why my combinations of passives resulted in so much damage coming my way. )

    So i can say, even before all open world content was made significally easier throughout the game, my just average setup was sufficient. The only exception i agree to was Tokyo shortly after it launched. My setup worked after small adjustments (mostly getting rid of leech healing, as that did not work against shields at that time), but required me to pay a lot of attention to stay alive. That being said, Tokyo was adjusted and made easier afterwards. (Also, leech healing works there by now. )

    Of course you could claim that my perception is flawed. When i entered Tokyo i had most of the wheel unlocked and was in dungeon equipment, so i was overgeared for it. But while i struggled even in that gear and setup in the first two weeks or so, later my alt character, which never set foot into a dungeon yet, was all geared in drops and mission rewards and still today has less than 40% of the wheel unlocked was able to hold her ground there. And mind you, this was before every mission throughout the game gave you BB, so custom gear and upgrades were out of reach when not going for nightmare dungeons at that time.

    So to add this long text up: i have no idea how bad things are in Rift, but the way you compare it to TSW, i would rate it as a significant overreaction. Sure there were people on both extremes, those with perfect gear and perfect setups, who went into the expansion and found it still far too easy, as well as those who never bothered for either gear nor setup, just somehow stumbled through the content and suddenly found it impossible. But for anybody not at one of the extremes, the new content was harder and needed adjustment but was far from impossible to do.

    And then some more on this passage:
    “My recommendation? Don’t nerf mobs into the ground, but they do need to be tweaked down a bit to allow for more build diversity, especially when it comes to the baseline questing experience. ”

    I think your recommendation goes the wrong way. What you suggest is just “put training wheels on everything”. My line of thought rather is, if one setup is brings vastly more damage than another setup, then what is the reason to use the other setup?

    If the lower damage setup brings more survivability, healing or utility, that’s a fair tradeoff. If a player insists on using a tank or healer setup with low damage for solo content, that’s all his very own choice. Trust me, no matter how much you try to make content “suitable for everybody and his dog”, somebody will find a way to still gimp himself and then complain loudly. I mean, while i played Rift, i also liked to run a combination of Riftstalker, Physician and Assassin. It had a lot of utility, especially as i never ran solo, but its damage output was not that high. For what i did, keeping my girl and me alive and the enemies busy, while my GF killed them, it was great, but would i ever have used that setup all by myselt, i probably would’ve got to stop and shave between fights… (And i am very sure, that there ARE people out there who Play a tank+heal combination and wonder why their killing is slow. )

    The part to focus is rather, “reasonable solo setups”. If you run one of those, and it does significally less damage than another “reasonable solo setup”, then it’s time for the developer to interfere. But the answer then is not to make things generally easier, but to see how those two different solo setups can be brought to a similar pace.

    And yes, that’s something which also was noticeable while i was playing Rift. The Rogue had several different “all about damage” souls, but their actual damage was noticeably different, while not having a significant difference in utility. (The “drawback” of the one with the highest damage, Bladedancer, was that it was “more difficult to use than the others”. But as mentioned above, three in-game macros took all the difficulty out of it and turned it into a pure button masher, while having higher damage than i would’ve ever managed by manually handling all the abilities. )

    Still i consider that the core problem of Rift: similar souls with similar utility perform very different in terms of damage. That might need addressing, that would be much more reasonable than a blanket nerf on new content, which would just leave slightly hide away the problems (till the next Expansion Comes out), while not fixing them.

    That all again, with the grain of salt that i haven’t played Rift for almost two years, so my point of view might be outdated, although i doubt that.

  4. pkudude99 December 8, 2016 / 11:29 am

    Storm Legion was the same when it 1st came out. I don’t think this is much different.

    I hated playing my warrior becuz the TTK was 30-45 seconds per mob. Someone had made a “perfect solo” build that I tried out and absolutely hated becuz sure, you could pull 5-6 mobs (any more and they’d start leashing) and not die, but it still took a full minute (or more) to kill the group. And it was all AE focused so 1 mob or 5 mobs took the same time.

    I modified it on my own and got it to where the TTK for single mobs was 16-18 seconds instead. Still not blazing fast, but pretty much the same as a cleric or mage solo build, so it at least felt balanced. It still had all the same AE capabilities but due to the higher ST damage you could take a group down faster as 1 mob would die faster, then you could take out the next one, and it cascaded. But yeah, shared my modifications out to the forums and it seemed like it wasn’t long after that before every warrior in the game was using my “Improved Perfect Solo” build during questing and leveling.

    And then the Rogue. Holy hannah, but there was only 1 build for that. Anything I tried.. melee, riftstalker, ranger/marksman… didn’t matter, it was slooooooooooooooow. Until I came across the “Granpa Said Knock You Out” build. TTK with that was 7-8 seconds. Amazingly fast. And everyone who I ever saw complaining about rogues being bad to solo/quest with, I pointed to that build and they tried it and “Wow, Rogue is awesome now!”

    Sounds to me like this is just more of the same. It’ll all shake out eventually, but there will be “slog time” in the 1st month or 2 as it’s all getting figured out.

    But that said…. you find I’m actually agreeing with you — until that 1 perfect build for each calling is found and shared out, it’s going to be rough for everyone 😦

  5. UltrViolet December 8, 2016 / 11:35 am

    I think if they just nerfed the damage of the mobs a bit it would help a lot. They do so much damage you have to make your build really defensive which means it takes forever to kill anything.

  6. Ocho December 8, 2016 / 1:52 pm

    Ahhh the dreaded Illusion of Choice. Sire, you *have* a choice of your build, but in the end you really don’t. Its either play the most efficient way, determined by some dude on some forum somewhere, or play *your own* way, determining your own builds, and just suffer the consequences. I mean, who’s the one really playing then? Us or that dude on that forum by proxy?

    Going through this with Elder Scrolls Online right now. Played all the TES games, and so decided to play a healing Resto staff/ dual weild maces (or any single hand), medium armor character. Yeah, it’s been rough in places, and sometimes I have to wait for some other characters to come along so I can beat a boss or something the game probably thinks I should solo. Respeccing costs 700 crowns, too, so I’m stuck for a bit unless they throw a few for free down the line somewhere.

    This is, by far, my biggest gripe about MMOs, that in order to play “correctly” I need to use outside websites, guides, and forums when I feel that’s cheating and cheapens my experience. I’ve heard Bree, though, say on the podcast that she believes in this “playing correctly”, though…. so who knows, I may write in a podcast letter about it for all of you. 😛

  7. Linda Carlson December 8, 2016 / 2:50 pm

    Thanks for the very interesting and insightful read, Syp… and the rational, balanced responses. I made sure to link it to the RIFT Devs as well. We all love constructive feedback.

    I read this through a couple of times, and I guess it all comes down to expectations. In the old days, I always expected to neeeeeeed a group to get through content unless I went for “THE build.” I am not the type to go for “THE build” so I generally play through any game at my speed and my preferred playstyle without worrying about what others are doing. In fact, sometimes I try to figure out what the most gimped class is and make that my main, and still have a good time (did this in Warhammer, LOTRO and Conan, for instance).

    It seems many want a templated experience now, where all classes are equally powerful. I get that, particularly as many of us solo a lot, but at the same time, I am all about finding a groupmate or two to fight mobs faster (or at all – there are some critters that kick my soloing self to the curb, hehe).

    To each his own of course. I like to muddle through on my own, without spoilers or macros. That doesn’t mean I look down on people who want to min-max and use macros/add-ons, it’s just not why I play. I like to stop and smell the ale… and am not in a hurry to get to the end of the game.

    I am not a systems or content designer, just a Community Dwarf at Trion, but I do know that some draw great joy from the Dimensions, Artifact or Minion features in RIFT as well. It’s got to be hella hard to please such a broad and diverse audience. If I were on board, you’d have to deal with epic, sweeping storylines that some don’t have the patience for, hehe.

    Vive le difference, and accepting that all playstyles have a home somewhere.
    Yer auld Dwarf,
    Brasse

  8. Kaozz December 8, 2016 / 4:05 pm

    It does slow down a bit but I found as you gear up it starts to speed up, especially as you get your last five points to spend on the new legendary abilities. There is also more gear on the AH now at a cheaper rate that might help.

    I ran my cleric with a heavy druid build for survival, it is very nice at 70 for soloing, seemed to even out in the end. I also use macros a lot. The next zone, I hate to say it, is even worse with mob density.

    But while it did slog down in speed but I found playing my boosted character here to be a joy after playing a boosted char in the new eq2 xpac, taking five minutes to kill mobs until I bought crafted gear. It does get better though.

  9. bhagpuss December 8, 2016 / 5:09 pm

    The last Rift expansion I suffered was Storm Legion, which was awful. I generally don’t bother much with TTK but doing anything at all in that expansion seemed to take forever. Like Pkdude99 I only began to make any progress at all when a guildie pointed me to the Granpa Says build. That speeded things up tenfold but it certainly didn’t make anything about the experience any more fun. It put me completely off playing Rift for several years.

    By contrast, the current EQ2 expansion is an absolute blast, with mob density and TTK both pitch-perfect for comfortable, enjoyable, relaxing solo play.

  10. Linda Carlson December 13, 2016 / 1:42 pm

    Just to prove we do pay attention to feedback and make changes where appropriate and possible:

    Dev put up a change to PTS on Tuesday of last week that would reduce the damage done by NPC’s since they found a bug in the MPC that was giving them too much power. Warning, devspeak: “As such, the TTK did not match up to what the sheet dictates.”

    This should address one of the major concerns in this article.
    ;-)#
    Brasse

  11. Syp December 13, 2016 / 3:28 pm

    Thank you Linda!

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