6 of my favorite pets from RIFT

Time for another installment of Syp’s favorite MMORPG pets, with a focus on RIFT. I am particularly fond of this game and its array of non-combat pets (combat pet choice is another deal), with so many to collect and really fun ones to employ. Here are the six I tend to favor the most!

1. Bernie

Bernie is one of the ugliest and oddest pets in the game. He’s a reward for doing the Ember Isle puzzle quest, a feat well worth it to get this weirdo. Bernie is pretty big for a pet, a lumpy and vaguely Kung Fu master-looking guy who smokes a pipe while you’re not running and wheezes loudly if he’s asked to jog anywhere. His huffing and puffing are probably what endear him to me more than anything else.

2. Ducklar

I got Ducklar from a convention code several years back, and for a while after, he was one of the more rare pets in the game. Kind of a neat feeling to have a pet that almost no one else does (although this has undoubtedly changed in the meantime). Rarity aside, he rocks because ducks are wonderful and he does this little waddle dance that never fails to make my kids break out in giggles.

3. Courage

In my opinion, there are never enough dog pets in MMOs (cats seem to have better agents). But RIFT has a well-known obsession with corgis — blame Scott Hartsman, who reportedly owns one — and for a while they were (are?) the unofficial mascot of the game. I just like this little guy. He’s cute, he’s always wagging his tail and lolling out his tongue, and once in a while he scratches his ear with his hind paw. Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?

4. Harbinger of Regulos

This is one of the earliest pets that I got — and one of my earliest rares as well. It’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek joke, that the Harbinger of Regulos (the big bad guy of the game) is… a little purple bunny. A glowing bunny, glowing with evil no doubt, but still. A bunny. Probably a nod to Monty Python too.

5. Spirit of Tears

I’m not a cat guy in the least, but I went out of my way to get this pet because its acquisition process is darkly hilarious. The ghostly Spirit of Tears can only be obtained by killing an array of specific defenseless critters — squirrels, cats, deer, etc. — and harvesting their tears to complete a morbid artifact set. If you have this pet out, it’s like you’re painting yourself as an animal killer. But in a fun way? I guess?

6. Winston

Honey badger memes aside, I simply like Winston. He’s cute, he paws at the ground, and he’s fiercely loyal. Wish he was a combat pet that I could fling at an enemy’s face and enjoy seeing them flail about while he mauls into their eyes, but at least I can imagine it while he’s trotting alongside of me.

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Could RIFT’s challenge servers draw me back?

With only three expansions so far, it’s probably too early for RIFT to consider the notion of progression servers, a la EQ/EQ2. But the SOE-derived team seems open to the idea of alternate-ruleset shards, which is why the producer’s letter back in March teased a slightly different idea: challenge servers.

Between this letter and a recent survey sent out to RIFT players on the notion, we have an inkling of what Trion Worlds is thinking with these servers. The details, nebulous as they may be so far, include:

  • Fresh-start servers
  • Level cap set at 50 (vanilla RIFT limit)
  • Challenge servers could host crazy rulesets, such as super-hard difficulty
  • Or rulesets that overcharge your character, making them super powerful
  • Such servers would have a limited duration set in advance
  • If you achieve a certain goal(s) during this time period, then you would be rewarded with something on your main server
  • Possible rewards include “amazing new armor, weapons, new *cough* race *cough*”
  • It’s a major project for the team and might or might not happen
  • It’s all subject to change (of course)

The survey shows that challenge servers might be more than just an idea right now, but could be in full-scale production. And after letting it swish around my brainpan for a while, I have to say that my gut feeling is that this is actually a pretty great idea.

That seems weird to say. I mean, MMORPGs are about persistence, and time-limited characters and servers seems to go against that. It’s why permadeath is only a conversational centerpiece for us gaming geeks rather than a standard staple. We don’t want hard work to go up in smoke.

Yet the way they’re talking about doing this kind of works. The team is right to note that special server rulesets get a lot of publicity and popularity at the start, but both of those factors nosedive soon thereafter. Creating a server that gives that sweet hit of nostalgia and novelty and then putting a cap on it before it gets old might be for the best.

And even with the server’s end, creating a reward that is persistent — armor, weapons, race, etc. — on a regular server provides a goal that goes beyond “experience for the sake of experience.”

I also like that the limited runs of these servers allow for much more extreme and creative rulesets than we’d normally see. It might well take the sting out of a challenge server’s finale if the community is immediately looking ahead going, “I wonder what’s next!”

In many ways, it reminds me of Diablo’s seasons or Path of Exile challenge leagues, which have proved to be popular among those communities. It’s not a perfect parallel, but the appeal of rerolling for a reason — for rewards, for new rules, for a different challenge — without stringing players on forever is a smart format.

There’s one more angle that appeals to me here, and that’s the repurposing of older content in a funky new way. MMOs have so much land and content that gets “used up” in most theme park leveling schemes that it seems a shame they grow desolate save for the odd player doing catch-up. Reuse that content!

Other MMOs have had some fun fiddling about with official rulesets. TERA had a bizarre server experiment a little while back, and I know that Allods just launched a bonus experience that awards three times the XP per mob kill than normal servers. For older games like RIFT, going gonzo might be a survival strategy rather than an odd distraction. RIFT needs the players, needs the income, and needs the attention. Challenge servers could do all three.

But to answer the titular question, would challenge servers prove a personal temptation to return? It depends on the challenge in question, but I think they very well could, depending on how “grindy” the goal is for these. It’s a solid game that was much more interesting pre-expansions, and I’d love to see that again, if only for a short time.

7 MMO cosmetic wardrobe systems, ranked

Here’s a little thought exercise I’ve been going through lately after having a discussion about cosmetic systems on the MOP podcast. We had been asked which was the best MMO wardrobe system, which I initially thought was an easy answer… and then, long after the podcast was done, started to revise my response. Ultimately, I asked myself how I would rank the systems present in the MMOs I’ve played the most in the last, oh, five years or so, and this is what I came up with going from best to worst.

WildStar

There’s a lot of factors that go into a truly great cosmetic wardrobe system, and believe it or not, WildStar checks off most of those boxes. It’s got great armor design, plenty of cosmetic pieces, a system that remembers loot you’ve collected, multiple outfit slots, two dye channels, fun dyes, and an accessible system (which is a change from launch, which required you to talk to a specific NPC). I adored being able to create and wear different outfits based on my mood, and I was often torn on which one I liked the best because they were all pretty awesome. WildStar usually get a lot of props for its housing, but I think its wardrobe deserves praise too.

Guild Wars 2

Initially I had put Guild Wars 2 at the top, but upon further reflection, I had to acknowledge that there are two big flaws with its wardrobe system: It makes you pay to change individual slots (via transmutation charges) and it doesn’t allow for multiple saved outfits. Apart from that, it’s pretty brilliant, with several dye channels, loads of colors, expressive pieces, and all the buttflaps you can stomach. Finding and obtaining skins is an enjoyable metagame for GW2, that’s for sure.

RIFT

On paper, RIFT has almost the full package. It remembers skins, has multiple outfit slots, is ridiculously easy to use, involves weird cosmetics, and so on. Other than the dye cash shop and the smaller color range, I’d say it was almost perfect… except that I just don’t like about 90% of RIFT’s armor designs. They’re not bad, per se, just not what I want to be trouncing around in, and there are strangely few store outfits that even slightly tempt me to purchase. Probably shouldn’t complain; better armor art and I might have gone broke.

The Secret World

TSW’s strength in cosmetics is that it’s a rare MMO that uses modern outfits rather than fantasy/sci-fi ones (for the most part) and is thus a fashion that is more identifiable to players. People in TSW just adore dressing up their characters, sometimes the more outrageous, the better. Wonderful array of choices are offset only by a lack of dyeable outfits (although some pieces come in multiple colors) and no multiple outfit saves. It’s nice that there is a convoluted fashion to even equip cosmetic weapons, but it really should’ve been more like the regular outfits in accessibility.

Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO sits squat in the middle of this list with plenty of strengths but plenty of weaknesses as well. On the plus side, it’s another MMO with a community that does a lot of dressing up, and the game has done a lot to make this as robust as possible. Dyes, multiple outfits, varied designs, cosmetic weapons, etc. But on the minus side, the wardrobe itself is a little creaky and unfriendly, especially when compared to how many MMOs these days are saving EVERY new design whereas LOTRO has a hard limit. And you have to manage it by hand. Plus, the dyes aren’t that great, with only one color channel for (most) pieces and the dyeable area often being small.

World of Warcraft

For a major MMORPG, World of Warcraft suffers from a kind of lackluster system. Admittedly, the fact that it has one and it’s gradually improved is far better than launch, but seriously, transmog is pretty sad when you compare it to the field. No dyes, no multiple outfits (I’m not really that keen on just changing gear’s appearance rather than having a separate and toggleable cosmetic outfit), no way to do it on the fly, new gear overriding older transmog looks and requiring more money for new transmogs, and no quick check boxes to turn off helms and capes is all in dire need of addressing. To its credit, WoW has fabulous and fun armor design, which goes a long way to smoothing over the issues presented here.

Star Trek Online

Let’s throw in a couple of Cryptic efforts to be well-rounded. STO never really impressed me with its outfits. Sure, you could mix-and-match uniform elements, there were some (but not many) colors, and you had a small handful of outfit slots. But generally you aren’t collecting new looks while you play (most uniforms are simply bought through the store), and the interface is a little unwieldy. Sometimes it’s just more interesting to let your gear do the visuals for you, since they can be more detailed and futuristic.

Neverwinter

At the bottom of the barrel, Neverwinter does the absolute bare minimum to qualify as an MMO with a cosmetic system while making it as unfun as possible. Two cosmetic-only slots for specific items, no thank you. It’s a system that you learn about in the tutorial and then promptly forget going forward.

Now I know that there are plenty of other MMOs out there with great wardrobe systems, like EverQuest II, but I wanted to rank ones from games that I was most familiar.

RIFT, I want to love you, but you’re making it hard

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It’s been a good long while since I talked about RIFT here, and that isn’t because I’ve been so enraptured by Starfall Prophecy that I couldn’t bear to rip myself away to jot down a few words. Morelike, it’s been weeks of logging in to do minion quests and then getting quickly frustrated with the combat and then logging out. Rinse and repeat.

I swear, if it wasn’t for one of the warmest and friendliest guilds I’ve ever been a part of, I probably wouldn’t log in at all these days. Genuinely great guilds aren’t always easy to find and I do enjoy the companionship that they provide. So I keep making an effort to love this game, but RIFT seems bound and determined to make it hard for me to do so.

The core problem isn’t the story of Starfall Prophecy, which is — to me — somewhat interesting and occasionally surprising. It isn’t the smaller scope of the expansion. The problem is that, as I’ve said before, the mobs make standard questing onerous and a chore. Every time I play I feel the urge to rant about how simple it would be to fix this: decrease the mob density and cut mob health down at least by a third. Packed-in mobs with huge hit point pools equals no fun for anyone.

It’s not the first time that RIFT started in with the mob HP inflation; the past two expansions were guilty of this too. But it seems really, really high here and mobs take wayyyy too long to kill. My highest DPS build on my Cleric — a primary Defiler build — takes about 20 seconds to down a single mob, and that’s after putting about 10 DoTs on it. 10. Every fight, I have to punch about a dozen separate buttons, and my hand does not thank me for that. And that’s my hardest-hitting build — the build I actually like takes a half-minute or longer for a single mob. And it’s not that the mobs are too difficult otherwise, just that they have enough hit points to rival other MMOs’ raid bosses.

Early on in RIFT, it was a sheer joy to play these classes because no matter what your build, you could have a lot of fun mowing down packs of mobs and gradually improving your spec. Now, as I’ve said before, this might be a result of the increasing difficulty of balancing the game as players get access to more powerful and diverse abilities and equipment. But wouldn’t you think that making the basic questing experience as smooth and enjoyable as possible would be a priority? That the devs would err on the side of making mobs too easy to kill rather than too tough?

I know there are greater issues with this expansion and that Trion is still dealing with a lot of stuff. But for me, this has pretty much killed all enthusiasm and interest I have in playing Starfall Prophecy. I have a choice of many MMOs at any given moment, and most of them have found a far better balance with high-level mobs than what’s here. I don’t often call for nerfs, but for the love of all that’s holy, Trion, nerf these mobs and nerf them now. I can’t be the only one who has gotten turned off from the expansion for this issue.

My guild was talking about how in the next patch, you pretty much HAVE to have a 61-point build or otherwise you’ll lose a massive chunk of your DPS, which takes hybrid builds off the table. RIFT has been going down a depressing path as of late where most everyone plays very specific cookie-cutter builds to be able to quest/raid/DPS decently, so one of the game’s biggest strengths — the flexibility of make-your-own builds — is all but gone. It’s aggravating and I just don’t know how much more I’m going to hang onto this game when it obviously doesn’t want to hang on to players like me.

Here’s hoping that Trion Worlds might one day remember what used to make this game really fun to play and return back to that instead of pushing down this path.

RIFT: We regained our faith, and we had fun doing it

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For someone with a general dislike of the overuse of dragons in MMOs and RPGs, I’ll take the solace provided in getting to harpoon one multiple times through the heart. Thanks RIFT!

We made art, built workable ballistas, forged big harpoons, and cast magic spells that made people explode on contact. ~ Veist

Last week I finished up Gedlo Badlands — zone two out of five in Starfall Prophecy — and came away from the experience feeling strangely thrilled. Oh, I’m not changing my mind on how I feel about desert zones in the least; Gedlo Badlands is extremely dull to look at and quest through, from a landscape perspective. And my guild heartily agrees that the mob density is stupid high.

But! But. But the writers managed to craft a story that was definitely odd and engaging, one of a tribe of kobolds looking for redemption, fighting against the rise of a dragon, and forging a culture in the midst of a wasteland. There were prophecies galore, a tour of public displays of art, and in the end, an epic showdown.

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The ending caught me off guard, too, as the kobold tribe were all (SPOILER) promoted to ascended status. I couldn’t help but feel proud and happy for these ugly underdogs that they finally were elevated to a higher status.

I actually almost missed it because of very long speeches that I thought I could just tab-out of. Cyrill isn’t that great of a character (particularly in comparison to a certain other king), but at least he shows a bit of creative thinking and a desire to grow as a person and understand other cultures.

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It’s time to move on to zone #3, which is a Very Green Swamp. My companions this time around are Tasuil (who is apparently bored of being a leader in the forest) and Red Eye Girl. Oh, she has a name and a backstory, but I missed both of those and now am saddled with an NPC who I know virtually nothing about.

Here’s the thing that I wish developers would understand. They are saturated in the game all the time and know its lore back and forth, particularly thanks to having design documents and lore bibles lying around. And sometimes I get the feeling they think we pick up on all of this just as easily and deeply as they do. Yet we don’t — or at least, I don’t. If I miss something or don’t remember something, the story is broken for me and I have to muddle through either not caring, or hoping that someone will fill me in later on what’s going on, or have to research it outside of the game.

What I truly wish developers would do is give us some sort of ongoing in-game journal that would summarize what my character has experienced or at least let me reference past conversations. Single player CRPGs are usually great at in-game journals, yet so few MMOs have them. What gives? Do the devs just assume that player-made wikis will compensate? That’s pretty lazy if so. I’d rather get my lore info in-game than out of it.

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Anyway, I had a brief interlude back in the town of Alittu, which I still consider to be a rather beautiful and strangely high-tech hub. This lady up here looked really shifty with her body language. I think she’s about to steal some art.

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The dark tower constantly looms over all, a sober reminder that if Ahnket gets her way, this comet would come roaring down on Telara and force an extinction-level event.

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To the swamp! First stop is a market where the bad faerie folk are selling unicorns and elves and bunnies to the highest bidder, usually for a sacrifice. I’m just trying to get excited about exploring a swamp. Those are often fun biomes, right?

Looking back at the 6 MMOs I played the most in 2016

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Seeing as how this will be my final MMO-related post of this year, I thought it only fitting to look back over 2016 and recall my exploits in MMORPGs. While I did dabble here and there in various titles, such as Firefall, ESO, and Trove, for the most part my year was dominated by six titles — none of them surprising, but all fun and influential in my gaming career.

One of the best things that happened for me in terms of playing MMOs was getting a new computer that could actually run them well. That’s been such a boon.

(1) Final Fantasy XIV

At the beginning of the year, I had made a resolution to find a “home MMO” and settle my butt down to mostly focus on one title. Initially, that became FFXIV, as it was fairly new to me,, had a lot of positive word-of-mouth, and offered a lot of content.

I had a good run in that MMO, I think, although around April I decided that I had run out of steam and was losing the will to play it. That was unfortunate, because I was finally nearing Heavensword content and had found a really great guild, but alas. In retrospect, there was a lot I ended up respecting and liking about the game as well as a lot of irritating issues. I think my biggest gripe is that it never quite clicked with me even though people kept urging me to stick it out because, I quote, “It gets really good later on!” I shouldn’t have to wait more than four months for a game to get really good, and my patience wore out. Maybe I’ll go back some day. I’d like to think so. That Red Mage looks pretty cool…

(2) World of Warcraft

WoW got its hooks back in me early and kept them there, pulling me right back into this old favorite. The first half of the year was spent plowing through Warlords of Draenor, building up my expansion, and prepping my roster of characters for the new expansion. The second half was all Legion, all the time, and it’s been a really good ride so far. Found a terrific guild, got a pair of legendaries, built up my Death Knight to a great place, and still have a good amount of content on which to chew.

(3) RIFT

The announcement of Starfall Prophecy got me back into RIFT, and it’s been a reliably second-tier MMO interest since then. Again, discovering a wonderful guild — perhaps the best I’ve been a part of in MMOs — was a major factor to my stickiness, but having an expansion’s worth of content and a new house to build certainly kept me busy. I have just so much left to do here and no real desire to leave.

(4) The Secret World

Back in February I seriously splurged and bought a Grand Master membership, which I really don’t regret doing. The constant buffs to currency/AP are wonderful, the extra cosmetics and mounts nice, and having a monthly allowance of points is terrific. I did take a long break in the middle of the year due to my disinterest in City of the Sun God, but I finally rallied to complete that and move on to Transylvania. I’m hugely excited to see what might come for this game in 2017!

(5) Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online has been an on-again, off-again journey. I get really excited about it for two or three weeks, then let it go for a month. I did come back for some fun adventures, although getting bogged down in Delta Rising was death to my interest. Recently I’ve jumped past that and gotten excited to go through the more recent episode arcs.

(6) Lord of the Rings Online

Early in the year I spent some time getting through the Battle of Pelennor Fields, after which I took a very long break until just recently. However, over the past month I’ve been logging in every day or two to advance my Captain through Update 19 in anticipation of the Mordor expansion next year. It’s great to be back and I hope I won’t leave any time soon.

Stay tuned next Monday as I post my hopes and aspirations for the new month — and the new year! In the meantime, let me know in the comments what were the most important and influential MMOs to you in 2016!

RIFT: I won’t lie. You’ve seen some messed-up stuff.

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A surprising number of RIFT missions involve the phrase “let’s step into the hallucinogenic water and see what we see.” Thanks for the nightmares, Trion World!

(But seriously, this is my favorite unicorn picture of all time. Just don’t drink the toxic desert water.)

The journey continues for my Rogue through Starfall Prophecy’s Geldo Badlands. I’m not warming up on the landscape, but the story is surprisingly interesting. I guess that the writers were given the challenge to make stock fantasy cannon fodder like goblins and kobolds actually interesting and in-depth. There’s a lot about culture-comparison between this primitive land and Telara, as well as a group of goblins called the “Gaping Chest Wound Clan.” I would be proud to be part of that clan.

Here’s one of their members:

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Doesn’t he remind you of Young Frankenstein’s Igor? With more tusks/antlers?

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The writing and dialogue is sharp, surreal, and often laugh-out-loud funny. Maybe you don’t think of MMOs as actually being funny, but RIFT never quite takes itself as seriously as its contemporaries. I respect that.

Part of the reason why things are looking up is that I did a build adjustment and switched from Ranger/Assassin over to Ranger/Marksman. Much better synergy, plus I’m rocking a pair of legendaries that really help out now. The 61-point legendary in Ranger took me a little bit to realize how good it was — essentially it keeps giving you a full combo bar for 10 seconds, meaning that you can keep spamming finishers for 10 seconds. With that, I can burn down most anything insanely quickly.

I also appreciated this response from Linda Carlson on my last post about the TTK and mob issue: “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.”

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No story here other than I was very proud of this screenshot. Love the sunlight coming through the wings.

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Our guild held its weekly trivia night on Wednesday about a rather bizarre topic (and no, I’m not going to share). I ended up placing second, winning a maid’s ensemble. Attacking things in pumps and with dual feather dusters is the only way to rock this expansion!